Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Vera Baird: Let me raise an issue about the hon. Gentleman's reference to this power as permissive power and the implication that that shows a weakness in the Minister's argument. I am not sure that it does. In the context of adversarial court proceedings, if it is once disclosed that there might be intercepts, the defence will make inquiries and compel the information's disclosure, if it is there.

Mr. Mitchell: The main argument is that our security services have a technical superiority that will be brought into the public domain if intercept evidence is used in court. That is the point I seek to debunk. The idea that serious, organised international criminals in Britain are shielded from knowledge because we do not use intercepts in court, is ludicrous. It is used elsewhere in the world, and the suggestion that somehow the barrier of the Atlantic or the English channel stops them from having knowledge of technological advances made in that area is ludicrous.

I mean no disrespect to the Minister by making the following point but—if I may use a cricketing metaphor—she has been sent to the wicket today and, standing there with her bat, has blocked the very reasonable points made all around the Committee. The Minister's arguments have been all the arguments made before the Newton and Lloyd reports: the ludicrous one about technical superiority, for example. They are the same old points that the Home Office has relied on in not addressing the damning conclusions of very senior committees, and I have given those of Lord Lloyd's committee in full this morning.

A number of colleagues on both sides of the House have mentioned what I call the Belmarsh issue. It is very important to bring the people at Belmarsh back into the judicial system if we can. I say that as one who supports the Government's policy in dealing with such difficult issues, on which we all must search our consciences to work out whether the balance between protecting the rights of the individual and protecting our constituents and society has been met. More often than not, I have concluded that the Government have been right to take draconian powers. We all know, however, that those people should, if possible, be brought back within the judicial system. Allowing the use of intercepts in British courts would be one way to do that.

Mr. McWalter: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that while his general approach is indeed commendable, his technical amendment is perhaps inadequate to that particular cause? I hope that he sees it more as a probing amendment than as something to be pressed. Surely he takes some satisfaction from the Minister's decision to treat his representations as urgent, which is actually beneficial?

Mr. Mitchell: On the second point, I would take more comfort from the Minister seeing these representations as urgent if it were not for my early remarks this morning. I took the Committee through the continuous way in which targets of reporting set by the Government have not been met. In the case of the Newton committee, the Government's commitment to
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come back by the middle of last year may be recalled, and the White Paper on this Bill gave another commitment. What the Minister has said today means that we must be getting nearer the conclusion, but my view is that it would be better to produce it on Report. I would have preferred the Minister to give a commitment to that effect.

I do not intend to press the new clause to a vote. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, it is intended to probe, as the Opposition often do on issues on which we want to understand the Government's thinking. We are a listening Opposition who listen carefully to what the Minister and her colleagues say. The new clause is a probing one, to which we will return in due course. As with the first substantive issue we discussed on this Bill last week, the Minister should be in no doubt that if she thinks that the current position—her place at the wicket—will withstand the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House on Report, let alone in the other place, she is very much mistaken.

I am disappointed that the Minister stuck to the pre-Newton, pre-Lloyd arguments. Having produced those heavyweight reports, the Government are mistreating members of the Committee and hon. Members on both sides of the House by not responding in a timely way, or at all. I seek a commitment from the Minister that between now and Report, or on Report, she will give a definite date when we will hear the Government's conclusions on these important matters. Nothing has been said in the debate to gainsay the lucid arguments proposed not by my hon. Friends and me but by Lord Newton, Lord Lloyd, the Minister's right hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) and for Islington, South and Finsbury, as well as Mr. Terry Davis, formerly the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, and her noble Friend Baroness Hayman. They are senior figures whose arguments have not been addressed. I hope that the Minister will return on Report, first, with a definitive response to those arguments and, secondly, with a detailed answer from the Government on the use of intercepts in British courts.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 302, in clause 101, page 67, leave out lines 15 to 17.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 303, in clause 101, page 67, leave out lines 18 to 22.

Amendment No. 146, in clause 101, page 67, leave out lines 23 to 26.

Amendment No. 218, in clause 101, page 67, line 24, after 'if', insert—

    '(a) the offence is an arrestable offence punishable by more than 5 years imprisonment, or


Amendment No. 296, in clause 101, page 67, line 24, after 'if', insert—

    '(a) the offence is an arrestable offence, or


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Amendment No. 165, in clause 101, page 67, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 68.

Amendment No. 219, in clause 101, page 67, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 68.

Amendment No. 166, in clause 101, page 68, leave out lines 6 to 28.

Amendment No. 295, in clause 101, page 68, line 17, at end insert—

    '(za) the offence is an arrestable offence,'.

Government amendment No. 255.

Clause stand part.

Clause 102 stand part.

Amendment No. 220, in schedule 7, page 164, leave out lines 3 to 13.

Amendment No. 185, in schedule 7, page 164, leave out lines 8 to 13.

Amendment No. 221, in schedule 7, page 164, line 30, leave out from beginning to end of line 38 on page 168.

