Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Mr. Mitchell: I support my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield on the amendments. I can be very brief because there are aspects of the Bill on which we know why the Government are doing what they are doing, and we disagree with them. We have had a number of examples of that. We agree with the Government on other aspects, but think that there may be a better way of expressing the aim in legislation or a better way of achieving it. This clause, and the powers that it deals with, come into a third category, which my hon. Friend lucidly branded as those things that we think are bonkers, and he set out the reasons why.

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, for very good reasons, was not here when we discussed the nature of those who work for SOCA about a week ago. I am sure that she has read Hansard, and she will have seen that the Opposition are very exercised about the powers of arrest and the powers of a constable and whether those should be handed out willy-nilly. We are at something of a loss about what is proposed in this clause, which partly explains the wide number of probing amendments seeking to flesh out what the Government are trying to do.

Policing in this country has always been characterised as policing by consent. There is the traditional nature of the police constable and relations with the public stem from that and are extremely important. It is hard to see how the clause could possibly help to develop any of that. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked whether such a clause would help police constables in their role. Our submission is that it will not. Will the Minister explain why the recommendations in the Home Office and Cabinet review of PACE, which, as I understand it, suggested that the workings on arrest were satisfactory by rather complex, were not accepted?

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, with extraordinary percipience, used the example of the school run and the rear light and how a set of circumstances that could be perfectly easily dealt with under a constable's discretion could become something very different, with a mother or father becoming alienated from the police and the justice system. I had an almost identical experience when doing the school run not so long ago. The way that my hon. Friend has zeroed in on that example is extremely helpful. My own experience suggests that he is right, and the experience of my constituents in Sutton Coldfield, who are law abiding and robust, certainly suggests that his point is enormously important. This would be unwarranted interference in the liberty of the citizen and could well lead to extremely unsatisfactory circumstances.

Vera Baird: Would not a person who was stopped on the school run give their name and address and thereby prevent the situation from escalating?

Mr. Mitchell: I do not know whether the hon. and learned Lady has had the same experience as I have had. I have frequent discussions with the police in Sutton Coldfield. On a number of occasions on which
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I have probed the police response, a wry smile has come over the face of the police officer, who has said, ''Your constituent failed the attitude test.'' That is what my hon. Friend is describing. It is an unwarranted and unnecessary situation. Of course the hon. and learned Lady would give her name and address and move on. But, what if the police constable had had a bad day and did not handle the situation in precisely the way that, on reflection, he would have wished? It is easy to see the human circumstances that my hon. Friend described causing those problems.

Mr. Clappison: The hon. and learned Member for Redcar is right up to a point in her example, but under new subsection (5), does not any one of the conditions need to be satisfied? So if the officer takes the view that the arrest is needed

    ''to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence''

that will trigger the power of arrest too. Besides, is there not an even greater problem where these powers are purported to be exercised by members of the public?

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His final words should give the Minister even more pause for rapid writing and reflection.

Vera Baird: I am sorry to use the hon. Gentleman as a go-between but the tests that have to be gone through to see whether it is necessary to make an arrest obviously include trying to get the name and address. Unless there is some imminent danger, as under paragraph (c), in every situation, if the name and address is given, none of the tests will be made out except, arguably, the test in paragraph (e) which he perspicaciously homed in on. I should have thought that it was a good idea to be able to detain someone so that if the situation can immediately be investigated and it can be known whether he has committed a crime, it can be dealt with. That is in his interest. If that provision were not available, someone could be arrested and taken away, and they would not have the opportunity to ascertain whether there were any witnesses in the immediate vicinity who could say, ''No, he didn't do that, you have got the wrong chap.'' I therefore think that it is a good idea.

11.15 am

Mr. Mitchell: I find myself in the position of standing, as it were, in a game of ping-pong, between two distinguished and eminent lawyers. As a non-lawyer myself—a point that I have been keen to emphasise to the Committee on numerous occasions—I would like to point to the good sense of the proposition that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield put to the Committee about the way in which human circumstances can operate in the situation that he described.

Moving on to the powers of arrest by non-police constables, my hon. Friend described the matter perfectly. One can imagine the difficulties for those of us who bicycle around London if we were thought likely to commit an offence and became the subject of an altercation with members of the public. It is what I
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refer to as the ''spitting out of chewing gum clause.'' It is extremely dangerous and removes from our system the good sense and light-handed approach that have traditionally characterised British policing and the nature of the relationship between the British public and the police. The Opposition seek to do the Government a good turn by giving them an opportunity to get off a hook that they have systematically created for themselves but that will cause them immense trouble if they are unwise enough to pursue the provisions in the clause.

Ms Blears: I am delighted, Mr. O'Brien, to have the opportunity for the first time to respond to the points that have been made on the Bill and also welcome the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship.

I hope that I shall be able to enlighten hon. Members from both Opposition parties about the reasons behind the Government's approach. I hope that, after some discussion, we will reach some degree of consensus. I note, from being in the Committee last week, that there has been wide consensus on many of provisions. In this area, many of the amendments are probing, and I hope we may be able to satisfy some of the genuine and realistic concerns raised.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I dealt with the position generally, before I come to the specific amendments. I shall then speak to the Government amendment to subsection (4).

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield set out his concerns in three areas. I shall first discuss the general approach—the move from the current framework for arrest powers based on seriousness to the framework that we want, which is based on necessity. That appears to be a big shift, but it may appear smaller to hon. Members when I go through some of the detail. It is, however, a matter of principle, and it is therefore right that we should explore it. Secondly, I shall deal with issues related to citizen's arrest and will take on board some of the interesting points made by hon. Members, and then I will deal with issues related to breach of the peace.

Arrest is a serious matter. I take this area very seriously indeed and have explored it at great length with my officials. Arrest is one of the most intrusive powers that the police have and therefore needs to be exercised within a careful, measured, constructive and rigorous framework.

PACE, which has been in place for some 20 years, established a fairly structured system of arrest powers from what had been a very incoherent system. PACE recognised that constables should have the power to arrest for arrestable offences—offences carrying a term of imprisonment of five years or more and for serious arrestable offences—and for specified offences such as murder, manslaughter and rape. However, even PACE, recognised that a constable should have the power of arrest, if considered necessary, for all offences. No one in the Committee has referred to section 25 of PACE, which states that there are arrestable offences, serious arrestable offences, and general arrest conditions. It states:
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    ''Where a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any offence which is not an arrestable offence has been committed or attempted . . . he may arrest the relevant person if . . . any of the general arrest conditions are satisfied.''

Those conditions are set out in section 25(3); they cover situations in which the person's name and address are unknown, the constable has grounds for doubting that he has been given the correct name and address, or an arrest is necessary—we duplicate these provisions in new section 24(5)(c)—to prevent physical injury, or loss or damage to property.

So, to a large extent, we have transposed the general arrest conditions in section 25 to the Bill, although there is one significant addition, with which I shall deal in a moment. Although that is a fundamental change, I am seeking to establish for hon. Members that the concept is not entirely new. This is not a new set of provisions; they already exist as general arrest conditions in section 25 of PACE.

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