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Pesticides Bill

Volume 590: debated on Friday 19 June 1998

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.31 a.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [ Enforcement of controls on pesticides]:

Page 3, line 5, leave out ("other than perjury").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to clarify the new powers of interrogation detailed in Clause 2 of the Bill. At Second Reading and again in Committee I sought to obtain clarification about the application of what might be called the new Clause 2(2) powers. There had been some confusion on the issue when it was debated in another place. The purpose of the power in question is the effective but fair questioning of witnesses, in particular when the witness might be an employee storing illegal pesticides on behalf of an employer who might be reluctant in normal circumstances to give information about such activity to an officer. In return for being required to answer the officer's questions, there is a kind of quid pro quo within the Bill—the recognition that information supplied by the interviewee which might incriminate either that person or his or her spouse shall not be used against that person or the spouse in any criminal proceedings other than perjury.

In answer to questions I posed at Second Reading, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, wrote two letters to me to explain further the Government's view of the operation of the Clause 2(2) powers. Unfortunately, the Government's interpretation of the Clause 2(2) powers caused me great concern. I believed that the fair treatment of the interviewee would be seriously jeopardised. I raised my concerns in some detail in Committee. They are on the record in Hansard. I shall not test the patience of noble Lords by repeating them today. I realise that that gains some agreement within the House.

Subsequently, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, kindly arranged a meeting which I attended to discuss my concerns with him, the Minister of State, Mr. Rooker, and lawyers from MAFF and the Health and Safety Executive. I thank the noble Lord for arranging that meeting and others for their co-operation. They were all able to reassure me on many points that I raised, but not on all. I have therefore tabled the amendment today which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, and the Government will be able to accept. I believe that it will resolve the core issue of the fair and effective questioning of witnesses under Clause 2(2) powers.

My amendment makes clear that information obtained from a witness during an interview conducted under the Clause 2(2) procedure cannot be used against him or his spouse in criminal proceedings in any circumstances. I believe that that will resolve the confusion to which I referred in moving my amendment in Committee. It should provide a clear and fair resolution of the difficulties which I rehearsed through previous stages of the Bill.

However, there is one remaining area of confusion which I mentioned at the meeting last week and which I believe the Government or the noble Lord, Lord Stone, may be able to resolve today by giving an explanation to the House. An amendment may not be necessary, but it merits further explanation. I refer to what may happen when an interview conducted under the Clause 2(2) procedure is aborted because the interviewee makes an admission. For example, the interviewee simply says, "Yes, I am storing illegal pesticides. I know them to be illegal but my employer told me to do so or I would be fired"—a simple, straightforward admission. At that point the officer may decide that it is necessary to prosecute the person being interviewed rather than continue with the Clause 2(2) procedure. In those circumstances the officer will halt the Clause 2(2) interview and start a new interview under the PACE procedure in England and Wales and, as I understand, the common law procedure in Scotland.

Can the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, reassure me that, first, this procedure has been in operation in other areas of the law without undue difficulty heretofore? Secondly, when the PACE procedure, or the common law procedure in Scotland, then follows, do those two procedures protect the interviewee to the extent that there is a break between the interviews during which the interviewee is told that he may consult a solicitor? If the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Stone, is able to assist me on that matter, I believe that it will resolve all issues over which I expressed concern and an amendment at Third Reading will not be necessary. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on the drafting of the amendment. I have rarely seen such clarity and economy of language. The specific issue is what happens when the person being interviewed under the Clause 2(2) powers becomes a suspect and is then interviewed under the PACE procedure in England and Wales or the common law in Scotland. The same issue arises under existing legislation which gives enforcement officers the power to require answers to questions. The obvious example is the Health and Safety at Work Act which has been on the statute book for almost a quarter of a century. So the procedure has been in operation without apparently causing undue difficulty.

Nothing in this Bill cuts across, undermines or contradicts the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or the common law procedures in Scotland. On the rare occasions when a person is required to answer questions and is then to be interviewed as a suspect, there will always be a clear break between the two interviews when that person is formally cautioned and advised that he or she does not have to say anything. The position would be as follows: in England and Wales, the PACE procedures will apply, affording full protection under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, such as requirements to caution the suspect and to give him or her the opportunity to consult privately with a solicitor. In Scotland, where PACE does not apply, the common law procedures on the questioning of suspects will apply, ensuring that the suspect is treated entirely fairly at all times. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness.

The Government have listened to the points which were put extremely clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in Committee and at subsequent meetings. She has demonstrated the complexity arising from the interactions of different legislation. As a result, the Government can support her proposed amendment to remove the three words "other than perjury". I shall not be at all surprised if my noble friend Lord Stone of Blackheath, after due consideration, also agrees to accept the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment. A major reason for seeking to introduce the power of enforcement officers to require answers to questions is that other legislation gives enforcement officers similar powers which have been found to be effective in practice. I thank my noble friend Lord Carter for addressing the noble Baroness's concerns. However, he frightened me when he left the Chamber two minutes before we were about to begin. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured.

With reference to Clause 2(2), the same issue occurs for existing legislation without causing undue difficulty in practice. The Bill will not change interview procedures either under PACE or in Scotland. However, I listened carefully to the issues raised by the noble Baroness and I have learnt much from the discussions we have had during the past few weeks. The existing text of Clause 2(2) needs clarification. I can therefore agree to her amendment to remove the three words "other than perjury".

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for the assurances he has given with regard to the situation where Clause 2(2) interview procedure halts and a PACE or common law interview in Scotland starts. They settle my concerns and I shall not be tabling an amendment on the issue at Third Reading.

I am also grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Stone of Blackheath, for accepting the amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his congratulations on the clarity of the drafting of my amendment. I hope that the situation arises again on many occasions in this House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.