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Column 75constabulary. That would require the co- monitoring by the Commission for Racial Equality and the inspectorate, which is the aspiration and would meet one of the major concerns about the operation of the new clause.
Amendment (c) proposes that the senior officer who allows the exercise of the powers would have oversight of the use of the power and would be responsible for ensuring that a post-operational report and review be submitted to the chief constable or, in the case of the Metropolitan police, the Commissioner, and to the police authority. I think that that is accepted by the Minister as the right way to proceed, because it reminds the person exercising the power that the decision is to be reviewed. Superintendents have said to me that they would have to record their thought processes in reaching the decision and that would be helpful in ensuring that it was done in the way that Parliament intends.
Amendment (b) refers to the use of the power for the minimum number of hours consistent with the effective use of the power. I am sure that that is the right balance to achieve.
Finally, amendment (a) seeks a definition from the Government of what may reasonably constitute a locality and of what would constitute a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place. The advice that has been given to us is consistent with what the Minister said--that the courts would decide those matters if they were not decided by Parliament. I ask the House : is it reasonable or right to ask a senior police officer to guess what the courts would describe as being responsible if he exercises the power ? I suggest that it is not.
It is the responsibility of Parliament to define a locality, not in a limiting way that says--as the Minister seems to suggest--that it can only be 200 yd in one direction and 300 yd in another, but by stating the considerations that a senior officer should take into account in deciding that the circumstances are right for the power to be exercised. It is only right for Parliament to give guidance on that. I hope that the Minister will accept amendment (a), because that will enshrine the principle that that definition--that expression of intent by Parliament--should be in the legislation.
I welcome the fact that the Minister said that he would take the gist of our four amendments into the guidance that will be provided in the PACE requirements and will be subject to consideration by Parliament. I believe that he has gone a long way towards meeting our concerns in his responses in correspondence and in the debate. We believe, however, that it would be best for the principle that is enshrined in amendment (a) to be in the Bill. We would therefore seek to divide the House if the Minister is unable to accept that amendment.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I declare an interest, as I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) gave the impression that new clause 124 was Labour-inspired. It was nothing of the kind. It was the result of an all-party initiative, which started out asking for 28 days ; it was reduced to seven days ; eventually, the Labour party said that it would consider six hours and now we have increased it to 24 hours. That is an example of an effective all-party parliamentary initiative to break the deadlock that has existed for the past decade, in which the
Column 76police have found it difficult to do their job properly because of the severe restrictions that exist on the stop-and- search powers. I therefore congratulate the Minister for State, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), on the Government's decision to provide those new proactive powers to search for offensive weapons in carefully defined circumstances, and I must say to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth that I am glad to know that the new clause has the support of his colleagues and that he feels that we can now make progress on what has, until now, been a very difficult issue.
The decision to introduce the new clause has been warmly welcomed by the Police Federation and by the other police staff associations. It is the result of a discussion that has taken place, not only with my hon. Friend the Minister a few days before the easter recess, but with successive Home Secretaries, to my certain knowledge, for the past five years, ever since I have been parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on listening to the advice of the police staff associations and finding a way to enable a senior police officer to authorise the use of powers by a uniformed constable to stop and search persons and vehicles for a period not exceeding 24 hours or, in circumstances where an offence has been, or is reasonably suspected to have been, committed, for a further two hours.
Since 1984, police stop-and-search powers have been prescribed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and they are confined to very narrow and specific circumstances. At present, a police officer must have grounds for suspecting that a person is carrying an offensive weapon before a search can take place in the street and the power to search is limited by the codes of practice which are part of the 1984 Act. If, for example, an officer wishes to search beyond a suspect's outer clothing, that search must take place in a police station.
The problem that confronts the police today, a decade after the enactment of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, is that there is at present no power to search groups of people, even when the police have grounds to believe that an offensive weapon--a knife, for example--may be carried by some members of the group or that a violent incident is likely or has just taken place. Modern policemen and women throughout the country have to face that situation every day of the week. They need the powers to deal with that situation, especially in relation to knives, which are the bane of the life of every police officer in every part of the country. At present, there is no power to detain a group for searching after such an incident has occurred. Any search in such a situation must be based on suspicion that each individual is carrying a weapon, and that is quite impractical.
In practice, the absence of those powers has caused great difficulties for the police. For that reason, the Police Federation and the other staff associations have repeatedly mentioned the matter to successive Home Secretaries during the past five years and previously. The police need to be able to act to prevent violence. That is what the new clause is all about. They need adequate powers to investigate following an incident and to recover weapons--for example, the weapon or weapons that may have been used in a specific incident.
