Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 18th January 2005.
The Government amendments are designed to assist in the enforcement of court orders, and particularly the collection of fines. One of the Government's key priorities in the criminal justice system is to improve the enforcement of criminal penalties. Fines are a priority. The Carter review said that fines have the potential to be a low-cost but highly effective form of punishment and recommended that they should be used more often. It is fair to say that fines have fallen into disrepute in recent years because of the lack of enforcement, and as a result, courts have been less likely to use fines as a penalty. Making enforcement more rigorous is therefore important, because we know that fines will be used more only if the judiciary, the public and offenders believe that they are a credible punishment.
The credibility of fines depends on effective enforcement. Magistrates and judges will use fines only if they are confident that they will be paid. The amendments are part of an ongoing programme to drive up the rate of payment and improve fine collection. We have been successful in the past 12 to 18 months in driving up the level of payment, which has risen from about 65 per cent. to almost 80 per cent.
That is good, but more can obviously be done. Last year, the Government introduced measures in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to give enforcement teams in magistrates courts power to enter and search premises; to request data from individuals and organisations to help trace offenders; and to transfer community penalty breach warrants out of their area for enforcement purposes.
The amendments will allow the photograph that the courts are already entitled to request from the police for in-court purposes to be used for the purposes of enforcement. The police can already supply a photograph to the courts for the purposes of prosecution, so that the court knows that the person in the dock is the offender. The amendments would allow a copy of that photograph to be requested for use by the court's enforcement team, after a sentence has been passed, to help ensure that the sentence is carried out.
The provision will be hugely welcomed by enforcement teams. At the moment, when an enforcement team knocks on the door of a fine defaulter and asks to speak to John Smith, if John Smith answers the door but chooses to deny his identity, it cannot be sure that the man before them is the one who should be paying the fine. Having access to a photograph will be extremely helpful. In a number of cases—between 5 per cent. and 15 per cent. each year—offenders who have defaulted on fines dispute their identity. That happens in as many as 13,500 cases, and the courts could lose between £600,000 and £1.8 million each year in uncollected fines as a result of not being able to identify the person who is being traced.
At the moment, enforcement teams have to go through the process of calling a police officer to help identify fine defaulters. If they have a photograph, disputes about identity can easily be resolved. The amendments are common sense, and they will help us to make fines a much more credible punishment for the courts to use and enforce in future.
I beg to move amendment No. 187, in clause 107, page 73, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 74.
I am pleased to see that the amendment is supported by the Conservative members of the Committee. I rather hoped that the Minister would put her name to it as well. I drew attention to the matter on Second Reading. This part of the clause is extraordinarily curiously worded—perhaps I am missing a self-evident point, but I have read and re-read it and cannot for the life of me see why it is worded in such a way. It reads:
''A person falling within subsection (1B) below may, on the occasion of the relevant event referred to in subsection (1B), be photographed elsewhere than at a police station''
That would be all right up to that point, but then it says
''(a) with the appropriate consent; or'',
(b) if the appropriate consent is withheld or it is not practicable to obtain it, without it.''
I can understand having a provision for taking a photograph with consent and I can understand a provision for taking it without consent. However, to set out both options seems to be entirely redundant. As I say, I might have missed a self-evident truth and the Minister may be able to enlighten me about what circumstances do not fall into one of the two categories of ''with consent'' or ''without consent'', but I am at a loss to understand what further category she might envisage. She will have to explain it to me in words that I can understand.
I share the hon. Gentleman's puzzlement. The only conclusion that I could possibly draw when I looked at the clause was that one had to ask first; but if, having asked, one was told that there was no consent, one could go ahead anyway. However, I agree that it is curiously worded.
I would be grateful to hear a little more from the Minister about the fact that the clause involves photographing somebody elsewhere than at a police station. That raises slight anxieties in my mind about how that will be carried out in practice. I realise that a surreptitious photograph of somebody can be taken elsewhere than at a police station, but a police station is a controlled environment where there is a system for photographing somebody and for putting a crime number under his name if he has been arrested. To do all that in the street is rather more complicated. Furthermore, one also has to bear in mind that the police do not have a right to humiliate people in public, and photographing a person in a coercive environment elsewhere than at a police station could be precisely that. I have a wider concern about how the measure will operate in practice.
Perhaps I can deal with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome first. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield is absolutely right; it is a matter of asking first. That is why the provision is drafted as it is. I understand that it is virtually identical to other provisions in PACE relating to identification. It is therefore a repetition of an established form of drafting.
