|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Mandelson: My Lords, the point that I have been trying to make throughout is that there are many parts of the country, probably the majority of them, where mechanisation, new technologies, automation and changes in working practices have been introduced. I accept that that is happening. However, in other parts, I am afraid that there is what I can describe only as stiff, if not obdurate, resistance on the part of the minority of the union, its areas and branches to seeing this national agreement implemented. As a result of that, a whole series of localised disputes has escalated and produced the threat of a national strike at the end of this week.
Of course, the Government do not condone bullying. I have asked the management about this and whether it has received reports of specific instances. It says that it has not. I have asked it to repeat the request to the union, so that these instances can be properly examined. I believe that, at the last time of asking, no instances were forthcoming. If there has been harassment, of course we do not condone it. However, I must say frankly to my noble friend that if there is an instance of harassment in a locality, you do not need a national strike to sort it out, with all the calamitous damage that would be done to the business because of its lost custom and the escalating number of lost jobs that would result from it.
My noble friend said that 80 per cent of those who voted were in favour of strike action, but it is also possible, as he knows, to count the votes in a different way. If you count those who were against the strike action and those who chose to abstain or withhold their vote from the ballot, you find 60 per cent against. So there are ways and ways of looking at these results and counting the figures.
Throughout all the debates in this House with my noble friend on the Hooper report and the legislation, he always said that the union was up for change. The localised strikes since then and the national strike now send exactly the opposite message. That is what the union has to take into account and avoid; it has to send a different message to its future customers if it is going to turn around its business and secure as many jobs as possible in the future.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, seeing as the Secretary of State is not receiving too much help from his Back-Benchers, perhaps I may offer my support for the line that he is taking. My noble friend had responsibility for the Post Office 35 years ago; it fell to me 25 years ago-so we all draw the short straw in our various careers. I, too, was faced with a national strike. The difference between now and then was that the Union of Communication Workers then resisted the national strike. It resisted the pressure of the militants and the handful of London sorting offices whose vested interest was disruption; it stood out against them. I wish that it would do that again now, because I am quite sure that this does not characterise the true nature of the Post Office.
I echo my noble friend on the Front Bench in saying that, by withdrawing the Postal Services Bill, the Secretary of State threw away a weapon that he had in his hand. His explanation was not entirely complete when he said that it was entirely down to the market; I think that it was the opposition of the union and certain Labour Back-Benchers. It was a weapon thrown away. He might consider using it again in some way by assuring us that that Bill is not entirely dead.
Lord Mandelson: My Lords, I regard the Bill not as a weapon but as an opportunity, and one that is still much needed by this business. I hope that, in one way or another, it will be reintroduced successfully and enacted in the future.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am a great supporter of the Post Office. I look on it as a social service even as much as any other type of service. I do not think that the Secretary of State was in the House when I asked my Question about the effect on people filing paper tax returns, of which I am one of the many thousands. The Answer that I was given was that you would be able to hand in your papers at a post office and have a stamp put on them. I presume that the return would have to be contained within the post office until such time as the strike was over. However, I am more concerned about those people who have already put their tax returns into post boxes, of whom I am not one. Am I correct in thinking that no date stamp goes on them until they are processed? I am getting post now, if I get it at all, that is weeks old and the postmark on it is entirely different from the date inside the letter. How will the Inland Revenue be able to assess those people and be fair to them?
Lord Mandelson: Of course, I quite understand and sympathise with the noble Baroness's point of view and predicament, but HMRC will be able to tell where strike action has occurred and where it has affected the collection and onward dispatch of its forms. I think that she and other noble Lords can rely on the understanding and sensitivity that we have come to associate with HMRC, in what, let us hope, is still an avoidable storm.
(a) section 10 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (c. 48) (police bail); and
(b) Schedule 6 to that Act.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, last time we were in Committee on this Bill, we were discussing injunctions and the effect that they could have on the liberty of innocent people. We debated the issue at length. These amendments relate to a different interference with people who have faced no charge and no trial process. The amendments are to enable discussion of those issues and to suggest two particular amendments that the Government might feel inclined to take up.
These amendments were provoked by events in April, when two protestors from Climate Rush, the climate change organisation, glued themselves around a statue in Parliament. In fact it was a statue of an ancestor of my noble friend Lord Falkland. They glued themselves to each other; there was no damage to the statue and no other damage. They were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and were given pre-charge bail conditions which stipulated that they may not talk with one another, even though they were clearly friends, and may not come within l kilometre of Parliament. The difficulty with that is that they were treated as guilty of something before that had even been established.
