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Caroline Flint: We are very fortunate in this country that people are able to go on public demonstrations and make their views known. In all the campaigns and demonstrations in which I have taken part I have never felt the need to hide my identity. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that people could use the privilege of being allowed to demonstrate near the House of Commons, the Ministry of Defence and secure institutions in the City of London to undertake surveillance and intelligence gathering using cameras and binoculars? If people are doing so, and using a disguise for their activities, it is reasonable to ask what they are doing and why they think a disguise is so important.
Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and in lowering the threshold the clause aims to give the police discretion in judging the events, locations and circumstances in which they feel they need to be able to ask people to remove their disguise so that their identity can be known. It is not unreasonable that the police should have that power.
Andrew Bennett: My hon. Friend gave us one examplethe May day demonstrations in London. On how many other occasions did the police designate areas where masks could be removed? How often was the power used by individual constables during the May day demonstrations?
Clearly, the police are not using that power frequently. They are using it when they judge that an event may be used by people with serious intent in relation to terrorist activities. It is important that the police have the power to ask people to remove their disguise when they believe that the covering is specifically to disguise identity. The clause uses the word "item", which means something that is removable, and does not refer to religious codes, to hair or to anything that does not completely obscure the face. For example, a red nose or a funny hat would not come within the purview of the clause. However, when someone covers their face and their identity is not visible, it is reasonable to allow the police to invoke that power.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The Minister said that a red nose or a funny hat would not come into that category. Surely, however, under the current wording of the clause, anything that concealed identity, making it difficult for the police officer to identify someone, would have to be removed. Is not the Minister mistaken?
Mr. Gerald Howarth: I was tempted to suggest that the proprietor of Harrods might seek to disguise himself as Father Christmas to avoid deportation. However, I wish to make a serious point in response to the important remarks of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). She gave an example in which the police might have to deal with someone in disguise, possibly religious. Surely, given that example, the police will be inhibited from taking appropriate action under the clause if they think that they will be challenged in court every time that they do so. The powers conferred on the police by the clause will be seldom used because the police will be afraid of being attacked for discriminating against people who are wearing religious disguise or religious garb.
Beverley Hughes: The fact that the police have not frequently used the powers is not an argument for their not having them at all. They have used them in circumstances in which they felt they were necessary. When the matter was raised in a Committee debate on what became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, there was a substantial discussion. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) argued strongly that the threshold which, in the Government's view, ought to anticipate offences involving serious violence, was too high. He pressed on the Government his own clause which, he said, was preferable and argued:
I have certainly tried to address most of the points made by hon. Members who have spoken about the clause. I am surprised by the comments of some hon. Members who do not seem to trust the police to exercise those powers sensibly. I understand entirely the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, but I urge him not to press his amendment to a vote. If he does so, it will be resisted.
Ms Abbott: I shall not prolong the debate; there are many important matters to be discussed tonight in this unfortunately curtailed debate. The clause is by no means the most troubling aspect of a troubling portmanteau of legislation. I listened with great care to the Minister's defence of the clause. She said that the clause had been included in response to a rising tide of people taking part
I do not believe that the Minister has made the case for giving the police increased powers by altering the threshold for the power to take away disguises. There can never be a need to give the police increased powers unnecessarily. As I said in an earlier intervention, this is just the kind of scrappy, ill-thought-out measure that will bring into disrepute the sounder, more solidly based measures in the Bill.
Andrew Bennett: I have not been convinced by the Minister, but I do not see that there is a great deal of purpose in pressing the amendment to a Division. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
'(11) This section does not extend to Scotland.'.
Beverley Hughes: The amendments relate to the situation in Scotland. The clause currently extends to Scotland, but the subject matter of the clause, criminal law and public order, is a devolved matter under the Scotland Act 1998. That means that it is for the Scottish Parliament to legislate on such matters for Scotland, unless it agrees that the UK Parliament should do so.
As the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) mentioned earlier, the Scottish Parliament has agreed, under the relevant Sewel motion which it passed last week, to the inclusion in the Bill of various matters on which it would have competence to legislate. However, it chose not to agree to the inclusion in the Bill of the powers to require the removal of disguises. Clause 93 and new section 60AA which it will insert in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 therefore will not extend to Scotland. The powers of the police in Scotland are being examined under the common law to see the extent to which they would already be available. In any event, Scottish Ministers have not ruled out future consideration of the need for such a measure by the Scottish Parliament.
Annabelle Ewing: I shall respond briefly to the Minister. As I said earlier, I fully support the amendments. Whereas the two other matters that form the subject of the retained powers dealt with by the Sewel motion in the Scottish Parliament were clearly not to be covered by the Bill, why was this third issue initially included in the Bill as applying to Scotland but, at the eleventh hour, magically deemed not to apply to Scotland? Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on that.
Beverley Hughes: That is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. As I understand it, the Scottish Parliament has been and still is looking closely at the common law in Scotland. The Parliament believes that there may already