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Clause 10

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

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Power to take fingerprints and samples: England and Wales

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

I beg to move amendment No. 5, page 6, line 29, after ‘constable’, insert

‘with the authority of an officer of a rank no lower than inspector’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 6, page 6, line 40, after ‘constable’, insert

‘with the authority of an officer of a rank no lower than inspector’.

No. 8, in clause 12, page 9, line 2, after ‘constable’, insert

‘with the authority of an officer of a rank no lower than inspector’.

No. 9, in clause 12, page 9, line 13, after ‘constable’, insert

‘with the authority of an officer of a rank no lower than inspector’.

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

This is a probing amendment. Members familiar with the Bill will be aware that clause 11, which deals with the power to take fingerprints and samples in Scotland, is explicit in requiring a constable to get the authority of an officer of a rank no lower than inspector, whereas that is not the case for England and Wales. Clause 10 simply requires a constable’s authority to take fingerprints and samples.

I accept fully that devolution is a wonderful thing and that discrepancies arise in legislation, but I would like to understand a little better why the Government are not seeking the additional safeguards that are provided in Scotland for England and Wales. In Scotland, the authority of an officer of the rank of inspector is required to authorise the taking of fingerprints and samples.

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

The police powers to collect and use fingerprints and non-intimate samples following an arrest for a criminal offence are governed by separate legislation and procedures in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman implies. In England and Wales, or Northern Ireland, a constable can authorise the collection and use of fingerprints and non-intimate samples under PACE or its Northern Ireland equivalent respectively. The police in Scotland are subject to separate powers under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which requires authorisation from an inspector or above for particular but not all types of samples.

The provisions in clauses 10, 11 and 12 are intended to regularise police powers across the UK to take routinely, use, store and retain the fingerprints and non-intimate samples of individuals subject to control orders, and, crucially, to ensure that they are in line with existing procedures for the country concerned.

To demand authorisation from an inspector or above in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would create an unnecessary difference between the current framework under PACE and that for control orders. The review of PACE public consultation exercise has clearly shown that the current framework works effectively. To introduce a further tier to the framework would cause confusion and place unnecessary demands on operational resources. Therefore, we do not believe that there should be an exceptional level of authorisation for the collection or use of fingerprints and non-intimate samples for individuals subject to control orders. The power to take fingerprints and samples in clauses 10, 11 and 12 is simply about regularising control orders with existing powers in the respective jurisdictions. This is not a case of decreasing or increasing the level, but of making control orders reflect wider legislation.

We do not think it appropriate to debate the larger issue of levels of authorisation contained in PACE and its Northern Ireland equivalent in this narrow context. The hon. Gentleman’s wider point about moving the level from inspector to constable may be an appropriate concern, but it is not appropriate here. All we are seeking to do is plug a little gap in control order legislation within the existing jurisdictional parameters. I might have had some sympathy with him—I do not, as it happens—on the wider issue of whether it is time that PACE and its Northern Ireland equivalent should  go up to the Scottish level and insist that an officer of inspector level or above is involved in fingerprints and samples.

The clauses under discussion are very narrowly defined and relate to an oversight in the control order legislation. We are seeking the power to take fingerprints and samples from those on control orders. In seeking to do that and no more, it is entirely reasonable to do so within the prevailing jurisdictions of England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The broader debate that the hon. Gentleman wants to have is a perfectly reasonable one, although I do not agree with it, but it is not for this discussion.

As I have said, under the 1995 Act, in Scotland the taking of some, but not all, samples requires the authorisation of an officer of the level of inspector or above. To avoid confusion, clause 11 mirrors that standard requirement rather than any differing standard. On a narrower point of detail, it is worth noting that the amendments would go beyond the position in Scotland in two respects. If the intention was to mirror Scotland, the amendments are flawed. First, in Scotland, authorisation from an inspector is required in relation to only some, not all samples. The amendments propose that the level should be that of inspector for all such samples. Secondly, in Scotland, authorisation from an inspector is not needed for a constable to require an individual to attend a police station to have a sample taken. The amendments propose that there should be such authorisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For practical as well as more general purposes, I do not like the amendments. I consider them flawed and inappropriate in this narrow context, although I accept the wider debate.

In the PACE review and consultation that has been ongoing for the best part of a year and which is about to come to fruition, we invited interested parties, practitioners and the public to set out the agenda for changing PACE significantly, should they so choose. The level of authorisation for the taking and retention of fingerprints and samples was not raised in response to that, nor in subsequent detailed discussions with stakeholders from across the criminal justice system. Given the narrow thrust of these measures, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn. I say cheerfully that there is a wider argument to be had about PACE, which, remarkably, as the review has shown, has stood the test of time very well since 1984, despite successive amendments to it over the years. On reflection, before the dash to lunch, let us throw the amendment out with alacrity and move on.

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

I thank the Minister for his response. Clearly, his level of emollience is linked to the proximity of lunch. I do not wish to detain the Committee any longer.

I acknowledge the Minister’s comments about the need for a broader debate. I think that he referred to the need to raise the standards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to those in Scotland, so perhaps we can return to that at another point. He said that there were concerns that that would raise undue burdens. Before I withdraw the amendment, will the Minister clarify whether any concerns have been raised with him from Scotland on the undue burden that is caused by the need for an inspector to authorise the taking of fingerprints and samples?

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

The Scottish system has been the Scottish system for so long that no concerns have come from it about undue burdens due to authorisation from inspectors. That is what prevails and always had prevailed, prior to and including its codification in PACE. My point clearly was not that there was an undue burden in going to the level of inspector for authorisation. It was that, given that we are filling a little gap relevant to control orders, it is appropriate that the measure reflects the existing jurisdiction.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being One o’clock, The Chairmanadjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.