Clause 72 - Use of video and telephone links for decisions about detention

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 7th March 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:00 am, 7th March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 214, in page 58, line 28, leave out `not reasonably practicable' and insert `extremely difficult'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 215, in page 58, line 36, leave out `not reasonably practicable' and insert `extremely difficult'.

No. 246, in page 58, line 39, after `inspector', insert `who is present at another police station'.

No. 252, in page 58, line 39, after `a', insert `secure'.

No. 247, in page 59, line 15, at end insert—

`(d) a recording shall be made of telephone conversations relating to the carrying out of the review between the officer carrying out the review and persons in the police station where the arrested person is held (including any representations made orally by telephone to the officer carrying out the review under subsection (4) below)'.

No. 248, in page 59, line 17, leave out `section' and insert `subsection'.

No. 253, in page 59, line 39, after `communicate', insert `in a secure manner'.

No. 251, in page 59, line 40, at end insert—

`(1A) The functions mentioned in subsection (2) may only be performed under the provisions of this section by an officer who is not present at the police station where the arrested person is being held if it would not, in all circumstances, be reasonably practicable for an officer present at that station to perform those functions.'.

No. 254, in page 60, line 24, at end insert—

`(c) a recording shall be made of any video-conference relating to the carrying out of the review between the officer carrying out the review and persons in the police station where the arrested person is held (including any representations made orally by means of the video-conferencing facilities to the officer carrying out the review under subsection (7) below)'.

No. 249, in page 60, line 37, after `in', insert `a'.

No. 250, in page 60, line 38, leave out `section' and insert `subsection'.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We have now come to provisions on detention and arrest. Our amendments are to clause 72, which, in turn, proposes amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It is a controversial clause and I give notice that we shall vote against it. It is controversial not only from our perspective, or that of a libertarian—I understand that the police are equally unhappy about it. Therefore, its inclusion in the Bill surprises me and I seek an explanation from the Minister. The Government often say that things are done because they are necessary to support the police and help their work, but one of the representative bodies of the police—the Police Federation—strongly opposes the proposal.

The first amendment is to line 28. As drafted, the proposal would change the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to include the use of a telephone procedure for review of detention in cases in which a person has been arrested but not charged. The procedure would apply if it is

``not reasonably practicable for an officer of at least the rank of inspector to be present in the police station where that person is held to carry out any review of that person's detention that is required''.

Committee members will remember that, for good reason, there are general police and criminal evidence powers, and extended powers under the Terrorism Act 2000, under which people may be detained for investigation subsequent to arrest and prior to charging. That is perfectly normal, although we could debate the length of that period of detention. However, it is perfectly reasonable to have additional powers in serious cases; allegations of terrorism fall into that category. The question is, how does one extend that period, or judge whether a person should be further detained? At the moment, that must be done by a police officer of senior rank coming and reviewing the detention there and then, in front of the detainee.

A fundamental issue is involved that could affect us all. When someone is arrested and held for questioning, European and international convention rights govern how he must be held in custody, the limit of that custody and the protections to prevent exploitation by the Executive, the police and people acting on behalf of the state. It is therefore important to guarantee people's rights when in custody. It seems to me and to others that those rights should not be eroded for the administrative convenience of the police.

A police officer of sufficient rank may find it difficult to reach the place where the person is held. If the police officer usually has that difficulty, places where people are detained should be arranged in the knowledge that sufficient police will be available at any one time in the vicinity, to use yesterday's phrase, to come to conduct the review.

A second batch of reasons relates to whether an adequate review is possible by telephone. Judges may make injunctions following a telephone request. However, a telephone review is, by definition, even using video conferencing and other facilities, not only a less acceptable method than a face-to-face review of a person's detention, but, from the point of view of the prisoner, an entirely different kettle of fish. Instead of a detainee seeing and knowing that he is face to face with the person conducting the review, the review is conducted by a remote, impersonal and possibly invisible person; the detainee may not be able to see him and he may not be able to see the detainee. If the defendant cannot speak face to face to the reviewing officer, the potential for abuse of the defendant's circumstances seems great.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

The explanatory notes state that the provision can be used only in limited circumstances. Has the hon. Gentleman assessed the number of officers, whom he would like to be pounding the beat, who would be taken off the beat to perform what he regards as an administrative convenience for the police? The debate relates not only to protecting the rights of detainees, but to effective use of police time.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I understand that, but in the case of normal policing, rather than Terrorism Act stuff, there are increasingly fewer custody suites and an increasingly smaller number of police stations where people are held, certainly in my borough and other urban areas. One of the reasons why fewer have been made available is to reduce the number of police officers who engage as custody officers. I am working on the basis that, under the proposed system, when a person is in custody in one of those places, a permanent source of police officers will be on duty there.

I am not sufficiently familiar with the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, but if there are rural police stations in the non-urban part of her constituency, up on Dartmoor, I presume that they will not have custody suites. Certainly that is generally so. People are not held at such police stations, but at the nearest county or town custody suite. In my urban constituency, that would obviously be much nearer than it would be in a rural or partly rural constituency. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not believe that it is sufficient to tilt the balance in the other direction.