These amendments deal with three kinds of bail: first, pre-charge bail at a police station, when there is enough evidence to charge under Section 37(7) (a) or (b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; secondly, pre-charge bail at a police station when there is not enough evidence to charge; and, thirdly, "street bail"-pre-charge bail given by a constable away from the police station under Sections 30 to 30D of PACE. I am particularly concerned about the power to apply conditions to pre-charge bail, because pre-charge bail conditions are control orders by another name.
The power to impose bail conditions has grown steadily over recent years. They were introduced under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I would not dispute the fact that bail conditions for serious crimes are necessary. However, these powers were extended to pre-charge bail under the Criminal Justice Act 2003-but only in cases where there is sufficient evidence to charge an individual, so that was still probably within the bounds of reasonableness. Finally, the Police and Justice Act 2006 extended it to all cases where a person is bailed before charges are brought, even when there may not be sufficient evidence to charge them, including street bail.
The Minister will remember that, in June, I tabled a series of Written PQs to ask how often pre-charge bail conditions are used and how often successful applications are made to vary conditions. He may remember his reply, that:
However, I did some research and it seems that the police are using these powers more, because at Westminster magistrates' court there have seen an increasing number of applications to vary pre-charge bail conditions in the past six months. That suggests either that more conditions are being imposed or that more unreasonable conditions are being imposed, as in the example I gave of the two friends who were not even able to talk to each other after being arrested.
The Westminster magistrates' court also explained that no legal aid is available for applications to vary pre-charge bail conditions, so it is very expensive-indeed, it is impossible for people of limited means-to try to change the restrictions. Neither is there a statutory time limit on how long such conditions will last, nor any explicit restrictions on the sort of offences that they can apply to. The minimum restrictions that the Committee should expect the Government to put into statute are the length of time the conditions would last, and explicitly on applicable offences. A date must be given for a return to the police station, with conditions applying until that date. However, if the subject returns at the appointed date and the police have not completed their investigations, the conditions can be extended.
I turn to street bail, which is a particularly worrying aspect of this. When bail is granted at the police station, the custody sergeant takes on a semi-judicial role in approving bail conditions. A custody sergeant has much more expertise and has had specific training, but an officer on the street is in the thick of it. He may not have had that training, and at that moment he may, indeed, not be able to make an objective judgment about the situation. It appears that some police forces agree with this assessment. Hampshire constabulary, for example, states in its procedural guidelines that,
"Whilst the legislation has been amended to allow for conditions to be imposed upon 'street bail' this facility is not available within the Hampshire Constabulary area and officers may not impose conditions on such bail".
Hampshire police say that they made a strategic decision not to use the powers to attach conditions to street bail because, without extensive training, officers would not be able to use the power proportionately-a very telling statement, and one that I hope the Minister will weigh. The officer also thought that a number of other forces have made the same decision not to allow officers to apply conditions to street bail. Thus, by using these powers to curtail peaceful protest-an issue we shall come back to in discussing some of the amendments on protest-the Met are completely out of step with how other forces are acting.
My amendments put forward three different ways to deal with what is at present an unacceptable power. The common intention behind the three is to prevent the conditions from being used as a kind of improvised punishment or deterrence for people that the police simply feel are doing something wrong, instead of making them face a criminal charge and prosecution. Amendment 152ZB would limit the use of pre-charge bail condition to cases where an officer has reason to believe that a serious offence has taken place or is likely to do so.
"The conditions themselves could have a more severe impact on the suspect than any sentence imposed for the minor offence ... there is a risk that these conditions could be used in lieu of a criminal charge and prosecution. If reasonable time limits were imposed, it would remove that risk, requiring the police to investigate the case as quickly as possible and to decide whether to charge the suspect".-[Official Report, 4/7/06; col. 192.]
My noble friend was absolutely right. It is a pity that we did not manage to persuade the House of the validity of his argument. However, on the basis of the further examples that I have given, I hope that the Committee will now rethink the issue. I beg to move.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has set out her stall in her usual early afternoon extensive fashion. Therefore, I do not intend to speak beyond asking the Minister what I regard as a key question: have the Government any evidence of any inappropriate or disproportionate behaviour by the police in this regard? If he can answer that, I suggest that it would help the Committee no end.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the noble Baroness and the Committee may be aware that the recent public consultation on the review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, known as PACE, recognised that bail at the police station was an area which would benefit from clarity of powers and the application of those powers. Therefore, I acknowledge that there is an issue here which needs examination, but I am unable to agree the proposed changes set out in these amendments. It is important that that examination is ongoing in discussions between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
I recognise that some noble Lords, and people in the wider community, view the application of conditions to bail before charge as a restriction on the liberty of the individual. Moreover, those concerns are compounded by the fact that such restrictions are placed on the individual not by a court but at the discretion of a custody officer or, in the case of street bail, the arresting officer. However, we need to look at the benefits of going down this route. The purpose of bail pre-charge is twofold. First, it is to ensure that a detainee spends as little time as necessary in police custody; for example, while other avenues of the investigation are pursued. It also frees up police time. Secondly, it is to ensure that, so far as possible, a released person remains available to assist with the investigation and does not interfere with the investigation or otherwise break the law.
