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House of Commons Hansard
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Recording Of Questioning At Police Stations
02 May 1985
Volume 78

'At the end of section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 there shall be added the following "Any questions put to a person and any replies given by him while in detention in a police station detained under section (1) above shall not be admissable as evidence in any subsequent trial unless they have been tape-recorded or video-taped and the said tape recording or video recording and a transcript thereof is lodged as a production in Court.".'.—[Mr. Matron.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I promise that this will be the last clause on which I shall speak this evening.

I wish to begin with a quotation from the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill 1980. It is from a speech by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) who at that time was the Minister in charge of home affairs at the Scottish Office. He was later transferred to the Foreign Office, and the Minister who is to reply is one of his successors. I tabled an exactly similar amendment during that Committee stage. The Minister said:
"The Government's view quite firmly and quite clearly is that if the tape recording experiments which are presently being conducted in Dundee and Falkirk are shown to produce no insuperable difficulties, it is our firm intention to implement these proposals"—
the proposal to tape-record interviews at police stations—
"at the earliest opportunity. We do not see the question of resources as significant in implementing such proposals."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 13 May 1980; c. 364–65.]
I do not know what has happened during the past five years. A five-year delay does not seem to me to be the earliest opportunity. We have had no published reports on the experiments in Falkirk and Dundee. The time has come for the Minister to give us some facts about those experiments, to publish any outstanding reports on them and to explain why the commitment given by his hon. Friend has not been carried out.

Have the experiments produced insurmountable problems? I accept that a problem has been caused by the judgment of Lord Jauncey concerning tape-recorded evidence being produced in court, but tape recordings have been used in other courts. How many people have been interviewed? How long are the interviews? I have heard that tape-recorded interviews are considerably shorter than is normal. What is the average length of a tape-recorded interview? What is tape-recorded? I believe that, in Falkirk, only the caution, the charge and the accused's response are recorded. In other words, there is not a full recording of the whole interview.

I believe that there is some evidence of police suspicion of tape-recorded interviews and that a much larger percentage of interviews are now conducted outside police stations, either in the suspect's home or in the police car on the way to the station. What are the police saying about the experiments? During proceedings on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill it was said that detainees might refuse to answer questions with a tape recorder running. Have people refused to be interviewed with a tape recorder running? If so, how many?

After five years, and the promises that were made in 1980, we are entitled to know the answers to those questions. We want to know what is going on and when the Government will fulfil their commitment to enact the Thomson report, which proposed that interviews should be tape-recorded and that the tape recordings should be used as evidence in court. Such a procedure would help with police relations and, in regard to challenges made by lawyers about what has and has not been said, the police would be helped as well. The hon. Member for Pentlands was prepared to accept that. Is the present Minister?

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have also put my name to the new clause and I am in some difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has asked several questions, and this is the only opportunity that we shall have of getting answers to them. If I were to speak before the Minister, I should merely add to, buttress or repeat the questions that my hon. Friend has asked and I should not be able to speak again on Report unless moving a motion. Would it not therefore be better if the Minister answered my hon. Friend's questions now so that we can have a meaningful debate?

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That is a matter for the Minister, not for me.

6.45 pm

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As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has decided to hold his fire for the moment, perhaps I can deal with some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton).

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has always made it clear that he intends, for consultation purposes, to publish the results of the recent study into the tape-recording of police interviews with suspects in Scotland. The final report of that study, which deals with many of the questions that the hon. Gentleman asked, is expected to be submitted to my right hon. Friend shortly. We expect to make a statement about the Government's plans before the summer recess. It has taken time, but I am sure that the House appreciates that a good deal of evidence was collected during the experiments.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Cathcart realises that, in those circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to answer his specific questions, which are much more a matter for consultation.

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Will the statement relate to conclusions on which consultation is asked for, or will there be genuine consultation?

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My right hon. Friend has said that he will publish the report for consultation. The right hon. Gentleman must wait to see what is in the report, but a statement will be made before the summer recess. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cathcart will agree that it would be inappropriate for me to pre-empt any decisions that might be made after publication of the report.

Any decision to introduce tape-recording of police interviews with suspects in Scotland would not require new legislation. The new clause reveals some of the difficulties, especially with the admissibility or inadmissibility of evidence. For example, it might not be possible for the police to tape an interview. There might be an equipment failure, the police station might be in a remote area, or it might be necessary to travel a long distance to a fully equipped station. The experimental study has shown that a small but significant number of people refuse to be interviewed on tape. In such cases, the new clause would make statements thus obtained inadmissible in court. The hon. Member for Garscadden might like to mull over that before we debate this matter more fully when the time comes.

Moreover, the new clause does not mention the considerable number of people who attend police stations voluntarily or who are detained under section 2 of the 1980 Act in premises other than a police station where there might not be tape recorders, but where statements which form an important part of the evidence might be made.

There are many complexities, which I am sure the hon. Member for Garscadden will enjoy when he treads through them. I am glad to have been given the opportunity to say that we shall make a statement before the summer recess. I hope that in the circumstances the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for tabling the new clause. It was obviously meant to be an exercise in information gathering, and we have succeeded in obtaining some quite interesting information from the Minister. I was relieved to hear that there would be a statement before the summer recess, because the situation was bordering on the scandalous. The delays have been so lengthy that my colleagues have been rightly concerned about the total lack of action by Ministers.