The new clause enables the police to deal with incidents involving groups of people when trouble is likely to occur
Column 77or has occurred. An example of that would be the aftermath of a stabbing incident inside or outside a pub. There is widespread concern in the House, and outside, about racially motivated attacks and the activities of racist gangs.
The new powers would enable the police to take action before trouble occurred or to search suspected perpetrators before an incident occurred. Surely it is ridiculous that although the police may have received prior information that trouble is expected at a football match, for example, they lack the power to search fans near the ground although stewards inside the ground can do so. Some people outside the House may mistakenly take the view that these new powers represent a return to the "sus" law. If they think that, I can reassure them--and, indeed, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth who referred to the "sus" law--that that is not so. I think that it is important for the House to recognise, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, that the old "sus" law had absolutely nothing whatever to do with stop and search. It was a power given to the police to arrest persons who were suspected of loitering in a public place in order to commit a crime.
Mr. Michael : I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that we need a lecture about the definition of the "sus" law ; we recognise the difference between the powers. But the communities that will be affected and which have an important relationship with the police should understand it precisely. That was the whole point of the intervention by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) ; it is a concern which is shared across the House.
Mr. Shersby : I agree with the hon. Gentleman : it is vital that people should understand the powers, and that was the reason for my remarks. It is important to remember that loitering in those circumstances was, in itself, an arrestable offence. Those who will rightly be concerned about these matters will be reassured to know that the new clause has been carefully and narrowly drafted. It permits only the searching of people for weapons, and then only in the specific circumstances to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State referred.
As we have heard, a search has to be authorised by a senior officer. It is subject to a time limit and has to occur in a specific place. I welcome the assurances that my hon. Friend has given that the operation of the time limit and the place where the powers are to be exercised will be dealt with in the codes of practice. I also believe that there is nothing in the proposed new powers to alarm the ethnic minority communities. Earlier this evening, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House referred to concern in the ethnic communities. No one should attempt to alarm these communities by giving them the impression that police will use the powers to discriminate against them. On the contrary, the police have been strongly criticised for failing to act when racist gangs have caused trouble in multiracial neighbourhoods. In fact, the new powers will enable the police to act against the troublemakers and protect innocent members of minority groups.
I hope that in the consultation process my hon. Friend will ensure that the local police and community liaison groups are fully aware of the new law and the way in which it will operate. These groups have the very considerable
Column 78ability to communicate with local councillors and others who work with the police to make sure that people are aware of the way in which the law is supposed to operate.
For those reasons, I strongly support and warmly welcome the new clause. It demonstrates once again that both the Home Office and Ministers are prepared to listen to the expert advice that they receive from the police staff associations. I am particularly pleased that the new clause has come about as a result of considerable discussions between hon. Members on both sides of the House, both in and outside the Standing Committee.
Mr. Maclennan : The power to stop and search has proved extremely controversial and sensitive. I should have preferred the Government to incorporate their proposals in this area much earlier in the proceedings and to bring something forward in the Bill when it was published.
It does not seem to me to be a satisfactory way to legislate to produce a significant amendment to the Bill at a relatively late stage without much open consultation and without giving hon. Members on both sides of the House who well remember the consequences of the old law the opportunity to consult fully about precisely what the Government have in mind. I think it fair to say that it has been a rather hurried process : I share the views of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), who said that it may be taken ill. Having looked at the new clause as carefully as I could and having consulted, in the very short time available, as widely as I could, I think that it holds out the prospect of making a power available to the police which could be of value in preventing violent action. I strongly favour prevention and I know that the police also favour that. They are also concerned to ensure that the power should be used only when it is truly required.
I think that the most important matters that the Minister referred to are not included in the Bill, but are those that will be included in the revision of the codes of practice flowing from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. We will certainly want to look at them. The powers are plainly intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to the possibility of their being invoked in the event of a perceived threat of violence at a football match. I hope that it is not the intention to use these powers at just any football match. Of course violence often occurs, to a greater or lesser extent, in close proximity to football matches ; but there would have to be a particular reason associated with a particular match and locality before it would be appropriate to invoke these powers.
Similarly, the powers should not be invoked on just any Saturday night outside any pub in a rough area of town. I hope that they will be invoked only in respect of a particular perceived threat. I hope that the rules that the Minister will be bringing forward in the code of practice will make that clear.