The amendment is an attempt to alleviate an unacceptable position: to make it less unacceptable. The amendment would not make the Bill acceptable if it were accepted, but it would improve it. It would remove the words ``not reasonably practicable'' and insert the words ``extremely difficult'', to provide a much higher threshold for the police to have to pass before they used the telephone to conduct a review under section 40 of PACE.

Amendment No. 215 would do the same in relation to video conferencing facilities. The advantages of the current arrangements are that a face-to-face check of a person in custody by an officer of a relatively senior rank allows such a person to be confident that a serious review is being conducted into whether he should be detained further. If people receive only a telephone call or are talked to by video link, they may feel that the police are only going through the motions and not taking the deprivation of their liberty seriously.

Who would be willing to monitor whether the police always used such procedures for a good reason and not merely for their convenience? As in any organisation, one member of the police would not want to undermine the argument of a colleague, who had decided that the interview could be conducted more easily over the phone, simply because it would take an hour of his time to go from A to B and back.

An additional benefit of a face-to-face review is that junior custody officers feel more supported, and are less open to unjustified allegations that can be made by people in custody against police officers. If a senior officer is present to check the cell and talk to the prisoner, it is more likely that the custody officers would be assured that everything was in order and that they would not be subjected to unjustified charges.

A face-to-face review also allows the condition of a person in custody to be seen. There have been far too many deaths and injuries among people in custody. There is great anger that the Government have resisted initiating a general review of that. I have called for such a review, and many people would be encouraged if it were initiated. Today, I repeat my call to the Government to agree to such a review.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 11:15 am, 7th March 2001

On the narrow but very serious point of deaths in custody, will the hon. Gentleman concede that the incidence has decreased because of measures that the police have introduced? The situation is better than it was before. Of course, there is still a great deal to do, but I hope that he will acknowledge that progress has been made.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do acknowledge that, and am pleased about it, because it is a difficult matter in which the public must have confidence. By definition, one is dealing with a situation in which only a few people will know what has occurred, which makes it different from a fight in a street or in a pub. I am not undermining the commitment of Ministers to ensure that the regime is better. It is improving, but there is a chronology of cases in which families—often, but not always, from the black community—feel extremely aggrieved and believe that they have been badly treated by discriminatory practice.

We all know that, sometimes, people are not willing to discuss matters, yet they may communicate by body language. A person may have an injury, which may not be visible through video conferencing, let alone over the phone. A face-to-face interview would show whether somebody is lame, clutching a hip or in pain. A prisoner may be more confident to speak to somebody sitting opposite him or her than to a person down the phone who has never been seen before, or a person at the end of a modern telecommunications system at the other end of the country. Such an interview will also protect the police, because they will be reassured that an accurate record of events will be made. The Minister knows that I am in favour of the video recording of interviews, and I understand that that is the general plan of the Government and the police.

The police think that the provisions are detrimental to prisoners' rights and believe, according to the briefing that I have received,

``in protecting the rights of a prisoner, that decisions as to review should be carried out on a face-to-face basis; thereby alleviating any complaint or suggestion that due consideration has not been given to continued detention. Years of using PACE''— in terms of its procedure, not the paperwork—

``has brought a level of trust and fairness into the Criminal Justice system.''

That point is consistent with the Minister's recent intervention.

There is far less argument now in the courts about what did and did not happen in interviews. That is due to recording, which provides much better safeguards and satisfies people that the process is followed fairly. The police argue that the process has been challenged much less frequently because there are considerably fewer opportunities to abuse it. They view the clause as watering down a tried and tested system. That would not be in the interests of the police or prisoners.

Like the Liberal Democrats, the police would argue for the deletion of clauses 72 and 73. I hope that the amendments will be accepted and that the Government will concede that it would be preferable to withdraw the clauses so that the Bill can proceed without them.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I want to clarify the hon. Gentleman's position. He has made it clear that the Liberal Democrats will vote against clause 72, unless it is amended. Although I am not intending to do this, if amendments Nos. 214 and 215 were accepted by the Government, would he vote for the clause?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have already dealt with that question: the Liberal Democrats would still seek to remove the clause, because we believe that it is not possible to amend it adequately. The amendments would alleviate its failings, and if the Government were to accept them, the Bill would be improved. I anticipate that the Government will narrowly win the vote on the clause, but I always live in hope that some Government Members might be excited to a bit of temporary opposition in order to support the police on this occasion.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I support amendments Nos. 246, 252, 247, 248, 253, 251, 254, 249 and 250, and I shall begin on a happy—and, perhaps for me, unaccustomed—note of cross-party agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I received a helpful note from the Minister in advance of the debate stating that he is prepared to accept amendments Nos. 248 to 250. I put on record my thanks to him for that.

