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The clause is supported strongly by the police. They feel that the lack of such a power in the past has prevented their stopping such anti-social behaviour. Neighbourhoods can be blighted by such a visible and often highly offensive mess. So long as the police use those powers appropriately and proportionatelywhere they reasonably suspect someone of carrying an article to commit criminal damagewe on these Benches can support the amendment.
Lord Renton: In the past 50 years, crime seems to have become even more sophisticated than it used to be. Besides using fast motor cars, criminals now use various other modern inventions to assist them in the pursuit of crime. It is essential that the power of the police to arrest be restricted as little as possible. If the amendment had gone even further, I would have supported it gladly. My noble friend Lady Anelay has made a case that the Government should take very seriously.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: I wish to speak on the amendment, as I am the independent chairman of the chief officer group concerned with race issues in the criminal and civil justice system in West Mercia. Without precise directions, the opportunities for perceptions and realities of discrimination to occur become much greater. Much effort has had to be expended in the post-Stephen Lawrence inquiry environment to check that such abuses do not occur. Therefore, this probing amendment asking the precise directions gives us the possibility of taking precautionary action against very damaging allegations that stop and search, in particular, are prone to bring about.
Lord Dholakia: I am delighted by the comments made by the right reverend Prelate on stop and search. We support the amendment. The clause extends stop-and-search powers and amends the PACE Act 1984 to include the offences under Section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971.
We agree that the powers are reasonable in that there should be reasonable suspicionthere is no difficulty with thatbut we are concerned about how they are used. Stop and search, and how those powers are used, is an area that creates very adversarial relationships between people from ethnic minorities and the police. Only a few years ago, 40 per cent of people stopped and searched in London were from an ethnic minority, predominantly black. At one time, 25 per cent of those stopped and searched nationally were from minorities. That is a very high proportion.
Since then we have seen changes in policing methods, but we have still not seen intelligence-based stop and search. One must sometimes wake up to some areas of black settlement in this country to see how young people feel harassed in how they are stopped and searched.
Putting those arguments to one side, the point remains that if powers of this nature are extended, we wish to ensure that such a statutory instrument order is subject to the resolution of both Houses of Parliament. For that reason, we would certainly support the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for tabling the amendment. I am struck, in particular, by the fact that all noble Lords who supported the amendmentwhich, as the noble Baroness said, is restrictivealso support the clause, which generally widens stop-and-search powers. But I can understand the nervousness. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the right reverend Prelate, who referred to "suspicions" that exist about stop and search. We know that there is a long history, particularly as regards the ethnic dimension, and that for a long time there has been a view that there is over-representation of black and ethnic minorities among those who have become subject to stop-and-search powers. I understand the nervousness, so I can see the value of using the opportunity in Committee to probe the intent behind the clause.
We seek to ensure that we have flexibility in how this important legislation and set of powers operate. It is universally agreed that property damage, graffiti on premises and walls, damage to motor cars and all such incidents are extraordinarily irritating, costly, and debasing and degrading to an environment. For that reason, there has been widespread support for the extension of stop-and-search powers to this area of criminal damage. We see no good reason to create or support a route to limit or restrict that extended power. The noble Baroness said that that was not the real intent behind her amendment but that it was to seek further reflection from the Government on how we see the power working.
If a police officer has a reasonable ground to suspect that he will find an article made, adapted or intended for use in causing any form of criminal damage, it seems entirely reasonable to allow him the power to stop and search the relevant person. As I said, a key focus of our proposal is to attack the growing and very serious problem of graffiti. However, we must bear in mind that there are many other kinds of wilful damage to property where police would benefit from stronger powers to deal with the perpetrators.
Careful safeguards have been put in place for the use of stop-and-search powersthe noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to them. They are contained in PACE and the relevant code of practice, Code A, which is issued under the legislation. We are trying to ensure that it is not just spray paint cans about which the police can be concerned. Property can be defaced and damaged by marker pens, etching
The noble Baroness asked whether guidance would be issued. Guidance will be issued to the police. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, probably knows, the issue is already being discussed with the police authorities, police representatives and the Association of Police Authorities. There is recognition of the value of introducing the new and wider power, but guidance will be very carefully framed so the police use it appropriately. I hope that that has given sufficient comfort to those who supported the amendment.
I can well understand noble Lords' nervousness about any widening of stop-and-search powers. I have campaigned against such changes in the past. But, with this particular offence and the need to do more about graffiti in its many manifestations, the extension of stop-and-search powers is more than justified. I hope that, with those comments, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Elton: Although I agree in principle with the proposal, which is necessary, I wish to utter a word of caution. Stop and search is an area of extraordinary sensitivity, particularly in areas of mixed ethnic population. Extending the quarry of the search virtually to cover such items as felt-tip pens means that an officer can justify almost any stop and search by having found an article that in the possession of most people would be perfectly innocent. I hope, therefore, that the guidelines will be updated to take account of that, and that chief constables will be particularly aware of the sensitivities and be closely attentive to the conduct of their constables in such areas. This is exactly the sort of thing that could spark considerable civil unrest. One reason why PACE was introduced was in response to that danger, and, as I was the Minister who took the legislation through, I say that with feeling.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate and I mark well the words of my noble friend Lord Elton, who, as he said, took through the PACE provisions in the first instance. This is, indeed, a sensitive matter. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester was right to direct attention to the importance of having precise directions in areas of particular sensitivity.
I am encouraged by the Minister's response saying that there will be guidance and that it will be carefully framed. It will have to be to make the provision work flexibly and to gain the respect of people who will be stopped and searched ever more increasingly under these provisions.
Clause 2 of the Bill increases the powers of persons who accompany constables executing search warrants. The clause gives such people the same powers as the constable executing the warrant provided that the person is,
If that is not the case, the person who is accompanying the constable could be given the same sort of leeway as that given to the constable. The purpose of the amendment is to flesh out what happens if the provision is accepted and the search is going ahead. I beg to move.
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