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Column 68Thomason, Roy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Timothy Wood and
Mr. Robert C. Hughes.
Question accordingly negatived .
.--(1) Where a police officer of or above the rank of superintendent reasonably believes that
(a) incidents involving serious violence may take place in any locality in his area, and
(b) it is expedient to do so to prevent their occurrence, he may give an authorisation that the powers to stop and search persons and vehicles conferred by this section shall be exercisable at any place within that locality for a period not exceeding twenty four hours.
(2) The power conferred by subsection (1) above may be exercised by an inspector if he reasonably believes that incidents involving serious violence are imminent and no superintendent is available. (3) If it appears to the officer who gave the authorisation or to a superintendent that it is expedient to do so, having regard to offences which have, or are reasonably suspected to have, been committed in connection with any incident falling within the authorisation, he may direct that the authorisation shall continue in being for a further six hours.
(4) This section confers on any constable in uniform power (a) to stop any pedestrian and search him or anything carried by him for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments ;
(b) to stop any vehicle and search the vehicle, its driver and any passenger for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments. (5) A constable may, in the exercise of those powers, stop any person or vehicle and make any search he thinks fit whether or not he has any grounds for suspecting that the person or vehicle is carrying weapons or articles of that kind.
(6) This section applies (with the necessary modifications) to ships, aircraft and hovercraft as it applies to vehicles. (7) A person who fails to stop or (as the case may be) to stop the vehicle when required to do so by a constable in the exercise of his powers under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale or both.
(8) Any authorisation under this section shall be in writing signed by the officer giving it and shall specify the locality in which and the period during which the powers conferred by this section are exercisable and a direction under subsection (3) above shall also be given in writing or, where that is not practicable, recorded in writing as soon as it is practicable to do so.
(9) Where a vehicle is stopped by a constable under this section, the driver shall be entitled to obtain a written statement that the vehicle was stopped under the powers conferred by this section if he applies for such a statement not later than the end of the period of twelve months from the day on which the vehicle was stopped and similarly as respects a pedestrian who is stopped and searched under this section.
(10) In this section
"dangerous instruments" means instruments which have a blade or are sharply pointed ;
"offensive weapon" has the meaning given by section 1(9) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 ; and
Column 69"vehicle" includes a caravan as defined in section 29(1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960.
(11) The powers conferred by this section are in addition to and not in derogation of, any power otherwise conferred.'.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to discuss also amendment (a) to the proposed new clause, at end insert ( ) Subsection (1) above shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has laid an order, subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, specifying the conditions to be satisfied for the powers conferred under this section to be exercised, including :
(a) what may reasonably constitute "a locality" ;
(b) what would constitute a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place.'.
Mr. Maclean : The question of police powers of stop and search has always been a matter of understandable sensitivity. Present police powers to stop and search can be exercised only when a constable has a reasonable suspicion that a person is carrying an offensive weapon or other prohibited article. We continue to believe that that power is the right one for day-to -day circumstances, but are persuaded that the need to meet the test of reasonable suspicion seriously inhibits effective preventive action by the police when they believe that violence is likely to break out.
In Committee, an amendment was tabled that would have given the police powers to stop and search without reasonable suspicion after a violent incident. That was a valiant attempt to introduce a new power, but the amendment struck the wrong balance. It raised familiar concerns about police powers to stop and search, without providing the benefit of enabling the police to take preventive action. 6.30 pm
I undertook to consult the police further about how we could most effectively meet their concerns and the clause is a result of those consultations. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are grateful to the police for their comments. We also attempted to keep Opposition Members informed as our thinking developed. I am well aware of their concerns and will deal with them in a moment, but I can say that we do not consider that there is a great deal between us on the matter.
Amendment (a) deals with what constitutes "a locality" and "a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place"--
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. It is clear that there is much private conversation in the Chamber. It would be a courtesy to the Minister and to those of us who wish to listen to him if people could be quiet.