I also want to pay tribute to an unsung hero. Mr. Gale, you know that the Opposition frequently lack resources. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) also knows that, as he experienced a period in opposition before entering Government, which is a unique experience among the Labour members of the Committee. However, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I, as well as our Back-Bench colleagues, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, are assisted by some able researchers. The best of them is a young man called Matthew Gullick, whose father is a distinguished circuit judge. He has been helping us on the Bill, and it is always a pleasure when amendments that he has drafted are accepted by the Minister. That is especially true now, as today's brief from Mr. Gullick states that the Minister's officials had drafted the Bill infelicitously and that his draft was better and corrected some drafting errors. He has said that in respect of all the amendments that the Minister has accepted. On this occasion, the score is three goals to nil to young Matthew Gullick, who shares my passion for sport.

I have begun on a happy note, but I now want to talk about the details.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I want to make a point before I give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he, too, has able researchers. Indeed, yesterday, he referred to one of them going off to run some investigative journalism, so I am only evening up the score.

It is a matter of principle to conclude that something is seriously wrong when organisations as politically diverse as Liberty, the Police Federation and the inspectors central council all think that the Government are wrong.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Concessions by the Government in relation to drafting amendments are always welcome, but concessions on substantive amendments would be much more welcome. I am waiting for that to happen, and time is running out.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The hon. Gentleman is right. I detected—and I am sure that he did, too—a scintilla of uncertainty when the Minister intervened at the end of his remarks to suggest that the Government might at least consider accepting some of the amendments, in a desperate attempt to hang on to a bad clause. If the Police Federation, the council of inspectors—I shall go into detail about their views—and Liberty think that it is bad, and all do so for similar reasons, something must be seriously wrong. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right that the Government need to think again. We intend to return to some of those issues on Report.

I shall refer in detail to some of our amendments that the Government have not yet accepted, although, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, we still live in hope. Amendment No. 246 would ensure that the inspector carrying out the review was present at a police station. Otherwise, strictly speaking, the clause would in theory allow officers to carry out reviews of detention on a mobile phone while walking around on their beat or, perish the thought, while driving, although no police officer should do that, as it is evidence of careless driving. In relation to telephone and video reviews of detention, surely the officer concerned should be sitting down and concentrating on the important matters with which he is required to deal.

Amendments Nos. 252 and 253 would require the telephone and video links used to be secure because, sadly, as we all know, if mobile phones or cordless analogue phones are used, people can listen in with unscrambling systems. We all know of appalling instances of telephone conversations involving the highest in the land or matters of national security being intercepted. We are certain that that has not been thought through, so we require reassurance from the Minister. We need to know how the video signals will be transmitted. Is there any way in which interception could be blocked? A great deal more detail needs to be supplied.

Amendments Nos. 247 and 254 would ensure that a recording was made of the telephone conversations and video conferencing relating to the review. That is plain common sense, but it is not in the Bill. What happens if, after the review, there are differing accounts of who said what to whom? If a two-way telephone or video link is used, there will be no witnesses. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who is temporarily absent from the Committee, and I—and other Committee members not currently present who are lawyers—will have dealt with cases in which what was said, what was done and what was reviewed were major issues in trials. We do not want cases to be lost because of that.

Amendment No. 251 would ensure that video reviews could happen only when it was not reasonably practicable, in normal circumstances, for an officer present in the station to conduct a review in person. The test appears to be in place for telephone reviews, under proposed new section 40A(1)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but it is not in the proposed new section relating to video reviews. Can we assume that it is intended that video reviews will be used more generally or on a routine basis? Will the regulations contain guidance on the matter? We need to know. There is no doubt that inspectors are against it. I shall not go into detail about the precise words used by the general secretary of the inspectors' central committee or the comments made by Fred Broughton, the general secretary of the Police Federation. This is a bad, unsatisfactory clause, and we shall want to press several of our amendments.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Further to your earlier advice to the Committee, Mr. Gale—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. We are in the middle of a debate on an amendment. Is this a point of order?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am sorry if I did not say that it was a point of order; that was certainly my intention. On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I would like to move formally that the Programming Sub-Committee do reconvene.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I would like to consider that. We are in the middle of a debate, which we should complete before we go any further. The usual channels have not indicated to me whether this request is one of consensus or dispute.

Mr. Heald rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I should like to be given a little more information to enable me to consider the matter properly. The debate on the amendment should be completed while other matters take place. Perhaps some signals will come to me from some quarter or another during the course of debate.

Mr. Heald rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 11:30 am, 7th March 2001

I will not take any further points of order on that issue, but I am prepared to return to the matter later.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

First, on a nice point, I should like to add my congratulations to Mr. Gullick on the work that he has done in advising the Opposition. For a long time I considered myself the general secretary of NUPA—the national union of political advisers—during a period of opposition when I advised the then Leader of the Opposition. I am second to none in paying tribute to the sterling work of political advisers of those in opposition. I genuinely think that their work is good and important, and the situation is even better if the proposals put forward show respect for it.

