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Criminal Justice Bill (Seventh sitting)

Debated on Tuesday 16 January 2024

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Hannah Bardell, Sir Graham Brady, Dame Angela Eagle, † Mrs Pauline Latham, Sir Robert Syms

† Costa, Alberto (South Leicestershire) (Con)

† Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Meon Valley) (Con)

† Farris, Laura (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Firth, Anna (Southend West) (Con)

† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)

† Ford, Vicky (Chelmsford) (Con)

† Garnier, Mark (Wyre Forest) (Con)

† Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)

† Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

† Metcalfe, Stephen (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

† Philp, Chris (Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire)

Stephens, Chris (Glasgow South West) (SNP)

Sarah Thatcher, Simon Armitage, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 16 January 2024


[Mrs Pauline Latham in the Chair]

Criminal Justice Bill

Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements. Members should send their speaking notes by email to and please switch your electronic devices to silent. As you know, tea and coffee are not allowed at these meetings.

Clause 15

Testing of persons in police detention for presence of controlled drugs

I beg to move amendment 25, in clause 15, page 11, line 19, leave out lines 19 to 21.

The amendment and amendment 26 ensure that procedural provisions in respect of regulations made under new section 63CA of PACE 1984 operate as intended.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 26.

Amendment 133, clause 15, page 11, line 27, at end insert—

“63CB Diversion services for persons testing positive for controlled drugs

Where a person has tested positive for the presence of controlled drugs in a sample taken under section 63B, that person must be directed to an appropriate drug diversion service.”

This amendment would require the police to refer individuals who test positive for a controlled drug to a drug diversion service.

Clause stand part.

Government amendments 27 to 31.

Clauses 16 and 17 stand part.

Government amendments 45 and 46.

Government new clause 13—Testing of persons outside of police detention for presence of controlled drugs.

It is a great pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mrs Latham.

This series of Government amendments and associated clauses expands the police powers to drug test on arrest to include locations outside of custody. That includes introducing a new police power into part 3 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to drug test persons on arrest at a location outside of the custody suite when certain conditions have been met. It also amends part 3 of the Drugs Act 2005 to provide the police with a power to require people who test positive to attend an initial assessment—and, when appropriate, a follow-up assessment—in respect of their drug misuse.

The Government are keen to get more people into treatment: something that we have funded with £300 million of extra cash over two or three years, with the aim of creating 54,500 extra drug treatment places. I am sure that we can all agree that the best thing is to get people off drug addiction, to prevent criminal behaviour.

The assessments that I have just referred to will enable those people to be referred into treatment or support services, whose funding has just been increased, as I mentioned. The new power will operate alongside the existing power, as expanded in the Bill, to drug test people on arrest or charge in police detention under section 63B of PACE.

During the evidence sessions it was made very clear, by both experts in the field and the police officers, that currently there is absolutely no possibility of this resource being available. Will the Minister please outline what resources the Home Office will put in place to ensure that the drug testing that he is rightly outlining will be able to take place?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the point. It is important to have capacity to deliver the testing. As I mentioned a couple of moments ago, we are now in the second year of a three-year funding commitment, as part of the 10-year drug strategy, to fund 54,500 extra drug treatment places across the country, delivered in partnership with local public health bodies. Those places have been created. There are now also liaison and diversion officers, I think, in every—or almost every—custody setting and in many courts as well, to help identify people who have a drug addiction.

Just before Christmas, I visited the custody suite in Northampton, where I met liaison and diversion officers. They speak to people who have been brought into custody and, if there is a substance problem, get them referred as we are describing. I accept that there is a need for resources, but those investments are being made. The implementation is being tracked by a cross-Whitehall taskforce that meets on a regular basis and includes officials from lots of Departments.

I thank the Minister for that and am fully in favour of more drug support services. What I was asking was whether the police have the resources to undertake the drug testing that the clause outlines. The police said no; this is not about whether somebody then gets referred on—the police, in the evidence session, said no. The Casey review into the Metropolitan police last year found that samples from rape cases were being kept next to packets of sandwiches in a police officer’s fridge. Yesterday, there was the story about the foetus in Rochdale. Also, if—

Okay. There are just not the clinical resources in police stations currently. Will the Minister outline how the testing will be funded?

I have talked about the liaison and diversion officers and the treatment capacity, but on police resources, which the hon. Lady was asking about, we have just completed a substantial police recruitment programme. We now have 20,951 more officers than we had four years ago and 3,500 more than we have ever had before. The training takes two to three years; as officers complete their training, more and more will be available for frontline deployment. In addition, we are also—

Well, the actual tests often get administered by police officers, and the hon. Lady asked about police officer capacity.

We are also removing some of the administrative burdens on policing by reforming the Home Office counting rules—that has already saved half a million hours of police time per year. Furthermore, the NHS are in the process of picking back up mental health cases where there is no criminality or threat to public safety. That is right; people in a mental health crisis need medical treatment, not the police. Once that is fully implemented, and we are in the middle of doing it now, it will free up more than a million hours of police time. In addition to record police numbers, we are removing some of the burdens keeping them from frontline activity, including what we are discussing.

I am satisfied that both police resources and medical treatment resources are available. If anything, the challenge is actually that we are not using all the treatment places available. Some of the proposals in this legislation will help the police refer more people for that initial assessment, which we hope and expect will lead to treatment in the extra places that we funded.

I do not want to stray too far from the clause, Mrs Latham. Following the community safety partnerships review and antisocial behaviour powers consultation, we are, as I mentioned, expanding drug testing on arrest to locations outside of custody so that the tests can be done quickly and easily and take up less time, to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley. That expansion, in addition to the expansion of drug testing to class B and class C drugs, as the Bill already provides, will ensure that police have all the necessary powers to identify people with a drug problem and get them into treatment.

The Government amendments confer a power on the police to drug test when a person aged 18 or over has been arrested for an offence and the officer has requested that the person give a sample. The power is discretionary, to be used when the officer feels that it is an appropriate course of action. It is also worth being clear that when drug testing takes place outside of police detention—that is, not in a police station—only a non-intimate sample, such as a swab or saliva, may be taken, for obvious reasons.

As with the current powers to drug test in police detention, testing may take place only when a person has been arrested for a relevant trigger offence, or another offence where an officer of at least the rank of inspector has reasonable grounds to suspect that the misuse of a specified controlled drug has caused or contributed to the offence and expressly authorises the test. A refusal to provide a sample without good reason will be a criminal offence, as is currently the case with the existing regime for drug testing on arrest.

In many domestic abuse cases—the fatal ones, sadly—the fact that the perpetrator was on drugs is used as a mitigating factor to get, for example, a manslaughter charge rather than a murder charge; I could cite many cases, but I will not stretch the Chair’s patience. Will drug testing be done in cases of domestic abuse, and has the Minister thought about how that might help the perpetrator?

As I just set out, drug testing might be done, particularly if the inspector thinks that drug abuse might have contributed to the offending. If someone is on drugs that are causing them to commit domestic abuse, I am sure we would all want that identified so that action can be taken.

On the hon. Lady’s point about homicide versus manslaughter, that is not in the scope of this Bill—we are not making any changes in that area. I do, however, share her concern about the cases of people who murder their partners. We should not be somehow excusing their behaviour or seeking to diminish their culpability by saying, “Oh, they’re on drugs,” and getting the charge dropped from homicide to manslaughter. Although that is not the topic of this Bill—the Bill makes no changes as far as that is concerned—I share the hon. Lady’s concern. I hope that the legal community have heard the point that she has just made, with which I have enormous sympathy. I think it sounds reasonable.

The safeguards for the new power include that it can be used only by approved constables; that the statutory PACE codes of practice must include provision about how the new drug testing power is to be exercised; and that the sample may be taken only for the purpose of a drug test. That is to ensure that the power is used proportionately and only by those with appropriate experience.

The individual being tested must also be given a notice setting out why, when and where they were tested, and the result of the test. Following a positive test, a person can be required to attend an assessment with a drug-support worker, as is the case with the current drug testing regime. Non-attendance without good reason will itself be an offence. We will probably debate Opposition amendment 133 later; that tries to go further on this issue.

The trigger offences and specified controlled drugs will be set out in secondary legislation. The Secretary of State will, in line with the regime for drug testing in police detention, have the power to specify in regulations those trigger offences within the scope of drug testing in locations outside of custody, and the controlled drugs to be tested for. Such regulations will be subject to the affirmative and negative procedures respectively. That will ensure appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and allow for the regime to be varied if circumstances require.

The amendments also make various—I hesitate to use this term after the comments from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North, last time—technical and consequential amendments; I think we should excise the word “technical” from our discussions in future to avoid triggering the shadow Minister. The amendments make various important and consequential changes to ensure that the drug testing regime outside of custody has the same legal effects as drug testing in police detention.

In talking through the amendments, I have explained the intent behind clauses 15 to 17. I will rest my remarks there and reply later to any further points raised in the debate.

As we have heard, clauses 15 to 17 expand police powers to test for drugs in suspects who have been arrested and are in police detention. Drug testing on arrest was originally introduced as a police power under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, which inserted sections 63B and 63C into the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That legislation gave the police the power to drug test those arrested if aged 18 and over, or charged if aged 14 and over, for the presence of specified class A drugs if arrested or charged either for a trigger offence or where a police officer of at least the rank of inspector has reasonable grounds to suspect that specified class A drug use has caused or contributed to the offence and authorises the test. Trigger offences include theft, handling stolen goods, going equipped for stealing and possession of a controlled drug if committed in respect of a specified class A drug. We know that such offences have a significant link to substance misuse. Clause 15 expands police powers to test not just specified class A drugs but any specified controlled drug.

