Clause 8

Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 29th April 2008.

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Return of documents

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

With regard to clause 8(3), which says,

“Where different persons claim to be entitled to the return of the document, it may be retained for as long as is reasonably necessary for the determination of the person to whom it must be returned”,

I am curious about who will make that determination. Will a senior police officer be acting in a quasi-judicial role? Is not this nit-picking? As the Minister will know, in respect of counter-claims on property that comes into the possession of the police, there is already legislation on the statute book called the Police (Property) Act 1997, which would normally trigger an application to a magistrates court, where both parties could argue and the court would make a finding. Is it at all possible to use that procedure? How exactly would the question be determined?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy has just said. I wondered, too, on reading the subsection, what the mechanism was. I assumed that the mechanism that he mentioned would be used. Otherwise, leaving the matter to the discretion of the police officer is invidious for him, if there is a real dispute about whose document it is. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, there is an established procedure for dealing with such matters. It is noteworthy, however, that that procedure is not commented on in any way in the Bill. It might not be necessary, but it is an existing statutory provision.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London)

I hope that the Minister will set my mind at rest. When there is a dispute about whom the document should be returned to, will it in practice be clear that that cannot be used as a reason for further consideration by parties interested in that document? [Interruption.] I am getting the nod from officials, so I do not think that the Minister even needs to respond.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Nevertheless, I call the Minister to respond.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

How can the hon. Gentleman get the nod from people who are not in the room? Under our parliamentary terms, there is nobody here at all, save for the Clerk, the Chair and Hansard staff.

There is a similar provision, in terms of a dispute over ownership, in the 2001 Act. In that regard, the police make the determination. I am fairly comfortable with that, but I take seriously the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. I will have a look at the matter, not least in the context of getting the police out of what may be an invidious position. If the Police (Property) Act 1997 were included to dispel or determine such disputes, that might be better. For now, I am broadly comfortable with the clause as it is. As the hon. Gentleman implies, in the overwhelming number of cases, it will be absolutely clear, a matter of the record, or the dispute may be highlighted at the record stage. We can deal with it in that way. He made a good point, and I shall look at the matter further, but I am content with the clause as it is.

As I understand it, there is no provision to go beyond 48 or 96 hours for inspecting the document and dealing with all the detail, as inferred by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. It is not that there is a dispute about who to give the document back to. It is not the case that officers can say, “Oh, great, we get another period of time to explore the document further.” The clause is merely about including a provision that says that there may well be a dispute at that stage, and that it is for the police to resolve.

I will explore further the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and perhaps come back to the Committee on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.