The clause would allow reviews of the continuing need for detention before charge—which must be undertaken by an officer of at least inspector rank—to be carried out by telephone. That may happen under the condition that it is not reasonably practical for an appropriate officer to be present in the relevant police station to carry out the review or for the review to be conducted using video conferencing. The provisions will enable reviews of detention and other custody-related decisions to be carried out using video conferencing. It will also allow for certain reviews to be carried out over the telephone, but only—I emphasise—in extreme circumstances. Safeguards and supporting procedures are already included and our general position is that the amendments would detract from the flexibility and workability of the arrangements.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The Minister is talking about flexibility. However, would he bear in mind that the central committee of police inspectors, the Police Federation and Liberty have all said that one cannot sacrifice the principles of the police and criminal evidence legislation—known to all lawyers as PACE—for pure flexibility? The measures represent a retrograde step, backing away from PACE.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I was wrong to take that intervention. I am dealing with those points as I go through, and it will help the Committee if I give way at the end as usual.

The argument has been advanced that the police position on these matters is that taken by the Police Federation and the inspectors council. The actual position of the police is that the Association of Chief Police Officers supports the proposals, which it perceives as providing a helpful option. The Police Superintendents Association supports the proposals because it supports inspectors' reviews by video; the association made that clear in its consultation response.

As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, the Police Federation opposes many of the proposals because it believes that the review should be undertaken in person. The Police Federation worries that the increasing use of modern communications technology represents a threat to police numbers and traditional police methods. We do not think it right, however, to ignore the development of technology.

I shall not comment further on amendments Nos. 248, 249 and 250, which I hope that my colleagues will agree to support. The clause would allow certain reviews of the continuing need for detention before charge to be carried out by telephone. The reviews must be carried out by an officer of at least the rank of inspector and must normally take place no later than six hours after detention was first authorised and then at intervals of nine hours. A detention for longer than 24 hours requires the authority of an officer of at least superintendent rank. It is not proposed to make the telephone option available for superintendents' reviews.

The clause allows the review to be carried out by telephone only when

``it is not reasonably practicable for an officer of at least the rank of inspector to be present in the police station'' and it is not reasonably practicable to use video conferencing for the review. Such situations might arise when, for example, the only inspector available to conduct the review is called away in an emergency.

Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 would replace the words ``not reasonably practicable'' with ``extremely difficult'' as the test of attendance or video conferencing. I do not think that the practical difference would be great, but I am not persuaded that the change would be for the better or even in the direction that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey wants. A review by telephone with no visual contact between the reviewing officer and the detainee is not satisfactory, for the reasons that he mentions. Such reviews are better than no review, but they should be reserved for circumstances in which there is no reasonable scope for alternatives. That is why we are proposing the term ``not reasonably practicable''.

``Extremely difficult'' is a more subjective alternative. It gives more scope for enabling the use of the telephone review in a wider range of circumstances. That is why it should be rejected. It is not a big issue, which is why I was exploring the hon. Gentleman's attitude. The practical difference is not great, but the phrase ``not reasonably practicable'' is a better way of dealing with it.

On amendment No. 246, it does not seem reasonable to restrict the review of detention, in the extreme circumstances in which reviews of detention are necessary, to a reviewing officer present at another police station. Where an officer is prevented from attending the police station where the detainee is held—by transport difficulties or other circumstances—we believe that the most expeditious method should be used.

On amendments Nos. 247 and 254, where any review or other decision-taking process is carried out by telephone or video conferencing, there is provision for any record required to be made by another officer present at the police station. There is no requirement for reviews carried out at police stations in the standard manner to be taped or video recorded, and there are obvious reasons for introducing such requirements where these processes take place remotely.

As regards amendment no. 251, we do not wish to restrict the scope for carrying out decisions about detention by video conferencing to circumstances in which it would not be practicable for an officer present at the station to perform the relevant function. PACE offers scope for any officer to act as a custody officer where circumstances demand it. We want to ensure high-quality decision taking and access to specialist expertise by enabling certain decisions to be taken remotely. There may be an officer present at the station who could adopt the custody officer role and, for example, take decisions about charging and bail. However, the proposed arrangements allow the alternative of contacting a skilled and experienced custody officer, via video conferencing, who could significantly enhance the process by bringing his or her full knowledge and expertise to bear.

Amendments Nos. 252 and 253 suggest restricting telephone reviews and video conferencing decisions to circumstances where secure communications are available. That would place unrealistic restraints on the options. Remote decision taking can improve the quality of decisions by giving access to skilled and experienced custody officers to another station. That is why ACPO supports it and wants to use the new technology.

Telephone reviews of detention were relatively common practice before the judicial review last year. However, they are not as satisfactory as reviews where the reviewing officer has visual contact with the detainee, which is why we talk about exceptional circumstances.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I ask these questions in ignorance of the answer, so if the Minister can tell us it will help. First, is there a lowest rank of officer who, according to police guidelines or practice agreed across the country, must be present in a station or custody suite? Secondly, in relation to people held under the Terrorism Act 2000, is there also guidance on the minimum rank of officer who must be present or available to deal with people who are held in the custody suites designated for use by people held under the terrorism legislation?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am advised that the lowest rank, in both cases, is normally sergeant, but I shall reflect on the issue before giving an authoritative answer. If there are no more questions, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

We are not satisfied with the Minister's answers. We believe that he is wrong. We pay tribute to the work of ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association. However, those more senior ranks are inevitably more concerned about cost—especially ACPO, which receives so little money from the Government that it is bound to be concerned about cost saving—whereas the Police Federation and inspectors at the sharp end of the work think that the Minister is wrong, as does Liberty.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I will not give way, as I am being brief. We want to return to these matters on Report so, at this stage, I will not press our amendments.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to thank my colleagues who work behind the scenes—in particular, someone who has ``looked after'' me since I took over responsibility for home affairs, our senior home affairs researcher, Steve Radford, who was trained by Alex Carlile and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and is therefore well equipped to do the job of supporting me and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, for which we are grateful.