We were very keen on such measures 23 years ago in relation to class A drugs, and we support their expansion to include any specified controlled drug; my anxiety stems from the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley mentioned, we heard in the evidence session and we know from engagement with our local police forces that there is not likely to be the capacity to do this effectively.

The Minister said that there are record police numbers, but he knows that there are 10,000 fewer police in neighbourhood settings. His pushback to that in previous debates has been to classify response police as neighbourhood police, but they would certainly not be able to do this type of activity. The burden of proof is on the Minister and the Department to show where the capacity will come from. We have real doubts, although we hope the measure will work.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure seems to be in contradiction to the position that many police forces are in? Because they lack resource capacity, they are withdrawing from dealing with issues relating to mental health and are saying, “We don’t have the capacity to do it.” Does my hon. Friend agree that this measure will put more pressure on police forces at a time when they are having to withdraw from some operational interventions?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Routinely or in extremis, demand pressures can push officers to do just the basics—keeping people safe and putting people in detention—rather than dealing with the broader issues, as we want them to. That problem creates further issues, and that is a challenge for us all.

On that point, it is important to clarify the reason we are introducing the national partnership agreement, which applies Right Care, Right Person across the whole of England and, we hope, Wales too. Following a successful pilot in Humberside, it was found that in many of the mental health cases that the police were dealing with there was no criminality and no threat to public safety, so a police response was not right for the person suffering the mental health crisis. Not only was that taking up lots of police time that should have been spent doing other things, such as dealing with drug offences, but the person suffering a health episode was not being properly treated. It was found in Humberside that it is better for everyone, including the patient, to get a medical response in those circumstances. That is the motivation for the national partnership agreement, which the hon. Gentleman just referred to.

The evidence from Humberside was strong and gave us encouragement to expand the scheme nationally; the challenge will be whether we see the same level of thought in its implementation across the country as we saw in Humberside. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle said, the risk is that forces will apply the scheme by simply not responding or turning their phone off, and displacing the activity. Humberside is a really good example of something done thoughtfully and well, but we should not assume that we will see that nationwide.

On the point that the Minister made in his intervention, does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is circuitous? The reason why the police were involved in mental health interventions in the past, although they are pulling away from them, was that there were such strains and stresses on the health service and local government that they had to fill the gap. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is getting to the farcical stage, with gaps in resources left, right and centre?

Sadly, it has been a defining feature of the past nearly 14 years that we have been left dealing with significant issues such as substance misuse at the latest and most expensive stage, and that is particularly pertinent in policing. We deal with mental health issues, to the degree that we do deal with them—certainly for children and adolescents, that is definitely not the case universally—at the point of crisis. We do not have earlier interventions.

My amendment 133 seeks to add a little bit of that back in. It is a point of agreement across parties that, if individuals are in custody for crimes that they are alleged to have committed and they test positive for substances in their system, then that support is necessary—it is critical—to stop their drug use and hopefully change their life. My amendment refers to that, and I will get to that in a second. Currently, under the Drugs Act 2005, an individual who tests positive for a class A drug may be required to attend an individual assessment relating to their drug use and possibly a follow-up assessment. I think that we can go a little further than that, as my amendment does.

As my hon. Friends have said, there is a significant hole in the Government’s plan. Very little of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 remains; it was terrible legislation and the Government had to chuck it in the bin less than a decade after it was enacted. However, it transferred responsibility for drug treatment services—the ones that we are talking about in this context—to local authorities, and that is one thing that remains. I was once the health leader on my council—I know that there is a former council leader, as well as other councillors, among my colleagues—and I have a lot of time for local leadership of vital local services, but this has to be seen in the context of the subsequent destruction of local government finances, as a result of which the services that these clauses rely on have been under huge pressure.

The Minister talked about £300 million over three years. The reality is that, through the public health grant in 2013, we spent £828 million on addiction services, but last year we spent £608 million. Set against population changes and the growth in demand, that is a huge change. The Minister is in danger of borrowing a tenner from me, giving me a fiver back and then asking for a letter of thanks, which will not be forthcoming. That is the reality. As my colleagues have said, we are creating demand for policing services by failing to make earlier interventions, and we are costing ourselves more money. The Government are at risk of knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

The cost in human terms is devastating. Again, this relates directly to what these clauses are supposed to do. We want drugs testing in custodial settings in order to reduce reoffending or help people not to offend at all, but we also do not want people to die; we do not want the logical furthest consequences of their drug use to be realised. However, drug deaths have doubled since 2021. That is twice as many people, and those are the very people that the clause relates to. Many of those people will have entered custody because of theft or violence, and we would have known them to be drug-addicted. The lack of those services remains a huge problem.

Our amendment 133 would amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 by inserting a new section 63CB, which would state:

“Where a person has tested positive for the presence of controlled drugs in a sample taken under section 63B, that person must be directed to an appropriate drug diversion service.”

It is vital that the right interventions and support are in place to help people out of the terrible cycles of addiction and criminality that drug addiction can cause.

It is important that people get support, not just to deal with their addiction, but to deal with what might sit underneath it, whether that relates to trauma or to other things that have happened in their life. Amendment 133 would make sure that that is the case for all individuals who test positive for substances under the expanded powers that the Government are seeking in relation to specified controlled drugs. The amendment would go further than the Drugs Act 2005 by making it an obligation to refer.

I am conscious that, at some point, all of us, through our constituency work, will deal with individuals— or with their families or neighbours—who, through their substance misuse, are exceptionally challenging. I understand that there are situations where that is really difficult, but I also think a lot about our experience during the pandemic, which was one of the most testing times for this country, certainly in my lifetime, and specifically about the work that we were able to do with people who were homeless and had substance abuse issues. Under the right conditions, those people made incredible progress, even though we were at one of our most difficult moments nationally.

Thoughtful interventions can work, and I believe that we have an obligation at least to try them. Getting even a single individual in a town to enter those services successfully can have a huge impact on theft and antisocial behaviour, because those individuals are often the most prolific offenders. That is the rationale for the amendment and I am interested in hearing the Minister’s views on it.

Turning to the Government amendments, I promise I will not labour any semantic arguments over technical or consequential language, but they are significant, and I hope that the Minister will at least accept that. I want particularly to look at Government amendments 25 and 26 and new clause 13.

The amendments delete subsection (4) of proposed new section 63CA of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and insert a new subsection (5A)—I do not blame those at home if they are not following. According to the explanatory notes, subsection (4) originally existed to provide for regulations made by the Secretary of State to make clause 15 operative, via the negative procedure in the case of controlled drugs, and via the affirmative procedure in the case of varying trigger offences. The new explanatory note says the effect of the amendments is to ensure that new regulations “operate as intended”. Whether that is technical or substantial, it is tautological. Of course the impact is to make them operate as intended, but there is a lack of clarity, and I hope the Minister will provide an explanation. Previously, for controlled drugs, a variation to the list was to be done via the negative procedure, and variations to trigger offences were to be done via the affirmative procedure. Which way will those variations be done now, and what is the motivation for the change?

Clause 16 expands the scope from class A drugs to controlled drugs. We are happy with that approach, but it is significantly added to by Government amendments 27, 28 and 29, and particularly Government new clause 13, which introduces an entirely new concept. That is in no way technical, consequential or necessary to make small changes; it is a huge and significant change to the purpose of this part of the Bill.

Clause 15 explicitly mentions testing in police detention in its title. The introduction of a new concept of testing outside police detention late in the day deserves our scrutiny and perhaps some more explanation from the Minister. Under proposed new section 32A(1) of PACE, a constable will be allowed to take

“a single non-intimate sample from a person”

provided that three rather basic conditions are met in relation to the nature of the arrest, the age of the person and some disclaimers relating to the nature of the request being made. The bars are very low and arguably would be cleared in virtually every type of arrest for someone over the age of 18 and definitely in every type of arrest for a public order or nuisance type offence.

I would have valued the opportunity to press witnesses on capacity and on what problem we are seeking to solve with the amendments, but I am afraid that the Minister must provide that clarity instead. Who has asked for the power? What problem is it in the service of solving? I do not think I am taking things to an extreme by saying that, as it stands, we could have constables being asked to take urine samples from individuals at football matches. That would clear the tests very easily. It could also happen in nightclubs; again, the desirability of that is questionable, but it would definitely clear the three tests. It could also happen in colleges or at universities, with 18-year-olds in those settings and arrests being made as a result of nuisance or disturbance.

That would happen in those rather public places, outside custodial settings—goodness knows where in the buildings; in the toilets, perhaps—and presumably it would be supervised so the nature of the urine sample could be trusted. What is so time-sensitive that it cannot wait for a return to a custody setting? I cannot help but feel that there is a risk of really broadly arranging the amount of urine being taken from the public and, frankly, I am not sure about the degree of public interest in that.

Again, this is particularly challenging, because not only has the new clause been added rather late in the process—we could not scrutinise the Home Secretary on Second Reading and we were unable to interrogate witnesses during oral evidence—but it relies on regulations. We have to jump into the dark and assume that a sensible regime will be established by the Home Secretary and then dealt with via an unamendable motion in a Committee Room. I do not think that is a particularly robust regime.

Finally, on clause 17, it seems wise to align current practice with the law. It is slightly concerning that the law has essentially been set aside by Home Office guidance, but, given that that seems to have been the case for a decade, we probably just are where we are, and tidying that up in law is probably wise.