In practice, "locality" and "reasonable belief" will be well understood, but they cannot sensibly be spelt out in more detail in the Bill or in secondary legislation because their precise meaning will depend on the circumstances.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon) : My hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary are right to look urgently for ways in which to prevent the appalling assaults on police officers that we have witnessed. However, history and experience show that if men and women in uniform are given powers to deal arbitrarily with their fellow men and women, in all too short a time some will begin to abuse those powers. A Government of a party that lays such stress on personal freedom and believes in protecting the citizen from an oppressive state should not introduce such a measure.
Mr. Maclean : I am disappointed that that is my hon. Friend's view. I can assure him that the power cannot be used arbitrarily or abused because it will be highly circumscribed. It can be used only for a maximum of 24 hours, will have to be authorised by a very senior police officer and will be limited to a defined geographical area. There will be detailed monitoring of the power to ensure that there is no abuse of the type to which my hon. Friend referred.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : I am sympathetic to the principle underlying the new clause, but one aspect concerns me. How will a citizen in one of the localities in respect of which direction has been made, where the new powers are operating, know that the new power exists ? The reasonable man might be prepared to co-operate with the police--I am sure that most would do so if they were stopped--but if someone were in a hurry, for example, and said no when the policeman tried to stop him, he would have committed an offence although he might not have known that the power existed in the locality at the time. How is the citizen to know that the additional powers are in force in a locality ?
Mr. Maclean : I am afraid that we must fall back on ignorantia juris neminen excusat. Some citizens may not realise that many offences exist and that they are committing an offence by what they may think is perfectly legitimate conduct. In all seriousness, I can see no mechanism for declaring that a locality is a certain zone. I will happily consider police proposals aimed at drawing to the attention of people in an area the fact that the powers exist there. I will also happily consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestions if he writes to me.
Mr. Trimble : It is not enough to say that ignorance of the law is no excuse, because, in the situations that the police will be dealing with, some people may be relying on their knowledge of the law--a knowledge that the police have the power only to stop a person if there are reasonable grounds and that they do not have the automatic right to stop people. If someone is relying on their knowledge of the law in general and is doing something that is reasonable, is it right to expose them to committing an offence when they do not know that the law has been changed in the locality for a short time ?
Mr. Maclean : If they are relying on their knowledge of the law, that knowledge will be defective when the clause comes into effect because the law will permit the police, in defined localities and if authorised by a senior police officer, to conduct stop-and-search operations for a limited time.
When the power is introduced, the Home Office will take steps to try to draw it to the attention of the public. I suspect that the media will wish to draw attention to the
Column 71fact that the new powers exist. However, I cannot guarantee that everyone outside a night club or a pub will suddenly realise that the new law applies to them. I cannot even guarantee that for any existing law.
I was telling the House why I did not think that the inclusion of amendment (a) was necessary, although it is well intentioned and sensible. The precise size of the locality will vary according to the circumstances. For example, if the police are concerned about violence outside a pub or a club, the locality specified might be a few streets only. If the police are concerned about the possibility of violence before and after a football match, the locality might be wider.
The concept of "reasonableness" occurs frequently in statute and the courts are well used to interpreting it. We are concerned with a belief, based on sound professional judgment. If a judgment were shown to be arbitrary or irrational, there would be grounds for considering it to be unlawful. Again, that would be a matter for the courts to consider, if a decision were challenged. It would not be right to try to define the concept of "reasonableness" further in legislation.
We accept that fuller elaboration of some operational matters, such as the nature of record-keeping arrangements and how long authorisations should last, will be necessary. Those were the substance of some other Opposition amendments, which were not called. The code of practice on statutory powers of stop and search, issued under section 66 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, is the right place for such elaboration and I can assure the House and the Opposition that we shall want to make the necessary amendments.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) : The hon. Gentleman suggested that if an irrational decision were taken it could be challenged in court. Can he elaborate ? I find it difficult to see how that could be done with a power that lasts for a maximum of 24 hours. By what method could something be put right after the event ? It seems that it would be impossible to deal with it through the courts.