I understand the Minister's reply about amendments Nos. 214 and 215, which would replace ``not reasonably practicable'' with ``extremely difficult'', and realise that there may not be a significant difference between the two. As he will understand, we tabled them as a marker in an attempt, in combination with other proposals, to make the clause more acceptable. Rather than take the Committee's time by pressing the amendment, I will ask leave to withdraw it. However, as I said, we will seek a Division on the clause, because we believe that it should not stand part of the Bill, in the hope that it will return in a different form.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

In answer to an earlier intervention I gave the hon. Gentleman a partial answer. I want to make it clear that the custody officer must normally be a sergeant, but a lower ranking officer can act as custody officer when no one else is available.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister. If the Bill is passed containing that provision, there is an argument for a review of both the general rule—that the custody officer should normally be a sergeant—and the exceptional circumstances in which the officer can be of a lower rank. When we are considering custody with such powers, especially custody under the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000, there is a strong public and professional case for an officer of more senior rank to be available, even if not immediately on the premises at all times. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I should like formally to move that the Programming Sub-Committee reconvene.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I take the point of order, but not the motion, because there is no provision for any Committee member to move that that Committee reconvene. It is open to any member to request that that is done; it is up to the Chair to make the decision, so it is not a question of a vote.

Mr. Heald rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 11:43 am, 7th March 2001

No, it is all right. I have considered the matter carefully and taken advice; we are in slightly uncharted waters. Given the representations made to me, it appears to me proper to suspend the sitting. However, I have also been told that at present there is no cross-party agreement on the issue. Given the limited time that we have to discuss the remaining clauses that must be dealt with this morning under the terms of the timetable, I think that it would be inappropriate to suspend the Committee for long, because I have a duty to all members of the Committee to protect the time available. I therefore propose to suspend the Committee only until 12 o'clock. That will require the removal from the Room of all those who are not Members of Parliament. Any hon. Member is entitled to attend any meeting of any Programming Sub-Committee. What I am telling Committee members who are not members of the Sub-Committee is, ``Don't feel obliged to move, because if we finish before 12 o'clock, it would be helpful to have you here so that we can reconvene immediately.''

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 12:00 pm, 7th March 2001

Before we resume debate on the clauses, we have a formal motion from the Programming Sub-Committee for the Committee to consider and debate.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I beg to move,

That the Programming Order of the Committee of 6th February, as amended by the order of the Committee of 1st March, be amended by leaving out lines 27 to 43 of the Table and inserting—

13thClauses 70 to 761 pm
14thClauses 77 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules
15thClause 77 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules.7 pm''
The motion is an effort by the Government to give more time along the lines requested by the Opposition. The change in the cut-off was specifically suggested by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. Our practice throughout the Committee has been to agree to whatever division of time seems appropriate to the Opposition. That was the whole concept of the programming motions.

I hope that we shall spend as much of our time as we can between now and 1 o'clock debating the substance of the Bill. We have spent a substantive time in debate on procedure away from the issues, as the Opposition will point out. There has been disagreement throughout about the end date of the Committee. The Government wanted 8 March and the Opposition consistently argued for an extra couple of sittings and an end date of 13 March. I will not reiterate the proposition that I made when we last discussed the programming resolution, but we have sought to deal with the Opposition's wishes by going even further than previously in proposing additional extensions.

We have always been ready to consider other time scales in the event that the usual channels could agree a time to reach certain business, because we thought it important that we covered the wide-ranging issues in the Bill as fully and comprehensively as possible. I do not intend to return to the acrimonious tone of some of our previous discussions. I can see no merit in doing so. You, Mr. Gale, have been clear in your injunctions towards us, which I respect given your role as Chair and because you are right. Doing so would not help us consider the legislation.

The Opposition moved an amendment in the Programming Sub-Committee that would have meant that the Committee's final sitting was on 13 March. The Government opposed it for the reason that we have done so throughout, which is that there is ample time to consider the issues in the Bill. I note that no decisions came to a vote when the guillotine fell yesterday. Debate was full on the whole issue.

There are disagreements, but the Government consider that they should be about the substance of the Bill. The Opposition appear to believe that they should be about the procedures of the House. I have said, on several occasions, that there are concerns about the working of the timetabling of Committees. Such concerns arose in relation to the Committee of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, where the proceedings of the Programming Sub-Committee were confidential.

