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Police: Metropolitan Police Commissioner

11.29 am

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the current appointment procedure gives the Home Secretary responsibility for making a recommendation to Her

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Majesty, having regard to views from the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London mayor. The Government believe that this is the right procedure. The commissioner’s role is critical for national security, while policing in London also plays an essential part in public protection of the rest of the nation.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, did my noble friend hear the “Today” programme this morning, in which the Mayor of London said that crime was down across the board but went on to say that under Sir Ian Blair the operational efficiency of the Metropolitan Police had been compromised? If the Mayor of London can force out the most senior police officer in the country, what prospects are there for appointing the best police officer for this job in future? Surely that sort of power, exercised unaccountably by the Mayor of London, is unacceptable?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises a number of interesting points. It is clear that there is a mechanism and a way of doing these things which is there for very clear reasons of fairness, and to ensure that there is no political impact on this decision-making. I listened to the “Today” programme. The Mayor of London rather reminds me of a lovable Labrador puppy. He is a bit Tigger-like and very enthusiastic, but he does not always necessarily think through the consequences of what he has done. There is no doubt that Sir Ian Blair delivered a number of good things. If the mayor had doubts in some areas—there has been a whispering campaign and statements have been made about this—he should have talked to the MPA. If it agreed that there was a problem, it should have made that point to Sir Ian Blair, who could then have made representations, which is absolutely appropriate. If the MPA decided he needed to go, it could then have discussed the matter with the Home Secretary. That is the proper way to do things, rather than just removing him.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, does the Government’s obsession with having elected mayors all over the place mean that the mayors will feel that they, and not police authorities, are the appropriate body to hire and fire chief constables?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a good point, but I think this will be addressed in the Green Paper, on which there has been much discussion in recent months. That discussion finishes tomorrow. We will be looking at this area. It is an area of risk that has come up in the discussion, but clearly one has to act sensibly on occasion; this is not for the worse but a good thing. However, I have no doubt that this was a knee-jerk reaction, which was not sensible and should not have been done.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, if the mayor took the wrong decision, and if the Government’s position is as indicated by the Minister, why on earth did not the Home Secretary refuse to accept it? It is her appointment. Are not the Government hiding behind Boris Johnson’s courage in doing the right thing for London?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, one should think of what actually happened. As I understand it, the mayor said to the commissioner, “If you don’t go, on Monday I will find someone to ask me, with the media there, whether I have confidence in you and, if they do, I will say that I haven’t”. It was made very clear to Sir Ian that he did not have the mayor’s confidence and that the mayor wanted him to go. I think that Sir Ian Blair went away and thought about this and felt that it was impossible for him to go on. The Home Secretary could have struggled and struggled to make him stay, but I quite understand his position, and I do not think it would have been sensible to try to make him stay in that situation. We should not have arrived at this position. There is a correct procedure to go through and it is absolutely right that that should have been gone through. What happened was not fair and it is not the correct way to do things. I am afraid that it was a knee-jerk reaction. If he had gone through the correct procedure, perhaps all of us would be content. That is what he should have done.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there has to be an extremely close working relationship between the democratically elected mayor—a post that was, of course, set up by this Government—and the Metropolitan commissioner, and that what is important now is to find a commissioner who can restore public confidence in the Metropolitan Police, as that confidence has been severely battered over the past few months?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that we must now move ahead and find a new commissioner in whom everyone has confidence. I was rather disappointed to find that the mayor was suggesting that there should be a long continuum with the deputy, Sir Paul Stephenson, standing in, and that this should go on for a prolonged time. Indeed, he said very clearly in his discussions with Sir Ian Blair that he wanted to have a long continuum. That would be very wrong. The head of the Met has very clear responsibilities in terms of counterterrorism as well as the important duties he has in London and a whole raft of other duties. That is why it is essential that we move as quickly as possible. We need to go down the correct route of appointing him, and we have already started that. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already written to the mayor and the MPA saying that we need to start this process. We need to move quickly, but even if we move as quickly as we can, it will take about six or seven months; that is what it took the last time.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, did the Minister not hear the mayor on the “Today” programme this morning describe the suggestion that he wanted to spin out the appointment for some ulterior motive as “piffle”?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, he may well have said that, but I have it from another very good source—everyone seems to have good sources—that he did want to do that. I have seen a letter from him, from which I will not quote, in which he says that he wants

