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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I rise briefly to support the amendment. I hope that the Government will consider carefully whether they might yield on this relatively limited provision. I have said already and say again that I fear that if Clause 7 is accepted unamended, we in this Chamber will live to rue the day. I hope that the Government will consider whether they can concede on the matter.
Churches have been places of asylum and safety throughout history, even in countries which have records of dictatorships. It would be a great shame if in this country places of worship did not retain that reputation of not being like other places--places of asylum, places of peace and places where people may go from the rush and conflict of the world. I very much hope that the Government will consider yielding on this amendment and coming back at Report stage with appropriate wording. I support the right reverend Prelate.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I oppose the amendment. We had the debate on this point when we discussed the previous amendment. No matter how emotional we might feel about a church as a place of asylum--I agree with that--the amendment, apart from perhaps filling those empty churches again, would have a dangerous effect. It would mean that anyone could exploit what would not be a small loophole but a huge loophole. These premises could cover an almost unlimited number of people. Just to pop inside one of those places and then find yourself completely protected from the Act is in terms of practicality just not on. I oppose the amendment.
Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: I oppose the amendment. I am a communicant member of the Church of England. I think it most extraordinary that the right reverend Prelate should have moved an amendment which might have the effect of making churches, some of which are open all night and into which people go for prayer and meditation, into refuges for those who wish to evade the police or conceal evidence. That is an extraordinary thing and would be a great disservice to organised religion.
Viscount Brentford: My concern about the amendment is that it is too far-ranging. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate might consider whether, having won the Division on the previous amendment, he could not revise the wording so as to retain the power of search but remove before Report stage what was offensive to many of us--the draconian powers. I would much rather him be prepared to consider that than to accept the amendment, which would create an enormous number of refuges scattered around the country which would be very difficult to handle.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: As a church warden of a small but very lovely church in Hampshire, I would be very upset indeed at the idea of that church being used as a shelter for criminal articles or articles required by the criminal law. Therefore, I very much hope that the Committee will emphatically reject the amendment.
Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge: As a contemporary of two of the previous speakers--we are three of the oldest in the House--and also a communicant of the Church of England, I am strongly in favour of churches retaining what they have always had, which is to be places of refuge. That does not mean that other institutions should have the same right.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: As we are all disclosing our ecclesiastical antecedents, perhaps I should indicate that I am not a member of the Church of England. My father was a seventh generation minister in Scotland and my great-uncle was James Moffatt, who translated the Bible.
I genuinely suggest that the amendment would be entirely counterproductive for the purposes of generating good race relations in this country. No doubt from time to time those who are liable to be arrested in terms of the provisions of the Bill and of the 1971 Act will have to go to hospitals, educational establishments and places of worship for entirely bona fide purposes. But all these institutions are ones where people can come and go at will. The idea that the legislation should in some way encourage them to go there and to remain there for purposes which are not bona fide is one which I invite the Committee to resist.
As with all the provisions of the Bill, the police will have to exercise their powers with moderation. There have been cases where they have not and the courts have required chief constables to pay the price for that. During the Division the right reverend Prelate who mentioned the case of A informed me that A had successfully sued for damages. There is no reason to believe that chief constables would allow, let alone
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I am grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken in this brief debate. I am a little sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whose wisdom I respect enormously, should not have a little more sense of the tradition of the Church. Churches are, as other noble Lords have said, not simply places of beauty but also of justice. The tradition of refuge is a long and honourable one. I find some of the pictures conjured up by noble Lords a little improbable--hordes of people rushing to the enclave of a church to live indefinitely there. I find it difficult to see how they would be supported, how they could continue there or what kind of life it would be if they were to remain there. I find the whole picture very improbable. I believe that some noble Lords have not sufficiently taken on board the point I made about the mismatch between the activities which take place in these institutions and the intrusion and violence which are involved in the clauses of the Bill. However, I was grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for his statement that moderation will always be used. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Russell: I should like first to say something entirely non-partisan. It is dangerously easy in politics in any century to impute to people who are doing things the motives that one would have had oneself if one had done those things. That is of course not the case because other people do not have the same assessment of facts as we do. So when they do things, they very often do not do them for the motives for which we would have done them had we done such things.
I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, had to say about the Prime Minister. I agree with it. I remember the Prime Minister on "Breakfast with Frost" during the Conservative leadership election saying that the Conservative Party is a party of tolerance. I take off my hat to him for saying that at that moment. I have never said that this Bill is an attempt to play the race card. What I do say is that, on my assessment of the facts, I believe the Bill has a racist effect. But I do not in any way credit the Government or their supporters with intending that effect because I accept that they do not believe it is the effect.