I would have hoped that all members of the Committee could accept that we should consider the matter in a constructive way. We are committed to doing so. As we have said throughout, we are tied by the system that we have. We have to work within that system, and we are trying to get the maximum possible debate on all the important issues in the Bill, in answer to public interest and concern.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. These are important matters, and we should be paying attention to what is happening here. I want to ask for your guidance as to whether it is in order for members of the Committee to complete a large number of what appear to be Labour party birthday cards while they are attending the Committee. I believe that that is what the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) is doing.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Members' conduct in Committee is entirely a matter for them. As far as I am aware, the House rules state only that Members may not consume food or drink in Committee other than water, and may not read newspapers. What Members do other than that is up to the Members concerned.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall be brief, because my concern and that of other Opposition Members is well known. Bills of this sort usually have more than 20 sittings. That is true of the Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act 1982, and it is true of the Bill that became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Bills of this length on such matters always have more time allocated to them than the Government have offered on this occasion. That is why we have consistently made the suggestion that the out date should be 13 March, not 8 March. That is based on a tight view on the amount of time that is required.

No time has been wasted in this Committee, as I set out at column 346. We have been dealing with the matters, and yet yesterday we lost 25 clauses and 44 amendments. There was no debate on those measures at all. The Minister will say that we did not vote on them at the end. We could not. We were not allowed to vote on our amendments. Some 44 amendments were lost, because when the guillotine comes down, all the Opposition's amendments and new clauses fall.

We do not disagree with many of the principles behind the Bill, but we have points of detail to raise, which the Minister and his colleagues have, on numerous occasions, had to accept as good points. In the Sub-Committee today, we asked to sit all night, starting at 4.30 pm, because we want the time to scrutinise the Bill properly. That was rejected—the Minister would not wear it and he voted against it, as did other Labour Members. The change to the out date was also rejected.

Finally, it is true that, with the Minister offering an extra two hours tomorrow, I thought that it would be sensible if we completed consideration of the Bill only as far as the end of clause 76 by 1 pm today. However, I do not agree that the Committee should be guillotined, and I made that perfectly clear. I do not consent to the principle at all—I am adhering to it only out of desperation, because we want to do the best that we can with what is a cack-handed and useless way of scrutinising legislation, with inadequate time. The system is an insult to the Opposition. I know that the Minister thinks that we should all be jolly nice about the matter, but we feel very angry about it. We have been insulted and the whole system of parliamentary scrutiny has been traduced. That is wrong.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I wish to adopt, without repeating it, what my hon. Friend has just said. I should like to make a further point. The Minister said, when the Committee was reconvened, that these were simply arguments about procedure, and not matters of substance. When I was elected to the House in 1992 and when I first stood for Parliament in 1987, I thought that I was coming to a democratic institution. All around the world, at the beginning of the 21st century, people are fighting, and in many cases dying, for parliamentary democracy. Last weekend, I was among those who heard a very brave young man who has been in jail for a long time for trying to bring about democracy in Burma. When, at the beginning of the 21st century, the Government tell us that the question whether elected Members of Parliament have the chance to conduct clause-by-clause, line-by-line scrutiny of important legislation on law and order—something vital to this House—is simply a matter of procedure, I can only agree with my hon. Friend that it is an abomination. We were not elected for this. If Labour Members of Parliament want to give their electorates an honest account, during the forthcoming election campaign, of what they have been doing, they should say, ``I have come to Parliament to be part of a Stalinist-style, rubber-stamping, so-called modernised Labour Government, who do not allow debate.''

Even the simplest sixth form debating society would know that what is happening is an abomination, and a negation of democracy. All the members of the Labour party in this Room, from the Minister to the newest and most silent Back Benchers, should be ashamed of themselves.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to comment on the long and consistent record of Conservative Governments of propping up dictatorships in, for example, southern Africa and South Africa, and of trying to negate democracy at every turn?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. It would be helpful if hon. Members on both sides would try to concentrate on the Motion before the Committee. I rule out of order any further such interventions.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I accept your ruling, Mr. Gale. All that I would say is that you were kind enough, the last time that a Programming Sub-Committee met, to propose that you should talk to the Chairmen's Panel and report, for further consideration by the House and the Modernisation Committee, the problem that even Front-Bench Members have—although it affects Back Benchers as well. That problem is the inability to vote, or even speak, despite being allowed to be present at a Programming Sub-Committee. Have you, since the last occasion when the Programming Sub-Committee was reconvened, had an opportunity to raise the matter?

You may not feel it appropriate to comment further, but I consider that the recent reconvening made the difficulty known even more clearly than before. More members of the main Committee were able to be present, but only members of the Sub-Committee could speak.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Labour, Gillingham

I am aware of your undertaking, Mr. Gale, to convey matters of concern that arose in previous discussions about programming in the Sub-Committee and in formal Standing Committee debates. We are aware of the Opposition's views about the issue of programming, which have been made abundantly clear and which you have agreed to take up.

My impression of the workings of the Sub-Committee is that we have been willing to see what could be done. For example, if I recall correctly, the 10 o'clock guillotine would not have been set without a measure of agreement with the Opposition about the stage that we might reach by then. Last night's 10 o'clock guillotine would not otherwise have been arranged.

