As I was saying, Holborn is a central city area and Croydon is a suburban area. I hope that the district commander of Croydon, Commander Meynell, whom I have praised in the House before, along with his men—and I shall continue to do so—will use the tape recorder system to the fullest extent. I am sure that we all take on board the Scottish evidence and the argumemt of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) about the time that interviews have taken. If tape-recorded evidence is to be taken, we should take the precaution of recording conversations that take place in police cars before the interviews.
I give my support to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I hope that the Government will be able to accept the new clause, which will provide a fundamental safeguard for civil liberties. As the hon. and learned Member for Burton said, it will do a great deal to sustain the morale of the police service. It will greatly facilitate the assessment of evidence in the courts, where evidence is given on the spot. It will render unnecessary a considerable amount of "hard labour" because at present police officers have laboriously to write statements and to stop at every other sentence to ensure that the witness has said the right thing. Finally, it will remove the "verbal". I hope that the Minister of State will give his wholehearted support to the clause.
It is nice to have a debate in which everyone is so certain that everything will come right in the end. I shall inject a note of realism and a certain note of scepticism. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said that the new clause would do an enormous amount to raise the morale of the police. I would believe that if the police had not been opposing this reform tooth and nail ever since it was suggested 12 years ago. I would believe what the hon. and learned Gentleman said if the Government were proposing to back up six experiments in England and were prepared to introduce a clause to make tape recording mandatory throughout the land. I have seen the goal of mandatory tape recording slip through my fingers over the years when pressing my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), the Home Secretary in the Labour Government, and when pressing the present Home Secretary over the years leading up to the Bill. I am deeply suspicious of the facility with which lawyers say that they want tape recording, when that is set against the extraordinarily slow pace at which it is arising.
When the hon. and learned Member for Burton said that it would do much to raise the morale of the police, what he meant was that it would do much to raise the morale of barristers who make their money putting forward suggestions which they find distasteful. They look forward to the time when they do not have to say to policemen whom they broadly support, "I suggest, Sergeant Plod, that you made this up and that you are a terrible old liar."
For 12 years I have heard lawyers saying that they favoured tape recording. In Committee the Minister constantly said something like this, "I am a passionate tape recorder." I take him at his word. When one takes the results of the Scottish experiment into account and considers the tiny scale of the English experiment, I think we are as far away from a national system of tape recording as ever. I commend the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on the deal that he has done with the Law Society to come forward with a joint amendment. It is a massive step forward for the Police Federation to swallow hard and say that it is in favourof tape recording. However, I do not think that we should kid ourselves about the opposition that will come from the Police Federation if the system is brought in universally.
The results of the Scottish experiment were stark. They showed that policemen stopped interrogating when they had tape recorders. They did not use their normal methods of interrogation. Once that spy in the cab, as it were, was installed, there was a dramatic reduction in the time of interrogation, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I suspect that there will be a similar reduction in the rest of Britain. I am not making a party point, because my party has made no more progress on this than the Conservative party.
I suspect that the experiment will run for a couple of years. I hope that the Minister will give us the time scale in months and years, so that we shall know where we are. The results will be the same as in the Scottish experiment. The police will throw up their hands in horror. They will stop interviewing and there may not be so many convictions. The Home Secretary will, then consider the matter for a further two years and we will be into another decade before there is universal tape recording.
We are talking about an experiment, not about a system that is designed to safeguard everyone. It may safeguard people in the constituency of the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt), but I am interested in safeguarding people in P division of the Metropolitan police and in places such as Lewisham or Pratt's Bottom, which we discussed with the Prime Minister the other day at Question Time. There will be no experiment there. There is still no safeguard under the Bill to prevent another Confait case.
I apologise to the House for returning constantly to that case. It was mentioned in the early stages of the Royal Commission report and, in a sense, it is galling, certainly for me, having fought right through a Labour Government and now a Tory Government to put right an appalling miscarriage of justice by which three of my constituents were sent to gaol for murder, manslaughter and arson on the evidence of their confessions alone. I say it is galling because we have had a Royal Commission and now legislation, but there is nothing that I can see in the legislation to guarantee that next year, when the Bill receives the Royal Assent—unless it is cut off in the prime of its life—there will not be another Confait case and another miscarriage of justice.
I am sure that tape recording would have prevented that miscarriage. Even though the youngsters were bullied into making admissions, without any overt violence—simply because of the situation they were in—I am sure that if the jury had had the chance in that murder case of listening to the tones of the voices of the police and the voices of the youngsters, there would have been no question of the youngsters being convicted. Indeed, I am sure there would have been no question of the case being brought to court.
