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Earl Russell: I support the amendments. They appear to me to be sensible and helpful. How far the powers under the Bill in practice will be restricted to the prevention of terrorism is rapidly emerging as one of the relevant points of debate. Prevention of terrorism is an objective which on occasion justifies restrictive powers which one would not wish to use in any other context. However, I cannot help wondering whether the use made in particular of the powers of search will in practice result in more charges on matters of terrorism than on anything else.
All of us nowadays are subject to performance indicators. All of us are aware of pressure to improve our performance according to those indicators. It is perfectly possible to imagine a police officer, either in a state of acute frustration about the operation of those indicators or convinced that he knows who is doing something when he has no actual evidence to prove it, using the powers under Clause 1 to stop and search in an area where he believes that he might find cannabis; and coming up with, let us say, 20 convictions, thus improving his performance no end without any real, reasonable grounds to suspect that he might be detecting potential terrorists.
If the powers under Clause 1 were to be used in anything like that way on even so much as one or two occasions, we can be certain that that would result in a good deal of publicity and ill feeling, and, I am afraid, in a diminishing respect for the law.
Lord Finsberg: The amendment shows a great divide--not between the parties in this Chamber but the politicians, the media and the citizen. I do not believe that the citizen will consider the measure in the light that the two noble Lords have put to us.
Perhaps I may refer to the stop and search powers. For 22 years I represented a London marginal constituency, receiving 80 letters a day. During those 22 years I received precisely one complaint that someone had been stopped and searched. It is, frankly, a matter that I hope my noble friend will take into account. I believe that the normal citizen will recognise that the Bill is not before us for pleasure or for any reason other than to save lives. I do not believe that the arguments that we have heard today, sincere though they are--I do not criticise them in that sense--hold water for the ordinary citizen. It is a different game for politicians and the media.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I should like to make a special plea that ethnic minorities, too, comprise normal, ordinary citizens. We fall into grave danger if we consider that these powers could be aimed at them as though they are aliens in our midst. Many of them have served in the forces--their fathers and mothers too. They are certain to regard themselves as ordinary citizens who wish to see terrorism ended and are prepared to take some discomfort in order to achieve that.
Lord Monkswell: I support the amendment but wish to refer to my remarks and the lack of response from the Minister in the Second Reading debate. I asked about persons having lawful authority or other reasonable excuse for failing to comply, in contravention of the Act. In the break between the Second Reading and Committee stage, I had the opportunity to seek legal advice on what the provision might mean. The advice I was given was that a lawful authority would be an authority that was conferred by a policeman. That is revealing about the powers which we are conferring in the situation that is likely to occur. As I understand it--and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--the police can designate an area and, under the Bill, they would have the powers to stop and search any individual without cause within that area. They will have the powers to require people to move out of it or move about in it and the area will become totally police controlled.
My noble friend Lord McIntosh is right. We should ensure that the police are themselves protected. The insertion of the word "reasonable" will ensure that there is a mechanism for testing in the courts the judgment of the police in the designation of the area and how the police operated. As I understand it, the way in which the Bill is drafted means that it would be impossible for the operations of the police, in the 48-hour period before the Secretary of State becomes involved, to be totally unquestioned. I am sure that it is not the Government's intention that a group of citizens in our country, circumscribed by a boundary determined by the police, should come totally under police control, with virtually no alternative. I am sure that the Government do not
Lord Blyth: I was asked within this building this morning whether the Bill meant that if one had an Irish accent one was liable to be stopped and searched. It is a difficult problem for people from Ireland of whom a small minority support any form of terrorism.
Lord Milverton: There is much talk about liberty and freedom but if we are to have them, surely we should be ready and prepared, in exceptional cases where there is a clear danger, to have intrusions into our liberty and freedom for the safety and security not only of ourselves but of everyone--not only whites but also the ethnic communities. To me all that is being done is reasonable. A lot of nonsense is talked about the danger of the citizen, whoever he or she is, losing his freedom. If we want freedom, then at times we must be prepared for governments to take extraordinary measures which they would not otherwise take. They do not wish to take them, but if there is terror about we must meet it and not be afraid.