The proposal that my hon. Friend the Minister has made to continue until 7 o'clock tomorrow night is clearly sensible. However, it would be difficult for many of us to be present this afternoon. Perhaps the reason that the Opposition do not want to be in the Chamber this afternoon is that they do not want to hear the good news of the Budget.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

I agree with Conservative Members that we do not have enough time to do justice to the Bill in debate. That is why I voted in the Programming Sub-Committee for each of their proposals to extend the time available. However, now that we are under a guillotine for discussion of certain clauses, it is not necessary for every Conservative Member to repeat the argument.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I simply want to observe that when the Committee turns its attention to scrutiny of the Bill we are making rather good progress, which is probably reflected in Hansard. The difficulty is that each performance by a Tory Member is punctuated by a political diatribe that takes up the Committee's time but has nothing to do with the substance of the Bill. If they could be encouraged to desist from such actions, we would make much more rapid progress.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The reason why this half-hour debate is necessary—the hon. Member for Taunton said that we should not waste it—is because the Programming Sub-Committee's proceedings are not on record. Once again, I ask that they are reported. If they had been, the Minister's intemperate remarks, the most recent of which was an astonishing outburst about the Conservative Government keeping fascist people in power, which were most unministerial, would have been on the record—[Interruption.]

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I hope that the Minister will raise that point because these half-hour debates would not then be necessary.

We should ask Mr. Speaker to examine carefully the remarks made yesterday in the Chamber by the Advocate-General for Scotland. She is not involved in the Committee's proceedings or with the main stream of Home Office business. The fact that she chose to describe this Committee's activities as filibustering shows that it is a common view among Ministers.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Did my hon. Friend hear the Minister say clearly in the Programming Sub-Committee that there had been no filibustering in the Committee? Is that my hon. Friend's recollection of the exact words that the Minister used?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Those are exactly the words that the Minister used.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Perhaps in a moment, but the Minister has had his time. There is clearly a disagreement between the Minister and the Advocate-General for Scotland. That is a matter of history, but I hope that Mr. Speaker will examine carefully exactly what was said in the Chamber yesterday and what the Minister said in Committee today.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The record will show that what I said in response to the hon. Member for Taunton was that I believed that there had been no deliberate filibustering. I stand by what I said, and not by the words used by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I think that we are dealing with semantics. Saying that there was no deliberate filibustering seems to me be the same as saying that there was no filibustering. A filibuster must, by definition, be deliberate. There is no such thing as an undeliberate filibuster. The Minister is once again fiddling with words to try to justify the affront to democracy caused by the guillotine being brought to bear on the Committee's deliberations.

Most significantly, we Opposition Members were prepared to come back to this Room at 4.30 pm and, if necessary, to discuss the Bill overnight. We do not make such suggestions lightly. Of course we would like to appear on our local radio stations to talk about the Budget and expose the absolute nonsense of the Chancellor's giveaway Budget, but we have been sent here to scrutinise this Bill. If necessary, and despite the fact that in these modernised days we do not crave it, we are ready to sit overnight, but the Minister is not. We are ready to extend the Committee's sittings until 13 March, but the Minister is not.

The Minister is prepared to do only two things. First—he will make a great show of it on Report—he generously gave us two extra hours. That is fantastic. Yesterday, we disposed of 93 clauses, 77 amendments, 37 Government amendments, 13 new clauses and nine Government new clauses that covered 13 pages of fine print. The Minister is prepared to give us two hours to discuss such matters further, but that is woefully inadequate.

Secondly, the Minister generously proposed to bring the guillotine forward, so the chop will now fall at clause 76 rather than later. That was generous of him; he agreed to give proper consideration today to a limited group of clauses, but we shall have only two extra hours tomorrow to deal with a total of about 65 clauses. It has not been suggested that tomorrow's sitting could be extended, so the outrage tomorrow will be even worse. We shall have to deal with 65 clauses, and goodness knows how many amendments or schedules will be rushed. The guillotine will fall at 7 pm because Labour Members will want to rush back to their constituencies. That is an outrage against Parliament. The Government should be ashamed of themselves.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I am reluctant to enter the debate because the normal protocol is that Whips should remain silent in Committee. However, as you said earlier, Mr. Gale, we are in uncharted waters. I acknowledge your courtesy and the courtesy of your co-Chairman in dealing with the usual channels throughout our proceedings, but we are where we are because of the Opposition's view about the number of sittings that the Committee should have.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In the previous Parliament, we always gave far more time to deal with Bills than the hon. Gentleman is allowing. In this Parliament, we had 22 sittings to consider the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which had a similar number of clauses. In 1982, there were 25 sittings to consider the Criminal Justice Act 1982, a Bill of similar length. Why is the hon. Gentleman being so miserable as to allow us only 15 sittings? That is unacceptable; surely he feels ashamed of himself.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Certainly not. That intervention illustrates the problem that the Committee has faced because of the Opposition's deeply held view that the sittings motion did not offer ample time.