The tape recording suggestion represents a revolution in the law of far greater dimension than any hon. Member has suggested. That is why I am detaining the House on the matter. At present, people are convicted on the basis of statements. Such a statement is a piece of paper with words typed on it, with initials against any changes, and each piece of paer is signed and countersigned by the police and suspect at the bottom of each page. That is what lawyers are used to dealing with and what juries are used to looking at. Such statements look most impressive before a jury.
In the Confait case the statement went something like this, "I went down the road, I went into the house, I strangled the man and then I went home." That broadly was what the confession said. It looked as though the individual said it. In 99 cases out of 100 the individual never says anything of the kind. The policeman says, "You went down the road, did you not?" to which the suspect replies, "Yeh." The policeman then asks, "You went into the house, did you not?" and the suspect replies, "Yeh". The policeman then asks, "Your strangled the man, did you not?" and the suspect replies, "Yeh". Finally the policeman asks, "Then you went home'?" and the suspect replies, "Yeh". The policeman then puts a sheet of paper in the typewriter, knocks out the words, "I went down the road, I went into the house, I strangled the man and then I went home" and says to the suspect, "Just sign here."
I am sure that that and various other pieces of dialogue occur, but I am simplifying the matter, otherwise I should detain the House for much longer. What I have described is the way in which statements come before the courts. Most jurors, on seeing that typed piece of paper, actually think that the individual in question said those words.
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have all been verballed over the telephone late at night by Press Association reporters. I shall not mention any by name and I shall not even allude to Mr. Christopher Moncrieff. We have all experienced getting out of bed, half asleep and bleary eyed, and answering "Yes" to a question. The next morning, when one picks up The Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star, one sees one's golden words printed for everyone in Britain to see in the form of a sentence. "I believe that this is a scandal," said Christopher Price yesterday. Christopher Price said nothing of the kind. I said "Yes" in a bleary haze to a Press Association reporter.
With regard to Members of Parliament, I am sure that one could properly describe it as "a fair cop", but for youngsters who find great difficulty in managing in such circumstances—as, for example, in the Confait case—it pollutes the face of justice and is not the way ahead. Many policemen have been against tape recording because they know that if the jury did not have a typewritten sheet in front of it but could hear the exchanges, with the accents and the tones of menace the police would get many fewer convictions by the methods that they use at present. That is why I want tape recording. I want the police not to go for convictions through verballing—I do not use the word in an illicit sense. I do not want the police to get their convictions through verbal statements, as so often is their habit at the moment. I want them to get their convictions through genuine, solid evidence on which they can base a proper case before the court.
We appear momentarily to have lost our Scottish lawyers, but in Scotland the position is not as serious. In Scotland one cannot convict people on their confessions alone—there must be corroboration. Scotland has an independent system of prosecution, through procurator fiscals, which we do not have in England. All through the Committee stage the Government would not give us corroboration, they would not give us an independent system of prosecution and they would not agree to the other suggestions that we made about the exclusion of evidence wrongly obtained or the exclusion of confessions not obtained according to the rules. They were denied us. All that we are left with is tape recording and in that sense I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies.
As well as talking about time scales, will the Minister talk about costs? The most spurious and idiotic argument used against tape recording over the past 12 years has been the cost. Anyone who read Lord Salmon's recent article in The Observer would be convinced that arguments of public expenditure against tape recording are wholly spurious, whether put forward by the Labour party or the Conservative party. They are not put forward by the Labour party or by the Conservative party. They are put forward by functionaries in the Home Office who are terrified that the police will object if they suggest that we go to universal tape recording.
To me, the final argument was that, on the ground of cost, the Government were quite happy to put video recorders into every police station in Northern Ireland. For a small amount they could be converted for use by the courts. There is closed circuit television in every police station in Northern Ireland, but it is used simply for security and surveillance purposes by those outside the interview. Such televisions are not available to the courts for checking the veracity of statements that have been made. In Committee I pointed out to the Minister that it would cost only about £50,000 or £60,000 to convert that machinery to provide video recordings for the courts in Northern Ireland. Thus, I hope that the Minister will say something about cost and that he will give us some idea of the time scale involved in introducing that reform.
I, too, wholeheartedly support the idea of using tape recordings to monitor the way in which prisoners are interviewed in police stations. It is curious that, despite the overwhelming arguments in favour of such a change, successive Governments have failed to implement it. They have sought refuge in Royal Commissions. When a Royal Commission says that it is in favour of such a procedure, the Government say that there should be experiments. After experiments in Scotland, there are experiments in England, just to delay the day when we achieve a sensible reform, to which there are few objectors. After all, it would greatly improve the way in which interviews at police stations are conducted.