This argument, in its immediate past, dates from the first version of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and, I suppose, from the Thomson report. Thomson produced a package with three principal parts. The first was detention for questioning, which became section 2 of the 1980 Act, the second was judicial examination, which became section 6 of that Act, and the third was the tape recording of the questioning of suspects in police stations. However, that was not included in the legislation.

Some of us have always thought that this matter should be considered very carefully. To be fair, that view was widely shared by Conservative Members. I am sure that the first amendment calling for tape recording, which was tabled in the course of two attempts to put that Bill onto the statute book, was initiated by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). He continued to be enthusiastic when he become Solicitor-General for Scotland. On 22 July 1980, as Solicitor-General, he said:
"The experiments in Dundee and Falkirk are going well. We shall be making a report in November or December on the initial situation."
The hon. and learned Gentleman then referred to the possible video taping of interviews, and rightly dismissed it on the ground that it was an unnecessary complication that would delay matters. He said:
"We should not, however, introduce anything at this stage to delay what was the wish of the last Government and is the wish of this Government that recording should be proceeded with, and should be found to have a satisfactory future provided that no appalling difficulties stand in its way."—[Official Report, 22 July 1980; Vol. 989, c. 409–410.]
That is what was said as long ago as 1980. Until today no final date had been given for the endless consideration arid sort of ministerial dwalm—a form of paralysis—that seems to have affected the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) and his colleagues.

It is stretching things a little even to refer to the recent study. The experiments in Falkirk and Dundee, and ultimately in Aberdeen and part of Glasgow, ran from 1980 to 1983. Thus, however comprehensive the consideration and however ingenious the complexities, I would have hoped for something by now. However, we must be thankful for small mercies. The Minister refused to reply to the specific questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart on the ground that it would prejudge the issue to do so, but he then went on to give us little snippets of information about the difficulties that might arise. Someone of a more suspicious frame of mind than me might think that he was approaching the whole issue with a fair degree of scepticism.

However, I accept that there are difficulties. I know that there have been problems in the courts and I know from conversations with police officers—they were not a solicitor's conversations but very helpful conversations—that there is a difference of opinion among those officers who have experience of operating the system. Obviously, we shall await the report with an open mind, but I hope that there will not be any insurmountable difficulties, and that any difficulties will be considered on their merits, on the basis of the practicality of the system.

However, I have been worried, because I have been watching events in England and Wales. The Minister is no doubt well aware of them. England and Wales were, for a while, a long way behind us, but now the Government have, in principle, openly committed themselves to the change. The Minister is probably more familiar with section 60 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act than I am, but there a statutory duty has been placed on his colleagues south of the border to introduce a system of tape recording parallel to the system that we have been considering for so long.

In fairness, I should point out that that section needs implementation and there is no timetable. The Minister responsible has made it clear that experiments are still running in England, and will, I think, run for the next two years. Therefore, I am not suggesting that tape recording will appear instantly in the English system, but at least there is a clear Government commitment on the statute book in section 60 of that Act.

I do not want to labour the point, but it might be useful to put a few facts on record. Home Office research study No. 82 was published in 1984. It was an interim report by Carol Willis. I shall weary the House with the briefest of quotes from the "summary and conclusions".
"these preliminary results are encouraging in one important respect: they show an absence of any evidence that the data collected are invalidated or made meaningless through the systematic avoidance of tape-recording by the police. This goes to support the anecdotal evidence available to the researchers that the police officers involved in the trials have generally taken to tape-recording with commitment and enthusiasm. The preliminary data show that interviews with suspects have become slightly less frequent and shorter"——
the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart——
"which goes to support the view that tape-recording has required a greater discipline in interviewing practices. There appears to be no evidence to suggest that tape-recording inhibits the suspects from confessing or making damaging admissions; nor do the results suggest any decrease in the amount of information about other offences obtained during interview."
There may be a difference in police experience north and south of the border, but the comprehensive interim report that has been produced—remarkably promptly, compared with the Scottish experience—suggests that the police found the experience very positive. Of course the police are not the only interest involved, but they are an important interest. We have always maintained that if such a system was introduced, it would act as a safeguard not only for the suspect and the courts but for the police, as it would guard against the all-too-easy defence that they had acted improperly in some way in obtaining a statement or confession.

The appearance of a report in the next month or two will greatly help this debate. Once the report is published, we should reach some conclusion within a reasonable period, but after proper consideration. The Minister said that there would be a statement before the summer recess. I take it that he means that a statement will be made on the Floor of the House about the Government's intentions and about the way in which the report will be handled, but as such phrases can sometimes be ambiguous, I have put that point on record so that there can be no misunderstanding about it. If we obtain the report within the timetable suggested, we may be able to make some progress on this important issue. Sadly, the delay and general dithering that has characterised the past three or four years—especially when compared with the speed of events in other parts of the country—does not reflect great credit on the Scottish Office.

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I welcome the fact that the Minister has said that the report will be published and that a statement will be made. I gather that at least three interim reports have already been prepared and circulated. I think that the last was in 1982. I cannot understand why those reports were not published, and why there could not have been an on-going review of what was happening, rather than five years of experimentation. No one expected that it would take so long. Indeed, I am not sure whether the report will cover the whole five years or whether monitoring was stopped in 1982. Can the Minister help?

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I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that it stopped at the end of 1983.

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Even the period between 1983 and now is too long. However, I accept what was said by the Minister. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.