Mr. Maclean : Exactly the same method could be used as exists at present. If anyone believes that a servant of the state or the police has acted unlawfully, irrationally or in abuse of his or her powers, the action can be challenged in court.
The hon. Gentleman is questioning whether a group of citizens, who thought that implementation of the power outside a pub, for example, was unnecessary, could have it suspended. I accept that that would require very quick court action. I envisage that, through the power of judicial review, if the police or any police force behaved irrationally a court would judge against them. I care to bet that no other police forces or superintendents would then authorise the power in similar circumstances to those in which the courts had ruled that it was irrational.
On the important question of community relations in respect of the new powers, we understand the anxiety that they might be used to the disadvantage of members of ethnic minority communities. Before tabling the amendment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary explained our intention to the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. The commission has welcomed the new powers, which it recognises will help prevent racially
Column 72motivated violence as well as other kinds of violent incidents. It understandably draws attention to the need for effective monitoring to ensure that the powers are not used in a racially discriminatory way, and I can confirm that it is our intention that such monitoring take place.
The police themselves want close monitoring of the use of the powers. They are well aware that effective policing of inner city areas depends on the trust of the communities who live there, and they are as determined as the Government that such trust should not be damaged by heavy-handed or improper use of these powers. It is, therefore, critical that their use is properly monitored to ensure that this does not happen, and I hope that Opposition Members will accept our good faith in that matter as well, as it was part of the substance of their amendments.
Police forces have been required since last April to collect statistics on the ethnic origin of people who are stopped and searched. The figures are to be published as part of each force's package of performance indicators. We intend that separate figures for stops and searches under the new power will also be published in this way.
I commend the new clause to the House and I invite the House to accept it. I hope that, in view of the assurances that I have given, the Opposition will feel that their amendment (a) is not necessary on the face of the Bill.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : I am glad to see that a Labour amendment in Committee has been effective in getting the Government to recognise the need for action against violence on our streets and in a variety of other situations.
I also welcome the positive response of the Minister of State to our offer to seek an acceptable formula for a search power and the exchanges that we have had on this issue. I commend it because it is clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House have made a serious attempt to find a formula that will balance the requirement to provide the power with the safeguards that will reassure those who are concerned about the misuse of the power--a concern already expressed by Back-Bench Members on both sides of the Chamber. What we need is a power that allows the police to take the initiative and to search people in appropriate circumstances, but which avoids the dangers of the old "sus" laws which did enormous damage to trust and confidence between the police and many local communities.
Having said that, it is only fair to point out that there was no attempt to deal with this issue in the original Bill, and it is one of a series of pieces of evidence that prove beyond all doubt that the present Home Secretary brought forward this ragbag of a Bill without proper care and thought and without addressing the real issues that are so important to individuals, families and communities throughout the country as well as to the police who are at the sharp end of so many serious problems.
I remind the House that the Bill as drafted contained nothing to deal with racial violence, which we have just dealt with, nothing to deal with drugs and drug-related crime, nothing to deal with violence on our streets and nothing to deal with possession of guns or trading in weapons. When the Bill emerges with something to deal with some of these issues, the Labour Members on the Standing Committee, to whose work I pay tribute, will have good reason to feel proud of their work there.
Column 73The new clause moved by the Minister does the job of providing the power when it is needed. We would all agree, for instance, that when it is known that two gangs are heading for a pre- planned venue for a fight it is desirable for the police to have the power to intervene and to search those in the area of such events and to prevent violence from taking place. It is the general theme of Labour policy that more needs to be done to prevent crime rather than just depending on punishment which can be delivered only after the event when violence has already created victims.
Our new clause in Committee achieved the balance between providing the power and the necessary safeguards in regard to some situations--although only some--because it required the trigger of an objective fact, an event of violence, for the power of search to be used. We said then that we would be willing to consider a preventive power if a clause could be drafted that would include an equally careful formula, balancing power and responsibility.