For the life of me I cannot understand why we are still arguing about this simple, easy-to-implement change in our procedures. I think that it was the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) who listed the many benefits that would follow from such a change. The Royal Commission on criminal procedure is only the latest of many authorities to recommend that that essential safeguard should be introduced. I am fully aware that no safeguard—not even that of tape recording—can prevent every abuse of the interview. The tapes could be tampered with, although a gentleman in the White House, who had a fair number of technological resources at his disposal, failed to tamper with tapes when his moment of need came.
More significantly, pressure from police officers could be applied in the police car, or even on the stairs, and thus would not be tape recorded. However, the pressure would have been applied and the person in custody would then do what the police had urged in the subsequent tape-recorded interview. No safeguard can be perfect, but, given the pressure on police officers and the number of interviews that take place, it would be difficult for there to be much abuse if tape reordings were introduced.
There is another argument that I do not think I have heard tonight. The Bill gives the police powers to hold an individual in custody for up to 96 hours. A fair bit of the time will presumably be spent interviewing him. The pressure on an individual would be enormous, particularly if he was not used to being arrested and held in a police station. That in itself greatly increases the argument in favour of tape recording. The House should not allow the Government to introduce the new procedures for holding people in detention for up to 96 hours without at the same time introducing tape recording.
Many of us criticised the Royal Commission's report when it was published, but it at least sought to introduce a balance between police powers and safeguards. However, we now have a prime example of a Government moving towards increasing police powers while leaving out the one essential safeguard. The Minister ought to think hard before allowing the Bill to go through without the simultaneous introduction of tape recording.
Many of us have heard stories of what happens in police stations. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) referred to the Confait case. But at the level of lesser offenders, and possibly even more so, stories about the way in which an interview has been conducted would not occur if interviews were tape recorded.
We have all heard of instances where the police have said, "If you make a helpful statement, we will see that you get bail," or, "If you co-operate with us, you will get a lower sentence. We will see to that in the court." Other forms of pressure are also brought to bear. We know that that happens because we need only talk to people who have been held in custody for it to be perfectly obvious. It happens in the most alarming way with young offenders who do not have experience of being in a police station, are more vulnerable to pressure from police officers and do not know how to defend themselves.
The only people who could conceivably have an argument against tape recording are bad police officers. A good police officer will welcome the change. It will strengthen his position, make his task easier and save a lot of police time. We need quick action.
I understand that in Committee the Minister said that he was reasonably sympathetic to this change, and for the life of me I cannot understand why we are not introducing it right away. The case for an experiment alone is not strong, given that we have the results of what happened in Scotland. The only technical argument for experimentation was whether tape recorders would properly pick up the sound and so on. I know of no other argument, but if there is perhaps the Minister will tell us.
The hon. and learned Gentleman, who has been piloting the Bill through the House with such enthusiasm for the last five or six months, could well apply some of that energy and enthusiasm to adding this necessary and essential safeguard.
This debate has not mirrored the one in Committee, although many of the sentiments expressed tonight were expressed in slightly different ways during the long and protracted arguments in Committee.
It is strange that we should be discussing this matter in 1983, as it is now 11 years since a majority of the Criminal Law Revision Committee suggested that experiments should be conducted. Indeed, at that time a minority recommended that statutory provision be made for the compulsory use of tape recorders at police stations in our largest centres of population. The fact that we are still discussing this matter in 1983 suggests that successive Home Secretaries have been less than diligent in pursuing the introduction of what should have occurred many years ago.
In 1972, the reaction of the Home Office to these revolutionary proposals was eminently predictable. Rather than set up a committee to inquire into the desirability of such a revolutionary concept, in typical Home Office fashion it set up a committee to inquire into the feasibility, despite the majority recommendations on the tape-recording of interviews with suspects that it had already received. That was directly contrary to the minority report before it at that time.
The committee reported in October 1976, and all hon. Members will agree that four years for such an investigation is about par for the course. We cannot demand any greater urgency than that from our public servants, whether appointed by a Government of one political hue or another. Surprisingly enough, it reported that the tape-recording of interviews with suspects was feasible. The Home Office's reaction was predictable. It sought comments on the committee's recommendations, so another year went by.
In 1977, having received those comments, the Home Office, again somewhat predictably, handed the whole matter over to the newly established Royal Commission on criminal procedure. We know that in due course the Philips commission made its recommendations, but the inquiry, feasibility study, and so on, has brought us to 1983. I know that at least the Minister of State —probably the Home Secretary as well—is eminently in favour of this long overdue measure. We all recognise that there are real practical and technical difficulties, but they surely do not take 11 years to overcome.