In conclusion, we support the principle, which was introduced by the previous Labour Government, that it is important to establish the drug use of people who commit certain trigger offences, or may have committed offences as a result of their drug use in the eyes of the inspector. Expanding that beyond class A makes abundant sense, but quality treatment must follow as the default. If the Minister does not want to accept the language in my amendment 133, I hope to hear that he believes that that ought to be the default, unless there is a really good example, such as someone who is already in a treatment service. There are huge issues relating to capacity. I know the Government need to have a line on what they are doing on capacity, but I hope that is not their private view, because I do not think it matches up with reality, certainly in our communities. Again, the burden will be on the Government to demonstrate that.

Finally, new clause 13 is a really significant change. I have yet to hear from the Government what the real case for it is or what problem we are seeking to solve. That gives us pause. I will probably not press my amendment to a Division, but we may yet have to vote on new clause 13.

I am not offended by the fundamentals of the clause—the idea that everybody is drug-tested. I can foresee possible abuses of the discretion that the Minister described, and I will not be surprised in a couple of years’ time if that discretion is used with black people more than it is with white people, for example, but time will tell. Let us have the triumph of hope over experience that this occasion will not be like every other one that came before.

But as somebody who deals with police forces and forensics and testing, I really do have to challenge the idea that the capacity currently exists to take even just a swab from someone. I do not understand this. What is the timeframe? How long will it take to get the results? I am currently working on a case that I started in May last year, and where are we now? Seven months in I am still waiting for lab results from my local police force. It is not some backwater, but the second largest force in the country.

In reality, I do not believe that this will happen for every person who comes into a custody suite. Let us say it takes a week for the results to come back. The Minister should feel free to intervene to say that the system will work like in an airport, where a bag can be tested to see if it has cocaine in it—not that I have any personal experience! He should feel free to say that every police force will get new machines to enable a result within the time that somebody is kept in custody, and that an intervention will be put in place sensitively. I would be delighted to hear that the world is completely not as I recognise it from being in custody suites just over this past year—not over many years, but just this year. This situation just does not stack up in reality.

The lag in getting a result could be a week—again, let us go for the triumph of hope over experience—but we are much more likely to be talking months. Will that slow down charging? I want to understand exactly how this is going to work in an already overstretched system. In the case from May that I talked about, a victim of multiple rapes, forced marriage and 10 years of abuse has waited seven months for anything. We just get, “Sorry, we’re waiting on forensics.”

The hon. Lady’s points are well made and important, but, at the end of the day, does she fundamentally agree with the principle behind the measures? Is it just the process that she is worried about?

I believe in so many principles that I know in reality cannot be realised. I believe in the principle that when someone is in crisis with suicide, there should be a telephone line that I can call that means that they get what we used to call—because it used to exist—a safe and well check. I have done that many times myself. I believe in principle that that should happen. If a Minister were to stand in front of me and tell me that that was the policy, it would be like them telling me that the sky is green. It may very well be the policy, but the reality is completely different. In the evidence sessions, all the experts in the field backed me up.

I want to know how this will actually work. I absolutely want it to work, but, to the hon. Gentleman’s point, I am very concerned about some of the safeguards. One of the things that people who work in the criminal justice system notice is the trends in how wrong ’uns, essentially, start to get away with things—there is always some new defence coming down the line. In the days when we did not believe victims of domestic abuse and they could just be ignored—see yesterday’s report on Rochdale—people did not need a response. The current favourite of a domestic abuse perpetrator on a summary or more serious offence is a counterclaim against the victim—“Well, she’s abusing me”—and my God, does it work! The amount of women who are victims of domestic abuse currently being accused by police forces across the country of being perpetrators, not victims, of domestic abuse is plentiful.

We also know that if we look at our female prison population, or at the roll of women in any substance misuse service, we would go a long way before we found one who had not been a victim of domestic abuse or sexual violence—in childhood and adulthood—and exploitation. There is a reason why women end up substance-dependent. Incidentally, there is a reason why men do too, but the main reason why women end up substance-dependent is abuses they have suffered. It is very likely that a counterclaim that brings a woman into a custody suite will find that she smoked a few spliffs the day before. That will go against her not just in the criminal court, where she is much more likely to be convicted of those crimes than her partner, if we look at all the data on female convictions, but in the family court, where she will lose her children as a result of that evidence.

If a woman is distressed because she has just been attacked or has lived with fear and she is behaving erratically—who wouldn’t?—and somebody says, “I think she might be on drugs,” it will be used against her. On the defences I talked about, if a person commits domestic abuse and is on drugs, that will be considered a mitigating factor. I have seen it lots of times; in the most serious cases, it is the difference between manslaughter and murder. Let us flip it around: if a person murders or harms someone who is themselves on drugs, it is seen as an aggravation on their part, and they get manslaughter again. If a person kills a woman who is behaving erratically because she is on drugs, jackpot—manslaughter! If a woman takes drugs and is killed, it is a reason to give a man manslaughter. If a man takes drugs and kills someone, it is a reason to give him manslaughter. Frankly, the cards are stacked against us.

I agree with the principle of the clause, but what happens if there is a counterclaim and the woman is drug-tested and found to be on drugs and the man is not, or the other way round? Either way, there is a possibility—well, it is not a possibility, because every other law we have tried to change has been used by perpetrators; they are better than us in this regard and know their way around the system, as do their lawyers—that he will get a lighter sentence.

I wish the police were trained well enough, but only 50% are trained on coercive control, for example. We have to make sure that there is guidance so that, in cases of domestic abuse, where the woman has a potential counterclaim, these things are not taken into account; otherwise, they will be used to take her children off her—they will be used against her. I can already see it in my future. I ask that that is given some really serious thought, because I am a bit frightened about how this is going to play out.

As somebody with decades-long experience of living side by side with a heroin, crack and cocaine addict, who I am pleased to say is well now and has dedicated his life to the service of other people in that situation, I have to say that the idea that a person “has to” go to one session—it is about the compulsion—means that they are just going to go and tick a box. My mum sent my brother halfway round the world to have different interventions. They did not work. Thousands of pounds were spent trying to get somebody off drugs.

I hear what the Minister says about more money being put into this, and my brother was and continues to be part of Dame Carol Black’s review. However, there is this idea that just one interview will do the job. In reality, it is a tick-box exercise, and it will not work unless people’s initial trauma is dealt with. You would have to go a long way to see somebody with problematic substance misuse who has not suffered some form of trauma. Loads of people take drugs recreationally, and it does not harm them; they are not allergic to it and do not become problematic addicts. The reason why that happens to some people and they go on to commit crimes is that something else is wrong. One meeting will not a problem solve. If one meeting had been what it took, my mother would have died in a happier position than she did.

This proposal is not a panacea, unless we work with things such as the 12-step programme—I declare that I am on the all-party parliamentary group for 12 step recovery. The programme is completely free, so commissioners do not understand it; they do not know how to behave when no one is asking them for any money. I cannot stress enough that if this proposal is just to make a nice headline—“We are going to drug-test everybody”—rather than something that will work in reality, it is a massive waste of police time; it is pointless. I will leave my comments there.

I will try to respond to some of the points made on this group of amendments and clauses. On mental health, as the national partnership agreement is rolled out, we are asking the NHS to do more to treat people when it is just a medical condition, and that is what the NHS should do, because a medical crisis requires a medical response.

To respond to the point about resources, the NHS is this year receiving an extra £3.3 billion above and beyond what was planned. A lot of extra money is going into mental health specifically, and things such as mental health ambulances and mental health places of safety are being invested in to create the capacity required for the NHS and the ambulance service to take on people who have, in the last few years, wrongly been picked up by the police.

On making sure that the roll-out is done as thoughtfully elsewhere in the country as it has been in Humberside, we are not taking a “big bang” approach; we have not just flicked a switch and said that it is going to happen nationally from tomorrow. Implementation is happening on a force-by-force basis. In each area, the police are working with the local hospital trust, the mental health trust and the ambulance trust to make sure that the capacity is in place before things get switched over.

The roll-out has already happened in some areas. In London, I think it went live on 1 October or 1 November, but it may not be implemented until the end of this year in other areas, because they are going through the process of making sure that the NHS side of the equation has the capacity and is ready. Things are being done in a thoughtful and measured way around the country to replicate the success in Humberside, to which the shadow Minister referred.

I will try to address one or two of the other questions.

I did not intend to intervene in this debate, but will the Minister address one issue before he moves on? In my area, the mental health trust is under considerable stress, and there have been various patient deaths and things like that. The mental health services tell me that they are struggling to get professionals to join them so that they can provide what is needed. How can the Minister be confident in what he is saying if we do not have professionals joining the service and are more likely to see them leaving?

We are getting a little way off topic. Briefly, since the shadow Minister has raised the question, the roll-out is happening in a thoughtful way, rather than immediately, to make sure that such issues are addressed. As I said a moment ago, extra money is being put in. The NHS workforce plan, which is now in place, is designed to make sure that the people needed are there to meet the challenges, not just in mental health, but across the whole NHS spectrum.

Fundamentally, we all want to see people who have a mental health condition treated medically. Where there is no criminality and no threat to public safety, it is completely inappropriate to get a police response, which has been happening in recent years. Those people need to be treated, not put in a police custody cell, for example. That is the right thing to do, not just for the police, whose capacity is freed up to protect us and our constituents and to catch criminals, but for patients, who need and deserve a medical response. We are now working to ensure that that happens across the country, building on the successful trailblazer in Humberside, which shows that this can work.

