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What were the objections to my amendment? The first was that it was disproportionate. It focused entirely on giving the police the necessary powers to check for weapons in places and circumstances where they thought weapons might be. Checking for weapons meant, in this case, checking for a firearm. My amendment did not cover knives; it focused entirely on guns. There were two reasons for that. The first was that someone carrying an illegal gun is per se committing a serious offence, whereas someone carrying a knife may not necessarily be. Secondly, to search for guns is an easy technical process using metal detectors. Nobody in Britain would ever dream, if they had any sense at all, of trying to get on an aeroplane at Heathrow carrying an illegal gun. I want to make it as dangerous to carry an illegal gun on the streets of our cities as it would be at Heathrow. I will never get as far as that, but that is the clear objective.
The reason for my amendment is the amount of gun crime. In the summer months, when we were on holiday, there was a fresh outburst of gun crime, which everybody has been able to read about. There have been deplorable cases of young people shooting and killing one another. This morning, I came back from the United States, where there has been a great debate on who should be
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Returning today, my attention was drawn by a Member in the other place to a call by Mr Keith Jarrett, the president of the National Black Police Association. He will make a speech either today or in the next few days asking for more powers for random searching, particularly of black people, in order to get guns off the streets. He realises that people will say that that is provocative, but he says that the issue is too important not to follow that route.
The other argument used against the power to search for firearms is civil liberties. We are all sensitive to civil liberties but we have to be careful. By we, I mean those of us who sit on the leather Benches, whether they be red or green, in relative safety and comfort compared with the people whom we are trying to protect from the great dangers of gun crime. There is a risk that we will be, or will be perceived as being, somewhat self-indulgent if we say, We know better, because the issue of civil liberties is the card which takes all with it. Perhaps more young people will be shot by each other in the streets but it is worth paying that price in order to say that the police cannot possibly infringe civil liberties. I do not accept that argument. I believe that this is a case where we should give the police extra powers, and I honestly do not believe that they would be used disproportionately. Perhaps I may quote Mr Jarrett. He said that, as long as officers used the powers courteously and responsibly, many within the black community would accept it as a necessary evil. He added that the toll of shootings and knife crime meant that deep-seated misgivings over the policing strategy were being increasingly outweighed by fears over mounting violence. That is a powerful argument.
In Committee in the other place, interestingly my right honourable friend Mr Douglas Hogg spoke against my amendment on civil liberties grounds. I was rather amused by that because many years ago, when I was very young, I worked in the Conservative Party research department for the then Minister of Transport, Mr Ernest Marples, who was a great figure. He told me that he tried to introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts but, when the idea came before the Cabinet, Mr Quintin Hogg, my right honourable friends father, argued vehemently on the grounds of civil liberties that such a measure should not be introduced. The Conservative Party then lost
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The new clause inserted by the Governments amendment does at least face in the same direction as I am facing but it does not move very far. There appear to be three conditions before these additional powers of search can be used. The amendment says:
First, do all three of those conditions have to be satisfied before the power to search can be used, or only one of them? If it is all three, it would be extremely difficult to justify using it. Secondly, what is the meaning of the phrase in his police area? How big an area are we talking about? Does it have to be a very small area, or quite a large area? If the weapon is thought to have moved to a different borough, can it be pursued?
Although this new clause is not a strong power, at least it makes the Government face the same direction as I and this House faced earlier this year. We shall almost certainly have another Home Office Bill next Session when I am sure that the House will want me to give us allpolice forces and very senior police officers, who previously supported methe opportunity to reinforce this amendment. The assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mr Tarique Ghaffur, supported me in the summer. If we cannot make progress now, I hope that in the mean time there are not too many more murders because if there are people should have them on their consciences. Even I, who has advocated these powers of search so strongly, will feel that I have not done enough to prevent those murders.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Marlesford has pursued this matter throughout the course of the Bill. I congratulate him on his tenacity in doing so. When I had the pleasure of meeting the noble Lord, Lord West, about a week ago, I came away with a great feeling that perhaps we would get somewhere at last for the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The noble Lord, Lord West, saidI hope I am not misquoting himthat the Government were at least sympathetic to the amendments and were considering how they could help.
In the interim, I believe someone has lost heart because, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has said, and as the noble Lord, Lord West, pointed out,
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Nor do I think that the amendments do quite what my honourable friend James Brokenshire was looking for in the House of Commons with his amendment, which was to create a new right for police sergeants to authorise stop-and-search of pedestrians and vehicles in a specific area for a period of up to six hours. That would have brought down, within the hierarchy, the right of police to stop. That amendment has the support of the Police Federation and would have provided communities with greater protection as, indeed, would the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
It is six of this and half a dozen of that with this amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having listenedbecause I know that he hasand perhaps he has himself managed to inch us along this path. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Marlesford will not leave this alone: he will come back at a later stage to try to harden up the Governments determination on this. In the mean time, I support him and thank him on behalf of the House and a lot of people, for his efforts, particularly in coming back from America; I am not sure whether he was meaning to come back for today, but he has.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, from these Benches I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on his fight to widen the security and safety of the ordinary citizen. His original amendment, which we supported, has the great benefit of simplicity; he managed to encapsulate in short order all the necessary ingredients. We also congratulate him for clearly having pushed the Government along the road to a certain degree. We on these Benches are, for the moment, happy with the position that the Government have reached due to his efforts.