Much of the delay since the original report in 1972 is, to put it mildly, as I always try to do on such occasions as this, reprehensible. The Home Office has effectively shelved the question for at least three years by the Home Secretary's decision to authorise field trials in six police divisions. I know that there is not much money about at present, but they will not commence until the financial year 1983–84 and they are forecast to run for at least two years. That will see us safely through to 1986 — 14 years after the original recommendations were made. No doubt the Home Secretary of the day —it may be the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) if the nation is unwise enough to re-elect another Conservative Government — will find some suitable reason for packing the whole business off to a suitable committee of the great and the good which will no doubt report with its customary haste some time in the early 1990s. That is not good enough.
The attitude of the Police Federation to this matter shows a welcome change from its previous track record, but over the years it has expressed much opposition to the introduction of what in the past it has termed "electronic surveillance" of its activities. That opposition, rather than any technical or operational considerations, has been the main reason for the long period of Government inactivity. The intensive police lobbying over the years has persuaded successive Governments of both political hues that the proposals to introduce such tape-recording would be controversial. I hate being rude about the Home Office, because my admiration for the Ministers and civil servants who work in the hallowed portals of Queen Anne's gate is limitless, but such opposition from that quarter undoubtedly persuaded the Home Office that the game was not worth pursuing. That, in principle, if not alone, has been the reason for the 11 years of inactivity so far and the further four or five years of inactivity if the Home Office gets away with the delays.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was, as ever, relevant and amusing. One of the difficulties of any Opposition Front Bench spokesman is to try to follow my hon. Friend and still hold the attention of the House. I was surprised at the drift of his comments. He said that the report on tape recording from the Scottish Home and Health Department was not available as it had never been published in Scotland. I do not know whether our deliberations are the right forum to pursue this matter, but it is surprising, to say the least—as ever I choose my words carefully—that hon. Members from north of the border should be denied access to the report when its contents have been published with comments in the 1983 Criminal Law Review in England. I presume, given our different legal system, that that is a separate publication, but that does not explain why my hon. Friend has not seen it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the article on the report. I have drawn it to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and I suspect that he is now reading it, as I am, to discover what is in it. The case for publishing the report is even more persuasive as a result of the comments in this learned periodical.
It is surprising that an official report commissioned by the Scottish Office should be denied to hon. Members from both sides of the House who represent areas north of the border when it is freely available to those south of the border where lawyers operate a different legal system. However, that has happened. I hope that, if my hon. Friend chooses to pursue the matter, explanations for such conduct will be forthcoming from the Scottish Office.
I hope that, in the light of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden, I shall be allowed to quote some extracts from the SHHD report. I think that the House will find them interesting and instructive. According to the review, the SHDD report was based on research undertaken between 1 May 1980 and 30 April 1982 involving 2,149 suspects who were interviewed on tape as part of an experiment by CID officers in Dundee and Falkirk.
The Criminal Law Review article, referring to the SHHD findings, states:
The report is wide-ranging and covers such matters as the impact of tape-recording on the police, suspects, lawyers and court but the analysis tends to be confined to straightforward description and no overall appreciation is attempted. The document is, however, full enough to allow others to make connections and offer interpretations within a wider analytical frame.
I wonder which well-paid civil servant, north or south of the border, thought up that phraseology — "a wider analytical frame." It is no wonder that those of us who
perhaps lack the intelligence to compete in such matters are terrified of verbal conflict with lawyers when they can use such words. However, I must not digress.
The Criminal Law Review report pointed out—again, on this interesting subject from north of the border—that the SHHD report
appears to provide supporting evidence in that in the first 24 months of tape recording, refusals to be tape-recorded occurred in both locations"—
that is, both Dundee and Falkirk—
in only about 3 per. cent of all interviews.
One of the objections that has been made over the years to tape recording has been that it would inhibit suspects, that many of them for that reason would decline to be interviewed on tape and that, therefore, the experiment would fail.
The report, which is not before the House for the reasons that I have explained, says that one of the objections over the years to tape recording is the feeling that suspects might "play-act"—something that might be thought to have occurred occasionally in the hallowed precincts of this House. That objection is dismissed by the SHDD report. I know that my hon. Friend from north of the border will look into this aspect of the report when and if it comes before the House.
The way in which my hon. Friend is using the article will be extremely helpful to the House in making up its mind on the new clause. Perhaps he will draw the attention of the House to page 162? It is not so much an extract from the report as from the commmentary on the report by Messrs. Michael McConville and Philip Morell, who are the authors of the article. They quote from Glanville Williams:
One cannot help wondering whether the real objection of the police to tape-recording (though it is never avowed) is their fear of the consequences of public inspection of what happens in the interviewing of suspects.
The authors go on to say:
The SHHD Report gives this suspicion real substance.
That is a serious charge for two respectable academics and a very noted law journal to make, and it conclusively underlines the need for early publication and an informed discussion.
In drawing the attention of the House to this aspect of the report, my hon. Friend does both sides of the House a service.