I am concerned about the temptation which this clause will give to those officers and the amount of reciprocal fear, anger and suspicion that will be generated in the black community in particular by the exercise of those powers. Those of us who take a liberal view of these matters are occasionally reproached in the press for living in leafy suburbs and knowing nothing whatever about the subject. I do not live in a leafy suburb. I live in the London Borough of Brent which, I believe, has the highest concentration of ethnic minorities of any local authority area in Britain.
I do know a little about what I am saying. I am concerned with the way in which powers are being exercised already. The power to arrest on suspicion is a fairly draconian power. Some Members of the Committee may remember what happened in Brixton in 1981 and the comments made on that in the Scarman Report. It seems that the troubles arose very largely from the operation of the old "sus" laws--the power to arrest on suspicion. I do not want to see that happen again.
We should look at the figures given by Mr. David Maclean in a Written Answer and supplied to me by the Library. As regards police searches--that is, stopping and searching people in the street--in the Metropolitan Police area in 1994-95 there were 189,928 searches of white persons and 112,763 searches of non-white persons. Our non-white population is not such a high proportion of the population of the metropolitan area. I have not worked out the figures, but I believe that the disproportion will be admitted on all sides.
In my local papers, the Kilburn Times and the Willesden and Brent Chronicle, articles on 4th March gave figures supplied by the police themselves. For searches, 1,598 white suspects were stopped by the police in Kilburn--that is 24 out of every 1,000 people--while 2,334 black people were stopped or 99 out of every 1,000. That is a considerable disproportion. I do not believe that the white population of Kilburn is so utterly law abiding as to justify that sort of discrepancy.
It is in that context that I feel very considerable apprehension about conferring on the police--not just on the large majority of good and trustworthy officers but on all police--the power to arrest on suspicion. That power has been used in some fairly extreme ways. Perhaps I may give one example of a pregnant Nigerian woman. She was arrested and taken to the police station. She was a British subject. When the Home Office immigration officer arrived and
The Bill uses the word "immigrant". I am not one of those who go in for making gibes about ministerial cars. Ministers have to get about and I know how heavy those boxes may be on occasions. But it is a pity that they do not hear the great British taxi driver nearly as often as we do, because in his ears the word "immigrant" means "black". So if the police are authorised to stop and search on suspicion, it will be very widely taken as the power to stop and search blacks. That is the point.
Another example is that of the police who raided a house early one morning, acting on suspicion that illegal entrants might live there. The person they found was naturalised, was granted indefinite leave to remain and had a Home Office letter authorising him to be here. He also had a British passport application. The police recognised none of those documents. It is the usual problem that the police are not competent on immigration status. The man worked on a night shift. He was taken to the police station and held during the hours when he should have been working. He begged the police to inform his employer, whom he was afraid might sack him, why he was not at work. The police did not do so.
There has been talk about fear. I entirely accept that the Joy Gardner case does not come within the terms of this clause, but what does is the reaction that that case has produced within the black community. In April 1994 there was the case of Kwanela Siziba who died after falling from the 12th floor of her block of flats. She thought that the police had come to her home to arrest her on immigration issues. She told her sister that she thought she would receive the same treatment as Joy Gardner. In fact, the police were accompanying a bailiff, and not on an immigration issue at all.
The Minister may say that that was an irrational fear, but we are dealing with human beings who occasionally have irrational fears, especially if there is a headline case of that kind, which may seem to justify them. Inevitably, the police will act on "information received", as the phrase goes. That means that the police will, on occasion, be acting at the instigation of an informer. There are certain people in this country, some of them members of the British National Party or other such unpleasant organisations, who are capable of giving such information maliciously. Of those cases where the police have acted on the information of an informer, only 18 per cent. in the past year have turned out to be genuine. I ask the noble Baroness this question: is that one of the Home Secretary's policing objectives and, if not, should we be concentrating more police time on things which are, and which must be, part of the policing objectives of the Home Office such as the prevention of burglary?
Yet again, just a few years later, when Queen Elizabeth I passed a new witchcraft statute, it again worked by the operation of informers. That is how the word "witchhunt" came to be proverbial--it relied on informers in neighbourhood feuds. In one case a woman was accused of being a witch by her next-door neighbour who said, "She is making a witch's circle underneath my window". The defendant's response was, "I am not making a witch's circle; I am making a shitting house". At once, all became clear.
There are innumerable garden-fence hatreds. If we allow those to waste police time in the hunt for illegal immigrants when perhaps no offence has been committed, we shall have another witch hunt. The Government do not want that any more than I do, but if they keep this clause in the Bill I believe that that is what they will get. I oppose the Question that Clause 7 stand part of the Bill.
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