The noble Lord would not expect me to follow him on civil liberties. The problem with criminals who engage in violent behaviour is that they have lost respect for other people and themselves. It is a great problem to try to rebuild that respect and inculcate a sense of self-respect in the individual. Our view is that the best way of doing that is recognising that every person, from whatever background he comes and whatever his disadvantages, is entitled to fundamental human rights. If he is in trouble, he is entitled to the right to a fair trial and the fair process of the law. That is fundamental to us. We feel that if those principles are followed and civil liberties and human rights are recognised and put in the forefront, there is a chance that the person who has gone astray will eventually learn respect for others and self-respect. That is why we on these Benches pursue those principles with all the fervour we can.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, I hope that I am not gravely out of orderand would certainly never normally dream of following the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresfordbut I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify two points that he referred to in his remarks. The first was the timing of the authorisation of the stopping and searching of a particular area at a particular time under particular circumstances. I hope that the measures he spelt out so clearly will be effective and that all the rough edges have been removed.
Secondly, years ago, I had the opportunity of promoting legislation in your Lordships House referring to the carrying of knives in Scotland. This was directed at a particular area at a particular time and in what I might call a particular climate. The tiny Billnow an Actthat I was involved in certainly has been reasonably successful. Can the Minister write to me at some stage about the carrying of knives? They can be other than offensive weapons, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Marlesford.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I shall address some of the points that were raised. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for his contribution to the debate. It has been extremely valuable and has made us look again at the issue. We talked to ACPO about the various measures and spoke to the lead officer on the criminal use of firearms and the lead officer on the stop-and-search policy. Both of them were unhappy with the new powers that would be provided in the noble Lords amendment, but they felt that our new amendment was particularly valuable. They felt that it was moving things in the right way.
The noble Lord asked whether all three conditions had to be met if this measure were to be enacted. The answer is yes, that is the case. In terms of the locality and the size of the area, that is affected by a Section 60 authorisation. It is an operational matter for the police and is covered in guidance in the PACE code A for guidance. I shall send the noble Lord details and ensure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, receives a copy. It is clearly laid out and specified. So, for example, when the transport police use that power, the location might be a railway station and the search would be conducted in the surrounding streets.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked in particular about stop-and-search. Under Section 47 of the Firearms Act, we can stop and search if there is reason to believe that someone is carrying a weapon. That issue is therefore already covered.
The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, asked a couple of questions, one of which related to the length of time applicable. At present, under Section 60 an inspector must implement the measure. The initial authorisation is for 24 hours, but there can then be an extension only by a superintendent for another 24 hours. The absolute maximum is 48 hours. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on his other question. Part of the reason for the slight delay was negotiations with the Scottish Office because there were complications about devolved and other powers relating to firearms and knives.
Amendment No. 43A would reverse the decision of another place to remove Clause 78 from the Bill. Clause 78 was incorporated into the Bill in this House as an
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The clause provides a power for any constable on his own authority, and without consulting or informing a more senior officer, to seal off an area where he believes persons may be carrying firearms, although it does not specify by what means the area would be sealed off. Within that area, he may then search persons or vehicles for firearms by whatever means he considers appropriate. Again, there is no indication by what is meant by whatever means he considers appropriate. This is a concern because it seems to imply a cavalier approach to stopping and searching that goes against the robust protocols and guidelines that have been developed. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, touched on some of the issues connected with civil liberties.
The purpose of this extensive guidance is to ensure that any stop-and-search power is exercised fairly and proportionately in a way that does not undermine community confidence in the police. Furthermore, the clause does not specify any limits on the duration of time for which the power may be exercised or any requirement that the authorisation to use the power must be formally reviewed and extended to continue to operate. Taken together, these concerns lead me to the view that this is a reckless and unnecessary provision that could disproportionately affect certain communities, threaten community cohesion and lead to public disorder. That view was shared by all sides of the House in another place when the matter was debated in Committee. Concerns were raised about the scope and ambit of the clause as drafted and about the likely impact on civil liberties, and the clause was disagreed to without a vote.
We have since given the matter some further consideration, have taken on board the concerns that we all share about weapon-enabled crime and have added the new clause that I have already described. It will extend police powers to stop and search for weapons in a way that is more measured and proportionate and will address, to a degree, the purpose envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. The other place agreed to the insertion of this clause, and I hope that noble Lords will also be persuaded of its worth. Therefore, while I have the greatest respect and admiration for the noble Lord and am grateful for the contribution he has made to the debate in this important area, I respectfully ask that he does not move his amendment in view of the concerns expressed by me and others and in the light of the new clause inserted by Amendment No. 42.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 61. These offences were included in the Schedule during the passage of the Bill through another place in response to a commitment made by the Attorney-General in her previous role. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who suggested that we look at including the concept of armed robbery within the schedule. Having looked at how best to achieve that, Vernon Coaker brought
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Anelay obviously made a great impact in many ways, but particularly on this aspect of the Bill. She is grateful, as are we, that there is now a proper definition of armed robberywhich, I understand, has not been defined beforeon the statute book. She is pleased to see it there, and I am glad on her behalf.On Question, Motion agreed to.
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