It is a matter for the custody officer to determine whether there is a case to answer and whether the suspect should be detained. That is determined on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, where a decision has been taken to detain a person, the custody officer and detention review officers will consider at regular intervals, as required by PACE, whether the grounds for detention remain.
Similarly, on the use of street bail, it is for the arresting officer to determine whether the person should be brought before the custody officer for a decision on whether he or she be held in police detention, or whether the person can be issued with bail on the street. The latter benefits the individual, as I have said. It also helps free up officer time in travelling to and from the station and keeps them on the beat-we have been pushing across the board to keep policemen on the beat for longer-rather than in the police station.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked whether we had any evidence of inappropriate or disproportionate behaviour. We do not have any evidence of that at the
20 Oct 2009 : Column 582
Consideration of bail does not mean that the investigative process has been completed, but that other elements of the investigation can proceed without the need for the suspect to remain in detention. That has to be good for the person involved. The application of discretion by the custody officer or, for street bail, the arresting officer, is an important element of this process. We have no evidence of inappropriate use of this power. What the noble Baroness said about Hampshire police was interesting, but the input that I have received is that, overall, the police are keen on this process. There must be training for the police to be aware of how to deal with this. I am a great believer in allowing discretion to people such as custody officers and police on the beat. I look on the issue in military terms as mission command-allowing people to get on with the job. Generally, one achieves a good result when one provides overall guidance, monitors it, but lets people get on with it.
The custody officer has to consider on a case-by-case basis whether the person should be released on bail with or without conditions. The officer should consider whether it is necessary to attach conditions for the purposes of preventing that person from failing to surrender to custody; preventing that person from committing an offence while on bail; preventing that person from interfering with witnesses or otherwise obstructing the course of justice, whether in relation to himself or any other person; for that person's own protection; or for his welfare or his own interests, if he is a child or young person.
Attaching conditions to pre-charge bail provides an additional opportunity for the person to be granted bail in situations where the custody officer may have some concerns. Removing the ability, as Amendment 152 Zulu Bravo proposes, to attach conditions to pre-charge bail, other than in relation to serious offences, may result in fewer detainees being released on bail. That would be an unfortunate by-product. That may well be an unintended consequence of the noble Baroness's amendment, but it is likely to be the actual outcome. I hope that noble Lords will agree that release on bail with conditions is more preferable to that person remaining in the confines of a police cell.
If a person is not satisfied with the conditions attached to pre-charge bail, he or she may appeal in the first instance to the custody officer. They also have the option of applying to a magistrates' court to ask for conditions to be removed or varied. I was not aware of the legal aid issue, which I should like to take away to think about, because I am not sure of the exact situation. Perhaps we may need to look at that. The current system, therefore, enables an officer to deal with the individual and their particular circumstances. That has to be a good thing. This amendment would remove that ability and use of discretion.
The timeframe of 72 hours proposed by Amendment 152 Zulu Charlie is highly unlikely to be operationally realistic. Bail can last for weeks, and sometimes months, depending on the nature of the
20 Oct 2009 : Column 583
Guidance on street bail, which the noble Baroness asked about, is available for officers when they are away from the police station. As a result of the PACE review, guidance will specifically cover conditions of street bail and pre-charge bail. Instructions are given on those aspects.
The noble Baroness asked a question which I could not answer because the information was not collected centrally. I, too, did a little digging around on this. As a rough estimate, between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of people arrested are released on pre-charge bail, but we do not have precise figures.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the fullness of his answer, which contained many useful nuggets. I was particularly happy when he said that the importance of training was evident. I should like to pursue that further at some stage and ask whether all police who use street-bail powers should be trained. The Minister was going in that direction and perhaps he could feed that into the ongoing discussions between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
I understand the timeframe issues that the Minister mentioned. There is a great balance to be struck between freeing up the police to do their job and be on the beat-I accept that that is very important; certainly we on these Benches are big advocates of the police spending as much time as possible on the beat-and ensuring that the rights of the individual are respected, a matter that still concerns me. I think that in the example I gave, when the seriousness of the crime is weighed against the onerousness of the bail conditions, the balance has failed. I may give some further examples when we discuss this matter again, but I do not want to take up the Committee's time further at this moment.
I am very grateful to the Minister for saying that he will look into the legal aid issue, because it is very serious when an individual suffers onerous conditions. However, I am grateful for the issues that he said he will take up and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the amendments in this group are probing and relate to the powers of confiscation, and the power to retain seized property that will become available to accredited financial investigators and to,
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|