Given what the hon. Member for Taunton said about making progress in the time that we have, I want to move on. I rise to speak because the usual channels, although courteous in discussion, have faced the problem that from the Opposition's point of view, we have not been given sufficient sittings. I noticed that the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip was around during the Programming Sub-Committee. I hate to say this, because the camaraderie among Whips is well known, but we have a new Opposition Whip who appears to take instruction from the Deputy Chief Whip on the basis of the Opposition's wider position on programming.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. If I may say so, those black arts are rather removed from the substance of the motion before the Committee. It would be better if the matter were left there.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I just want to finish by placing the issue on the record.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The hon. Gentleman mentioned me. The presence of the Deputy Chief Whip was nothing to do with the fact that I have some six months standing in the Whips Office—quite a long time, compared with some Labour Whips—but was the result of the fact that he has seen from on high the disgraceful nature of what is occurring here today. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that throughout our discussions, at no stage have we disagreed? At no stage did the Government ask me for anything that we have not delivered. Throughout our discussions through the usual channels we have agreed entirely. At no stage have we had a disagreement in which I said, ``No, we won't do that.'' We have agreed to absolutely everything that the hon. Gentleman has asked me for.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

As the Chairman has said, we will keep those discussions under the protocol that applies to them. I will not enter a discussion about who said what in the Corridor.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I feel that the issue raised in the Programming Sub-Committee of the number of sittings needs to be on the record. I believed that we had an agreement with an Opposition Whip about a hospital appointment that reduced the number of sittings. We entered into negotiations to put those sittings back. I am told by the Opposition that that was not their understanding. I acknowledge the spirit of what they are saying, but I want to place on the record the fact that I believed that I had an agreement with the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) when he was the Opposition Whip.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

This is a suitable moment to sit back and reflect on what nonsense the whole process has become. Yesterday, the Committee passed 25 clauses and the whole of part III without our being able to make any observations on them. The Minister has said that my contributions to the Committee have throughout our proceedings, without exception, been constructive and to the point. I hope that the Minister and Government Members will listen to my remarks, and I hope that you, Mr. Gale, will report back to the Chairman of Ways and Means. We are sent here to do a job, and one of the most important aspects of our jobs is properly to scrutinise legislation. We should take that responsibility seriously, but yesterday was farcical.

I understand the proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire made to the Programming Sub-Committee that we sit this afternoon and all through the night tonight. That is an effort to ensure that the Bill receives some sort of scrutiny. It is disgraceful that we are reduced to tabling such proposals. It is impossible to do our job properly and to give proper scrutiny to measures in such a way.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us of what benefit to scrutiny of the Bill were the following remarks by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)?

``I think that what my hon. Friend intended to say was that the Labour party may superficially be pretending to be more respectable. Does he agree that the most interesting thing to come out of this debate was the hon. Member for Taunton pointing out that the most wonderful training for becoming a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament was hanging around on the streets doing little of any use?''——[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 1 March 2001; c. 406.]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. If the hon. Gentleman sought to do so, I would rule him out of order. It is not relevant to the matter that we are discussing. Mr. Blunt.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

It is clear that such a complex Bill, with 130 clauses that deal with a considerable number of different matters, will require proper time to be debated. The Government showed the utmost arrogance by tabling a programming motion immediately after the Bill received its Second Reading. That was wrong. The Committee has proceeded in such a lamentable way because the Government have had to reconsider the whole process and come forward with a date for the end of the Bill's consideration in Committee. We have betrayed the duty that we owe the people of this country to scrutinise the Bill properly.

If no end date is set for when a Bill's consideration must finish in Committee, people will be able to make a proper judgment of its proceedings, not least the Government Whips and the usual channels, and decide whether it has been scrutinised properly. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath cited the example of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which comprises experts in a particular subject who will be affected by the Government's legislation. It is a serious, responsible organisation. It needed time to put together authoritative submissions to Committee members to enable those submissions to be turned into amendments, so that such views could be put forward.

We have done ourselves no credit. An extra two hours tomorrow is not sufficient time in which to consider the Bill properly. It should not be guillotined. Such action should be considered only when it becomes clear that Committee members are obstructing the Government in the proper execution of their duty. That has not happened.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Programming Order of the Committee of 6th February, as amended by the order of the Committee of 1st March, be amended by leaving out lines 27 to 43 of the Table and inserting—

13thClauses 70 to 761 pm
14thClauses 77 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules
15thClause 77 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules.7 pm''

The Chairman: We shall now return to consideration of the Bill. I was asked a question during that short debate. I shall make observations in due course to the Chairman of Ways and Means. He, in turn, will carry forward the views from members on both sides of the Committee to the Modernisation Committee.

Amendments made: No. 248, in page 59, line 17, leave out `section' and insert `subsection'.

No. 249, in page 60, line 37, after `in', insert `a'.

No. 250, in page 60, line 37, after `in', insert `a'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 69, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 2.

Division number 29 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 72 - Use of video and telephone links for decisions about detention

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 72, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.