The Government's proposal to rush through a law enabling police to use hidden cameras was last night hanging by a thread - and any progress is conditional on the bill being open to public scrutiny.

Yesterday, Act joined Labour in demanding a select committee hearing and would not pledge its support beyond a first reading.

With all other parties except United Future opposing the bill, this means the Government can proceed only if it yields to demands for select committee scrutiny, and the three votes it needs to progress beyond that appear shaky.

The Herald understands some Act MPs continue to have concerns about the need for the fix and for urgency and about the practice of Parliament over-ruling the Supreme Court.


Labour looks almost certain to oppose the bill after justice spokesman Charles Chauvel had his first look at the draft.

"There's no undertaking about avoiding urgency or going to a select committee, and the bill itself goes much further than anything we've been lead to believe," he said.

The bill would legalise all police use of video surveillance on private property, even if a search warrant had not been issued, as long as the "search" would have been lawful without planting a hidden camera, he said.

"It's bad enough not committing to a select committee. It's appalling to be doing it on a blanket basis and my strong recommendation to my colleagues will be that we shouldn't support it," Mr Chauvel said.

Green MP Keith Locke questioned whether the bill would apply only to police, or to state agencies including Customs and the Department of Internal Affairs.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said talks were ongoing.

The Government wants to pass under parliamentary urgency legislation that would mean police can still use hidden cameras on private property to gather evidence - a practice the Supreme Court said was illegal.

The bill would be in place for one year after coming into force and apply to all previous cases - which should leave sufficient time for the House to pass the Search and Surveillance Bill that was reported back from select committee last November.


Prime Minister John Key yesterday repeated the seriousness of the issue - that more than 50 police operations had been suspended and 40 pending trials had been potentially jeopardised.

"Police had no option but to turn their video surveillance equipment off because of the fact they would otherwise potentially be in breach of the law."

The Attorney-General's office released a list of the types of offences that police use hidden cameras to investigate, including homicide, serious drug offences, gang activity, and sexual offending, including against children.

But Mr Key's claim that serious criminals could get away with breaking the law continued to be questioned, in light of a clause in the Evidence Act that empowers a judge to allow illegally-obtained evidence on a case-by-case basis.

An alternative solution emerged yesterday: to remove the clauses in the Search and Surveillance Bill relevant to video tracking, and insert them into existing law until the whole bill can be passed. The clauses, which have broad support and have passed select committee scrutiny, would make police use of cameras legal with a search warrant for investigating crimes punishable by seven years' jail or more, and for firearms offences.