Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): My hon. Friend has clearly studied the matter in detail. Is he saying that, as far as the powers of arrest are concerned, members of the public such as those whom he has described, committing the types of offence that he has mentioned, will stand in the same relationship to police officers exercising the power of arrest as burglars or bank robbers, subject to the provisions of new section 24(5)?

Mr. Grieve: Yes indeed—that is precisely what is going to happen. Going by the sorts of things about which people come to complain to me, it is easy to anticipate the types of situation that might arise. For instance, if a police officer stops a car driver because one of the car's rear lights is not working, that is not an arrestable offence. Because it is during the morning school run, the driver is, perhaps, less co-operative than he should be over such a trivial offence. Instead of the matter being resolved by the issue of a form HORT1 to produce the driving licence and other details at a police station at a later date, the police officer ends up arresting the individual.

If that sort of situation is likely to arise, the damage to police-citizen relations will be phenomenal. Because we are all human and fallible, police officers have off days, as do generally law-abiding citizens. My concern is that the power is constructed in a way that will make it enormously tempting to officers to short-cut; going by the list in sub-section (5), they will have ample grounds on which to do so. The result will be that Members of Parliament will be bombarded with complaints. In the process, policing by consent, which underpins the way in which policing works in this
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country, will be damaged or endangered. Arrest is a draconian matter. Even a short period under arrest is a major interference with the liberty of the citizen.

The powers will extend to everything—not only road traffic matters but, potentially, the amazing plethora of minor regulatory offences that usually lead to no action at all or to a summons through the post. I am concerned about that and think that the Government should justify the measure in detail. I look to the Minister to do so. Police officers go through rigorous training, and I have never come across one who did not know what was arrestable and what was not. The lists might be long, but they are not so long that a person is incapable of having that knowledge. The fact that some offences are not arrestable is an important fetter. It prevents the state from engaging in trivia. If we all started to engage in trivia, we would seriously jeopardise the respect for the law that exists in this country.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a cogent case. The purport of what he is saying is that there will be more arrests for trivial offences. Will the likely result of that not be a huge increase in police time spent on the extra paperwork involved, which will lead to even fewer police on our streets?

Mr. Grieve: Potentially, yes. It could be argued that that may be the one thing that fetters the police from using this power too often, but it could lead to a great increase in bureaucracy because if the police arrest somebody, they have to process them as an arrested person.

Mr. Clappison: I am following my hon. Friend's argument closely, and it has so far been predicated on the assumption that a trivial offence that is not presently arrestable has been committed. As he said, such offences can be committed by otherwise law-abiding people. Is it not also the case that somebody who has not committed any offence at all could be arrested? For example, if an officer has

    ''reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed'',

and he questions the person concerned, that person may be liable to be arrested under new section 25(5)(a) if he refuses to give his name and address.

Mr. Grieve: Absolutely. Taking the analogy of the rear light on one's motor car, it is not only a question of the police constable seeing the rear light and stopping someone; the police constable could approach them and say, ''Somebody has told me that the rear light on your motor car was not functioning. Unless you answer my questions, I am going to arrest you.''

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears) indicated assent.

Mr. Grieve: I see the Minister nod with a certain degree of delight at that prospect, although I must not pre-empt her views. However, the prospect fills me with considerable gloom. Frankly, the power is onerous, unnecessary and a step too far.

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Returning to the 2002 PACE review, carried out by the Home Office and Cabinet Office, the preferred option was to create a definitive list of powers of arrest. That is rather different from what the Government have set out in this legislation.I remain unconvinced that the power is required. The amendments dissect the entire proposal, from amendment No. 145, which would confer the power on constables but not CSOs, right through to other amendments that pick out individual bits of the clause. However, as I admitted from the outset, they are all probing amendments designed to examine what would happen if we were to remove various aspects of the clause. In reality, we have to consider the matter in totality.

The next area is arrest without warrant for other persons. On this matter, the Government are plain bonkers. I think that the intention behind the powers is to facilitate the activities of CSOs, but they would extend to everybody in the land, because a CSO has no particular status as a constable. New section 24A would give any citizen the power of summary arrest on

    ''anyone who is in the act of committing an offence'',

    ''anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence''.

If an offence has been committed, it would allow a citizen to arrest

    ''anyone who is guilty of the offence'',

    ''anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it.''

The key phrase is that someone is entitled to exercise this summary power of arrest if they have

    ''reasonable grounds for believing that for any of the reasons mentioned in subsection (4) it is necessary to arrest the person in question . . . and it appears to the person making the arrest that it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make it instead.''

10.45 am

I do not have too much problem with the first three of those reasons in new subsection (4), which are:

    ''(a) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;

    (b) suffering physical injury;

    (c) causing loss of or damage to property''

because they fall within the existing breach of the peace provisions. But the last one is:

    ''(d) making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him.''

Let us return to the red light on the back of the car. I see an individual whom I do not know parking his car outside my house, whose rear light is not working. I go outside and, under the powers conferred under new section 24A, I arrest him. I say ''I am going to arrest you, until such time as the local police officer—I am just now dialling 999—comes along to take responsibility for you''. Now, I know that MPs have high and mighty views of their own status, but I think that a bigger recipe for getting biffed in the face by an irate driver could not be found. Yet that is what the Bill will bring about.

We had this problem when we were dealing with previous legislation and extended the power of arrest in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004
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to common assault. I said that I hoped that the general public did not discover that we were extending that power to common assault, because everybody would go around arresting everybody else. I seem to remember the then Minister saying to us that it was not really a problem, because the public would not know about it. Well, I think the public is going to get to know about new section 24A and, when they do, every officious little inter-meddler in the land is going to have a blank charter to go around detaining other people, particularly people unknown to them, since if they know them it becomes a bit harder as they could simply make a complaint, then summon a police officer to their assistance.

Now, we all know the reality, certainly in my own constituency, which is that if we summon the police because our house has been burgled, we will be visited by a scene of crime officer, if lucky, between 72 hours and five days later. That is the current position. The idea that police officers, thin on the ground, are suddenly going to materialise as people ring in on their mobile telephones to say that they are currently apprehending somebody who, say, has not got a rear light on his motor-vehicle, is a picture of a fantasy world that I think we can well do without. I am open to persuasion on the first part of clause 101 about constables' powers, but when we come to the power of arrest for other persons—the Minister knows that I made this comment to the then Home Secretary on Second Reading—I just do not see how this section is curable by judicious amendment. The only way in which it could be done is by removing

    ''(d) making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him''.

Of course, the irony is that that brings us back to the Government's desire to get rid of the power of arrest for breach of the peace, which appears at the end:

    ''Any rule of common law conferring power to arrest a person without a warrant is abolished.''

I think the old breach of the peace provision worked rather well. Yet, they are what we are going to get rid of. Unless the Government have changed their mind, the wording of the Bill says that is what they are going to do. If they have changed their mind, I await the Minister's explanation with interest and fascination. It was, however, their original thought, and they put it in the statute. It is a big mistake.

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Prepared 18 January 2005