Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Will the Minister assure the Committee that she could justify, were she asked to, the bringing into arrestability of each of the 117 offences besides cannabis? I am not asking her to do it now—it would take too long—but is she sure that she could justify that, in the same way in which she did the bringing in of cannabis? It strikes one as quite a large class of drugs suddenly to be brought into arrestability simply because cannabis has just been downgraded.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have already said that, generically, the class C drugs will be treated together. I pray in aid the relatively small number of users—abusers, rather—of class C drugs who have found themselves before the courts. Certainly, we would not anticipate that that number should be greatly increased by anything in the Bill. Consider the sensitivity and appropriateness with which the matter has already been approached by those law enforcement agencies that have had the duty imposed on them to deal with it. They have already demonstrated over many years that they are able to deal appropriately with such matters, and we do not expect them to change tack now.

In relation to the discomfort on certainty spoken about by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, I can say that we have the historical basis to know how the police have dealt with the matter until now. We are not changing the nature of the offence in relation to class C drugs, merely making it arrestable. We can be assured on this occasion that the police and prosecuting authorities will respond appropriately, because they always have. There is nothing to indicate that there has been a material change.

Lord Elton: Is the Minister then saying that cannabis will in future be treated in the same way as all the other drugs, which have very rarely come before the courts? If not, what is the point of changing the classification?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We believe that there will be a material reduction in the number of people

30 Jun 2003 : Column 628

who will be arrested and dealt with in the way we have described in relation to cannabis. That is because we are seeking to address—I gave the criteria earlier—the specific aggravated cases of use or abuse of cannabis. I have also tried to make it clear that we are trying to address on the ground an opportunity for police officers to interact more creatively with the young people with whom they have to deal, by giving them the flexibility to caution or remove and dispose of the drugs. They will still be able to say that the offence is wrong and to dissuade, but hopefully their being able to warn and caution will have a beneficial effect.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: With great respect to the noble Baroness, she said something in reply to the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that I found immensely revealing. She said that we knew how the police had historically acted. The people about whom we are talking do not know that. They know the opposite. We need to take that terribly seriously.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We take that seriously. I was talking about those who currently use class C drugs. We are really talking about those who have been in receipt of prescriptions and other prescribed drugs. When I say that we know, we know from the empirical data that improper cases have not been brought against such people. That is what I mean by "we know". The empirical data suggest that that is the position, not that we are somehow, by osmosis, assuming some special knowledge. The data demonstrate that there is no need for anxiety on those grounds. If there were, I can promise that we would be appropriately anxious.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am very grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken in support of Amendment No. 7, in whole or in part. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, brought her great experience to the debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, wanted to go further than the amendment, but underlined the concerns about guidelines and there being nothing in statute. My noble friends Lord Waddington and Lord Alexander of Weedon spoke on the dangers of ever-wider discretionary powers and the impact that they will have on public confidence in the judicial system and on police-public relationships, a point picked up by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. As ever, my noble friend Lady Carnegy put her finger on the reality of what will happen to the 117 drugs.

The Minister—I mean this most sincerely—gave her usual polished and informative reply. I look forward to reading much of what she said. We will want to come back to the matter on Report, when I would like her to answer three points. First, she did not give any examples—perhaps her officials could help—of problems with class C drugs that have occurred in the past 30 years when they have not been arrestable offences. Secondly, she made a handsome effort to clarify the Government's attitude towards cannabis.

30 Jun 2003 : Column 629

The reality is that, although it may be clear in the Home Office, outside the Home Office it is not as clear as it thinks, if indeed it thinks that it is.

Finally, the Minister said that it was not right to have special laws for cannabis, but we are doing so. We are downgrading it to class C, and upgrading penalties for class C because cannabis is in it. We are changing the treatment of class C drugs for cannabis. A special law is exactly what we now have. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 7, as an amendment to Amendment No. 6, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 6 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Bail elsewhere than at police station]:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 8:

    Page 2, line 26, after "delaying" insert "(for such time, which shall not exceed such maximum as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State in an order made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament)"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 9. These are probing amendments.

Clause 3 of the Bill contains provisions that are colloquially known as "street bail", which will allow police officers to grant bail at places other than police stations. Amendment No. 8 reflects a point that was raised in another place; namely, whether there should be any time limit to the period during which a constable can delay taking an arrested person to a police station or releasing him on bail, if the person's presence at a place other than a police station is necessary to carry out reasonable investigations.

In responding to a similar amendment in another place, the Under-Secretary of State, Mr Benn, said,

    "no time limits currently operate under PACE. Most delays in the circumstances that we are discussing will be relatively brief, but there will be circumstances in which a delay could exceed two hours: for example, when the arrested person needs to accompany the police officer during the search of the premises".

There being no time limit at present in PACE, is it possible that an arrested person could be granted "street bail" many hours after his or her arrest? In another place, the Under-Secretary of State added:

    "The police, in grabbing street bail as a new power, will not have much incentive to waste a lot of time by keeping people for longer than two hours before granting them street bail".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 17/12/02; col. 13.]

In that case, can the Minister expand a little on the sorts of times that we are talking about here? How long might it be before a person was given "street bail" in such circumstances?

Amendment No. 9 would insert a requirement that a detained person should receive a copy of the reasons for such a delay immediately after they are recorded when the person arrives at the police station or is

30 Jun 2003 : Column 630

released on bail. Will the detained person receive such a notice? If not, why not, and when will they become aware of the reasons for the delay? I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: Some of us were present at the meeting held by the Children's Society. Various concerns were expressed about the matter, particularly about the potential erosion of current safeguards in the PACE code of practice, which would be involved. Currently, when a child is arrested, the police have a duty to ensure that the parent, carer or appropriate adult is informed and present during any interview or charging procedures. We are aware that the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers welcome the provision that bail be granted elsewhere than in a police station. That would save them from inconvenience and reduce the burden on police time. It would also keep operational officers on the street and people who do not need to be detained out of police stations.

The issue identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, requires some answers. It is important to bear in mind the comments of a number of legal bodies in this country. I draw particular attention to the comments of Justice in this regard. First, it said that while it supports the approach, it is particularly keen to ensure that there should be a time limit of four weeks from arrest to attendance at a police station to avoid people being subject to bail; such cases should be followed up efficiently. Secondly, it raised the important point that the police station to which the person is bailed must be reasonably proximate to his or her place of residence. Thirdly, it said that the arrested person must be entitled to free legal advice, in the nature of police station representation, on answering their bail to ensure that they are in no worse a position than someone who is subject to normal arrest. The most important point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is about the need to give reasons why that is happening. Much of the conflict between young people and the police would be alleviated if they knew clearly the grounds on which the matter was taken up by the police.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page