I do not believe that amendment (a) is practical. I do not think that it is possible to spell out in a statutory instrument precisely the sorts of circumstances in which the powers might be used. It is clear that some flexibility and discretion must lie with the senior police officers who wish to invoke the powers.
A width of discretion is necessary if the powers are to be useful.
Mr. Michael : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I thought that I had made clear the processes that have to be gone through and the considerations that have to be taken into account. There should not be an over-restrictive definition. We clearly seek flexibility and that is why the amendment is drafted as it is.
"constitute a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place".
They are the words that the hon. Gentleman has used in his amendment (a). Whether or not a belief is reasonable is an objective test, and it must be for the police officer to decide whether that test is discharged properly. I cannot see how crystal ball gazing by Parliaments and legislatures about the sorts of circumstances in which it might be reasonable to use the powers will assist. The hon. Gentleman no doubt wished to come in on the act in some way at this stage. I quite understand that ; it is perfectly normal for Oppositions to take that view.
We must regard this important new power as exceptional. I entirely endorse what the hon. Member for Uxbridge said about the reassurance that should be given to members of ethnic minority communities who may fear that the power will be used against them. It should be designed to protect those communities against the abuses, harassment and violence that have given rise to such concern.
For those reasons, I offer my support to the Government in bringing forward the new clause.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : The new clause has much good in it, as we all share the same concerns. What worries us is the fact that the Minister is prepared to put only into guidance what should be contained in the Bill. The law has little faith in guidance, because breach of guidance gives no one any rights, whereas breach of a statute or regulations made under a statute is an offence. Breach of a code may be taken into account in any proceedings--civil or criminal--to which it is relevant.
My constituents are immensely worried about crime in general and violent crime in particular. Last week, I attended a meeting in Leicester of people in a mixed race neighbourhood who were worried about both staying home or going out at night. I discussed with police officers what could be done about the prodigious and awful growth of crime in my constituency. It was not suggested that there was a difficulty with the right to search. Rather, the difficulty was the growth of crime, the decrease in policing and the weakness of the law in dealing with racial harassment and racial crime, none of which is dealt with in the Bill.
Nor does the Bill deal with the anxieties of the Muslim community, which is not regarded as an ethnic minority and does not have the same legal protection as the Sikh or Jewish communities. Nor does the Bill answer the recommendations made by Eldred Tabachnik, leading Queen's Counsel and leading member of the Jewish community, in a report that he submitted to the Home Secretary and which the Home Secretary undertook to take into account.
Column 80Furthermore, the Bill shows no acceptance of the recommendations of the Home Office Select Committee, chaired by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). As Chairman of another Select Committee, I deeply deplore the fact that the Government take no notice of Select Committee reports. One might understand the Government taking no notice if the Select Committee is chaired by an Opposition Member, but one does not understand it when the Committee is chaired by such a staunch Government supporter who has never been accused of being on the far left of any party, least of all his own. The Government have shown no concern for the anxieties of the black, Asian, Muslim or Jewish communities. Even more important in parliamentary terms, they have shown no concern for what they have been told in the unanimous report of the Select Committee. We accept the right to search, although I wish that it had been put in a better form. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made some important points. He knows what this matter is about. He said that the new clause would not alarm the ethnic communities and, to an extent, he is right. But it is not a conscious alarm ; it is built in because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the police do not understand them and that too many members of the police do not care about them. I believe that they are often wrong, but they do not have the security which we want them to have. They are worried about the return of the "sus" laws. The Government and the hon. Member for Uxbridge should understand that, as many police officers do. 7.15 pm
The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that the right to search must be given before violence takes place. He is right, but he should know what the fascists are up to. They do not just settle down in places like Tower Hamlets or inhabit the terraces at football matches. They arrange meetings- -often with neo-Nazis from other countries--that move from place to place, and the police do not know in advance where those meetings will be.
The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the police are given permission to search only for weapons. But when one searches for weapons, other things may turn up. Nobody will believe that the police are looking only for weapons. Although the police should have powers, they should be ringed properly and carefully, as the Opposition amendment suggests.
Will the Minister take another look at the matter ? If he accepts that those rights should be approved by the police and embedded in the police's reasoning so that a senior police officer's decision to search is reasonable, why should not a reasonable Government include them in the Bill ? I hope that, on reconsideration, that is what the Minister will do.
