Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank my noble friend for giving us an opportunity to debate this issue, which relates to Section 44. We think that Section 44 is merited and that it does exactly what it was intended to do inasmuch as stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is an important tool in the ongoing fight against terrorism. As part of a structured anti-terrorist strategy, the powers help to deter terrorist activity by creating a difficult environment for would-be terrorists to operate in. That deterrent effect means that there is a crucial difference between the powers under Section 44 and the other stop and search powers.

An authorisation under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act gives the police the power to stop and search pedestrians, vehicles, drivers and passengers in the area specified in the authorisation. I remind my noble friend that those areas can be very limited indeed and can, if the need arises, be quite precise. An authorisation can be given only if it is considered expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism. Authorisations are made by an officer of ACPO rank and must be confirmed by the Secretary of State within 48 hours to remain valid after that period. The powers can be authorised in particular locations and for a particular period.

The justification for authorising the use of the powers is intelligence-led and based on an assessment of the threat against the United Kingdom and how that transfers to potential targets within a force area. My noble friend's proposal would limit the use of those powers to instances where there is a "specific threat". Intelligence rarely allows such a defined threat to be identified. In our respectful submission, the police must be allowed to make informed and evidence-based assessments of where the powers are best utilised according to the information available.

In 2004, the Home Office produced guidance for forces which requires any officer making an authorisation to set out in detail the evidence to support the authorisation and how that relates to the assessment of the terrorist threat. The guidance also states:


 
20 Dec 2005 : Column 1636
 

The decision to make an authorisation is an operational one for the chief officer concerned and it is appropriate that that remains the case. The power is, however, subject to considerable scrutiny. As well as requiring authorisation at senior officer level and Secretary of State confirmation for authorisations over 48 hours, any authorisation can be cancelled by the Secretary of State at any time. All authorisations are carefully considered and confirmed only if they are deemed a proportionate response to the threat. This system is entirely appropriate, giving as it does the operational discretion to the police and an executive decision to the Secretary of State, who remains answerable, ultimately, to the electorate.

There is no requirement in the Terrorism Act for either the police or the Home Office to publicise authorisations under Section 44. To routinely and proactively identify areas that have such authorisations in place would identify areas where similar powers were not in place. This would assist terrorists in identifying areas where the powers were not in use and assist their planning of attacks in areas they considered more vulnerable. Some information about where the powers have become authorised will become available purely as a consequence of the powers being used. We recognise that communities play a vital role in combating terrorism, and the police will always seek to share as much information as possible with the public. However, a statutory requirement that does not take account of operational sensitivities is not a solution.

We are undertaking work with the police to develop more detailed guidance on the circumstances in which Section 44 powers should be used, in order to increase consistency and reassure the public that the powers are used appropriately.

It is never appropriate to stop and search a person purely on the basis of personal facts such as ethnicity. That would be both discriminatory and operationally na-ve. PACE code A states:

This should be used only—we emphasise, only—as one of a range of factors, which must also be supported by available intelligence; for example, a person's behaviour, gender, age, and the vulnerability of the location. This is also consistent with the Home Office stop and search manual, which was published in April this year. Countering the terrorist threat and ensuring good community relations and involvement are interdependent. Appropriate consultation should be undertaken in those circumstances.

We agree with my noble friend that the sensitivities about this are critical, the need to operate proportionately is essential and the powers must be exercised with integrity. We believe that the procedures we have in place deliver that. Stops and searches under Section 44 are subject to the same
 
20 Dec 2005 : Column 1637
 
recording requirements as other stop and search powers. The joint Home Office, ACPO and APA guidance issued to the police service in April this year points to the role of the following: the police authority, in monitoring police stop and search data on a quarterly basis and providing a bridge with the communities they serve; the chief constable, in setting out a clear policy on the appropriate use of the powers, with an identified ACPO lead responsible for supervision and monitoring. That monitoring goes down the line, ultimately to the first-line supervising sergeants, who are responsible for ensuring that every record of a stop is examined and any anomalies pursued.

The Government have also set up a delivery board and a community panel to report to Ministers, analysing the use of stop and search powers in relation to minority ethnic communities. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, for the sterling work he is doing in that regard.

For those reasons, we do not believe that this is an appropriate amendment. I hope that in that light my noble friend will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I apologise to the Minister for the misunderstanding on our Benches about who would speak when.

I shall start where the Minister began. The problem on stop and search powers is that a balance has to be struck. They are undoubtedly often a very effective weapon against terrorism and serious crime, as the Minister indicated, but on the other hand their use arouses a great deal of concern and often a considerable sense of threat and intimidation among people who, for one reason or another, feel particularly vulnerable to stop and search procedures.

The noble Baroness will know that since the 7 July attacks there has been a substantial increase in the use of stop and search under Section 44. More people have been stopped and searched since then than in the whole of the preceding year. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, quoted the troubling evidence given by the Metropolitan Police Authority. It refers to the impact on attitudes and opinions particularly among minority communities, which the Committee should pay careful attention to. That is also borne out by the remarks of the most senior Muslim officer in the Metropolitan force, Mr Ghaffur, who indicated that stop and search was a double-edged weapon.

The police must rely strongly on information from the minority communities. There is no better base for what the noble Baroness rightly referred to as intelligence-based policing. Yet if those communities are alienated—the evidence of the Metropolitan Police Authority was certainly that they were being increasingly alienated—that information and intelligence will not be forthcoming and the battle against terrorism will be weakened.

The noble Baroness referred to PACE code A, which says that religious belief should not be a factor in determining the use and targeting of stop and search
 
20 Dec 2005 : Column 1638
 
procedures. However, there is also now a requirement that the person stopped and searched must be informed by the police officer and that that should be recorded. Code G, which has recently come into force—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred to it in a debate on 9 December—has an attractive aspect, saying that an arrest should take place only if the police officer is convinced of its necessity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, specifically included a test of necessity, not a test of expediency, in her amendment. I therefore wonder whether the Minister might consider the appropriateness of that aspect of the amendment, part of which she obviously does not willingly accept. Will she consider whether the test of necessity fits better with code G than merely a test of expediency, which is much more open to criticism and to a belief that the police officer concerned may be prejudiced in the steps he has taken?

The amendment also measures proportionality. The Minister eloquently defended the argument—as she usually does—about proportionality, but the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, referred to the rolling authorisation under Section 44 for the whole of London over the past two years. It is hard to see how that could be described as proportionate. Is the whole of London really at risk in such as way as to justify stop and search powers over the whole city for such a long period?

I respect the Minister's concern about getting the balance right, but part of the argument behind the amendment is that the balance is not quite right. The balance has drifted a little too far towards measures that allow stop and search over wide areas and long periods. Members of the Committee will be as aware as I am that the sense in London of our being under very close police surveillance is very different from that which obtains in many other cities. It is interesting that West Yorkshire Police, which might be considered to have a specific and difficult problem, given that several of the 7 July people came from that county, are very reluctant to use stop and search powers, specifically because they recognise their alienating effect on the community that they are obliged to police.

I hope that the Minister will consider very carefully whether there cannot be some tightening up of the authorisation on such wide bases, both geographically and temporally, of current stop and search powers and whether that might not improve and increase the level of support and co-operation from all our communities as compared with the difficulties pointed to by the Metropolitan Police Authority and Commissioner Ghaffur.

Noon


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page