I asked whether it was a completely rhetorical position to be in. We have had a discussion about policing by consent, which is the basis on which we operate in this country, and the relationship between a citizen and the police officer is at the heart of the effectiveness of our policing. Therefore, the Bill provides that our first recourse is always to ask ''Can we do this with your consent?'' and if that consent is not forthcoming, we can go onto to the next stage and do it without consent. It is important to us, however, that that question is asked. The Committee have talked about the messages we send out in the way in which we draft our legislation, and this is an important message: when are dealing with the public, one should always ask first and, hopefully, ask nicely; only then should one use the more coercive powers, if they are necessary. So it is therefore important that we resist the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome's amendment. Although I am grateful to him; on Second Reading, he referred to it as
''a quintessential piece of Home Office drafting''—[Official Report, 7 December 2004; Vol. 428, c.1069.] which gave me advance notice to take the matter up with my officials.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield makes the perfectly reasonable point that that we do not want to see people being humiliated in the street. There is no question of covert filming under the clause; it deals with the overt taking of photographs. These days, with the available technology, there is no reason why that cannot be done perfectly properly. The provision is part of a move towards doing more and more things outside the police station, whether that is granting street bail, issuing fixed penalty notices or taking photographs. We have some other provisions later on about fingerprints. Our aim is to ensure that police officers are not tied up for hours on end having to take people back to the station and spending two or three hours there, but can spend their time on front-line policing duties, which is what the police want to do. This is all of a piece, and coherent with our general thrust of being able to do things outwith the police station that, in the past, have been done in a fairly bureaucratic organisational way. I hope that move has the support of all parties, so that we can get our police doing the work that the public want them to do. I therefore ask the Committee to resist the amendment.
Why not go the whole hog and say ''with the appropriate consent asked for in the appropriate way,'' or, ''the constable will be polite in doing so''? We expect certain standards of our constables, and where they are not forthcoming, such things can sometimes be put in the PACE guidance and codes of conduct which, as we have discussed, have an enormous effect on the application of PACE. There is, therefore, provision for ensuring that a constable asks for consent in the appropriate terms. Nothing is added to the power—that is my point: it is redundant in terms of the power. It could just as easily be said that photographing may happen without the appropriate consent, just as fingerprinting is under the subsequent clause. The police invite consent, which the Minister is absolutely right to draw attention to, and we are at one on that. It could be a subject for guidance under the code of conduct.
I do not resile for one moment from my view that this is a rather silly way of putting the provision into statute when it could achieved other means, but if the Minister is attached to the wording, who am I to stand in her way? I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 257, page 74, line 22, at end insert—
'( ) In subsection (4)(a), after ''prosecution'' insert, ''or to the enforcement of a sentence''.
( ) In subsection (5), after paragraph (b) insert ''; and
(c) ''sentence'' includes any order made by a court in England and Wales when dealing with an offender in respect of his offence.''.'.—[Ms Blears.]
I beg to move amendment No. 297, in clause 107, page 74, line 25, at end insert—
'(4) After subsection (6A) (inserted by subsection (3) of this section) insert—
''(6B) This section does not apply to—
(a) a person aged under 17, or
(b) a member of any group which is defined in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group.''.'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 299, in clause 108, page 74, line 29, leave out '(4)' and insert '(4A)'.
No. 300, in clause 108, page 75, line 6, at end insert—
'(4A) In subsection (9), at the end insert—
(c) applies to—
(i) a person aged under 17, or
(ii) a member of any group which is defined in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group.''.'.
No. 301, in clause 109, page 76, line 28, at end insert—
'(9) When the person is—
(a) aged under 17, or
(b) a member of any group which is defined in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group. no impression of the person's footwear may be taken except in the presence of an appropriate adult (as defined in a code of practice issued under this Act.'.
I hope that amendment No. 298, which was placed in an earlier group, might be taken into account.
These are probing amendments. I do not intend to put them to a vote, but I would like the Minister's advice. These are serious issues that are a matter of some concern to various groups outside the House that deal with children. As the Minister may be aware, the amendments were suggested by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. It has a clear point of concern. Under the present PACE codes, additional safeguards should be in place when young or vulnerable people are required to undergo any intrusive act at the request of a constable; usually the requirement is that an appropriate adult is with them if an young or vulnerable person is taken to a police station for those activities to be undertaken. The concern has been expressed that those protections appear to go out of the window under the new provisions, unless there is an express provision within this part of the Bill to bring back the requirements under the PACE codes, thereby ensuring that the Government meet their obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.
I shall deal with the amendments relating to photographs, then fingerprints and then the footwear impressions. Clearly the amendments have the same objective, which is the protection of juveniles and people with mental health problems who could be vulnerable. Amendments Nos. 297 and 298 would prevent the taking of photographs of juveniles and other vulnerable persons. The police should be able to retain accurate records and take photographs of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Regrettably, juveniles are responsible for a significant proportion of the crime in this country, so the police should be able to take photographs. I understand the point about having an appropriate adult present, but taking photographs is one way to ascertain identity which the police should be able to do.
The same argument applies to the amendments to clause 108 on fingerprints. The clause is about taking fingerprints away from the police station in a way that helps us to ascertain people's identity. If they could not check the identity of people under 17, the police would be prevented from dealing with a whole range of juvenile crime and inhibit their operational effectiveness. One of the amendments is worded in such a way that it would prevent the police from taking fingerprints from juveniles and people with mental health problems in any of the circumstances currently covered by section 61 of PACE, even in a police station. The amendment goes too far—further than the hon. Gentleman intends. I know that the Committee would not want to support that position.
