Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Mr. Heath: I wish simply to say that I accept entirely the common sense of the Minister's proposal. The only reason that I have risen to speak is that my amendment No. 298, which is a drafting amendment, is in this group. I do not feel disposed to say a great deal about it at this point.

Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely with what the Government are seeking to do in this aspect of the clause, although some other aspects cause me concern. However, we will examine those in a moment. The principle that the Minister has laid out is one that I wholly endorse.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 187, in clause 107, page 73, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 74.

I am pleased to see that the amendment is supported by the Conservative members of the Committee. I rather hoped that the Minister would put her name to it as well. I drew attention to the matter on Second Reading. This part of the clause is extraordinarily
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curiously worded—perhaps I am missing a self-evident point, but I have read and re-read it and cannot for the life of me see why it is worded in such a way. It reads:

    ''A person falling within subsection (1B) below may, on the occasion of the relevant event referred to in subsection (1B), be photographed elsewhere than at a police station''

That would be all right up to that point, but then it says

    ''(a) with the appropriate consent; or'',

    (b) if the appropriate consent is withheld or it is not practicable to obtain it, without it.''

I can understand having a provision for taking a photograph with consent and I can understand a provision for taking it without consent. However, to set out both options seems to be entirely redundant. As I say, I might have missed a self-evident truth and the Minister may be able to enlighten me about what circumstances do not fall into one of the two categories of ''with consent'' or ''without consent'', but I am at a loss to understand what further category she might envisage. She will have to explain it to me in words that I can understand.

Mr. Grieve: I share the hon. Gentleman's puzzlement. The only conclusion that I could possibly draw when I looked at the clause was that one had to ask first; but if, having asked, one was told that there was no consent, one could go ahead anyway. However, I agree that it is curiously worded.

I would be grateful to hear a little more from the Minister about the fact that the clause involves photographing somebody elsewhere than at a police station. That raises slight anxieties in my mind about how that will be carried out in practice. I realise that a surreptitious photograph of somebody can be taken elsewhere than at a police station, but a police station is a controlled environment where there is a system for photographing somebody and for putting a crime number under his name if he has been arrested. To do all that in the street is rather more complicated. Furthermore, one also has to bear in mind that the police do not have a right to humiliate people in public, and photographing a person in a coercive environment elsewhere than at a police station could be precisely that. I have a wider concern about how the measure will operate in practice.

Ms Blears: Perhaps I can deal with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome first. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield is absolutely right; it is a matter of asking first. That is why the provision is drafted as it is. I understand that it is virtually identical to other provisions in PACE relating to identification. It is therefore a repetition of an established form of drafting.

I asked whether it was a completely rhetorical position to be in. We have had a discussion about policing by consent, which is the basis on which we operate in this country, and the relationship between a citizen and the police officer is at the heart of the effectiveness of our policing. Therefore, the Bill provides that our first recourse is always to ask ''Can we do this with your consent?'' and if that consent is not forthcoming, we can go onto to the next stage and do it without consent. It is important to us, however, that that question is asked. The Committee have
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talked about the messages we send out in the way in which we draft our legislation, and this is an important message: when are dealing with the public, one should always ask first and, hopefully, ask nicely; only then should one use the more coercive powers, if they are necessary. So it is therefore important that we resist the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome's amendment. Although I am grateful to him; on Second Reading, he referred to it as

    ''a quintessential piece of Home Office drafting''—[Official Report, 7 December 2004; Vol. 428, c.1069.]

which gave me advance notice to take the matter up with my officials.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield makes the perfectly reasonable point that that we do not want to see people being humiliated in the street. There is no question of covert filming under the clause; it deals with the overt taking of photographs. These days, with the available technology, there is no reason why that cannot be done perfectly properly. The provision is part of a move towards doing more and more things outside the police station, whether that is granting street bail, issuing fixed penalty notices or taking photographs. We have some other provisions later on about fingerprints. Our aim is to ensure that police officers are not tied up for hours on end having to take people back to the station and spending two or three hours there, but can spend their time on front-line policing duties, which is what the police want to do. This is all of a piece, and coherent with our general thrust of being able to do things outwith the police station that, in the past, have been done in a fairly bureaucratic organisational way. I hope that move has the support of all parties, so that we can get our police doing the work that the public want them to do. I therefore ask the Committee to resist the amendment.

