Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Harris of Richmond: In sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, I would like the same issue clarified. Will the Minister clarify beyond doubt that a constable would have to be on the premises with the authorised person when the search was being conducted? If that is the case, we on these Benches are content to support the clause. It seems sensible to allow the authorised person, who is probably a specialist or expert, to search for suspected records or whatever it is they are looking for. They will know best. With that proviso, I support the amendments.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I support the amendment. Speaking as a completely lay person, the arrival of a police officer in one's house accompanied by someone else is more unnerving than the arrival of a police officer on his own. The behaviour of the person who accompanies the police officer must be impeccable. Such people have the same powers as a police officer and must therefore know precisely what can and cannot be done when a house is being searched. How will such people be briefed? Will they know exactly what their powers are on paper? Will they have a description of what they can do?

When people become absorbed in searching a computer, it is important to know how far they can go. It would be very frightening if one's computer was suspected of holding pornographic pictures, especially if it did not. I am imagining such a scene. Will the Minister tell us how such a person will know exactly what he or she can do?

Lord Dholakia: This clause is literally an extension of Clause 1. It raises some important issues identified by my noble friend Lady Harris and by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was absolutely right to pinpoint the need to be sensitive about the powers that we invest, not only in the police, but in the people who accompany them. One simply has to look back in history to see what happened in Brixton and at Broadwater in relation to stop and search. Situations such as those must never be repeated.

I seek clarification about matters relating to the individuals accompanying the police when entering and searching. If such powers are given to the police, will they be subject to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the discipline identified in that Act? Will the person accompanying the police be subject to the same disciplinary code under PACE as the police officer? Would such a person be subject to the same independent police complaints authority machinery as the police officer involved? If not, we must be very

30 Jun 2003 : Column 608

careful not to grant these powers because there must be some accountability whether or not such people are with a police officer.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, have each made an important point. My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour said that the arrival of one or more such persons would have an unnerving effect. It is proper that we look at the matter through the eyes of someone who is the unsuspecting and unwilling recipient of a visit. Of course, it is proper for the Government to develop a law to take account of technological advances. We all understand that, and the objectives are shared throughout this House. Equally, however, we must take care not to create what one might call 1984 powers. Under the clause as drafted, such people could enter a house with the powers of a constable, which, after all, are enormous, without even having to say who they are or to carry evidence of identity.

I wish to support, in particular, Amendment No. 5, which requires that such a person,

    "shall be required to carry evidence of identity and to produce it to the occupier".

It is noteworthy that the clause does not confer the office of constable on such people, only the powers. Somebody who holds the office of a constable—the root and foundation of all a policeman's powers—must say who he is and show his identity, if required. I hope, therefore, that the Government will, at the least, accept Amendment No. 5. Without it, we would not keep a proper balance.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendments. It is worrying to have people entering houses, albeit with the authority of the police. I remember the number of complaints we had at the Broadcasting Standards Commission when people arrived with cameras, no doubt with the co-operation or permission of the police. It is a serious matter. We need to be reassured as to whether the powers in the Bill will extend to that category of person.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for the way she moved the amendment. Helpfully, she focused on practical examples. It is by considering practical examples that we will perhaps understand better how we intend the new power in the clause to operate. Some helpful and constructive comments were also made during our discussion. I shall go through each amendment in turn. I shall also make some additional points at the close. I think that I can satisfy Members of the Committee on the points they raised in this important short debate.

Amendment No. 2 would achieve an interesting change by using the term "presence" rather than "company". That gets us off to a good start in considering the collective impact of the amendments. The amendment would make little difference. Essentially, the two words amount to the same thing.

30 Jun 2003 : Column 609

I think that the noble Baroness understands that. It was a peg on which to hang the debate. That is understandable.

The words simply imply that the constable is on the relevant premises with the authorised civilian. The noble Baroness gave a useful example and asked whether it would be right for the constable to be in the hallway while the civilian was in the study. The answer is "Yes". It is OK under the clause. The constable does not have to be looking over the civilian's shoulder but must be on the premises.

In a sense, that brings us to Amendment No. 3. We take the view that it is right that civilians accompanying a constable to assist in exercising search and seizure powers under a warrant should be supervised by that constable in doing so. There will be supervision. The Bill also makes it clear that a civilian can exercise the relevant powers only in the company—the "presence", if you like—of the constable. Beyond that, there is no need of a further requirement for direct supervision. To be effective, the civilian will need some freedom of action, but he will always act under the general direction of the constable.

I accept that there is a balance to be struck. The example of the computer and the technical expertise that the civilian might have is useful. I am sure that we could extend the range of examples. The civilian will have that technical expertise. The constable may not, but he will appreciate and understand the importance of gaining access to data that the computer might hold, including, in particular, pornographic images and so on. That was a helpful way of looking at the situation.

I repeat that the civilian will always be under the general direction of the constable. The constable retains ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the warrant is properly executed. In part, that addresses the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The constable is subject to the PACE codes and to police disciplinary requirements and will have to ensure that the civilian conducts himself properly at all times. In general, the power would not work effectively if the constable had constantly to be looking over the shoulder of the civilian when, actually, he wanted the civilian to use his initiative and exercise his imagination in conducting what might be a very forensic search, particularly if computer records were being examined.

Amendment No. 4 would create a requirement for further written authority from a senior officer before somebody accompanying a constable in executing a warrant could exercise relevant search and seizure powers. That is not necessary. Such a person's participation would, in any event, have already been authorised by a judge or magistrate. That authority would have been given in the knowledge that it implied access to specific powers. Obtaining additional written authority from a chief inspector or other senior officer would add a further level of bureaucracy and might even contribute to delay. In many instances, speed will be of the essence. I am sure that Members of the

30 Jun 2003 : Column 610

Committee who have knowledge of the importance of speed in some police operations will understand why we make that observation.

The suggestion in Amendment No. 5 has already been accommodated in amendments to PACE code of practice B, made in response to a similar amendment tabled in Committee in another place. They cover the searching of premises and the seizure of property. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, was right to remind us of the importance of getting it right and not appearing draconian or 1984-ish.

Amendments to that code came into effect on 1st April. They require that any person accompanying a constable on a search of premises should carry proper identification for production on request. In addition, there is a requirement that the officer in charge of the operation or, specifically, in charge of the search will be required by the code to identify and introduce any such persons and briefly describe their role in the process. That goes a long way towards what I might want if I were feeling vulnerable and threatened by the presence of officers and civilian support staff in my home or my property. The fact that there is a requirement to explain why the person is there and is assisting in the search operation is reassuring. It means that people will get a clear explanation and will be able to understand why the search is being conducted in a particular way.

I think that I have covered all the points raised in the debate save one: would the support staff—the civilians—be fully briefed? They would have to be fully briefed on the nature of the operation. A warrant sets clear limits on what can be searched for and seized, and police officers will always provide thorough briefing. One further thought occurs to me. There will have to be a degree of training for support staff who are to exercise powers under the Bill. They will need to understand fully the import of what they are doing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, raised the issue of complaints, as, I think, did the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The officer whom the civilian is accompanying is ultimately responsible and would, initially, face any disciplinary or complaints action as a consequence. Ultimately, the line of responsibility runs to the chief constable, and there is no change from the current position with regard to liability for civilians attending at the execution of a warrant. That liability is there, as it is. The Bill gives further powers to allow civilians to take action in assisting the search. There is that ultimate line of responsibility, and we believe that the current arrangements work satisfactorily. There will be that liability for civilians attending at the execution of a warrant.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page