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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Standing Committee D

Tuesday 18 January 2005

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Chairmen: Dame Marion Roe, †Mr. Bill O'Brien

†Baird, Vera (Redcar) (Lab)

†Blears, Ms Hazel (Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety)

†Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries) (Lab)

†Cairns, David (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

†Campbell, Mr. Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)

†Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)

†Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)

†Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)

†Farrelly, Paul (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)

†Flint, Caroline (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

†Grieve, Mr. Dominic (Beaconsfield) (Con)

†Griffiths, Jane (Reading, East) (Lab)

†Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)

†Heath, Mr. David (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

†Heppell, Mr. John (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Mann, John (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

McWalter, Mr. Tony (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op)

†Mitchell, Mr. Andrew (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

†Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton, South) (Lab)

†Ward, Claire (Watford) (Lab)

Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk

attended the Committee


[Dame Marion Roe in the Chair]

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Clause 101

Powers of arrest

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 302, in clause 101, page 67, line 14, leave out lines 15 to 17.—[Mr. Grieve.]

2.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing 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


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—

Column Number: 244

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

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Marion.

Before lunch, I explained that we are moving from a framework in which the seriousness of the offence is the defining character to one that involves the test of necessity. That is the fundamental point.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I apologise to the Minister if the passing of time has dulled my memory, but I think that she said earlier the opposite of what she is saying now. Can she confirm that she said that seriousness will stay part of the overall reasonableness test, which will therefore become stronger?

Ms Blears: I am delighted to confirm that seriousness will remain one of the factors to be used in deciding whether it is necessary to exercise the power. It is an important factor and it will remain a central consideration, because we do not want to deny the basis on which Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provisions have developed. However, a number of other matters will also be taken into account, and that will strengthen the test.

The hon. Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) emphasised the nature of policing in this country, that it is policing by consent. The nature of the encounter between the police officer and the citizen is therefore critical if that relationship is to be maintained. By introducing the test of necessity, we raise the threshold at which police officers can exercise their judgment. That strengthens the relationship at the time of the encounter; it is policing not only by consent, but with the active co-operation of communities. That takes us further in developing neighbourhood policing models.

I hope that the Committee will accept my reassurance that the changes are designed to strengthen the relationship between citizens and the police rather than to weaken it.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I apologise for my late arrival.

I have had an opportunity to consider what the Minister said before lunch, and I appreciate that the first part of the clause, which deals with constables' powers, repeats many but not all the PACE provisions. It gets rid, however, of the distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. That leaves me with an anxiety that the provision sends out a signal to the police about the use or extension of their powers that might work against the sensitive exercise of those powers. I do not know to what extent she intends to touch on that issue, but I hope that we can examine it.

Ms Blears: I am keen to dispel any message of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Perhaps I can help him by saying that seriousness remains one of the factors. We also want to consider the effect on the victim and the way in which we can ensure that the powers are used both to investigate crime and to secure convictions, and we intend to develop a code of
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practice on the way in which the powers will be used. That will happen after consultation not only with the limited range of stakeholders specified in PACE, but much more widely, to ensure that the messages we send out in relation to the framework reinforce the points that I have made about community policing and maintaining the good relationship between citizens and the police service.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Minister has said several times that the test of seriousness remains, but I am at a loss to understand how. The test of necessity provision is, as she correctly says, largely lifted from the previous general arrest conditions for minor offences that did not come under the category of arrestable offences or serious arrestable offences. I see no other condition on the arrest that applies to the seriousness of the offence. Will she explain why she believes that the test of seriousness persists?

Ms Blears: If the hon. Gentleman compares section 25 of PACE with the necessity provisions in subsection (1), he will see that proposed subsection (5)(e) makes a key addition. There are currently no necessity provisions for the general power of arrest, but paragraph (e) will allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or the conduct of the person in question. That relates to whether one is looking at a serious offence and whether, in a complex investigation, one needs to make an arrest in order to take the matter forward. As I say, we do not specify seriousness as a particular factor, but when a constable is considering whether to exercise the power, that judgment will, under the code of practice to be worked up under PACE, clearly include consideration of the nature of the offence that has been committed.

Mr. Heath: I am sorry to test the Minister further on this issue; I am not trying to be clever. The reasons listed in subsection (5) are alternatives; they are options or palette of reasons from which the officer can choose. Adding an additional reason to enable the investigation of the offence will not provide an additional test, because it will not qualify the others. Good arguments may be advanced for doing exactly as she says, but the suggestion that the provisions maintain a seriousness test is not one of them. It flies in the face of the logic of the clause as presently constructed.

Ms Blears: I am sorry, but I think that the hon. Gentleman fails to appreciate the problem. It is not his fault; it may be mine in terms of communication. We are asking constables to take a more holistic view of the circumstances that face them. At the moment, they have to decide only whether something is covered by the PACE list, but that is an arbitrary way of deciding whether or not to arrest. Under that arrangement, the constable can simply say, ''If it is in the list, I can do it, so let's get on with it.'' We are asking the constable to take a view on the nature of the offence, the conduct of the person in question and the seriousness of the situation, including whether there is physical injury or loss or damage to property, or whether can he get an
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address. A range of issues are involved, and the constable has to be satisfied that it is right to exercise the power in those circumstances.

I have given the hon. Gentleman the assurance that, when we work up the code of practice, the nature of the offence will clearly be a consideration. However, the current system, with an arbitrary list saying when one can arrest irrespective of the need to exercise that power, is not the right place to be. We have tried to move on from that framework, but to retain some of the concepts relating to necessity that are to be found in the general powers of arrest. That is why we have transposed them into the new provision. We are retaining some of the concepts, but we seek a gateway of necessity rather than the arbitrary gateway of seriousness.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): The question for the Minister is clear. She seeks to blunt the argument of those on the Opposition Benches and to beguile us with her promised code of practice. What does she mean? She says that she will consult, but will the matter be the subject of debate in the House? Will it be the subject of any form of secondary legislation? Whom does she envisage consulting? To what extent should she be able to blunt our arguments by the promise of a code of practice? Will she reassure us on that point?

Ms Blears: I shall be delighted to do so. The preparation and promulgation of codes of practice is a long-established means of putting flesh on the bones of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There is a series of statutory codes, and the proposed code would be another such code. There will be formal consultation. I understand that we are statutorily bound to consult a limited number of stakeholders, including various police organisations. In this case, we intend to consult not only those bodies, but organisations such as Liberty. Members have raised the question of disproportionality, particularly for people from black and minority ethnic communities, so we intend also to consult them about the implications of the code. The code will be subject to an affirmative resolution in both Houses, following not only the consultation but consideration by the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The consultation is a fairly formal procedure.

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Prepared 18 January 2005