Schedule 7 be the Seventh schedule to the Bill.

New clause 13—Powers of arrest (No. 2)—

    'In section 24 of PACE (arrest without warrant for arrestable offences), leave out subsection (1)(b) and insert—

    ''(b) to offences which the Secretary of State may by order prescribe;''.'.

New clause 14— Powers of arrest (No. 3)—

    'In section 24 of PACE (arrest without warrant for arrestable offences), leave out subsection (1)(b) and insert—

    ''(b) to offences other than those which the Secretary of State may by order prescribe;''.'.

Mr. Grieve: We come to an important part of the Bill relating to police powers and the powers of arrest for citizens.

I apologise to the Committee. I concluded from the plethora of amendments tabled to the clause that there had perhaps been a little overegging of the pudding. The proposals are not mutually inconsistent, but many would do roughly the same thing; others are purely probing amendments. There is a cornucopia from which to choose. With your leave, Mr. O'Brien, and with the agreement of the Committee, the sensible thing would be to make the debate effectively be a stand part debate, and as we will go through the clause with a fine-tooth comb, we may avoid the necessity for a clause stand part debate at the end.

The clause falls into three distinct sections. First, what power of arrest should be given to police officers? Secondly—the part of clause 101 that relates to the amendment of section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—what powers of arrest should be given to those who are not police officers? I believe that the intention is to facilitate the action of community support officers, a matter to which I shall return in a moment, but it goes much wider than that because it extends to the public in general. Thirdly—last, but by no means least—there is the Government's intention as a result of their general overview to abolish the common law rules conferring powers of arrest.

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I hope I may be forgiven for going a little bit back to basics. This country has shown a marked reluctance to allow the police to arrest people for any criminal offence or matter. The distinction between felonies and misdemeanours lies in the distant past. In our law, there has always been the principle that if someone committed a felony—what is now described as an offence punishable by more than five years' imprisonment—it was immediately arrestable, with no further ado. However, if it was punishable by less than five years' imprisonment, the general rule was that it was not an arrestable offence and that the process that had to be brought to bear on an individual whom one wanted to prosecute was to issue them with a summons to bring them to court.

Perhaps inevitably, those distinctions have become blurred over the years. To begin with, there has always been the power to arrest someone to prevent a breach of the peace. As I have always understood it, that means that we all have a power of arrest over an individual who is caught in flagrante delicto—actually carrying out a criminal offence—and whom it is necessary to restrain to prevent a breach of the peace. On April fool's day last year, for example, I found myself confronting an individual just outside Green Park station who was busy smashing a bus shelter with a pole. There are interesting distinctions between different categories of criminal damage offences, but I concluded that he was committing a breach of the peace and that it was arrestable, so I sought to arrest him. We then had an extremely entertaining chase around the nicer parts of Mayfair, before the police turned up about 10 minutes later. That illustrated to me that one has to think before one suddenly decides that one can go and arrest someone. On top of that, of course, many offences on statute are arrestable of themselves; they include a wholes series involving entering certain premises, and there is quite a long list in schedule 7, which deals with some of the matters that the Government seek to repeal.

Superficially, it is attractive to say, ''Why don't we just simplify everything and let the police arrest anybody for any offence?'' That, of course, is what the Government are seeking to do in respect of police officers in the new powers of arrest in clause 101. In fairness to the Government, however, they are sufficiently aware of the civil liberties issues involved to have set out a number of criteria and tests, which ought to govern the exercise by the police of the discretion to arrest or not. On the one hand, therefore, the Government seek to give the police complete powers to arrest anybody for anything that is a criminal offence; on the other, in new section 24(5), they lay down a hierarchy of tests that the police must carry out. The reasons set out there are designed to influence a police officer's actions and, in many cases, one would infer, to lead him to decide that there is no need to arrest the person at all. In fact, in most cases, it looks as if the police officer will simply take the individual's name and address.

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As I said to the Minister, there is some logic to that, but I have some anxieties. Relations between the police and the generally law-abiding citizen are critical to maintaining policing by consent in this country. I am afraid, however, that the criminal law is now so complex, and the burdens that it imposes on citizens so enormous, that most of us probably inadvertently commit criminal offences in the course of any 24-hour period; frankly, one would have to be a monk living in a monastery to avoid that fate. Whereas those offences are usually entirely trivial, however, and will probably never be visited by any criminal sanction whatever—if they are, they will lead to a summons at most or, on some occasions, a fixed penalty notice—the provisions will make it much more likely that proactive or somewhat officious police officers will in future have a great deal of opportunity to antagonise the generally law-abiding citizen on whom we must rely if we are to maintain policing by consent. I have anxieties about constables' powers of arrest in the clause. Do we need to give them a universal power rather than following the recommendations made by the PACE review in 2002? That concluded that there was

    ''a high level of satisfaction with the framework of arrest powers, but there are concerns that it is too complicated.''

It appeared to ask for simplification, not for existing distinctions to be done away with entirely.

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