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Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved the Amendment

Page 1, line 10, at end insert ("of the rank of superintendent or above"").

The noble Baroness said: It is somewhat refreshing that I do not have to refer to an amendment number between one and about 500, as has been the case with the Crime and Disorder Bill. There is just one amendment; I hope that it is nonetheless worthy to be discussed. The amendment would restrict the wide power granted to the police under the Bill to a police officer of a specified rank.

I recognise that I may not have selected the most appropriate wording or the most felicitous way of expressing myself, or indeed the correct rank within the police force. I am certainly open to persuasion on that point. I would simply note that I have borrowed wording from Section 42 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which covers the authorisation of continued detention.

This Bill gives power to a constable--any constable--to grant consent to a manufacturer to continue to produce precursors when he or she has formed the suspicion that the customer who has ordered them will then use them in the course of the illicit drugs trade. At Second Reading I raised several concerns about the way in which this power might be used. I can now confirm that the Minister has satisfied my concerns on several of those points. I am grateful for the conversations I have had outwith the House with the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, who has been most co-operative on this point, and I believe that many of my worries have been met. However, there are some issues which remain unresolved.

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I certainly agree with the Government that it is right that innocent manufacturers who are only seeking to co-operate with the police should be given statutory protection from prosecution. They should not be put at the mercy of administrative indulgence to escape prosecution. But I believe it is important that when we give the police statutory powers we should take care that they are both clearly and carefully defined so that we reduce the capacity for abuse as far as possible so that we are then able, first, to protect the public; secondly, to prevent corrupt police officers from misusing their powers--as I remarked at Second Reading, sadly we know that there are such officers, though those in charge of police forces much regret the fact--thirdly, to prevent collusion between corrupt police and corrupt manufacturers, though I hope that this would never happen--but, if it did, the Bill would give the manufacturer an absolute defence in that what would normally be considered illegal would suddenly become legal--and, fourthly, we should ensure that innocent and helpful manufacturers feel that they are not tainted by association with any corrupt manufacturer. It is important that we do not in any way discourage chemical manufacturers and those who work for them from reporting their suspicions to the police. I am concerned that, by the granting of such a wide power to any constable, we leave too much room for abuse. I am convinced that that is not what the Government wish to do.

At first I had considered a more prescriptive amendment which would have required the police officer to be acting in the course of his or her duty when granting the consent. I tabled such an amendment. I apologise to those noble Lords who saw that amendment and then saw it disappear. The amendment was superseded with a second one. That was simply because I took the opportunity to speak to representatives of the chemical industry. I also read carefully in Hansard the comments of the Minister at Second Reading and I also read carefully the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, which he was kind enough to send to me after Second Reading. I accepted the arguments put therein that my original amendment could have led to an unnecessary burden being imposed on the manufacturers and would not in itself have achieved my objective.

That objective is to ensure that such a serious step of granting consent by any constable to a manufacturer is taken only after serious consideration by senior police who have knowledge of this trade. I have already referred to the letter I received from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside. He made the point that it is unlikely that the kind of operation involved would be undertaken without careful preparation within the force involving comparatively senior officers. What I wish to do is to make sure of that happening rather than leave it to chance.

At this stage I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the chemical manufacturers, first, for the efforts which are being made to protect against the diversion of chemicals into the illicit production of drugs and chemical weapons, but also for the fact that they co-operate fully with the Government wherever

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possible and the police authorities in the controlled delivery of chemicals which are destined for use in the illicit production of drugs and chemical weapons where this is expected to lead to the apprehension and conviction of criminals involved in such trade or production.

That sounds somewhat stilted language but that is simply because it has been lifted word for word from the document that the Chemical Industries Association has produced. It is its voluntary code of practice which has been in operation since March 1994. I believe that it is a valuable tool which the industry has been using in its efforts to co-operate with the police and the Government. I have also read the comprehensive practical guide which it has produced to the trade controls affecting the United Kingdom chemical industry. I am aware that the chemical industry is in regular contact with NCIS and the Home Office Drugs Unit.

I would not wish to do anything to disrupt the bond of trust which I hope is continuing to be built up between those three parts of the triangle in trying to prevent the illicit production of drugs and the precursor chemicals which will provide drugs. No doubt anything that helps to clarify the legal position of manufacturers and to prevent innocent manufacturers from prosecution must be a positive and welcome step.

I fully support the intent behind this Bill, but I believe that the amendments I have tabled for today would bring proper security to the public, the police and manufacturers, which I believe is necessary.

I have also mentioned to both the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, and the Minister that there are other matters about which I still have some concerns. One of them is the position of the police constable who may grant consent for the chemical manufacturer to continue to manufacture precursors when the police have a suspicion they may be abused for the illicit drug trade. The question I have to ask is this: wherein lies the protection for the constable? Wherein lies his or her immunity from prosecution? Is it built into the substance of this Bill, which presumably will become an Act in the not too distant future? Is it built into the statute here, whereby the fact that we are saying that the chemical manufacturer may be given this permission means that we are allowing the police officer to grant it in the knowledge that the police also will not suffer prosecution? I simply ask that so it may be a matter of record in Hansard for the protection of the police taking part in such an operation.

The second matter is one that I raised at Second Reading. I simply mention it again in the hope that the Minister may make a clear statement on this point. It is the issue of entrapment within the specific context of the Bill. The Bill has the potential to encourage and facilitate the practice of entrapment in that chemical manufacturers may well be more ready to co-operate with the police in such situations if it is clear that by so doing they will not be committing an offence. Indeed, I would expect that it is the hope of the Government

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and the Chemical Industries Association that the Bill will assist chemical manufacturers to come forward when otherwise they may not do so.

But that could have unfortunate and, I am sure, unintended results where, for example, it is the police who are inciting somebody to manufacture controlled drugs illegally. So we could have a situation--although I hope not--where a corrupt police officer incited a corrupt manufacturer to act. One could then end up with a situation whereby the manufacturer could say, if later apprehended, that he was given consent by a police officer.

That is the kind of situation which I am trying to avoid and why I have been seeking ways in which to put something on the face of the Bill which would allow the grave matter of a police officer granting consent to a manufacturer to be treated in a very serious way. Therefore, I eventually decided that the appropriate way of doing so would be to require that the police officer who granted such a consent should be of sufficiently senior rank that it was not a decision that could be taken on the hoof by any constable anywhere at any time in response to information received while on the streets. The decision should be taken at an operationally high level. As I have said, although I fully support the intentions behind the Bill and welcome its objectives, I have some concerns about the way in which it may operate and I therefore beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for the careful way in which she has approached this matter, the research that she has undertaken and the inquiries that she has made, all with the intention of improving the Bill. Perhaps I may also express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, for writing to me on this matter last week. I regret that I was out of the country until yesterday and was therefore unable to reply.

I accept the argument that has been put forward by the noble Baroness that there is a need to limit the scope of the consent that can be given under the proposed new Section 1A. I have followed her argument and I fully accept that her suggestion that the "constable" should be an officer,

    "of the rank of superintendent or above",
is a sensible and practical way of approaching the problem. It gives confidence and protection to the manufacturer and avoids the corrupt situations to which the noble Baroness referred earlier. Accordingly, I support the amendment.

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