On the question from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North, about using the negative versus the affirmative procedure in Government amendments 25 and 26, no substantive change is being made. Essentially, changing the list of specified controlled drugs is subject to the negative procedure, the trigger offences are subject to the affirmative procedure and, if the changes are some mix of the two, that is subject to the affirmative procedure. That does not substantively change the current position.

Let me turn to the questions that arose on drug testing outside of a custodial setting. To be clear, we are conferring a discretionary power on the police. We are not compelling them to test; we are leaving it up to the police officer. There may be occasions when, for operational reasons and to test more people, they find it more operationally appropriate to test on the spot outside of a custodial setting. It may be that they do not plan to take the person back to a custodial setting. That will save police time. This is a discretionary power, not an obligation; the police can use it where they judge it to be helpful.

The shadow Minister also asked about time. These tests are not sent away to the laboratory. I accept that we need laboratory tests to be a lot faster, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley highlighted in her remarks. However, these are on-the-spot tests, similar to those that might be seen in an airport—by the way, I think those are testing for explosives.

I am relieved, but not surprised, to hear that. The result of these on-the-spot tests takes between 13 and 35 minutes to come back, so it is pretty quick.

I said these were so-called non-intrusive tests, and the shadow Minister asked, “What about urine samples?” To be clear, non-intrusive tests are defined in section 65 of the PACE code. That does not include urine samples but does include hair—excluding pubic hair—saliva and a swab taken from a non-intimate place, such as under the armpit. We are talking about pretty non-intrusive stuff.

On the concerns about how this information might be used, it is important to say, given the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, that these drug tests are done on the spot, as I have just described, so they do not meet the threshold required for use as evidence in criminal prosecutions. They are used when making decisions about a referral into treatment, about granting bail or about a diversionary caution. However, because they are done on the spot, not in a laboratory, they do not meet the evidentiary threshold to be used for prosecutions.

Amendment 133 would introduce a duty on the police to refer individuals who test positive to a drug diversion service. We agree with the principle that it is important that referrals are made where someone would benefit. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said that an assessment alone does not solve the problem, and she is obviously right to say that. However, the assessment is supposed to be a starting point; it is a necessary first step. It is not sufficient or the end of the process, and it is not in itself going to cure someone, if I can use that phrase, but it is a starting point and a necessary first step. It is difficult to mandate anything further until the assessment has happened, because we do not know what the individual’s needs might be. In legislation it is quite hard to mandate, or to give the police a power to mandate, anything beyond the assessment.

In terms of why we have constructed the clause in the way we have, there are clearly circumstances where even the initial assessment is not appropriate—a person might, for example, already be in treatment. Therefore, we have constructed the clause so that there is a power for the police rather than an obligation. Legislating to compel the police to do something in all circumstances is quite difficult. We in this Committee cannot foresee all the circumstances police officers may encounter operationally.

However, I absolutely agree with the shadow Minister’s policy intent, and we would expect these powers to be used widely. I would like more people to be referred into assessment and then into treatment than is currently happening. As I mentioned, the Government have invested in a lot of extra treatment capacity, spending hundreds of millions of pounds extra over a three-year period and creating 55,000 extra places.

I assure the shadow Minister that I am continually pressing the police to do more in this area—to test more, refer more and encourage more pre-sentence reports to be compiled where someone going before the court has a suspected drug addiction, so that the magistrate or judge can hand down a treatment order when passing sentence. Not enough drug or alcohol treatment requirement orders and mental health treatment requirement orders are being made. I have expressly engaged with the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on this area, Chief Constable Richard Lewis of Dyfed-Powys, to make exactly those points. He has an operational plan to make sure that drug testing on arrest, referral to treatment, engagement with liaison diversion and more pre-sentence reports are all implemented operationally.

In summary, I agree with the shadow Minister’s intent, but the way we have set out the legislation is probably as far as we can go in statute. On that basis, I ask the Committee to support the Government amendments and clauses 15 to 17 stand part.

Amendment 25 agreed to.

Amendment made: 26, in clause 15, page 11, line 25, at end insert—

“(5A) Any other statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament”.—(Chris Philp.)

See the statement for amendment 25.

Clause 15, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Assessment of misuse of controlled drugs

Amendments made: 27, in clause 16, page 12, line 3, at end insert—

“(b) in subsection (1)(a), after ‘taken’ insert ‘—

(i) under section 32A of PACE (testing for presence of controlled drug upon arrest) from a person at a place other than a police station, or

(c) in subsection (2) omit “from detention at the police station’.”

This amendment applies Part 3 of the Drugs Act 2005 (assessment of misuse of drugs) where controlled drugs are tested for upon arrest at a place other than a police station under provision introduced by NC13.

Amendment 28, in clause 16, page 12, line 5, at end insert—

“(3A) In section 11 (requirements under sections 9 and 10: supplemental), in subsection (1)—

(a) the words from “a person is required” to the end become paragraph (a);

(b) at the end of that paragraph insert “, and

(b) section 11A does not apply.”

(3B) After section 11 insert—

“11A Requirements under sections 9 and 10: supplemental where person to be released from custody at a place other than a police station

(1) This section applies if a person—

(a) is, while in custody at a place other than a police station, required to attend an initial assessment and remain for its duration by virtue of section 9(2), and

(b) is to be released without first being taken to a police station.

(2) If the time when, and the place at which, the initial assessment is to take place is set before the person is released, an approved constable must—

(a) inform the person of that time and place, and

(b) explain that this information will be confirmed in writing.

(3) If the time when, and the place at which, the initial assessment is to take place is not set before the person is released, an approved constable must explain that—

(a) the time and place will be set after the person is released, and

(b) the person will be notified of the time and place in writing.

(4) An approved constable must warn the person that they may be liable to prosecution if they fail without good cause to attend the initial assessment and remain for its duration.

(5) If the person is also required to attend a follow-up assessment and remain for its duration by virtue of section 10(2), an approved constable must also warn the person that they may be liable to prosecution if they fail without good cause to attend the follow-up assessment and remain for its duration.

(6) Where subsection (2) applies, an approved constable must give the person notice in writing which—

(a) confirms that the person is required to attend and remain for the duration of an initial assessment or both an initial assessment and a follow-up assessment (as the case may be),

(b) confirms the information given in pursuance of subsection (2), and

(c) repeats the warning given in pursuance of subsection (4) and any warning given in pursuance of subsection (5).

(7) The duties imposed by subsections (2) to (6) must be discharged before the person is released.

(8) Where subsection (2) applies, an approved constable must make, on the spot or as soon as is practicable, a record in writing of—

(a) the requirement imposed on the person by virtue of section 9(2),

(b) any requirement imposed on the person by virtue of section 10(2),

(c) the information and explanation given to the person in pursuance of subsection (2) above,

(d) the warning given to the person in pursuance of subsection (4) and any warning given in pursuance of subsection (5) above, and

(e) the notice given to the person in pursuance of subsection (6) above.

(9) Where subsection (3) applies, an approved constable must make, on the spot or as soon as is practicable, a record in writing of—

(a) the requirement imposed on the person by virtue of section 9(2),

(b) any requirement imposed on the person by virtue of section 10(2),

(c) the explanation given to the person in pursuance of subsection (3) above, and

(d) the warning given to the person in pursuance of subsection (4) and any warning given in pursuance of subsection (5) above.

(10) Where subsection (3) applies, a police officer must give the person, as soon as is practicable, a notice in writing which—

(a) informs the person of the time when, and the place at which, the initial assessment is to take place,

(b) confirms that the person is required to attend and remain for the duration of an initial assessment or both an initial assessment and a follow-up assessment (as the case may be), and

(c) repeats the warning given in pursuance of subsection (4) and any warning given in pursuance of subsection (5).

(11) Where subsection (10) applies, a police officer must make, as soon as is practicable after a notice is given to the person in pursuance of that subsection, a record of the notice.

(12) If a person is given a notice in pursuance of subsection (6) or (10), a police officer or a suitably qualified person may give the person a further notice in writing which—

(a) informs the person of any change to the time when, or to the place at which, the initial assessment is to take place, and

(b) repeats the warning given in pursuance of subsection (4) and any warning given in pursuance of subsection (5).

(13) In this section, “approved constable” has the meaning given by section 32B of PACE.”

(3C) In section 12 (attendance at initial assessment), in subsection (6)—

(a) in paragraph (a)—

(i) for “subsection (5) of section 11” substitute “section 11(5) or 11A(6) or (10)“;

(ii) for “subsection (8) of that section” substitute “section 11(8) or 11A(12)“;

(b) in paragraph (b)—

(i) for “subsection (5) of section 11” substitute “section 11(5) or 11A(6) or (10)“;

(ii) for “subsection (8) of that section” substitute “section 11(8) or 11A(12)“.”

This amendment makes provision equivalent to section 11 of the Drugs Act 2005 for certain cases where controlled drugs are tested for upon arrest at a place other than a police station under provision introduced by NC13 and makes consequential amendments.

Amendment 29, in clause 16, page 12, line 30, at end insert—

“(c) in subsection (6)—

(i) after ‘in respect of which’ insert ‘—

(a) the condition specified in subsection (2) of section 32A of PACE is satisfied in relation to the taking of the sample mentioned in section 9(1)(a)(i) of this Act, or

(ii) for ‘section 9(1)(a)’ substitute ‘section 9(1)(a)(ii)’.”