Mr. Heath: Why not go the whole hog and say ''with the appropriate consent asked for in the appropriate way,'' or, ''the constable will be polite in doing so''? We expect certain standards of our constables, and where they are not forthcoming, such things can sometimes be put in the PACE guidance and codes of conduct which, as we have discussed, have an enormous effect on the application of PACE. There is, therefore, provision for ensuring that a constable asks for consent in the appropriate terms. Nothing is added to the power—that is my point: it is redundant in terms of the power. It could just as easily be said that photographing may happen without the appropriate consent, just as fingerprinting is under the subsequent clause. The police invite consent, which the Minister is absolutely right to draw attention to, and we are at one on that. It could be a subject for guidance under the code of conduct.

I do not resile for one moment from my view that this is a rather silly way of putting the provision into statute when it could achieved other means, but if the
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Minister is attached to the wording, who am I to stand in her way? I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 257, page 74, line 22, at end insert—

    '( ) In subsection (4)(a), after ''prosecution'' insert, ''or to the enforcement of a sentence''.

    ( ) In subsection (5), after paragraph (b) insert ''; and

    (c) ''sentence'' includes any order made by a court in England and Wales when dealing with an offender in respect of his offence.''.'.—[Ms Blears.]

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 297, in clause 107, page 74, line 25, at end insert—

    '(4) After subsection (6A) (inserted by subsection (3) of this section) insert—

    ''(6B) This section does not apply to—

    (a) a person aged under 17, or

    (b) a member of any group which is defined in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group.''.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 299, in clause 108, page 74, line 29, leave out '(4)' and insert '(4A)'.

No. 300, in clause 108, page 75, line 6, at end insert—

    '(4A) In subsection (9), at the end insert—


    (c) applies to—

    (i) a person aged under 17, or

    (ii) a member of any group which is defined in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group.''.'.

No. 301, in clause 109, page 76, line 28, at end insert—

    '(9) When the person is—

    (a) aged under 17, or

    (b) a member of any group which is defined in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group.

    no impression of the person's footwear may be taken except in the presence of an appropriate adult (as defined in a code of practice issued under this Act.'.

Mr. Heath: I hope that amendment No. 298, which was placed in an earlier group, might be taken into account.

These are probing amendments. I do not intend to put them to a vote, but I would like the Minister's advice. These are serious issues that are a matter of some concern to various groups outside the House that deal with children. As the Minister may be aware, the amendments were suggested by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. It has a clear point of concern. Under the present PACE codes, additional safeguards should be in place when young or vulnerable people are required to undergo any intrusive act at the request of a constable; usually the requirement is that an appropriate adult is with them if an young or vulnerable person is taken to a police station for those activities to be undertaken. The concern has been expressed that those protections appear to go out of the window under the new provisions, unless there is an express provision within this part of the Bill to bring back the requirements under the PACE codes, thereby ensuring that the Government meet their obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

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That is the purport of the amendments. I do not want to take up any more of the Committee's time. What I have said is sufficient for the Minister to give a perfectly comprehensive reply. I would much prefer that the safeguards that apply to children or vulnerable people were explicit in this part of the Bill. The Minister might say that it will be dealt with under codes of conduct. That is second best, but the assurance will important for those who work with children and vulnerable people. To have no such assurance puts children at considerable risk. It is obviously more difficult for a child to give an informed consent to a procedure. It is entirely appropriate for an adult to be asked whether they gave their consent, but a child needs advice from an adult about that. The advice might be that the child needed legal representation before acceding to the request. That would be commonplace within the confines of a police station but it might be more difficult to achieve out on the street.

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