Many of the myths that have grown up over the years about tape-recording interviews with suspects have been nurtured by the police through their representative, the Police Federation. As my hon. Friend said, another cherished myth held by those who oppose this long overdue reform has been destroyed. The experiment shows that if there is any change in habits in what takes place in an interview room, it is a change more to be welcomed than to be deplored because the police officer conducting the interview will perhaps choose his words more carefully. The replies will be on the record, and the process, so eloquently described as "verballing" by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), will be more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve when the suspect's interview is completely tape-recorded.
I come to a fairly important aspect of the tape-recording of suspects' interviews. Although the Scottish experience shows that the impact of tape recording has not had a drastic effect on the behaviour and attitude of the suspect, it has had some discernible effects upon the behaviour of the police. I find it difficult to believe that the introduction of this system and the changes in the habits of police officers and suspects are not somehow interconnected.
The report seems to show that in the areas covered by the experiments, tape-recording was more than the introduction of an electronic notebook. The police perceived it to be more than that. Therefore, according to the report, they immediately employed a range of defensive tactics, only one of which involved the initial rejection of the idea and principle of tape-recording.
I do not say that police officers deliberately ignored the proper procedures for tape-recording interviews with suspects, but there was a temptation, to which some police officers succumbed, to conduct some parts of the interview away from the interview room and the tape recorder.
The facts that I hope I can persuade the House support that assertion are published in table 1 of the Scottish Home and Health Department report, which is headed
Average duration of interview (minutes).
It refers to the tape-recorded part of the interview. In Dundee, for example, during the pre-monitoring period, the average period of a suspect's interview was 24·5 minutes. During the experimental period with the tape recorder switched on it fell to 10 minutes. That substantial difference shows the change of police tactics that the tape-recording of interviews brought.
There was a more significant change in the interviewing of suspects in the Falkirk area. Table 1 shows that during the pre-monitoring period the average length of time taken by the Falkirk police to interview a suspect was 39 minutes —15 minutes more than their counterparts in Dundee. It provides scope, one might think, for productivity experts opposite to tell the House about the productivity, or lack of it, in other industries. During the experimental period with the tape recorder switched on the the average length of interview in Falkirk fell to six minutes. That suggests a fairly dramatic change in the habits of the officers conducting the interviews.
To avoid the gimlet stare of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), I hasten to say that I draw no significant conclusions from that, save that it is just possible that some police officers decided that verballing suspects is not worth even an attempt when the tape-recording equipment is in the interview room. One flaw in the experiment so far is that there is no force of law or custom and practice to ensure that such interviews are carried out only in interview rooms. The Philips commission seemed somewhat tentatively to support the idea of tape-recording, although it set out in some detail the difficulties of achieving proper acoustics and so on in interview rooms.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West in, as ever, a relevant contribution rightly pointed out the other great scare tactic used not only by the Police Federation but by the Home Office. In my customary desire to be fair, I should say that this has been so under Governments of both political parties. I refer to the cost involved. The present Government are especially keen to tell us that they believe in value for money. I think that that is the Victorian phrase to which the Prime Minister is addicted, and I know that such sentiments usually meet with the approval perhaps not of the Victorians opposite but of Conservative Members who no doubt believe that the Victorian period was a golden age in British history.
Before reaching a decision on the new clauses, we should examine carefully the cost of tape-recording and ask ourselves whether the financial conclusions drawn by the Philips commission were correct. In paragraph. 4.20 the report estimated that the cost would be about £24 million for the first year and more than £13 million annually thereafter. Those figures may be accurate or they may, after all this time, have become out of date. The present figures may be greater or smaller, but I think that hon. Members would agree that, even at the higher figure of £24 million, this would improve the questioning of suspects by the police.
In this context, we welcome the conversion of the Police Federation to the scheme. In passing, I wonder whether that conversion is not due entirely to the progressive views of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds who, in his advocacy of these matters, seems to be mellowing rapidly in his political views. I am sure that his views are no less sincere and the more welcome for that apparent mellowing.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), in one of his welcome but insufficiently frequent interventions in the debate, said that tape recording would put a stop to the allegation of verballing. Witnesses will be unable to say that police officers were putting words into their mouths. I asked the hon. and learned Member whether he made alleged verballing allegations when ably defending his clients in court, and he said that he did. He said that was one of the reasons why he supported this long overdue reform.
I do not wish the hon. and learned Member for Burton to think that I am being unkind, but I suspect that at one time he was the best chairman that the Monday Club has ever had. If I or any of my hon. Friends had made the allegation that the police were frequently guilty of verballing in court, I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his customary political flair and acumen, would have accused me of undermining the entire basis of democracy in the country and of making disgraceful and unsubstantiated allegations against a much-loved police force. It is interesting to know that one can make allegations like that if one is being paid to do so, but if an hon. Member made such an allegation in the House he would be accused of fermenting revolution and discontent.
