The Labour Party was left red-faced yesterday by proposing a solution that had already been rejected by a parliamentary select committee.

Its justice spokesman Charles Chauvel was trying to solve the issue of police use of hidden cameras, which the Government is addressing with the Video Camera Surveillance Bill under urgency.

Mr Chauvel prefers the parts of the Search and Surveillance Bill relevant to police surveillance, which has broader political support and has passed select committee scrutiny.

He posted the Supplementary Order Paper on Labour's blog, but it included several clauses in their form before they were changed by the select committee.


Attorney-General Chris Finlayson called it "legislative field surgery".

"Mr Chauvel has promoted his SOP as something which incorporates the results of select committee scrutiny. It does not."

He said even if Mr Chauvel's proposal had included the right clauses, it would be "impossibly complex" to implement.

Mr Chauvel returned fire, saying the Government could have improved his SOP, rather than spend time scrutinising it and putting out a press release.

"It's a shame we have a minister who would prefer to take the approach of chipping at the opposition, rather than looking at how we can improve the law."

The "fix-it" bill passed its first reading under urgency last night and will be considered by the justice and electoral committee for the rest of the week, and reported to parliament on Monday.

The bill would make lawful police covert video surveillance on private property with a search warrant, a practice the Supreme Court said was illegal. But use of hidden cameras would still be subject to a person's right against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Government has framed the issue around 50 police operations where covert cameras have been switched off since the court decision, and 40 trials that were relying on evidence obtained from hidden police cameras.

The bill would return the situation to what it was prior to the Supreme Court decision, but the powers would be substantially broader than those outlined in the Search and Surveillance bill.

At the first reading, Mr Chauvel accused Mr Finlayson of "brinksmanship" and "arrogance".

"It's quite clear that he doesn't have any desire to reach any multi-party solution. He simply wants to try to bully other parties in the house to make it appear as if any party that does not support the legislation demanded by the National Party is soft on law and order.

"That isn't going to wash."

Mr Finlayson said the police had used covert video surveillance for at least 17 years to investigate serious crimes.

"Unless this parliament takes action now, police and other statutory agencies will be denied for some time the ability to use a technology that has become an indispensable facility in relation to the safety of police officers and the detection of serious criminal offending."