Baroness Blatch: That is an appropriate moment for me to intervene on the amendment. I believe that what my noble friend Lord Milverton says is right. Where there is terrorism we must meet it. Those of us who are interested in freedom must accept that inconvenience will go with it.
Clauses 1 and 4 as drafted enable a senior police officer to authorise the exercise of the powers in each case if he forms the view that the use of those powers is appropriate in the circumstances in order to prevent acts of terrorism. That is what the Bill means by the word "expedient". In the case of Clause 1, the authorisation must come from an assistant chief constable. In the case of Clause 4, it must come from an officer of the rank of superintendent or above. The formulation in Clauses 1 and 4 is the same as appears in the existing Section 13A of the Act and elsewhere in the Act. For example, Section 4 provides that the Secretary of State may exercise the power of exclusion if he thinks it expedient to do so to prevent acts of terrorism.
I do not believe that senior police officers would act unreasonably in coming to a decision on the use of the powers. They are well aware of the sensitivities and of the need to carry the public with them. The Secretary of State will issue guidance, as I said, in relation to all the new powers to ensure that they are applied carefully, sensitively and consistently.
In relation to the stop and search of pedestrians, the additional safeguard is provided that authorisation will require confirmation from the Secretary of State within 48 hours. Any unreasonable exercise of the powers could be challenged by way of judicial review. That partly answers the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. The court would decide whether the officer's conclusion that it was expedient to use the power was reasonable.
Reference was made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to possible abuse of power under the proposed Section 13B to improve statistics. I have to say that that is a terribly cynical view of the way in which the police act in this country against the evil of terrorism. It is our belief that the powers will not be used in that way. The authorisation would be unlawful. The safeguard of confirmation of authorisation by the Secretary of State is intended to prevent that happening. However, I do not believe that a police officer would try to use the powers in that way. If he did, it would be revealed in the careful monitoring that goes on throughout the year.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, referred to my lack of response to his question about having a defence inside the cordon. I hope he will accept that I answered it when reminded of it at the end of Second Reading. I repeat that if a policeman decides that because of the particular circumstances at a particular time and in a particular place he needs to cordon off an area and take the powers under what will then be the Act, it would be his judgment at the time. The decision is judicially reviewable, so it can be challenged.
If someone is caught in those circumstances it may be that the reason given by a person at that moment is fully accepted by a policeman and that is an end to it. However, if the policeman believes that there is a case for prosecution, it will still have to be subject to the Director of Public Prosecutions to confirm that the case should go before the courts. If it goes before the courts and the person is given a full opportunity to press his case, his defence of why he was there and that he had good reason to be there, it would be for the courts, quite independently, to make a judgment about the strength of the case put by the individual. I do not think we can be more careful than that in balancing the right of the individual against a very difficult judgment having to be made on the spot by a policeman.
My noble friend Lady Park made a telling point about ethnic minorities. While we are concerned about monitoring and concerned to make sure that any police powers are not exercised in a discriminatory way, I believe quite strongly that they are as deserving of protection and the full effect of these measures before the Committee as any other citizen. That is how I prefer to think of them.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg confirmed a point I made earlier at Second Reading; namely, we do not believe there is a body of evidence that tells us there is overwhelming concern about the inconvenience suffered by those of us who from time to time are caught in an area cordoned off by the police or in a particular security check. At the end of the day, most reasonable people in this country know it is for the good of everybody. Certainly we know that it is about saving lives.
There is a comment that I have longed to make, and it is timely to make it now since this has been such a repetitive issue at the Dispatch Box. I really do wish that noble Lords would spend as much energy and parliamentary time concerning themselves about the victims and the innocent people in this country as they do about the perpetrators of evil.
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