I accept both of those points. I withdraw the second, far more serious point that I made. I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon for making such a dastardly accusation. I trust that he and the House will accept that I made the allegation thinking that it was true. I am delighted to withdraw it.
I thought I heard sounds coming from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson), who has not been conspicuous by his presence during our deliberations. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, I shall be delighted to give way. If he has a better function to attend, I am sure that he will drift off, as he habitually does.
I am interested to know whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who is the promoter of new clause 19, is intending to put the issue to the vote. No doubt that will depend on what the Minister says in reply to the debate.
If the Minister's reply is not to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I trust that he will press the matter to a vote.
I understand that it is procedurally impossible for the House to vote on new clauses 19 and 20 because the substance of both clauses is virtually identical. The Opposition are anxious to place on record their concern to ensure that this long overdue reform comes into being. [Interruption.] I assure the House that that is the position. I have taken advice on that matter. If the Minister's reply is not satisfactory, the Opposition are anxious to express their view in the Division Lobbies. If the new clauses are not accepted by the Government, I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends will join me in the Division Lobbies in support of one or other of them.
Whether a policy is proceeded with, not proceeded with or delayed is the responsibility not of officials in the relevant Department but of the responsible Ministers who are in charge. If tape recording has not made progress under previous Administrations, that is the responsibility not of the officials who served Ministers of the day in the Home Office but of the Ministers themselves. Equally, if under the present Administration tape recording is making progress, that is the responsibility of the Minister in charge, that being my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
The reason why tape recording is making progress now, whereas under the previous Administration it did not, is that my right hon. Friend is convinced that it is in the interests of justice that we should have a system of uniform tape recording of statements taken in a police station from people in custody. That is not a late conversion but something to which my right hon. Friend expressed his commitment when we first debated the Royal Commission's report rather more than a year ago. For what it is worth, I acknowledge that I have been in favour of tape recording for many years—a good deal longer than the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and certainly rather longer than the Police Federation.
If we are to consider these matters in terms of party advantage or disadvantage, I must point out that it would be of considerable advantage to me and the Government if we said we would have tape recording right across the board tomorrow. That would save us a considerable amount of obloquy. But one thing we must deny ourselves if we are responsible for affairs is going for cheap and quick popularity at the expense of getting the matter right.
Fortunately, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not in need of quick popularity and she certainly will not take advice from me about it. The flattering references of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East to my future career appear to show a fairly gloomy assessment of the relative popularity of his leader compared with the Prime Minister.
We must consider what must be done. One thing that we could do is to say that, straight away, from now on, there will be tape recording right across the country. Never mind what the Royal Commission said about it being necessary to ensure that we have worked out a right way to equip acoustic rooms in police stations; never mind about the need to modify interview rooms and to develop and provide simply operated equipment and the necessary transcription facilities and to train interviewing officers and so on, all of which I take from paragraph 4.25 of the report. Never mind about all that, we will hit upon a system and see what happens. If we did that we would risk a great deal of money—
I listened with the greatest of interest to the hon. Gentleman for a long time. I wish to finish my sentence and then I shall give way.
We might bring tape recording into harmful disrepute. It is a great deal more sensible to heed what the Royal Commission said, which was that
the introduction of tape recording even on the lines we recommend will have to be gradual.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman have access to the Scottish experience? I refer especially to the Scottish Home and Health Department's report. During the past two years it has closely monitored experiments in several centres in Scotland and has wrestled with exactly such matters as technical acoustics, training of police officers and so on. Presumably that experience could be translated to England and cut out a lot of the delay that pains the hon. and learned Gentleman so much.
We are aware of what is going on in Scotland and we are in close touch with Scottish officials. It is important to have regard to what is happening in Scotland. However, the steps that my right hon. Friend announced in the written answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) are sensible and important. No one who has seen what has been described as the full and thorough answer of my right hon. Friend could conceivably doubt his commitment to the principle of tape recording, or his will to introduce it as soon as it is practicable to do so.
I do not doubt the Home Secretary's commitment to tape recording, but am I right in assuming that the Minister is saying that interview rooms in police stations should be built almost to broadcasting standards? Is he aware of unidirectional microphones that are used by the broadcasting companies and the high quality of tape recording that can be achieved in an ordinary ambient atmosphere?
