Police and Criminal Evidence Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 4th May 1983.

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Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 10:15 pm, 4th May 1983

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.