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to extend that time. I am afraid that, although he might have said this morning that it was piffle, that is not correct.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, while I appreciate that it is very difficult for the Minister to comment while the inquest is ongoing, does he accept that none of this discussion would now be necessary if Sir Ian Blair had done the honourable thing at the time of the Jean Charles de Menezes tragedy and resigned then?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, clearly, I cannot speak about the inquest. As noble Lords know, the Metropolitan Police Authority had a vote of no confidence in Sir Ian Blair on 22 November. There was a long debate, at the end of which it voted 15 to seven against that. That is all I can say about that, because of the inquest that is going on at the moment.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, can we presume that the letter to which my noble friend referred could be made available under freedom of information legislation?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I will have to check; I am not an expert. I would have to say, “Not necessarily so”. I would certainly have to ask the Home Secretary; I am probably in trouble already.

Counter-Terrorism Bill

11.36 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Power to remove documents for examination]:

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 1:

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out paragraph (b)

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment to try to ascertain the extent to which new powers to remove documents are necessary following arrest. Most of the searches covered by Clause 1 already allow for documents to be seized. I give as examples Section 43(4) of the Terrorism Act 2000 and paragraph 1(1)(c) of Schedule 5 to the same Act. Are there shortcomings in that Act that these new powers are designed to address?

I understand that it could take time to ascertain whether a large bundle of papers or a computer drive might need to be examined away from the scene of an investigation. I do not take issue with the principle, but I would like to be satisfied about the extent of the powers and whether they are really necessary. I would be grateful if the Minister could give an example of when the powers might be used. We see this power principally being exercised against those who are being searched but who have not been arrested, because it

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would allow an opportunity to remove material from a person or premises to ascertain whether the contents reveal grounds for arrest. We are uncertain why the extended powers are necessary post-arrest.

Anyone arrested under Section 43(1) of the Terrorism Act 2000 can have property seized. Similarly, if there was a need to search premises after a person had been arrested, we presume that there would be an application to a justice of the peace for a premises search under paragraph 1 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act to obtain evidence. The current period of pre-charge detention permitted for terrorism offences is, of course, 28 days, which the Bill seeks to increase to 42 days. This would allow plenty of time to sift potential evidence. Therefore, we are unsure why this power needs to be applied post-arrest. I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham: I appreciate that this amendment is probing; a number of other amendments will be in the same category. The amendment asks about subsection (1)(b), which states that under the Terrorism Act a power to remove documents for examination could be exercised on the suspicion of someone being a terrorist. Today we will be looking for a lot of reassurance as to how much activity can take place under this legislation when there is no proof of an offence having been committed, only the suspicion that one might be. In supporting the amendment, I draw attention to the fact that we will consider more amendments aimed at picking out the details of this matter.

Lord West of Spithead: The power to remove documents can be used only during a search that has been carried out under terrorism-related search powers listed in Clause 1(1). All these searches allow for documents to be seized during a search, but thresholds are applied for such seizure. The type of searches mentioned in Clause 1(1)(b) are those carried out under Section 43(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows for the search of a suspected terrorist on arrest. This search allows for seizure of the items on reasonable suspicion. It is important that the power to remove documents is attached to this power, because the threshold for seizure may not be met in relation to a document whose nature is entirely obscure—for example, when something is written in Arabic and none of the police can speak that language. The potential outcome of that could be that the police do not get to examine and seize a document that may be important evidence, which is why the power of removal should attach to a search under Section 43(2) of the Terrorism Act. That is why I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn. I hope that that answers the questions of the noble Baronesses.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: It does to an extent and I am grateful to the noble Lord for responding in that way and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for her support. We might need to look at this further in the light of what the Minister has said. I shall withdraw the amendment for the moment, but we may bring it back if he has not satisfied our concerns. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 2:

2: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, after “constable” insert “of at least the rank of inspector”

The noble Baroness said: The power to search premises and seize property is draconian and severe and can be used only when there are more than reasonable grounds for suspicion. As the Minister said, it may not be very clear as to whether the documentation is relevant to what the police are looking for or whether it is completely irrelevant.

The definition of the word “constable” in any dictionary is the lowest rank in the police service. Would it not be more appropriate, as is made clearer later in the Bill, if the person who can make a decision to take those documents was not of the lowest rank but only someone with authority? We all know about warrants, entering premises and taking property out. In passing, I assume that in this situation a warrant would have to be sought, or perhaps that is not the case and under this legislation the police can just enter property without a warrant.