I believe that the amendments that we have tabled are helpful to the work of the police and helpful in achieving such a balance. They seek to provide in legislation clarity for the superintendent or other senior officer who has to decide to permit the exercise of the power contained in the clause.
The Minister has undertaken to address these issues within the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 rules and to bring formulations before the House, but let me explain the importance of the issues that we addressed in the amendment that has been selected and also in the other amendments, with which there were technical
difficulties--not surprisingly, I may say, given the half hour we had in which to meet the deadline for submitting amendments on Friday. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) said that we needed to be sure that there was no way in which this power could be arbitrarily used, and he was absolutely right. It is also right that the House should ensure, in the drafting, that that is the case, and that both the House and another place have a chance to scrutinise any limitations on the exercise of the power, so as to be satisfied that such a requirement is met.
The danger with the power of stop and search is that it can be abused. It can be used in a way that is not intended by Parliament. We need a safeguard against such abuse. We all know, from the operation of the "sus" laws and the use of other powers of search, that very often, for instance, young black males will be stopped to a disproportionate extent and that confidence between police and the local community can be undermined or even fail as a result. 6.45 pm
We have seen in recent times the throwing of the "ring of steel" round the City of London. We all recognise its importance in dealing with the serious problem of terrorism and in the avoidance of such incidents if possible. But I venture to suggest that the Metropolitan police, because of their experience in recent years, would have exercised the power a little differently than the City of London police, simply because the experience of the two forces is quite different. The subject of frequent comment has been the surprisingly large number of black drivers who are stopped when it is not generally thought that there is an excessive number of black members of the IRA, yet
Column 74the IRA is the clear objective of the ring of steel round the City. It is a serious point, and it is recognised by the police as being serious.
It is to ensure that there is no misuse of a power that we all consider desirable for the appropriate circumstances that it is important for the amendments, which the Minister has recognised as being sensible and helpful, to be accepted and properly enshrined in the law.
The Minister said that there should be rigorous ethnic monitoring. The letter in which, on behalf of the three police associations, the chief constable of Hampshire sets out the nature of the clause that they wish to see, says :
"This power would be subject to rigorous ethnic monitoring and would be an effective measure with which to combat racial violence against the ethnic minority communities."
It is an aspiration which we all share, but the requirement for monitoring is not in the new clause as it stands.
As a result of talking to the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, I have received the view from him and from that organisation that our suggested amendments are helpful. If the Minister is to accept what we intend in the amendments, and if those intentions are to be in the requirements under which police must exercise this power, we are very close, as the Minister said at the beginning of the debate, to an agreement across the House on both the intention in regard to the new power and the limitations that should be placed on it.
The four amendments that we tabled would not create problems for the police in exercising the powers that they seek. I have spoken to a number of police representatives in the past few days, and the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has confirmed that he cannot see that our proposal would be restrictive : it allows the power in the Government's new clause and does not impose constraints that would make it unworkable. It would simply put into effect the intention of the police in seeking this power, without allowing them to go beyond the requirements that they seek. Many police representatives said originally that they would be happy with a six-hour period rather than a 24-hour period. Senior officers have made that comment to me. We have not sought in our amendments to restrict that period, because we think that it is important that there should be flexibility, but that the minimum period possible should be used.
A senior police officer said to me, as recently as yesterday, that the great danger is that the maximum becomes the norm--that one says, "We can give 24 hours ; let us give as many hours as possible." That is why we feel that there should be a balancing constraint ; that the superintendent or senior officer should act under a constraint of the maximum number of hours consistent with effective use of the power. A representative of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales said to me that it would welcome the clarification that would be provided to its members in exercising that power. It would be clear what Parliament intended. It would be clear that there were constraints on them in exercising those powers.
I refer in passing, as the Minister referred to them positively, to the amendments that were not selected for debate. Amendment (d) requires a record to be kept, in a form prescribed by the Secretary of State, of the full circumstances of every occasion on which the powers in the new clause are exercised and requires a regular review of those records by Her Majesty's inspectorate of