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David Howarth: One would hope not. The point is that the Court struck down section 44 on its face- not as it was applied, not given the circumstances of the case and how it was operated, but on its face. That seems to be a very clear judgment, and I would be fascinated-perhaps horrified-to learn of the Government's reasons for appealing against that judgment.

I will finish with a couple of other matters. The hon. Member for Hendon was right to draw attention to the potential for the use of civil injunctions in preventing protest. It appears that around the time of the Kingsnorth protest the Kent police encouraged the power companies concerned to use civil injunctions as a way of preventing that protest from going ahead or being effective.

The Government's response seems to be entirely inadequate. As the hon. Gentleman says, special procedures are already in place for certain sorts of circumstances where injunctions are applied for without notice, or only on one side. It would be entirely practical to extend that procedure as the most minimal of safeguards against prior restraint of demonstrations and free speech, to any circumstance in which article 10 or article 11 rights are engaged. This is not about disagreeing with the Government-I simply cannot understand their objections to doing that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) mentioned section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. I agree with him. The present offence under section 5 is one of negligence. One could be found guilty of a crime for insulting someone in circumstances where it is likely that someone would be distressed. There are various defences, but that is basically the offence. My hon. Friend, and the Committee, do not suggest that the rather more serious offence in section 4A of intentionally causing that distress should be changed, but section 5 seems to be an example of an over-broad criminal offence that should be reviewed. As my hon. Friend says, one important aspect is the fundamental idea about whether we have a right not to be offended. I do not think that we have such a right. People take offence at all sorts of things, often in political arguments. If free speech is about anything, it is about the right to make political points that other people find offensive.

Finally, I want to refer to what the report says about the forward intelligence teams that the police use at demonstrations, especially when they photograph demonstrators. I have been photographed on demonstrations several times. One demonstration was on the middle east, and the other was about student fees in Cambridge. That was such a quiet and civilised demonstration that it did not even leave the pavement. People walked quietly from the Guildhall in Cambridge to one of the open spaces where, on the other side of the road, police officers with long lenses were photographing us all as if we were some kind of public menace. Perhaps we were a public menace, but we were not doing anything at the time to suggest that.

When challenged, the police said, "Well, it was possible that you might be committing a criminal offence". We could not work out what the criminal offence was, but all of us on that demonstration were immediately suspects, simply because we disagreed with a Government policy. That is the basis of the Wood case and it is why that case went against the Government. That sort of activity is designed to intimidate and to undermine people's
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desire to protest. If we cannot sort out that issue, and the underlying attitude of the authorities that assumes that there is something wrong with people just because they are protesters, we will never be in a position to say that we fully accept and respect the right to protest.

3.37 pm

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): We have already had a forensically interesting debate and I will start my remarks by highlighting, unambiguously, the excellent work that police officers perform week in, week out, month in, month out, policing protests and events of all kinds. Even at the G20 protests, where the news was dominated by some tragic incidents, we should remember that more than 35,000 protesters demonstrated in London, requiring 10,000 police officer shifts. Despite the scale of the disruption, businesses in the City reported minor damage and non-protesters were certainly able to go about their lives with little or no major disruption of any kind. However, the Opposition believe that it is right that when serious public order incidents occur, a thorough investigation should and must be conducted by the Home Office, or in particular by the Independent Police Complaints Commission or Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. If appropriate, action should be taken.

Following the G20 protests and other high-profile events referred to, such as the protests at Kingsnorth power station, there has been considerable scrutiny of how we go about policing events. Last June, the Select Committee on Home Affairs published its report, "Policing of the G20 Protests". The Government published their interim response to that report on 24 October and their final response on 15 December.

HMIC conducted its own investigation on the way in which protests are policed. Its interesting report, "Adapting to Protest-Nurturing the British Model of Policing", was published on 24 November. HMIC's review of the policing of protests found that there were an inadequate number of trained public order commanders. Its report found that 16 to 22 per cent. of forces feel unable to provide a minimal ACPO or National Policing Improvement Agency-accredited command structure for policing events.

My understanding is that a normal command structure on average would consist of two advanced public order commanders-gold or silver commanders-and two initial commanders, known as bronze commanders. The report found that there were less than adequately trained public order commanders in charge of operations in major forces, including the Greater Manchester police and the West Midlands police. Can the Minister confirm what her view is on that evidence and what action her Department has undertaken to remedy that alleged shortfall?

