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Detained Persons (Police Powers)

Volume 897: debated on Saturday 16 August 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to give the police new powers to hold persons in custody without arrest or charge.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the existing law, resting as it does on ageing cases and unenforceable or, at least, unenforced judges' rules, means that there is uncertainty and confusion in a sensitive area of civil liberties where there should be sensitivity and clarity? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this can only engender feelings of suspicion and grievance against the police which must harm them in the long term? Rather than allow this area of friction and suspicion to develop, would it not be better to provide a clear legislative restatement of police powers in this area so that the police and the individual citizen know exactly where they stand?

I attach importance to the application and implementation of the judges' rules. If they are not applied, that counts very much against the police when the prosecution process is developed. However, they are applied in the overwhelming majority of cases. I am not sure whether this would be a matter suitable for a clear legislative statement. In any event, as my hon. Friend will be aware, there is pressure upon me to legislate within the sphere of the Home Office. Therefore, the pressures for me to try to obtain legislative time are very substantial. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said but I cannot hold out an early prospect of legislation, even if I were convinced that a legislative statement would be right.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what developments there have been from his reference—I believe this is correct—to the Chief Constables' Association over a year ago regarding consideration of the rules whereby persons who are sometimes kept in custody by the police are denied access to their solicitors?

I am anxious that the rules in that respect should be applied. I remind the House that the judges' rules do not require access to a solicitor to be granted in all cases. If a person is in custody the rules make access possible subject to the proviso that

"no unreasonable delay or hindrance is caused to the processes of investigation or the administration of justice."
I attach importance to that being so. I shall note the hon. Gentleman's point, as I am sure will chief officers of police who are concerned in the administration of this difficult matter.