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The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now return to addressing his remarks to the amendment.

Jeremy Corbyn: In disguise, the Government were trying to introduce such legislation. I ask the Minister to

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remove the disguise from the Bill by removing the clause and thinking about it a bit more. She should think about how it might work on the ground and about the problems that it might cause if people refuse to co-operate with the police because they feel that their requests are totally unreasonable. During some sort of carnival atmosphere, a policeman might come along and say, "Take that mask off" for whatever reason, and we might end up with a worse situation, rather than a better one.

Annabelle Ewing: These provisions will not apply to Scotland if Government amendments Nos. 63, 64 and 67 are agreed tonight. I sincerely hope that those amendments are passed because, as a Scottish National party Westminster MP, I believe that the best place to consider legislative changes to Scots law is in the Scots Parliament. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their support. I was somewhat surprised that those amendments seem to have been tabled at the eleventh hour, so I wonder what consultations have taken place with the appropriate Scottish Ministers in preparing the Bill.

Mr. Dalyell: Am I wrong in thinking that there has been an agreement by the Scottish Executive, endorsed by the Scottish Parliament, that they would go along with what Westminster decided in these matters?

Annabelle Ewing: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Scottish Parliament passed a so-called Sewel motion, introduced by the Scottish Executive on 15 November. Under that motion, most of the responsibility for considering huge swathes of important changes to Scots law, including Scots criminal law, was passed to Westminster, but, in fact, on this matter, an eleventh-hour agreement seems to have been reached with the United Kingdom Government to proceed in the way that I have described.

On the substance of the issue, it seems from reading the report of the debate in the Scots Parliament that the Scottish Executive were swayed by the lukewarm reaction of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. If, because of the practical difficulties, the association managed to convince the Scottish Executive to reclaim jurisdiction over the matter in the Scots Parliament, what was the reaction of equivalent bodies elsewhere in the UK?

Beverley Hughes: From the comments of hon. Members and the way the views of the Human Rights Committee were cited, there seems to be some confusion about what clause 93 will do.

I realise that some hon. Members understand this point, but the clause will not introduce the powers; it will simply alter the threshold in the existing law as to the circumstances in which the police can invoke them. At the moment, under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as amended by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, an inspector can authorise officers to stop and search in a particular defined locality when officers reasonably believe that incidents involving serious violence might take place or that people are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons. That initial authorisation will last for 24 hours, with an extension possible for a further 24 hours.

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Section 60(4A) of the 1994 Act gives the police powers to require the removal of face coverings that an officer reasonably believes are worn for the purpose of concealing identity. The officer can also seize any of the items involved.

Clause 93 will amend the face-coverings powers only so that authorisation can be given when an inspector reasonably believes that activities may take place in a particular area that are likely to involve the commission of offences. It will not introduce the powers that some hon. Members are concerned about; it will lower the threshold for situations in which the police can invoke the powers.

Norman Baker: I accept that the clause will lower the threshold, and I hope that I made that clear in my comments. However, why will it lower the threshold to take in what will be lesser crimes?

Beverley Hughes: It will lower the threshold because the police believe that the tactic of wearing face coverings has become increasingly widespread during all kinds of events that could lead to public disorder. The circumstances in which the police believe that they may be able to predict serious violence are also much wider than that. Furthermore, the circumstances in which people use the tactic of wearing face coverings to hide their identity and want to use the camouflage that a big public event might give them as a vehicle for terrorist activities are much wider than was hitherto thought to be the case.

Ms Abbott rose

Beverley Hughes: I shall give way in a moment, but I want to pursue the point.

A police officer must believe that a person is wearing face coverings of one kind or another to disguise his or her identity before the item that is covering the face can be removed. After I have taken the intervention, I shall come to some of the concerns expressed by hon. Members about religious dress.

9.30 pm

Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend read carefully from her brief that face coverings were becoming more prevalent. In Hackney we are on the cutting edge of such matters. We have marches—for example, by the PKK, the Socialist Workers party and Jewish ex-service men—that could turn to public disorder on any day of the week. I have not seen an increased prevalence of face coverings on demonstrations on the streets of Hackney. Perhaps the Minister could raise her head from the brief and cite examples of the greater prevalence of face coverings on marches and demonstrations.

Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend is the master of the patronising remark, but it is no substitute for a good debating point. I am afraid she lost it there. As a matter of interest, I was not reading from my brief; those were my own words—not that she will be interested in that.

I understand the concern expressed by hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) who tabled the amendment, about the items that can be removed. The clause makes it

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clear that the item has to be removable. Someone's hair, including facial hair, is clearly not something that the police can ask to be removed.

On a more serious note, concerns about religious dress are covered in depth in the extracts from the guidance for PACE that determine how officers will execute the power.

Ms Abbott: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. I asked the Minister to give concrete examples of the increased use of face coverings, but she moved on without replying. Is that in order?

The First Deputy Chairman: That is not a point of order; it is a matter for debate.

Beverley Hughes: I will deal with that point in a moment.

The guidance for PACE sets out the relevant circumstances in detail. It gives the example of a Muslim woman who wears a face covering for religious purposes. It makes it clear that wearing an item as a normal part of religious or cultural dress would not of itself satisfy the requirement that the officer must believe that the person is wearing the item wholly or mainly to conceal his or her identity. It would not be open to a police officer to remove a veil or face covering if someone is concealing their face in the dress that is associated with their culture. To do that, the officer would also have to believe that the person was trying to disguise their identity.

Norman Baker: The police officer might conclude that someone is wearing a piece of religious headgear to persuade the police that it is such an item. The officer might then have to offend someone. It is the same point as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) made about the band that wraps around the head. How will a police officer know the difference in those circumstances and what safeguards are in place to ensure that mistakes do not occur?

Beverley Hughes: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has so little faith in police officers that he thinks they would exercise the power crudely, without taking into account the issues that they must consider when making a judgment that could be tested in court if it is thought that it has been used wrongly.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Minister referred to violence that could be predicted in the future. Under existing legislation, if there has been a violent incident—a bank robbery, a shooting, a bomb or whatever—it is reasonable for the police to want to question anybody and everybody who was near it. That would be acceptable, but my hon. Friend seems to be extending that power a little in that the police have only to say that they think it would be useful, because of any potential incident, to be able to require the removal of any covering.

Beverley Hughes: I shall explain to hon. Members, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish requested, the circumstances in which the power will be used and how many times the existing power, with its threshold of serious violence, has been used. During the

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May day demonstrations, central London was designated an area where face masks could be seized. That gives hon. Members an idea of the judgment that the police are using in these circumstances. They are considering an event that will take place in a specific location which could be used not only to indulge in violent behaviour but to commit many other offences. It would clearly be open to people whose motives were associated with terrorism or serious crime to use the camouflage of a large public event to perpetrate certain acts.


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