This amendment makes an amendment to section 17 of the Drugs Act 2005 that is consequential upon amendment 27.

Amendment 30, in clause 16, page 12, line 35, after “in” insert “—

(a) regulations under section 32C of PACE, if section 9(1)(a)(i) of this Act applies, or


This amendment makes an amendment to section 19 of the Drugs Act 2005 that is consequential upon amendment 27.

Amendment 31, in clause 16, page 12, line 35, after “section 63CA of PACE” insert “, if section 9(1)(a)(ii) of this Act applies”.—(Chris Philp.)

This amendment makes an amendment to section 19 of the Drugs Act 2005 that is consequential upon amendment 27.

Clause 16, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18

Power to seize bladed articles etc

I beg to move amendment 32, in clause 18, page 14, line 13, after “application” insert “(including any appeal)”.

This amendment clarifies that for the purposes of clause 18(8)(b), the final determination of an application includes the determination of any appeal.

The clause provides a new power for the police to seize, retain and destroy any bladed article—a knife, for example—held in private when they are on the private premises lawfully, but where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the item is likely to be used for unlawful violence. Such knives are legal and held privately, but the police are concerned they might be used for unlawful violence.

Data shows that incidents with a knife or sharp instrument have fallen by 26% since December 2019, but it is still disturbing to see the number of cases admitted to the NHS every year—we look at NHS hospital admissions data because that is the most reliable measure of knife crime. As I say, hospital admissions for injuries with a bladed item have fallen by 26% in the last four years.

Currently, the police have no power to remove potential weapons from individuals unless those are to be used as evidence in an investigation or are subject to a ban. Even if the police come across several potentially dangerous knives while they are in a property with a search warrant for an unrelated matter—for example, a drugs charge—the only way they can legally remove those knives, even if they have reason to suspect they will be used unlawfully, would be if they were to be used as evidence in the investigation. These knives do not fall foul of the definition of knives that are inherently illegal, which we discussed in our previous Committee proceedings. We will widen the definition of illegal knives shortly via a statutory instrument, and such knives are always illegal, even if possessed in private. We are talking here about knives—a kitchen knife, for example—that will remain legal. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for her campaigning on the issue of banning a much wider range of knives completely.

It might assist the Committee if I share a case study to illustrate the need for this measure. A police officer might be conducting a search in the residence of a male arrested for murder involving a firearm. The person might have multiple links to local gangs. A quantity of drugs might be recovered from the premises, along with a number of knives. Although there were drugs offences, if the knives found were not related to those offences, the police would have no power to seize them, even though they were found in the possession of a known criminal.

I seek clarity. There is a load of big kitchen knives on the wall in my house, and I can see them when I walk in. I deal with the issue of violence in a domestic setting all the time, but would that count?

No, it would not count. For the police to exercise the proposed power, they must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the item is likely to be used for an unlawful purpose. I do not think there would be any reasonable grounds to suspect that kitchen knives hanging on the wall of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley would be used for an unlawful purpose. By contrast, if the police were in the residence of a known prolific drug dealer and gang member, drugs had been recovered from the premises and they had been arrested or convicted for previous violent offences, that would be an instance where a quantity of knives—perhaps different knives beyond kitchen knives—would meet the threshold that I just set out. I hope that sets out the rationale.

In his evidence to the Committee on 12 December, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said that giving the police this power is

“a very important preventive measure.”––[Official Report, Criminal Justice Public Bill Committee, 12 December 2023; c. 11, Q18.]

That is why are seeking to introduce the provision, justified in the way that I have set out. If somebody believes that their property—their knife—has been seized in error, they will be able to make a complaint to the police, as with any other police matter. In addition, we are providing a right of appeal in court to have the item returned, if the court agrees. If somebody did unreasonably seize the kitchen knives of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, she would be able to complain to the police in the first instance. If they did not address her complaint and return the knives, she would then be able to go to the court and get them returned.

It is also important to say that there is no additional power of entry associated with the new power. The police would need to be in the property lawfully, which, presumably, would also not be the case in the hon. Member’s house. For example, they would need to be there as part of an investigation into an unrelated matter or invited into the property. We will amend code B of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to ensure that the codes of conduct reflect the new power, so that it is used in a fair and reasonable way.

Finally, amendment 32 is a minor technical amendment —we must not forget that—which clarifies that for the purposes of clause 18(8)(b), the final determination of an application includes the determination of any appeal. This provision will help the police to take dangerous knives off the street, or out of people’s houses, even if they are legal, where they are suspected of being used for unlawful violence. It is a useful additional power. The police asked for it in their evidence to the Committee, and I hope that it will command cross-party support.

This provision is to some degree the less controversial—though not unimportant—counterpart to clause 19, so I will keep some of my arguments for the next debate. The Minister wants cross-party support and he will secure it on this matter. The consequences of the clause will be that if a constable is lawfully on a premises and they find a bladed or sharply pointed item that they think might be connected to unlawful violence, they can seize the article. It passes an important test, which I think about quite a lot: if I had to explain to my constituents that the reverse were true, would they think I am an idiot? In this case, I think that the test is passed. If bladed or pointed weapons that might be used for unlawful violence are found during a lawful visit relating to another purpose, they absolutely should be seized. It is in the public interest.

We will discuss this point in the next debate, but it is important that the principle of search warrants is upheld, and that they have a definition; they cannot be used for fishing trips or exploratory trips. Nevertheless, when these sorts of items are found, we must be able to take them out of use. I am interested in whether the Minister thinks there is a need for training or awareness among officers. We could apply a Phillips test quite easily: if someone has a knife but they do not have any food or a kitchen, that is probably a bad sign. That in itself is possibly not the quality of regulations a Secretary of State might wish to set, so I would be interested to hear how the Minister thinks that might work.

I am grateful for the clarity that clause 18(1)(a), which states,

“is lawfully on the premises”,

means that the power applies on any visit, for whatever purpose, whether that is a search warrant or a response call. I do not disagree with that, but it is important that we state that. It is important that it is understood. It must be demoralising for staff to visit for a certain purpose—say, on a search warrant—and then to have people there laughing at them because they cannot withdraw from circulation some dangerous weapons. I think, therefore, that the provision will be welcomed by officers as well.

However, it is important and reasonable that there are safeguards. We should and would not want private property to be routinely seized and destroyed. I think the balance is about right, actually. It is important that the constable must leave a de facto receipt, as is set out in subsections (3)(a) and (b), with a person or, if no one is there, must leave one for whoever returns to the premises. Will the Minister say a little about what form that receipt ought to take? I wonder whether there will be a standardisation of that approach to ensure a degree of consistency—particularly because these records may be tested by court order or application to a magistrates court. Again, some consistency is desirable there.

Clause 18(5) allows for a constable to either retain or destroy the weapon, subject to subsections (6) and (8). Subsection (8) matters because it prevents disposal within six months, which is probably right: property should not just be taken and chucked in the bin without any ability for the owner to explain or perhaps recover it. Subsection (6) matters because it gives the individual a route to apply for its return, and we ought to allow that there can be mistakes.

Subsection (7) governs the regime whereby the court can make an order for the return of an item. Two tests must be passed for such an order. First, the person making the application must be the owner, which seems reasonable, although it might be tricky in some cases; however, I dare say the magistrates court will be able to pick its way through ownership. I want a little clarity from the Minister on the second test, which is set out in subsection (7)(b)—namely, that

“it would be just to make the order”.

I wonder what is meant by “just” in this context. Labour Members want clarity that justness includes a reasonable prevention of future violence. I cannot actually imagine that this provision is going to be used significantly, but I do think that is a potential gap in the regime, because “just” could mean an awful lot of things to an awful lot of people. It may well be a term of art; I would be interested to know if that is the case. Otherwise, I am interested to know what the Minister and the Department’s definition of justness is in this context.

Finally—I honestly promise that I am not doing this deliberately—Government amendment 32 is not a minor technical amendment in any sense. As I understand it, the amendment clarifies that the final judgment of the court is, essentially, the final judgment and there is no further appeal process. That is significant. We support that approach, but it is not technical in any way. It is a point of substance. I am sure the Minister will explain to me if I have misunderstood that. I think it is important to say that it is a point of substance, though one we are happy to support in this context.

I will briefly reply to a couple of the questions. We propose to use the same processes already in place for property that is seized. There is a very standard form and process that the police routinely use, and the same would apply here. The hon. Gentleman asks about subsection (7), on the basis on which a court might hear an appeal, and about paragraph (b) in particular, which appears towards the top of page 14. The subsection states that the court may make an order if it appears to it that the person is the owner and that

“it would be just to make the order”.

The hon. Gentleman askes what that means. I think the meaning is that the test set out in subsection (1)(c) is met—that is to say, there are

“reasonable grounds for suspecting that the relevant article would be likely to be used in connection with unlawful violence”

were it not seized. I think the test of whether the decision to seize and retain the blade is “just” essentially refers back to the test set out in clause 18(1)(c). It would seem reasonable that if that is the statutory test that the police officer applies when deciding whether to seize the knife, one would expect the court to apply precisely the same test, and that is how, therefore, I would expect the court to apply the term “just”. I hope, should there be any ambiguity, the transcript of this answer will assist the court in interpreting the use of the word “just” in what will be section 18(7)(b).

Amendment 32 agreed to.