The law allows officers to take fingerprints and a non-intimate sample from persons aged under 17 who have been arrested, charged or convicted for a recordable offence without an appropriate adult necessarily being present. I emphasise the word necessarily. The power is there, but I know that officers can and do exercise their discretion. In such circumstances, they might well decide to wait until an adult is present before exercising those powers. It is for the officer to decide in each case.
The power to take fingerprints somewhere other than at the station will be welcomed by police officers, and I should not like to see it limited in the way proposed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. The powers should be available universally for persons of all ages, because the police can use their discretion. It weighs heavily with me that if the police do not have access to such powers for photographs, prints and footwear impressions, more people might be arrested, because some of the powers are designed to ascertain identity on the spot. If somebody's identity can be proven and he can be shown not to have been involved in an offence, he can be free to go. Now, people sometimes have to wait for three or four hours before their identity can be properly ascertained. They are dragged into a police station, and it is as much of an imposition on them as it is on the police officers involved.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's intention to protect the rights of juveniles and those who are vulnerable because of their mental health problems, but it is necessary for the police to have the powers. The matters are covered by the statutory codes under PACE and those codes are the appropriate vehicle through which to ensure that the police have appropriate guidance.
Can the Minister say whether the PACE codes of conduct and the guidance therein apply not only to constables in the execution of their powers, but to the various other persons who will be permitted to take photographs, such as a CSO who is issuing a fixed penalty notice and the accredited persons from a local authority in the case of a penalty notice for truancy. Somebody who has been asked to wait by a CSO will not necessarily have committed a crime, yet there is provision for photographs to be taken for identification purposes. I want to be sure that the codes of conduct to which the Minister referred apply to the range of people who are now to be empowered to take such actions.
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The PACE provisions relating to constables also apply to the other people who exercise such powers. It is the power being exercised that is important, not the individual doing it; therefore the safeguards and provisions in PACE and its codes of practice apply to the range of individuals who might exercise the powers in order to ascertain a person's identity.
Having given the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that the provisions will be considered fully in the codes of practice, I ask him to consider withdrawing the amendment.
I am grateful for the Minister's response on the codes of conduct. That is absolutely crucial. One of the matters raised by the groups who expressed concerns was the incompatibility, as they saw it, of the new arrangements with existing codes of conduct under PACE. I shall look carefully at what the Minister has said, and wait with anticipation for any revision to the codes.
I am happy to withdraw the amendment; it was never my intention to press it to a Division. I understand the Minister's argument that it would undermine a wider provision than one on the specific area that I have sought to probe. As she understands, that was not my intention. I hope that we shall return to the matter at a later stage, possibly in another place. The organisations that contacted me on the subject will look carefully at what the Minister has said. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for sending members of the Committee a letter about a demonstration of the technology involved. In the letter, she states:
''I should however like to stress that fingerprints taken using the new equipment will not be retained or added to NAFIS if they are not already on the system.''
Briefly, how will that work in practice?
First, I apologise to the Committee for sending such a late invitation to the demonstration from the Police Information Technology Organisation of the system of which it is so proud. If hon. Members would find it useful, I am more than happy to organise another demonstration at some point when they may be able to attend.
Perhaps on an occasion when we are not discussing the Constitutional Reform Bill on the Floor of the House.
I entirely accept that point. It seems that hon. Members involved in home affairs and constitutional matters are never out of either the Chamber or the Committee Room.
I have seen a demonstration of the equipment. It is a tremendous technological advance and will be hugely useful to the police, particularly when used in conjunction with automatic number plate recognition, which can trigger an investigation. Fingerprints can be taken and matched on a database. I am told that information on fingerprints can be sent back within about four or five minutes from a mobile unit inside a police vehicle, and that will save an enormous amount of police officers' time.
The reason why we do not propose to retain fingerprints in those circumstances is because they are taken pre-arrest and are intended to help make a quick identification on the street and determine whether the matter needs to be taken further. Fingerprints taken post-arrest are retained, but that is further up the chain. The balance of civil liberties means that we should not retain them when they are taken pre-arrest.
I appreciate that the fingerprints are not meant to be retained, but my question was how will the person from whom they are taken know that they have been destroyed?
I do not have a complete answer to that to hand. I asked whether a record will be made of the fact that fingerprints had been taken, and I understand that such a record will be made but prints will not be retained. I am happy to find further information for the hon. Gentleman about whether a person will be given a receipt or whether a ticket will be written out saying that fingerprints have been taken, but I am not sure of the practicalities. I have no doubt that my officials will provide me with further information and I will write to the hon. Gentleman with those details.
On a point of order, Dame Marion. Which clause are we discussing? We are under the impression that we are discussing clause 108 stand part, but we have not yet considered the amendments to that clause.
I am grateful, Dame Marion. We can now have a repeat performance of the same debate on the next clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 107, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.