I support everything that my hon. Friend Mr Slaughter said from the Front Bench about the cuts in welfare rights, and I also agree with the comments by my right hon. Friend Joan Ruddock and my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn. I shall not reiterate everything that they said as time is short, but I want to address clause 12 and ask the Minister to remove it from the Bill.
Before I go into the reasoning behind that request, I have a general caveat. What I am about to say is not a criticism of police officers. In all professions and walks of life there are people who do not do their jobs properly and have mala fide motives. Section 52 of PACE, which was introduced in 1984 by a Conservative Government, gave people arrested at a police station the right to see a solicitor of their choosing. As hon. Members may remember, that particular piece of legislation came about because of several riots over the sus laws, and Lord Scarman was asked by the then Government to investigate the cause of those riots.
In those days, under the old sus laws, the police could stop anyone walking on the street without any justification and without having to show reasonable cause. Inevitably, a lot of the people stopped were young men of Afro-Caribbean origin in London and young men from working-class backgrounds in the rest of the country. As a result of Lord Scarman’s inquiry and investigation, the then Conservative Government passed that piece of legislation, which, generally, was a good one that brought us up to date with many other countries with similar economies to ours and with what we could call western democratic institutions. We would be hard-pressed to find, in any of those countries, a defendant at a police station being denied the right to free legal advice. Taking away that right will almost put us back three centuries. It is not compatible with modern, 21st-century Britain and its place in the world.
We talk about saving money, but more money is saved when people are advised properly at a police station. I agree with the hon. Member for Dewsbury
(Simon Reevell) and my hon. Friend Karl Turner. From the prosecution and defence perspective, they talked about how such advice should be allowed. As someone who has both prosecuted and defended for the past 20-odd years, I think that access to legal representation at a police station is not only the fair, right and proper thing for a civilised society, such as ours, to do, but in the long term it saves money. It avoids unnecessary not-guilty pleas and saves unnecessary time going to court and prosecuting people. If people are spoken to by a solicitor, often—in most cases, I would say—solicitors advise their clients correctly. In my experience, if there is evidence against clients, the solicitors and lawyers tend to advise people to plead guilty. This proposal, therefore, will not save money, but waste more money. If the argument is about economy, I would have to point out that it is a false economy.
I shall give an example involving the Crown Prosecution Service. Following the Narey review, which looked into why so many cases going to court were leading to acquittals, Crown prosecutors started going into police stations, looking at cases and working with the police in order to speed up the criminal process. As a result of that direct input by lawyers at the beginning of the criminal prosecution system, the number of cases going for not-guilty pleas has been reduced and many more people now plead guilty.
I also want to mention the disclosure system, which was introduced under a fantastic piece of legislation brought in, again, by a Conservative Government—the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. Prior to that, we had a system under which some police officers and police forces withheld material evidence in criminal cases, leading to many miscarriages of justice. The new disclosure regime came into being to deal with that and, as a result, everything now has to be disclosed.
Those were Conservative Government policies, which is why I am so surprised that the Government have proposed clause 12. It will not save any money, but there is a more fundamental point. The worst thing that a person can face is being arrested, detained, taken to a police station—often a very hostile environment—and having no one to speak to who understands the procedures. This proposal will remove a fundamental right.
Despite our financial difficulties, we are still a rich nation in comparison with the rest of the world. When I worked for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, I helped to deal with criminal justice issues, and one of the first things we did when we got the system up and running was to draft—I was involved in it—the regulation of access to a lawyer for a person arrested by the police. That was 11 years ago in a country that had suffered 10 or 12 years of civil unrest. Its institutions were not working properly and it was financially not very solvent, but even there, 11 years ago, this particular provision was brought in because it was recognised that a person who is arrested and taken to a police station must have independent legal advice.