In respect of rank-and-file officers, HMIC found that 22,500 officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are trained to level 2 out of the three tiers of public order operational effectiveness. Level 2 is the standard level in the use of public order skills, tactics and equipment. The proportion of officers in forces trained to level 2 across England and Wales is, on average, just over 15 per cent., but the figures vary across force areas, from 8.7 per cent. in the South Wales police to 39 per cent. in Northumbria. Obviously, part of that difference
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reflects the challenges that the different forces face geographically. Some areas, and particularly metropolitan forces, will have more large-scale events and will as a consequence train more officers to deal with them. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that the Home Office has assessed or will assess the number of officers in each force trained to level 2 for public order policing. If she and her Department are not doing that, what information does she have on it?

HMIC acknowledged the very significant cost of public order training. No sensible political party could ignore the fact that public order training is important, but a price tag is attached to it. HMIC says that police officers do not need more training, but that the existing training needs to be

Will the Minister comment on what information she has in that regard?

One of HMIC's recommendations is for the service to adopt a set of fundamental principles on police officers' use of force that runs through all aspects of policing. Will the Minister elucidate on what she understands is the core set of fundamental principles on police officers' use of force? Is that something that ACPO is advising her on, and implementing and directing? Is it something that the Home Office is doing, or the NPIA, or who?

The ACPO lead for uniformed operations has already said that he will lead the work to codify public order guidance to ensure that the police

Can the Minister elucidate on what stage that work has reached, what she might be able to publish and what she might be able to explain here today?

Clearly, it is of the utmost importance that the work be completed as expeditiously as possible to ensure that the changes in guidance and their implementation are embedded. There a simple reason for that: whoever is in government, we have the Olympics coming up in 2012, which will undoubtedly provide a severe, stern and serious test of policing capability in respect of public order offences. It is essential that our officers have had time to take on board any changes that have been suggested, quite properly, in the past 12 months, so that those changes can bed in and so that everyone-public and police, as well as Government-understands exactly what the score is. We also need the necessary resources to ensure that the adequate level of training is achieved. I shall be charitable to the Minister today-we all understand the tight constraints on any public service budget, and the Home Office budget is what it is-but, on training, we need to get more bang for our buck, whomever the Minister happens to be at the time. Clearly, that is not a matter for a Minister in an office in Whitehall to direct for 40-odd forces, but we do need a slightly better understanding than we have at the moment of what the guidance is and who is driving it through and ensuring delivery, with the main thing in mind being the 2012 Olympics.

I shall move on briefly to the powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The Opposition agree with the part of the report dedicated to the use of section 43, 44 and 45 terrorism powers in policing protests. Those
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provisions should be there; they do not need to be repealed. Section 43 allows the search of a person whom an officer reasonably suspects to be a terrorist. Section 44 authorises an officer to carry out the search. Section 45 confers on an officer the power to search, whether or not they have grounds for suspecting that a person has articles that could be used in connection with terrorism.

In 2008-09, there were 256,026 stops and searches under section 44. That was a 36 per cent. increase on 2008. A further 1,643 stops and searches were carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service in 2008-09 under the powers in section 43. The report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights stated:

Would the Minister like to add to that proposition, which has already been raised by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and which I am raising again now?

David Howarth: Does the hon. Gentleman not find the court's finding at least a little disturbing? Of the tens-nearly hundreds-of thousands of searches made under section 44, in no case had anyone been arrested for a terrorist offence. Does that not show that the powers are being used not for that purpose but for a whole range of other purposes?

Mr. Ruffley: Anecdotally, the hon. Gentleman may be right, but he has also made a point about legal cases. I look forward to the Minister clarifying that rather important matter.

Mr. Dismore: There is no argument about section 43, which allows for stop and search on grounds of reasonable suspicion; it is fine. The problem with section 44 is that no reason is needed for such searches. I recently discussed the matter with the borough commander in my area, and I discovered that half a dozen sites in my constituency are classified as section 44 sites. I find it remarkable that they should be considered terrorist targets, never mind that they should be subject to section 44 search powers.

The real problem is the over-broad nature of section 44. Nobody objects to section 43 powers being used if there are grounds for suspecting someone of engaging in terrorist activity. It is not a problem. The difficulty is that, with a quarter of a million people-I think that that was the figure-being stopped under section 44 as opposed to being stopped under section 1 or section 60, when people can be stopped with cause, the powers of section 44 have been misused but without detecting a single terrorist.

