HC Deb 05 February 1981 vol 998 cc388-90
1. Mr. Sever

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure.

6. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce legislation to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure; and whether he will make a statement.

15. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure.

16. Mr. Christoper Price

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he proposes to take in the light of the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I should like to thank the chairman, Sir Cyril Philips, and the members of the commission for a comprehensive and valuable report. Their thoughtful discussion of a wide range of important issues affecting the role of the police and the liberty of the subject, supported by an imaginative research programme, deserves very careful and considered reflection. Before reaching their own conclusions the Government will be studying the commission's recommendations and taking full account of public discussion and comments.

Mr. Sever

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his response. Is he prepared to accept that one of the important facets of the report is the question of telephone tapping? Will he give an undertaking to the effect that he is not prepared to allow anyone else to take decisions on telephone tapping and that he will not give authority for anyone else to authorise tapping other than his own office?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is another question on that matter. I think I had better answer it then.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Will my right hon. Friend, in considering the report, bear in mind the anxieties of many people about the considerable increase in crime, particularly sophisticated crime? Will his response take into account the belief of many that the exercise of police powers requires that the arrangements shall be both sensible and workable?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The commission has put before us the arguments on which any balanced judgment must be made. Irrespective of whether one agrees with the commission's conclusions, no one can doubt the value of the research that has been done and the way the arguments have been set put. It is obviously right, in a free society, that the protection of our citizens against increasingly sophisticated crime, on the one hand, must be balanced with the rights and liberties of the subject, on the other. That is what this important report is all about. I hope that hon. Members, in their comments, will be careful and seek to find the right balance through Parliament.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Home Secretary agree that if some of the commission's proposals such as those on arrest and detention were implemented, they would swing the balance of power still further and unnecessarily in favour of the police and potentially worsen police relations with the public? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, as part of his careful consideration, he will take fully into account the views of individuals and organisations on these issues and will implement the recommendation for the tape recording of interviews of suspects, given the unanimity on this issue?

Mr. Whitelaw

The first point illustrates the importance of achieving a balance. There will be those who believe that some increase in police powers under proper safeguards is right if we are to be successful in protecting our citizens against sophisticated crime. There will be others who think that these powers go too far. Those are the arguments which we must all follow. On the second point, I cannot give an assurance that I will pluck one part out of the report. First, we must look at the report as a whole. We may decide to bring out some parts of it later.

Mr. Lawrence

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the findings of the Royal Commission to the effect that the time had passed for feasibility studies into the tape recordings of interviews of suspects, that many of the conceived objections have less validity than was earlier thought and that nothing could do more to speed the process of criminal trial at the same time as protecting the innocent than the speedy introduction of tape-recorded interviews of suspects?

Mr. Whitelaw

Anyone in my position who is not sensitive to the need to speed up trial procedures would be very unwise. I want to see trials speeded up and shall take account of what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I deal with the right hon. Gentleman's last point about speeding up trial procedures and his earlier remarks about freedom of the individual? As his Department refuses to give the information, am I right in assuming that instead of hundreds there are thousands of unconvicted persons on remand in prison, while self-confessed and convicted criminals such as Lord Kagan go straight into an open prison? Why cannot these unconvicted people go into an open prison instead of being kept locked up for as long as 18 months without charge or allegation being made against them? Will the Home Secretary give the figures of the thousands of prisoners affected?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have made clear to the hon. Gentleman that there are certain figures which it would be extravagant—well beyond sensible costs—to produce. The hon. Gentleman has formed a great habit over the years of asking questions that could be answered only at disproportionate cost. He has done it to all Governments for years. When he does it he assumes the answer that he wants to assume. He has no right to pursue that course and I do not intend to play that game with him. His comments about Lord Kagan do not arise from the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedures. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that everyone wants to see shorter periods of remand, but he does not need to wrap it up in a whole lot of rubbish.

Mr. Gorge Cunningham

While recognising that a decision about a debate on the Royal Commission report is for the Leader of the House, may I ask whether the Secretary of State agrees that a sensible way to proceed would be for us to have—after not too long a delay—a debate, probably on a "take note" motion, so that the House may have an opportunity of expressing provisional views before the Government finally make up their mind on the recommendations in the report?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable proposition. He will realise that that is not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If such time could be found—a suitable time, not too soon—I should welcome it.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Although there are many good things in the report, does the Home Secretary realise that its central weakness is that there is no substantial sanction against breaking the rules by the police? Will he consider bringing in some mandatory rule to the effect that the judge should exclude evidence that has been obtained in breach of any rule?

Mr. Whitelaw

That matter should be carefully considered. I recognise that if the police are to have increased powers, the need for safeguards for citizens is important. These are all parts of the process of achieving a balance which, on reading the report, we all want to achieve.