Clause 18, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Stolen goods on premises: entry, search and seizure without warrant

I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 19, page 15, line 17, at end insert—

“(8) A constable may search a specified premises for specified items without obtaining authorisation under subsection (1) if the constable believes that the search is necessary for the effective identification of stolen goods.

(9) If a constable conducts a search by virtue of subsection (8), they shall inform an officer of at least the rank of inspector that they have made the search as soon as practicable after the completion of the search.

(10) An officer who is informed of a search under subsection (9) shall make a record in writing—

(a) of the grounds for the search;

(b) of the nature of the items sought;

(c) confirming that the officer would have given their authorisation under subsection (2) had the constable sought it.”

This amendment aligns the power given under Clause 19 with that in section 18 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and enables a police constable to undertake a search for stolen goods without a warrant without obtaining authorisation from a superior officer.

Clause 19 is one of the more significant clauses. It introduces very significant new powers of entry, search and seizure without a warrant. That is not without controversy, as I think we will cover in the next three debates. Amendment 2, which proposed to leave out clause 19, has not been selected for debate, but it is worth noting that it received quite a lot of signatures spanning a very broad range of parliamentarians across the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the Democratic Unionist party. Clearly, a significant range of colleagues with significantly different world views are discomforted by these provisions. That is always an interesting and important sign that we should get something right.

Again, I subject this to what my constituents think and the conversations that I have had with them in the past. So many items are now fitted with a GPS or geolocation tracker, but it is a matter of considerable frustration and no little confusion that the fact that we know where an item is does not provide appropriate grounds for a constable to retrieve it. That is deeply frustrating and, as we have seen in the explanatory notes and heard in the evidence sessions, is a problem that the clause seeks to solve.

The clause inserts into the Theft Act 1968 proposed new section 26A, which confers power on a police officer to enter and search any premises for stolen goods without a warrant. Under the current provisions in the Theft Act, a warrant would have to be issued by a magistrate before such a search could take place. Given the nature of the enterprises that pinch digital technology or expensive bikes, or that may even be stealing cars to order, we know that that delay involved could mean that our response is far too late and that the moment for retrieval, for detection and perhaps for breaking up an organised group of criminals has been missed.

Clause 19 goes on to state the parameters for the new power whereby the need for a warrant can be bypassed—namely, that a police officer of at least inspector level must authorise a constable to enter premises and search for the specified items, in this case stolen goods. It also sets out the conditions—namely, that the police officer of at least inspector level must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the items have been stolen, that they are on the premises and that it is not reasonably practicable to obtain a warrant without frustrating or prejudicing the search—and that authorisation can be oral or written. Again, this process seems reasonable, given that the crime that it is concerned with often involves the rightful owner having that degree of tracking information and being able to provide it to the police, showing the precise location of the stolen goods, but at present the police cannot do anything about it.

There are certain checks and oversights. A uniformed constable must conduct the search; it must happen within 24 hours of authorisation, although I suspect that such searches will take place much more quickly than that; and it must be done at a reasonable hour. Again, in principle we support these measures; without wanting to prejudge the stand part debate, I need to establish that context before I can turn to my amendment.

The current process for obtaining warrants to search properties for stolen goods with tracking information can be an inefficient use of police and magistrates’ time. It hampers investigations and allows criminal enterprises to benefit from their activities, using the slowness of the authorities to do things much more quickly, and obviously we know that that can have a knock-on effect for further crimes as well.

An interesting point was well made in the evidence session when we heard from Superintendent Nick Smart of the Police Superintendents’ Association. He challenged the Committee about why the Bill appeared to sit differently from existing powers set out in section 18 of PACE. Amendment 61, which I have tabled, sets out to probe that issue.

Section 18 of PACE allows entry and search without the prior authorisation of a more senior officer, provided that it is after an arrest and the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that there is evidence on the premises being searched relating to the offence that has been committed, or to a connected offence. Therefore, there is precedent in current legislation for entry and search without a warrant or prior authorisation, and section 18 of PACE allows for consent to be sought afterwards, with a senior officer at the rank of inspector or above having to sign off on that, saying that they would have authorised the search if they had been there in that moment. That is also an important caveat.

Amendment 61 merely seeks to align the powers in clause 19 with similar powers in section 18 of PACE. The reason I think that would be quite helpful is that it would be more consistent from an officer’s point of view. I do not think that we would want officers to think, “Ah, am I using section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act or section 18 of PACE?” and therefore asking, “Can I, or can’t I?” The possibility for error is quite clear there.

More importantly, however, I think there would be some clarity for the public, too, because, once again, just as it would be challenging but not unreasonable to ask for officers to be very conscious of the different sections of the powers that they are using—of course they need to know that, although there are times in the heat of the moment when mistakes could happen—I do not think it is reasonable to expect members of the public to hold such things in their minds.

Therefore, consistency in the regime used is important; I think that was the point that Superintendent Smart was making, which is probably a good one. I want to press the Minister as to why that approach was not taken and why his approach is better.

Amendments 61, 58 and 59 are linked, but I will speak first to amendment 61, a thoughtful amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North.

I want to address an issue relating to the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European convention on human rights into UK law, with particular reference to section 6, “Acts of public authorities”, which came into force in October 2000. I stand to be corrected, but as far as I am concerned, for the purposes of the amendment, the right to respect for private and family life informs the relevant police powers and sets them in context.

Article 8 of the convention states:

“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

As paragraph 2 above sets out, it is unlawful under the Act for a public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with the convention right, unless it is compelled or permitted by statute to do otherwise. There is an excellent lecture by Robert Walker entitled “The English Law of Privacy: an Evolving Human Right”, which is well worth a perusal. I am sure that everyone in this room agrees, notwithstanding the current debate among some Government Members in relation to the ECHR more broadly, that article 8 is pretty uncontentious. What is perhaps more contentious is where it is breached. It is important that we keep that in mind.

People going about their business, especially in their own home, are entitled to know that their rights are protected in law and that if those rights are breached unlawfully by any agency including the police, there are grounds for challenging that interference and ensuring if necessary that they are appropriately compensated and lessons are learned from the breach. Over the years, case law has developed in relation to the implementation of schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act, and no doubt that will continue. There have been numerous appeals over the years in relation to privacy.

After that preamble, let me say that I fully support the intention that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North expressed in his comments on amendment 61, to set out the process by which the identification of stolen goods, for example, may be undertaken. As always, his speech was thoughtful and considered. I am also really pleased that he tabled amendments 58 and 59, on which I hope I can tease out more detail as the Committee makes progress.

I very much welcome the Opposition’s support for the principle behind clause 19. As the hon. Member for Nottingham North mentioned, some people—a small number, I would add—have expressed reservations, but I am glad that we agree on the principle that the clause will help police officers to retrieve stolen goods; our constituents will welcome that. Amendment 61 aims to fine-tune the detail of how that is done. In fact, it goes a little further in its drafting than the Government are proposing. The hon. Gentleman referred to section 18 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, noting that in some circumstances constables can enter premises without a warrant or prior authorisation from a more senior officer. He seeks to implement the same thing via his amendment.

The difference, however, is that under in the PACE provision the police must either suspect that a person is on the premises or be in pursuit of a particular person, whereas clause 19 is about stolen goods. Of course, individuals are a little more mobile than stolen goods: a stolen mobile phone, iPad or car can be moved, but that requires a person, whereas if the police think a person is in the premises, they can leg it pretty quickly. We do not need prior authorisation from an inspector under section 18 of PACE, because that relates to a person the police are after, whereas in this case we are talking about stolen goods. If the police think that there are both stolen goods and a person, the PACE provisions will apply and they can enter the premises without a warrant and without prior authorisation. The reason that we have built in the little extra step of prior authorisation by an inspector is that we are talking just about stolen goods, not about a person.

I can assure the shadow Minister that inspectors are used to authorising the use of various police powers—that is relatively routine—and inspectors are always available in each relevant area 24 hours a day, so there should not be any particular delay. We think that the clause is ECHR-compliant, and of course on the front page of the Bill there is a statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act that in the view of the Secretary of State, its provisions are consistent with our ECHR obligations—a topic that may be debated on the Floor of the House today and tomorrow.

It is very welcome that the Opposition support the clause in principle. I do not think that the calibration of the inspector’s prior authorisation will cause any delay practically. Because we are going after goods and not people here, I think the balance is right. While welcoming the Opposition’s support for the clause in principle, I therefore gently resist their amendment.

I am grateful for the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle. His points about human rights are really important. In this Committee, and during the Bill’s remaining stages in this place and down the other end of the building, we will have to fine-tune—I think that is the phrase he used—the balance of these provisions.

The Opposition certainly do not support routine warrantless searches, just on spec, of people’s lives, premises or property. We have to find a balance; that is why we have a warrants regime. If there are cases—I think that the clause provides us with one—in which it is reasonable to set that to one side, we must do so in a tightly defined and clearly understood way. I do not want to start the next debate prematurely, but that is very much my view, and I will be pressing the Minister further on it.

I am grateful for the Minister’s explanation, which is enough to give me comfort. It is slightly strange to hear conversation about the ECHR up here in Committee, given what we will hear downstairs on the Floor of the House this afternoon, but that is for others to debate. For the purposes of this debate, what the Minister said is a helpful caveat. What I offer perhaps would go further, and given that we are moving gently into this space, perhaps it is not wise to go the whole way. I suspect that this might have to be kept under review. The Minister talked about property not being fast-moving. Perhaps that will be tested by time, but at this point I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 58, in clause 19, page 16, line 24, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must, as soon as is practicable after a period of two years from the date of Royal Assent to this Act, lay before Parliament a report on the implementation and utilisation of the police powers introduced by this section.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a report on the police’s use of the new powers of entry, search and seizure.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 59, in clause 19, page 16, line 24, at end insert—

“(4) The College of Policing must exercise its powers under section 39A of the Police Act 1996 to issue a code of practice in relation to the use of powers introduced by this section.