There are many marvels of science. Experience teaches us that unless we get acoustics right there will be accusations that the background noise is evidence of improper practices. I do not pretend to be a scientist. I try merely to advance a policy to which I am committed in a way that will ensure that we get it right, and in a way that will lead to the best results in the shortest time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) asked about the passage in the written answer to the question of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton that refers to the police officer's statement of evidence being made known to the defence. That passage relates to circumstances not where someone is being tried in the Crown court on indictment, where there is an exchange of depositions beforehand, but to cases where someone is being tried on committal proceedings, when the proceedings are taking place in a magistrates' court, or in one of the instances of summary trial, where the prosecution's evidence is not automatically made available to the defence. I hope that the day will soon come when there is a uniform system of exchange.
The tape recording should be available to both sides so recourse can be made to it if it appears that there is a conflict of evidence or of recollection. With that availability, it will not be necessary to have an expensive and time-wasting trial within a trial while the matter is fought out. It is important to know what the police officer is going to say and what he remembers of the conversation so that it may be determined whether there is a conflict.
I take it that the police officer's statement of evidence will be that which arises from the tape and that it will not be provided by means of the other matters that the police officer may be willing to bring forward in proof.
That is right in this context. My right hon. Friend's written answer makes it clear that two tape recordings shall be taken at the same time. The police officer will use one for the purpose of writing up his note of what he regards as the relevant part of the interview. That will be made known to the other side, and if there is a dispute — if the defendant says that there was something more, something less, or that the police have it wrong—the tape will be available to enable a check to be made and for the issue to be established beyond doubt.
Hon. Members have asked whether the Home Office is determined to move forward quickly with the experiment. The answer is yes. Certainly we are determined to do so. My right hon. Friend's written answer is evidence of that determination. I am grateful to those who have commented on the progress that is being made.
The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) said that nothing should be done to implement the rest of the recommendations of the Royal Commission until such time as tape recording has been introduced.
Very well, especially the detention recommendation. Some have said that we should not implement any part of the Royal Commission's recommendations until we have introduced both tape recording and a system of independent prosecuting. I have always considered that to be an entirely wrong appreciation of the Royal Commission's approach. It has been said that the recommendations form a package and that the commission intended the entire package to be introduced at once. I felt that that fox was shot convincingly the other day in a letter to The Times by the chairman of the Royal Commission, Sir Cyril Philips, about the most impressive of marksmen in this context, in which he said:
Much essential further work was deliberately left to the Home Office, to the Attorney-General's Department, and to the legal and parliamentary draftsmen, including, for example, the reform in detail of the police complaints system and the formulation of codes of practice to govern interrogation and identification.
In putting forward the Bill in its present form, whilst at the same time indicating its commitment to the principle of tape-recording interviews subject to further experiment, the Government is proceeding consistently within the general approach.
In an earlier paragraph he said:
This line of criticism appears to assume that the reform of the whole of pre-trial criminal procedure, including both investigation and prosecution. could and should be comprehended in one and the same statute. I am bound to say that this was never assumed by the Royal Commission and as chairman I did not regard it as practicable.
That seems to be the most convincing refutation of that line of criticism that it is possible to imagine.
Would the Minister care to comment on the point that I made, that the long detention periods which will be permitted under the Bill will put suspects in a particularly vulnerable position and that the least one can do to redress the balance would be to introduce this safeguard? It was the relationship of those two that I was seeking to argue, whatever the chairman of the Royal Commission is saying in letters to The Times.
The provisions for detention constitute a restriction upon detention as it is practised at the moment, week in and week out, in the courts of England and Wales. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we discussed this at length in the Standing Committee, the Royal Commission recorded numerous instances of detention up to 72 hours. In one case in 1977 that I have seen somebody was charged with murder and convicted on the basis of a confession obtained during a period of detention lasting seven days and three hours. So the 96 hours constitute a restriction upon powers that exist.
There is no statutory backstop beyond which detention may not continue. There is no procedure whereby somebody must be brought before the court in order to obtain judicial sanction for further detention before charge. That is in the Bill for the first time. Although of course I agree that the principal advantage of tape recording is that when people are interrogated and interviewed in custody there shall be a scientifically unchallengeable record of what they said, I do not believe that it is right to delay implementing the changes in detention until such time as there shall be universal tape recording.
There is nothing to prevent interviews from being tape recorded at the moment. They frequently are. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) said that tape recording was already practised frequently in his part of the world. The more the better. Where expenditure is incurred in that regard, the Government pay 50 per cent, as they pay 50 per cent. of all police expenditure. There is nothing to prevent this from going ahead on a private enterprise basis. All I am saying is that before we say that we wish to take the powers given in the Bill to introduce a code of practice for tape recording under clause 51 we wish to satisfy ourselves that we have got it right, I cannot believe that that is other than a sensible and prudent decision.
