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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Amendment) Order 2005

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Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Derek Conway

Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
†Blears, Hazel (Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety)
†Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
†Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)
†Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
†Gibson, Dr. Ian (Norwich, North) (Lab)
†Heath, Mr. David (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
Herbert, Nick (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
†Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
†Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Prisk, Mr. Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Spellar, Mr. John (Warley) (Lab)
†Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
David Bates, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Monday 12 December 2005

[Derek Conway in the Chair]

Draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Amendment) Order 2005

4.30 pm

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Amendment) Order 2005.

I hope that this will be a relatively brief sitting. The order relates primarily to various typographical failings in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The order was agreed in the other place on Friday and, subject to approval by the Committee, will come into force on 1 January 2006. It was cleared by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on 30 November.

Articles 2 to 5 cover drafting amendments that correct minor typographical errors, including those in section 179 of the 2005 Act, which relates to the short title and extent of the Act, and the entries in the repeals and revocations of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in the 2005 Act. The amendments to section 179 extend section 56 of the 2005 Act, which provides for the application of discrimination legislation, to Serious Organised Crime Agency staff who could be seconded to Scotland and Northern Ireland, thus ensuring that they are covered. In so far as the amendments relate to Scotland, we have already consulted the Scottish Ministers in accordance with section 173, and they are content.

Article 6 relates to part V of the Police Act 1997 and, again, it provides clarity on drafting and corrects one inaccurate reference. The first change simply inserts words omitted in error from the text of the Act so that it is accurate and clear. The second changes the amendment to the 1997 Act so that it refers to the correct subsection of that Act. Identical amendments will be made by order by Scottish Ministers because they have jurisdiction over matters relating to the operation of the Criminal Records Bureau.

Articles 7 and 8 relate to search warrant powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Sections 113 and 114 of the 2005 Act will amend the search warrant provisions in PACE. The changes are due to come into effect on 1 January 2006. They introduce specific-premises and all-premises warrants. We had a discussion in Committee last week, or the week before last, about the extensive changes brought about by the 2005 Act in relation to all-premises warrants and warrants that could last for an extended period.

Since the 2005 Act received Royal Assent, it has come to light that the current drafting of the amendments to PACE could lead to a legal challenge against the lawful use of a non-PACE warrant.
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Although the potential for such a challenge may be remote, we should take this early opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the issue of single-entry warrants issued under statutes other than PACE. All warrants, regardless of their legal base, must comply with the conditions in sections 15 and 16 of PACE. As currently drafted, section 15 requires all warrants to comply with the conditions for specific-premises and all-premises warrants. However, search warrants can be issued under other legislation such as section 26 of Theft Act 1968 and section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971—a power that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has raised previously—and those warrants apply only to a single premises. The way in which the 2005 Act is drafted means that it would not be possible for those warrants to comply with the conditions in section 15 of PACE, which relates to all-premises and specific-premises warrants. The amendments in articles 7 and 8 avert the potential for any legal challenge by making it clear that the conditions for specific-premises and all-premises warrants apply only to those types of warrant.

As outlined, the amendments will correct a number of typographical and drafting errors in the 2005 Act. I commend the order to the House.

The Chairman: I am sure that Committee members will not mind my pointing out that they should restrict their comments to the instrument before us and not comment on the wider Acts to which it refers.

4.34 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Welcome to our deliberations, Mr. Conway. I trust that we will keep ourselves within the limits that you mentioned in your strictures. The motion is that we have considered this draft serious disorganised punctuation order, and I am concerned that it takes eight Government Members of Parliament, two of whom are Privy Councillors, one of whom is a Minister and one of whom is an eminent academic medical scientist, to deal with that.

We shall in due course say that we have considered the order, but if, according to the Minister, this amounts to an early opportunity to do so, why was it not taken before the election when the Act was already in force? This is an amusing occasion, but it reveals some serious failings by the Government. They are prepared to rush through legislation under tightly time-scheduled programmes, and that throws up mistakes such as those under discussion. In the great scheme of things, they are minor, but they cause delay and expense, and they subject Parliament to ridicule—and properly so.

I trust that the Government and all who represent the Government in this Committee learn the lesson of this farce and, in future, ensure that their legislation is in order before it leaves the Commons and the Lords and goes to Her Majesty for Royal Assent. I do not need to say much more than that.

This is a day not for levity, but for serious criticism of the Government. There would have been no need for the membership of the Committee or the staff of the
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House and the Home Office to be present if the Government had done their homework. They have not. They have had since the general election to get the matter right, but they seem keener to have a debate on punctuation than on police restructuring; getting a debate on that on the Floor of the House was like drawing teeth. However, here we are, and I am delighted to see the Minister. If this is her last outing as a Minister in the Home Office before her well earned promotion to some other interesting job, which I gather is hot on the wires, it is a day that she will remember, even if the rest of us do not.

4.37 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Welcome to the Chair of the Committee, Mr. Conway. I share some of the views that have been expressed about the procedure that we must follow on such occasions. I share also the view of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) that it would be better if legislation were more carefully drafted.

Often, mistakes creep in as a result of the pressures of guillotines and the inadequacy of debate. Having said that, to err is human, and there shall be occasions when we in our role either as Opposition Members scrutinising the actions of Ministers, or as Ministers bringing legislation forward, do not notice such things.

I hope that the basis of this observation will not be interpreted as levity, but when a carefully drafted order such as the one before us deals with significant typographical errors, it is slightly depressing to read paragraph 4.4 of the explanatory memorandum, which says:

    “Article 5 of the removes some entries”.

That is a typographical error, I presume. Paragraph 4.7 says,

    “under other section 8 of PACE”.

I do not know what language the explanatory memorandum is in, but it is not English. A little care in drafting even the explanatory memorandum accompanying the error and the corrigenda being put forward today might have been in order.

Mr. Conway, I clearly heard your minatory words stating that we cannot stray into such matters as section 132 of the initial Act, which, because of its disgraceful use in restricting free speech in London, is the real thing that should be amended today. We
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cannot argue the matter today. That is the real error in the Act: that we cannot put right a grievous abuse of the parliamentary system to reduce free speech.

We can dot the is and cross the ts, allowing at least the statute on the book to make legislative sense; but it is a huge waste of resource and time, and it should have been better done in the original Committee.

4.40 pm

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): I regret the necessity of convening the Committee to deal with typographical errors. Obviously, in a perfect world, all our legislation would be absolutely pristine, beyond reproach and without a single error. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome at least indicated that to err is human.

It is perfectly proper for the Government at an early opportunity—this is a relatively early opportunity—to ensure that we have done our best to bring the legislation in line with the changes to the PACE codes, which come into effect in January. We have not waited for a legal challenge but have anticipated the possibility of one, particularly around warrants, and therefore have introduced these measures.

I remind the Committee that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act is a weighty piece of legislation. It runs to more than 180 sections and various schedules. It does some very important work, in that it tackles serious and organised crime, establishes the agency, tackles money laundering and gives the police the powers that they need to tackle the increasingly sophisticated criminals that are a threat to our communities. To that extent, it is an extremely worthwhile piece of legislation.

I too wish that every i had been dotted and every t crossed. I hope that, with the order, the Act will be perhaps not perfect, but an extremely helpful piece of legislation for ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have powers and tools at their disposal to tackle the kind of crime that I am sure would cause even the hon. and learned Member for Harborough concern on behalf of his community. I commend it.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Amendment) Order 2005.

Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Five o’clock.


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