(5) In drawing up the code of practice under subsection (4), the College of Policing must consult with such individuals or bodies as it sees fit.”

This amendment would require the College of Policing to publish a code of practice on the use of the new powers of entry, search and seizure.

There are considerable concerns about clause 19, as colleagues have demonstrated by tabling amendment 2. As far as amendments to Bills tabled by people who are not Committee members go, the range of signatories to amendment 2 is interesting. It shows that there is interest from a wide range of colleagues with a wide range of world views, so it is important that we take the time to look at the matter properly.

We should be honest that allowing warrantless searches is a significant change. Search warrants are a well-established and well-understood part of our law and policing processes. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North mentioned how all-pervading they are in media and on television. There is a widespread acceptance and understanding of “You’re not coming in if you don’t have your warrant,” and that sort of thing. It is important that we in this place provide clarity and leadership, and that if we want to set that regime aside we explain how we will do it and what it will mean. We have to balance that against the public’s very reasonable expectation that we should use new technologies to get their things back.

I hope to hear from the Minister that the Government’s view is that this is a very narrow power for a narrow set of circumstances, that it is not a significant change to the search warrant regime in this country, and that people should understand that warrants are the default, primary and most important way for law enforcement agencies to enter their property. I hope to hear that this is a de minimis power that will be utilised in a targeted way for a specific purpose. I believe that to be the case, and I think that that is what came out of the evidence sessions, but I hope that the Minister will put it on the record.

Amendments 58 and 59 are designed to give the powers some shape, assurance and guardrails so that members of the public and interest groups watching our debates know that we are not just signing off on the Bill and forgetting about it, and that Parliament takes an active interest in seeing how and whether it works.

Amendment 58 would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on the use of the powers within two years of the Bill’s Royal Assent. That would give us in this place a chance to have some oversight and scrutiny of what has happened. It would get the Government to state on the record, in an indisputable way, whether they feel that the powers have or have not worked, so that there can be an assurance of ongoing parliamentary interest. It would perhaps give us a jumping-off point to change direction if needed. Again, I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views. If he is not minded to accept the amendment, how will the Government keep track? How will Parliament get the chance to have its say about the effectiveness or otherwise of the new provision?

We will file amendment 59 under no good deed going unpunished. We heard typically excellent evidence in our session with Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the chief executive of the College of Policing. He said that there is an issue with the provisions in the Bill: the technology is not perfect. If someone has lost their phone or tablet and finds out that it is in their house, pinpointing it becomes quite the scavenger hunt, because the technology is not that accurate. Some of the inbuilt technology might be better than some of the trackers that are appended to an item, which can have varying ranges and be imprecise. There could also be challenges if someone is living in shared accommodation, because it might not be clear which room or dwelling an item is in or, if the building has multiple enterprises, which one is holding it. The technology is not so good that those concerns are removed.

My suggestion, which mirrors one of the Government’s ideas in clause 73, is that we ask Chief Constable Marsh and his College of Policing to issue a code of practice on the use of the new powers of entry, search and seizure. We should be very clear about what it is for and what it is not for, which would give confidence to colleagues and the wider public. This is primarily a conversation about technology, but not exclusively so. Again, there will be frustration if someone comes to us and says that their distinctively designed guitar is in the window of a pawn shop. It is deeply frustrating that the police have very little power to recover that item, so providing some shape through a code of practice would be helpful.

The code of practice ought to state—perhaps the Minister will say this himself in his response—that the purpose of the clause is not to change our warrant regime, but to ensure that a stolen item has some degree of locator or physical differentiator, so that it is known to be in a certain vicinity and it is not reasonable to think it could be anywhere else. That is the narrow circumstance under which the power should be used. That is certainly our view on how broad it should go. I think it is probably the Government’s view as well, and I hope to hear that from the Minister. Either way, my amendments seek to give the powers guardrails. I hope that they will be agreed to on that basis, but if not, I hope that the Minister will tell us what guardrails the Government have in lieu to ensure that the power is effective and retains public confidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North has laid out the context for amendments 58 and 59 with thoughtfulness and with consideration, as he did for amendment 61. I agree with him that seeking a review within two years or thereabouts of the application of the powers is really important. It is important to ensure that when we give additional powers to the police, we ensure that the operation, implementation and use of those powers are subject to review. I think we would all agree that it would be beneficial on various levels, including operationally and in policy terms, to step back after a period of time and take a look at the implementation of the powers.

Notwithstanding the fact that my hon. Friend has described the powers as narrow, people will not be used to them. Let us say that in the first five or six months of last year, there were about 50 or 60 bike thefts in my constituency and that half of those bikes had a locator on them. Although they may have a “stolen” bike in their home, people are not used to the police just turning up, going into the shed and getting the bike, so we must explain why we are doing that. It is important to have a review after a couple of years to ensure that my constituents know that they will not be on the receiving end of a disproportionate intervention by the authorities. I have no reason to believe that the powers will be used indiscriminately or outside the spirit of our discussions today, but we live in a democracy and we want to live in a cohesive society, so it is important that we have checks and balances. A review after a couple of years, to ensure consistency, is important.

I agree with amendment 59, which would require the College of Policing to produce a code of practice in relation to the use of the powers. The College of Policing often talks about using

“evidence-based knowledge in everything we develop”.

That is crucial, so I am sure that it would welcome my hon. Friend’s proposal. It is important that the modus operandi of the police officer or constable be guided by authorised professional practice guidelines, which the College of Policing has, to ensure that their interventions are as appropriate as possible. That is all the more important in the light of the challenging circumstances in which some powers will be used. As I have indicated, the College of Policing is already well versed in the production of codes of practice, including—to name just a couple—those on the use of the police national computer and the law enforcement data service and on armed policing and the use of less lethal weapons.

I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North and I have made about the amendments. As my hon. Friend says, if the Minister will not accept the amendments, we ask him for an assurance that the spirit of them, if not the letter, will be included in the Bill. I know that the Minister is always equitable in these matters, and I am sure he will give careful consideration to the well-thought-out and considered views expressed by my hon. Friend.

Let me respond briefly on amendments 58 and 59. Amendment 58 asks for review. Members of the Committee will know that review and scrutiny of statutory powers happens on a regular basis. The Home Office collects and publishes more data on the use of police powers than it ever has before. There are plenty of opportunities for Members to scrutinise the use of powers both via written questions, oral questions, the Select Committee, and so on and so forth, but critically the normal post-legislative review of the Act will happen three to five years after Royal Assent, as is usual. The scrutiny of how this works in practice will happen through those mechanisms, particularly through the post-legislative review that always happens three to five years after Royal Assent. A range of scrutiny mechanisms exist beyond that. The police are not under-scrutinised.

On amendment 59, I am pleased to confirm to the Committee, particularly the shadow Minister, that we intend to update PACE code B, which covers police powers of entry, search and seizure, to give a clear statutory guide—even stronger than the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice—on how best these powers should be used. Under section 66 of PACE, there is a requirement for us to do that. We are of course happy to do it, but we do not actually have any choice; it is a statutory requirement under section 66. That will include the new powers covered in clause 19 of the Bill. We will work with the college to ensure that any supplementary guidance it issues on these new powers reflects the wording of updated code B, but updating code B is compulsory; we have to do it. It is statutory, and I can confirm that we will comply with our statutory obligations. I hope that addresses the issues raised by amendments 58 and 59.

I am grateful for colleagues’ contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle raised a couple of points. We must always hold in our head how things will operate in practice. What is in the Bill is in the Bill but often what happens in that moment—perhaps a moment of challenge or conflict at 11.30 on a Friday night—can feel very different from what is in the Bill. We ought to hold practical operations in our head, which is what we have been seeking to do.

The Minister addressed my hon. Friend’s point about stepping back and scrutiny to some degree, which was very welcome. I feel a certain degree of risk saying in an election year—obviously, I aspire to swap places with the Minister by, say, this time next year—that this may come back with a degree of interest. In this place in general, we are getting better at pre-legislative scrutiny, but I do not think that has been the norm. Notwithstanding what the Minister said about post-legislative review, I do not think that we do that very well, certainly not in Parliament. In fact, it is largely something we do not do.

We are lawmakers, and the temptation to make law and fill the parliamentary time will always be there, but very rarely do we go back and ask of something we tried three to five years ago, “Did it work? And if it didn’t, why? Did we need to do more law? Was it right to have done this by regulation rather than primary legislation?” It could be that people like me, who by nature are perhaps more interventionist than other colleagues in the room, might think, “Perhaps that was the wrong time to intervene.” It is about all those things. I do think we do that process very well, because we basically do not do it at all.

I have a degree of confidence. I am grateful for what the Minister said about post-legislative review, but I suspect that will be more of a departmental and less of a public exercise. There is something about being willing to own our errors in our proceedings that is good for public confidence—when we are willing to do it. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Similarly on amendment 59, what the Minister has offered in lieu on PACE code B is better than my proposal, so that is a very good deal indeed. On that basis, I am happy and willing not to press my amendment.