Whichever way we look at this issue, it concerns a major event. If someone is suspected of terrorism, the police can go into a property and a decision can be taken to remove documents or equipment. Our view is that that decision should not be taken at a level where someone might not quite understand what they are doing; the decision should at least be backed up by someone of a more senior rank. I beg to move.

11.45 am

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I strongly support the amendment. In fact, over the many years that I have been dealing with police issues, I have always asked for the office to be of a higher rank than the Government have proposed. I have failed every time to get the Government to accept that, so when I saw this amendment I was very pleased to be able to support it.

Young and new PCs, who admittedly have gone through their training, could be in the position of going into premises and searching for these documents, but they may well not have the knowledge to ascertain whether the documents are prime articles for removal. It is important for someone with greater experience to go in and say, “Yes, this is a document that should go somewhere else”. Therefore, in this part of the Bill there is a big issue about training PCs. Again, I would say that inspector is certainly the lowest rank that should be expected to work on this aspect of removing papers. It is important that we support the amendment.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I am somewhat confused by this interesting amendment and have been trying to think about the practicalities and what it would be likely to lead to. It would mean that in a complicated operation perhaps involving a number of properties and a number of officers, every time a single piece of paper was found, someone would have to find the inspector, who might or might not be on site, to get it certified. This begins to look like overbureaucratisation of the police service, to which I thought the noble Baroness opposite was totally opposed. Here, we would be creating a bureaucratic procedure in the middle of an operation.

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What is more, the proposal seems to be an unnecessary requirement because Clause 5 says that under these circumstances a document can be retained for only up to 48 hours and that beyond that a chief inspector has to give the authorisation. Why involve an inspector at first and then, if the operation goes beyond 48 hours, which seems to be the point at which people need reassurance that everything is being done properly, a chief inspector? I was completely bemused by that until I realised that the Opposition have tabled an amendment to delete the 48-hour requirement. Presumably they are saying that they want the bureaucratic bit right at the beginning but, once that is over, the bureaucracy is not needed. If that is the explanation, I understand it, but I still think that it is rather fatuous in the context of a complicated operation.

Lord West of Spithead: My noble friend Lord Harris has raised one of the issues that I was going to mention. I can understand the noble Baroness’s nervousness about this whole area, but there are two points of concern. The first is the practical one: an officer of at least the rank of inspector might not always be present at the scene or during the searches listed in Clause 1(1). I cannot say that an inspector will not be there but, even if he is, the operational implications in what, as my noble friend says, will very likely be a fast-moving situation will be to slow down the whole process, require two officers rather than one to make a decision and significantly remove the operational discretion of the constable or sergeant who is on the scene dealing with the individual. I always think in terms of mission command: these people are well trained and they should be given those sorts of responsibilities to deal with quick and moving situations. That is a day-to-day operational function of the police service. We are lucky that we have a well trained police service to do that.

Secondly, the safeguards in the Bill and the requirements set out in the draft PACE Code of Practice B regarding the exercise of this power provide that, if a document is removed, any decision to retain it for more than 48 hours, as has been said by my noble friend, must be authorised by a chief inspector. The actions of the officer would be subject to the recording and reporting requirements in the Bill and subject to scrutiny by supervisory management. Additionally, the actions of the officer would be, if appropriate, subject to the independent police complaints process and any relevant civil litigation or criminal action. I think that we have safeguarded this in those terms and I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham: The most exciting moment of my day has arrived: the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is bewildered. That enchants me. I am so pleased that I tabled this amendment and that he was able to say that. Normally, the last person in the world to be bewildered is the noble Lord, Lord Harris.

Lord Harris of Haringey: It was said, of course, to try to spare the blushes of the noble Baroness in view of my real thoughts about the amendment.

Baroness Hanham: I am sure that the noble Lord will survive. I thank the Minister for his reply. I am still not convinced that someone who goes into premises

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looking for documentation, which may be very unusual, and who has to require a fairly detailed search would be able to remove that documentation without a senior inspector being there. Only in July did Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary warn that even police sergeants often lack the necessary skills to do the leadership job effectively. Do officers dealing with terrorist offences have specialist training? Perhaps there is an extra arm to their initial training. In general, I think that someone of experience should do that job. I await the Minister’s reply on specialist training.

Lord West of Spithead: The noble Baroness raises a good point. I believe that there is such training, but I shall have to confirm that and get back to her in writing.

Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment for today.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 3:

3: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, after “may,” insert “if he has reasonable grounds for believing that a document may be seized and”

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