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'(a) incidents involving serious violence may take place in any locality in his area, and'.
I assume that the provisions cover clothing, but what about fancy dress, for example? Many people involved in demonstrations, wanting to make a political point, put on various disguises. Can the police require those to be removed? What about wigs? Do the provisions cover religious dress?
The amendment would ensure that if the Government want to take these draconian powers, there should be evidence that serious violence, not merely an offence, is likely to occur. There is a good chance that some offence will be committed during a demonstration, but it is unlikely to be sufficiently serious for a police officer to demand the removal of a disguise or fancy dress.
The Minister must explain to the House in what circumstances and to what degree the powers will be used. The safeguard should be that it will be used only in circumstances in which the person authorising the exercise of the power expects serious violence to occur. We must remember that the powers will be exercised on any occasion by an individual police officer, and most people accept that some police officers are not always as sensitive as they might be.
Norman Baker: I share some of the concerns which have been raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett). I am surprised at the Government pursuing this line, as they already have powers, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, regarding the removal of disguises or face coverings. A senior officer can authorise the removal of coverings where he or she reasonably believes that incidences involving serious violence may take place in a locality. That seems a reasonable provision, and to extend it as the Bill suggests is somewhat worrying. There are already measures to deal with serious violence, and that is what terrorism and terrorist attacks are. However, as we have already seen, the Bill has been hijacked in order to bring in a whole range of powers that have nothing in particular to do with terrorism. The clause seems to be one of them.
Face masks can already be removed in cases of serious violence. The Minister seeks to extend that provision to less serious offences, and to enable its authorisation by police officers of a more junior rank.
Norman Baker: With respect, if we are taking lessons in human rights and civil liberties from states in the middle east, we need to be rather careful. We should base our system on what we believe correcta tradition of civil liberties established over many hundreds of years. With due respect to Qatara country with which I am not familiarthe importation of its powers on human rights and civil liberties should be considered with some trepidation.
Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a difference between the removal of a person's face covering by someone of the same culture, as part of the performance of their civic duty, and its forcible removal in a heated atmosphere, because the wearer is suspected of a crime, by someone who is likely to be from a different culture?
Norman Baker: I am extremely grateful for that accurate intervention. In one case, the removal of the face covering is voluntary and in the other it is required. We need to make that point to the Minister.
The Minister must be careful when she dismisses comments from both sides of the House, from various Committees and from bodies outside. If there is a problem as regards face coverings, I suggest that it is not a terrorist problemit relates to police powers. It might have more to do with hunt saboteurs, and we should not be dealing with hunt saboteurs in a Bill such as this.
When the Minister replies to the debate, will she tell us exactly how she defines the disguise that has to be removed? The word "disguise" can mean many things: for example, do beards and facial hair constitute a form of disguise? In the current anti-Taliban atmosphere, would my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) and I be hauled into a police station for someone to set about us with a razor[Hon. Members: "Yes!"] Now we see the Committee's love of liberty.
Jeremy Corbyn: Indeed; I should not be accused of being Taliban. However, we obviously need some definition. A situation might arise in which an unimaginative police officerperish the thought that such a person should existdecided that all bearded men were
I could go on and on, giving examples in which the fevered atmosphere of people being stopped and told to remove their disguises could set off an extremely unpleasant chain of events. Many hon. Members, certainly those of us on the Government Benches, will have taken part in demonstrations of various sorts over the years, and know that a carnival atmosphere sometimes surrounds them. What happens then if someone says, "Hang on, you're wearing a disguise"?
On one occasion, during a demonstration outside the British Aerospace annual meeting, a gentleman who looked for all the world like General Pinochet was standing with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, but then crossed the road to take part in the annual meeting. The officials who were organising the meeting thought that he was an important military gentleman and promptly opened the doors, ushered him in and offered him a seat on the front row, assuming that someone like General Pinochet would probably spend a lot of money at British Aerospace. In fact, he was a valuable part of the demonstration: he got it on the front page of a lot of newspapers. Is that the sort of person who would be arrested and told to remove that disguise?
Under existing legislation, the police can require the removal of a disguise only if they think that violence has been committed. The proposal will give far too much unfettered power to the police, and the Human Rights Committee has suggested that it should be reconsidered. Because of the results of the last Division, which I regret, the power to take fingerprints will be widely available to the police, so why on earth will they need to go to the lengths of arguing about the removal of disguises with people who would become hostile to what the police are trying to achieve?
Ms Abbott: I am listening with rapt attention to my hon. Friend's usual lucid and incisive contribution. Does he agree that the proposal is yet another that gives this rag bag of a Bill every appearance of being the outcome of Home Office officials having cleared their in-trays of every draconian and authoritarian measure that they can think of and ramming them through the House under the pretext of a national emergency?
Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with most of what my hon. Friend says, but this is not just a matter of Home Office officials' in-trays; rather, it is as if a storeroom of Bills has been festering for a long time and someone has had the bright idea of pushing them through, given the opportunityand this is the opportunity. After the declaration of some sort of state of national emergency, the Bill has been drafted to introduce very draconian legislation