I have been asked about the time scale. Unhappily we have discovered that there is on the market no sufficiently robust and simple machine that will take two tape recordings at the same time and we have to go into the market to commission one. It follows that although we are in June introducing monitoring of trial procedures, as the written answer made clear, in two of the six police areas that were identified, it will be not before the end of the year that we are likely to have the machinery to employ in the field trials. It appears, therefore, that it will be about two years from the time when that machinery is available until the trials are complete. If it can be done quicker, it will be. I hope that it will, but that is the answer that I have to give to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton.
I am not saying that the Scottish experiment is inadequate. I am saying that procedures which are being followed in Scotland, and in the different Scottish criminal justice system, are not adequate to enable us to assess adequately how universal tape recording would affect trials in this country. In four out of six police areas we shall follow through in criminal trials the influence of statements having been taken on a tape recorder to see what effect that has on the loading of the courts, the number of cases in which it proves necessary to have a transcription of the whole proceedings, the circumstances in which it proves most practicable to play it, and so on. Until we have done that, we shall not know what costs will arise and what rules the court should employ for the playing of tape recordings, making tape recordings available to the defendant and so on.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that the machine would have to be specially designed and constructed and that it would take two years to do that? What exactly will take two years? Is such a machine available in any other country? Has he inquired into that?
As the written answer made clear, it is necessary to have a machine that will take two tapes at the same time and is adequately robust and simple. I am informed that one is not available. Therefore we are having to go into the market, and naturally we want to get a British machine if we can. The two years relates to the period that the field trials will need once the machinery is available.
It would be nice if it were possible to accept a new clause that was unexceptionable. I have made it clear that new legislation is not needed to enable the Home Secretary to introduce a uniform system of tape recording. Clause 51 and the codes of practice provisions provide for that. There are certain features about the new clause which we cannot accept. First, tape recording would extend, for example, to preliminary conversations between a police officer and a suspect. That would mean either that police officers would be unable to speak to a suspect outside the police station or that they would need pocket tape recorders to record such conversations, Even if the stipulation were limited to preliminary conversations in the police station, the position would be unsatisfactory.
Secondly, the requirement to delay an interview because it could not be tape recorded immediately could lead to the unnecessarily prolonged detention of somebody already in custody. I agree with what the hon. Member for Battersea, South said about the undesirability of unnecessary custody, but that could happen. The requirement for tapes to include specifications minimising the risk of tampering is not necessary. Special tapes, if they had to be used, would be very expensive; the safeguards will be in the tape recorder. Thirdly, the requirement to give the defence access to an unedited tape would not allow for the exceptional circumstances where the tape contained highly sensitive material.
With good will and practical experience in the field trials, we will, I am sure, iron out the difficulties so that we end up with a practical system. The more that is done inititially on a private enterprise basis, so to speak, the better, but it would not assist to accept the new clause and the Government, though wholly behind its intention and the proposal that we should have uniform tape recording as quickly as possible, are not able to advise the House to accept the new clause. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who spoke kindly of the progress we had made, will feel able to withdraw it on the assurances I have given.
My hon. and learned Friend's response has been very forthcoming indeed, more so than I had expected when originally I tabled the new clause. There can be no doubt that the Government, as a matter of policy, have committed themselves to the proposition that tape recording would assist the course of justice, would provide safeguards for the police service, would provide safeguards for the person in custody under interrogation and would be expeditious and, I believe, cost-effective. To that extent, the virtual statement of policy that my right hon. Friend has made, and which my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has followed, is unexceptionable.
What must be decided is whether the clause is technically sound and whether the Government have shown that they will make speed as quickly as they can. I accept my hon. and learned Friend's two criticisms of my new clause in so far as taping would be extended to the interrogation from the time, for example, that an arrest was made, which, if the clause were carried as it stands, could involve taping outside as well as inside the police station. I can see that that would be technically inefficient and possibly unjust.
I had not appreciated that the clause would also give the defence access to material that could be so sensitive as to touch on state security. My hon. and learned Friend would not expect me to move a new clause that had such an effect. In the circumstances of my hon. and learned Friend's reply, the commitment that the Government have made and their desire to get the right equipment, the right physical set up and also to buy British, it would be churlish for me to press the new clause to a Division.
If the new clause is in all principle matters a good one and is absolutely right and if corrections can be made between now and the consideration of the Bill in the other place, why is it wrong to append it to the Bill so that it is there as a permanent reminder to the Government that they must not go to sleep on the matter?
I wish that my hon. and learned Friend would not make my life more difficult than it already is. Given that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has set out the two matters to which I could not subscribe — the risk that sensitive information could touch on state security and the fact that, inevitably, interrogations would have to be recorded outside as well as inside the police station—it would be irresponsible for me to press a new clause that contained those holes. Moreover, as my hon. and learned Friend has made that clear statement of policy, it would be churlish to do so. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.