Clearly, the Commission for Racial Equality has accepted that there are some good points about the new clause, but it has also emphasised the need for monitoring. Many powers, including stop and search, could be extended to have an effect on crime. But one must think carefully about whether those powers should go ahead because of their impact on civil liberties. While the
Column 81Minister has mentioned the welcome from some people, organisations that deal with civil liberties have expressed concern about the new clause.
There are several areas of concern. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) raised the issue of temporary powers and how people will know whether a power is in force in a particular area. I see the potential for problems when a power is applied temporarily in a small area. A person who is stopped will not know whether the policeman has the right to stop and search him, as it will depend whether the power is in force.
I am concerned about powers that allow the anticipation of an event. If a violent incident has occurred, that fact can be clearly established. But anticipation of an event that might happen and powers taken as a result are a different matter, as they will depend on subjective judgments. A few years ago in my constituency, a funeral took place of an Asian man who had been killed in an arson attack on his house. It happened to be at almost the same time as riots in Brixton and other parts of London. Large numbers of people were expected to turn up for the funeral. As a result of the police anticipating trouble--in the event, there was none--shops the length of the main road were boarded up. The police had stirred up disquiet as a result of anticipating trouble. I see exactly the same thing happening under this power when trouble is anticipated.
The Opposition amendments would achieve monitoring and the Minister has said that he wants to achieve that. It is not just a matter of monitoring on an ethnic basis, although that is important, but of how often the power will be used. We have been told that it is intended for emergency use only. I have a suspicion that, once a power exists and has been used, it will quickly stop being something exceptional that is used only in emergencies.
What will happen if the monitoring shows that there is an imbalance in the use of the stop-and-search powers, and that they are being used disproportionately, particularly against young black males ? We know that the "sus" laws were used in that way, although they involved a different power. Many young black males feel that they are stopped in their cars much more often than anyone else. We know that, around the City of London, the powers are being used
disproportionately against young blacks.
I have serious doubts about the wisdom of the power. If it is misused, it will cause serious damage to community relations. I suspect that, even if it is not misused, but is used precisely as drafted, it will still cause trouble and damage community relations. The new clause introduces an extremely dangerous power--one which we may live to regret introducing.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : I declare an interest as a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) mentioned, the police are pleased with the new clause, and the fact that stop-and-search powers are to be granted. Some 16 police officers have been either stabbed or shot in the past 10 years, besides the many civilians who have been victims of guns and knives. There is clearly a rising problem, with which the police increasingly have to deal, not only at football matches and public events, but when there are violent incidents in public houses. The police want to enter, but they do not know who may be holding a gun or knife. They want to be able to make people turn out their pockets. That sort of power is necessary.
Column 82I am pleased that the Government have recognised the nature of the increasing problem of guns and knives. They seem to have realised it only since the Committee stage of the Bill. As late as Christmas, the Home Office was telling the police that it would not guarantee further extensions of stop-and-search powers. It is only as the result of pressure, from not only Conservative Back Benchers but Opposition Members, that the Government are now prepared to accept changes. Conservative Members withdrew their amendments, but Opposition Members tabled amendments in Committee and, in those circumstances, the Minister and the Home Office were forced to make the sort of change that we are now seeing.
I shall not embarrass the Minister by reading back to him all the comments that he made about my new clause 184, which sought to introduce stop-and- search powers.
Mr. O'Brien : I am greatly tempted to do so, but I am conscious that we are pressed for time so I shall not give way to temptation. I shall paraphrase the Minister of State, Home Office, who said that the phrase "reasonable belief" was deficient and that reasonable suspicion should provide the basis and criterion for any search. He said that that was a fundamental principle of PACE. He said that my new clause was too widely drawn as it allowed a six-hour period. Government new clause 124 uses the phrase "reasonably believes" and ignores the idea of reasonable suspicion being necessary. It is even more widely drawn than my new clause and grants a 24-hour period. The Minister seems to have been involved in a political leapfrog from one side of the Labour party's position to the other. I am curious about how he made that intellectual jump. I am not sure whether he will wind up the debate, but if he does perhaps he will explain how he made his intellectual jump--he might have been forced to do so out of embarrassment. The Minister has given reassurances that the codes of practice will contain safeguards. Those safeguards will not only protect the public, which is important, but the police, which is also important. We must ensure that we maintain and improve good community-police relations.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time.
Amendment proposed to the proposed new clause : (a), 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. Michael. ] Question put, That the amendment be made :
The House divided : Ayes 246, Noes 304.
Division 193] [7.25 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Column 83Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Berry, Dr. Roger
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Hendron, Dr Joe
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moonie, Dr Lewis