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He spoke of the powers being misused. It is incumbent on the Minister to say whether that is an appropriate description. We wait to hear from her. The argument is certainly being kicked around the block. I make no judgment on that, but I am sure that the Minister will have a pretty much definitive view on what action, if any, she thinks might need to be taken.

Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 gives officers discretion to arrest individuals who use

in certain circumstances. The Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed its concern that criminalising people
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for using insulting words or behaviour might stifle freedom of expression. It recommended that "insulting" should be deleted from the 1986 Act.

I understand that the Government agreed to discuss the matter further with ACPO, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant parties. I believe that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has offered its support for the proposal. Will the Minister tell the House what conclusion has been reached by the Home Office? Have the Government accepted the idea of legislative change?

Others have referred to quasi-public space. Concern has been expressed that although areas such as shopping centres are privately owned, they constitute quasi-public spaces. The Government acknowledge that, and have indicated that they would hold further discussions with local authorities and related bodies. Will the Minister update us on that question? It would be a useful clarification.

I turn to the taking and retention of photographs. We are all aware of the Court of Appeal judgement of 21 May 2009. It found in favour of a campaigner who had taken photos of an arms trade meeting-photos that were subsequently confiscated by the police. On 30 June 2009, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Counter Terrorism wrote to the Joint Committee on Human Rights to inform it of the implication of the Wood judgment. He said that all police forces needed to review their policies and procedures. What role is the Home Office taking in providing further guidance on that point? If guidance is not being provided directly by the Minister's team, what steps is she taking to oversee the clarification about such photography?

David Howarth: I note that, like me, the hon. Gentleman is going through the report to find differences between the Government and the Committee. Unless I missed something, he seemed to slip over the question of civil injunctions. What is his view of reform in that area? Does he believe that reform is necessary? In particular, does he believe that there should be special protection against injunctions without notice for those taking part in protests?

Mr. Ruffley: May I ask the hon. Gentleman for clarification? He mentioned civil injunctions, but in respect of what particular activity?

David Howarth: I refer to the section in the Committee's final report about civil injunctions, in which the Committee questioned the Government on whether the civil procedure rules should be reformed, so that in instances such as the Radley Lakes case, protesters who end up being enjoined by the court at the instance of landowners should have notice of those motions for injunctions before they are imposed.

Mr. Ruffley: That is an interesting legal point. I have a tired Cambridge legal brain, which goes back 25 years; the hon. Gentleman is much more up to date. I do not know the answer. If I add my weight to the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope that the Minister will respond to it.

The Committee's report offers a thorough and most interesting analysis of the politics and policy behind policing protests. I look forward to the Minister's views on some of the non-partisan points raised with distinction by all sides.

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I end with an entreaty to those who read or hear about today's debate. At the end of the day, although brickbats and abuse are thrown at the police if they breach the law-if individual officers overstep the mark-we have to set that in context. The vast majority of police officers who engage in public order policing behave impeccably and with courtesy and fair-mindedness, and they apply the law to the letter. We should not let press reports or anything emanating from the House suggest otherwise. Those who transgress are in a minority. Everyone who believes that policing is crucial to the way we live, and that it helps to secure life and limb and to defend homes, families and streets, must remember that although there may be alleged transgressions, they are few.

3.59 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on the work carried out by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in respect of policing and protest and particularly on the Committee's deft ability to produce a report and still take account of an event that took place a day or two after it was published.

We heard that the Committee took written and oral evidence from a wide range of witnesses and examined the way in which protests are policed in a number of other countries. That detailed evidence gathering is reflected in the tenor of the report.

Some Ministers may find scrutiny uncomfortable, but it is an essential process, especially in the area of policing. If the police service and the Government are to learn lessons, particularly when things go wrong, we should not be afraid of scrutiny. Personally, I welcome it, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism does too. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), the Under-Secretary of State, give their apologies for not being here today. They are busy in Committee.

The management of House of Commons business, which was raised by some Members, is a matter for the usual channels; the Home Office has less power in that regard than we do as individual Members. None the less, I am confident that there will be time to debate in that Bill some of the other matters that were raised today.

How officers police protests is hugely important, and the issue has attracted considerable interest in recent months. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) said, in the vast majority of cases the police get it right. None the less, all it takes is one wrong move for the public, understandably, to lose confidence. When the public lose confidence in the police, it can undermine the British policing model, which is built on the principles of policing by consent and community policing. We have seen such principles amplified in our approach to neighbourhood policing, in which police officers are very much embedded in the community, rather than appearing only when a crime is committed.

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