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The power in clause 51 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill which enables me, with the approval of Parliament, to make codes of practice extends to the tape recording of police interviews. The forthcoming field trials are designed to identify the basis for a national scheme and, therefore, to prove the scope and content of an appropriate code of practice.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate how helpful it was to the House to learn about the criteria upon which he is introducing the field trials which were revealed in an answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on 29 April? Does my right hon. Friend understand that there is widespread support for his demonstration of his determined effort to reduce crime, and does he accept that, if this is one way forward, he will have solid support behind him?
The principle of tape recording was set out by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. The Government accept what was said and are pressing forward as fast as possible with the field trials. Everyone must accept that when we carry out the tape recording of interviews—we can and will do so under the Bill—we must do it on a sensible basis that will work. The purpose of the field trials is to ensure that the police carry out the operation effectively.
May I urge the Home Secretary to struggle to remember the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State in the small hours of this morning, and to tell the House now, in the light of day, how long it will be before the field trials are completed and, therefore, how long it will be before the prospect of tape recording is widely introduced.—[Interruption.].—I shall pause while the information is passed to the Home Secretary. How long will it be before the field trials are completed, and how long will it be before tape recording is widely introduced?
With his customary courtesy, the right hon. Gentleman asks me to struggle to remember something. I do not have to struggle to remember anything. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to struggle to remember what was said during our debates on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I spent many more hours in the House listening to the debates on that Bill than did the right hon. Gentleman, and I need not struggle to remember much of what was said. The tape recording field trials will probably take two years to complete, but we shall press ahead with them as rapidly as possible. The only way to achieve our objective sensibly is to ensure that we start now. We promised to start and we have done so. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is funny, he is entitled to his opinion.
In the experimental period, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, and ask all those concerned to bear in mind, that we must avoid any cheating in the taping of interviews? It would be of no use to substitute the taping of interviews for the present system if the taping were then subjected to the criticism—all too often undeserved—that is levelled against the present system.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that one hold-up in the commencement of the trials has been the non-availability of a suitable machine for the recording? Which British firms have been asked to tender for the contract to supply machines, and how soon does he hope the machines will be in place?
That has been one factor, but we have made as rapid a start as any Government could have made, and we shall press ahead with it as quickly as possible. That is the best guarantee that we can give that it will work.