Perhaps the Minister, being a diligent student of Parliament, is saving his powder for the stand part debate, which is probably right given the gusto with which I entered the stand part debate during the debate on amendment 61. I really hope to hear in the stand part debate clarity from the Government that this is seen as a tightly-defined variation of the search warrant regime under a very tightly-defined set of circumstances. We have not yet heard that. We are about to debate the clause, and although I dare say we have covered most of it, so it may only be a short debate, we really need to hear that message.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

We have touched on many of these issues already, so I will not speak at great length on clause 19 stand part. Suffice to say, our constituents expect the police always to follow up leads where they exist, particularly to retrieve stolen goods, whether mobile phones, e-bikes, cars or whatever it may be. As members of the public and as parliamentarians, we expect the police to always follow those leads. Just a few months ago, the police made a national commitment to do precisely that. An important part of that is the ability to retrieve stolen goods where their location is known or reasonably suspected. With technology now, many items—mobile phones, cars, and so on—have tracking devices, and the public are rightly frustrated if the police do not always follow them up.

This power enables the police to respond quickly to retrieve stolen goods where they have reasonable grounds to believe they know the location. Quite often, those stolen goods move very quickly indeed. For example, the thief may take them off to sell them, and therefore there is often not enough time to go through the process of getting a warrant. The police may want to act in a manner of minutes or hours. In investigatory principles, there is the concept of the “golden hour”, talked about by Chief Constable Andy Marsh, now chief executive of the College of Policing. That first hour is really important. Even the best magistrates court in the world will not be able to respond in an hour to authorise a warrant, but a phone call to an inspector can be done within that golden hour. That is why we are making these changes.

This is only one part of the police commitment to always follow all reasonable lines of inquiry. For completeness, I will mention the use of facial recognition technology. Where there is a photograph of somebody committing a crime on CCTV, Ring doorbell, dash cam, or someone’s phone, we expect the police to always run that through the facial recognition database, but that is a separate element of their commitment.

It is important to ensure these stolen items are recovered. It is more than irritating to our constituents when the police do not always follow them up. This legislation will give them the power to act quickly and decisively where needed, and I think it is balanced and proportionate. Historically, we have required warrants—unless the police are in pursuit of a particular individual, as we debated previously—but we think this strikes the right balance.

On the commitment the shadow Minister asked for around the scope of this provision, the circumstances in which this power can be used are clearly set out on the face of the Bill. I draw the attention of the Committee to clause 19(2); subsection (2) of proposed new section 26A of the Theft Act 1968, sets out very clearly when this power can be used. The conditions are that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that, first,

“the specified items are stolen”,

secondly, that

“the specified items are on the specified premises”,

and thirdly, that

“it is not reasonably practicable to obtain a warrant…without frustrating or seriously prejudicing its purpose”

—that is, a concern that the goods may be moved on before a warrant can be obtained.

The scope of this power is very clearly defined on the face of the Bill, and I think strikes the right balance. The evidential test the police have to meet is that they have reasonable grounds to believe that those three things are met. The wording uses the formulation “and”, so it is not just that any one of them have to be met; all three have to cumulatively be met before the provisions of this clause are engaged. There is a very clear need for this provision, as it will help police to recover stolen goods. The public will welcome it, and it is very clearly defined in clause 19(2).

Just briefly, what the Minister has said is in the Bill is welcome. I still think that a stronger signal on tightness may yet need to be furnished. The rubber will meet the road at subsection (2)(b) of proposed new section 26A—that the specified items are on the specified premises. If that was seen to be done on an intelligence basis or possibly a word-of-mouth basis, that might discomfort colleagues. The compelling case for this generally is the new and novel technology element. Nevertheless, we support the principle.

I will not labour the point any further, not least because the colleagues listed under that amendment are an admirable group, who I know will pursue the Minister on it. Never mess with people from Derbyshire, I suspect you might say, Mrs Latham. There may yet need to be a little more comfort given on this, but we do not object to the principle. The provision is important, and the public demand for it is there. We think it can be used effectively, so I will not encumber us any further.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Suspension of internet protocol addresses and internet domain names

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I will do my best to conclude prior to 11.25, when the Committee might consider adjourning.

Clause 20 and schedule 3 create a new power for UK law enforcement and other investigative agencies to suspend IP addresses and domain names that are being used in serious crime. Under the power, law enforcement will be able to apply for a court order requiring the organisation responsible for providing the IP address or domain name to prevent access. Sadly, we have all too often seen that criminal actors use domain names and/or IP addresses to carry out crime including fraud and malware dissemination, targeting the vulnerable. When IP addresses and domain names are being used to conduct criminal activities, law enforcement agencies need to be able to block access, preventing the crime occurring.

In the UK, the police and other law enforcement agencies currently use public and private partnerships, and industry will, in the majority of cases, voluntarily suspend domain and IP addresses used for criminal purposes. This has led to the UK being generally one of the safest jurisdictions in the world. However, voluntary suspension is not an option in all cases. In particular, the majority of cyber-crime emanates from outside the UK, where the same voluntary arrangements are not available. Quite often, internet infrastructure providers based overseas will only take action when a court order is handed down. This measure will provide for such a court order to be obtained. Overseas infrastructure providers are much more likely to comply with a court order than a simple request made by the police without a court order.

We reviewed the Computer Misuse Act 1990 in 2021. As part of that, we invited views from stakeholders. Responses indicated that although much of the 1990 Act remains effective, more could be done in cases where the UK wants to take action against offences committed from overseas. The main function of these provisions is to ensure that UK law enforcement and certain investigative agencies can act to suspend IP addresses and domain names where they are being used for criminal activity with a link to the UK. Schedule 3 enables UK law enforcement agencies listed in paragraph 12 of the schedule to apply for a court order, which they can serve on entities based outside the UK.

Will this apply to illegal gambling sites and crypto casinos? Will the Gambling Commission have the authority to have these addresses pulled down?

If illegal activity were taking place, which would include illegal gambling, then the provisions of the clause would apply. As to whether the Gambling Commission can make the application or whether it would have to be the police, to answer that question we will have to refer to schedule 3 on page 91 and look at the list of entities. The hon. Member will see that paragraph 12(2)(e) does include

“a member of staff of the Gambling Commission of at least the grade of executive director.”

Indeed, paragraph 12(1)(a)(v) also expressly references the Gambling Commission, so I hope that answers the question about the Gambling Commission’s powers. I obviously prepared that in advance, anticipating her question—as Members of the Committee could surely see!

That is very helpful and will strengthen our hand with overseas entities that might not respond to a polite request but are willing to act when there is a court order. I hope that is something that we can all get behind. It will help protect our constituents from online crime, particularly fraud, but other forms of illegal activity, including illegal gambling. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East for her work combating gambling harm, which I saw at first hand during my time as Minister for technology and gambling a couple of years ago.

Given the time left in this sitting, I thought there was a degree of optimism when the Minister stood up on a matter related to some degree to illegal gambling and thought it would be quick; I will try to bring my remarks in under the wire, but I may fail, when I assume I will be cut off in my prime.

Much of our discussions so far have had a digital and online dimension: the sale of knives and bladed articles, the posting of intimate images, the sale of stolen goods, and the digital online element of fraud. This is a very live, shape-shifting part of the debate. It was feature of the Online Safety Act 2023 discussions and is an important part of this Bill. Our basic principle is that we must give our police and broader enforcement agencies the best tools possible for them to stand half a chance of keeping up. This clause and schedule 3 fit with that approach and, as such, we support them.

For all the creative and direct uses that criminals can exploit modern technology with, there remains a basic staple: a website, a domain name and an IP address. That can be used in a variety of ways: selling illicit goods, selling stolen goods, pirating live events, pirating software or content, scamming or illegal gambling. It is right that enforcement agencies can close such sites down. Although this is a modern venture, I suspect it is today’s version of the 1975 classic Whac-A-Mole, as we chase scammers, fraudsters and thieves around the internet. I dare say that is frustrating but it is important for enforcement agencies to do.

The provisions in the schedule allow for the suspension of IP addresses and domain names for up to 12 months, following an application to a judge. In doing so, four criteria must be met. Three are relatively simple: condition 1 is that the address or domain name is being used for serious crime; condition 3 is that it is necessary and proportionate to shut the site down to prevent crime; and condition 4 is that the address or domain name would not be shut down by another route. The industry picture can be good, as the Minister says, but I do not think it is always good. That is the nature of the type of crime. We talked previously about pirating a premier league game—that would go pretty quickly. If the site is hosting an intimate image that was unlawfully obtained, that tends to take an awful lot longer, or indeed does not happen at all; that point has been debated.

Conditions 1, 3 and 4 seem clear to me, but I want to press the Minister on condition 2. That is met under four scenarios, although I believe the use of the word “or” means any one of the four scenarios, including,

“(a) that a UK person is using the IP address for purposes of serious crime”,

which is very similar, if not the same, as condition 1. The other scenarios are: (b)—that a UK person is a victim of the serious crime that the site or domain name is used for; (c)—that the IP address is being used for unlicensed gambling, which goes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East; or (d) —the IP address is allocated to a device located in the UK. I think only one of those four tests needs to be met in order for condition 2 to be met. Given that (a) is essentially the same as condition 1, but with the proviso that the person is UK based, how does that operate in practice? Is that not a degree of duplication? The Minister can mull that one over while having his lunch.

I will move on to the heading

“Inclusion of non-disclosure requirements in suspension orders”.

As in the Bill, as part of a suspension order, a judge can require that the individual deprived of their domain name or IP address does not tell anyone that that has happened to them.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.