Power to Stop and Question

Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 20th June 1991.

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Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 17, line 5, leave out ("and question any person") and insert ("any person for so long as is necessary in order to question him").

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney , Peterborough

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The purpose of the amendment is to clarify the powers to stop and question conferred by clause 23. In Committee, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) expressed concern that, in some instances, the power was being used effectively as a power to detain persons for longer than was necessary to question them about the matters covered by subsection (1). This is the second Lords amendment to have arisen, at least in part, as a consequence of what was said in Committee by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. We considered his points carefully, and subsequently tabled the amendment in another place to ensure that the clause would not be regarded as a power to detain people for longer than necessary.

The only powers to detain persons for a significant period are those provided by clause 18—the Army arrest power—and clause 94, which allows persons' movements to be restricted during a house or vehicle search. In both cases, the maximum period for which persons can be detained is four hours, unless a further period of detention is authorised by the police.

The amendment is intended as a modest safeguard. I hope that it will be welcomed by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and by the House.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

In so far as the amendment limits the power to stop and question to the period required for questioning, it should prove a useful means of preventing harassment and what is regarded on occcasion as undue persecution by the security forces—the use of delaying tactics before people are actually questioned. We therefore welcome the amendment, which should go a long way towards enabling us to gain the support for the security forces that is currently needed. People will feel that they are being treated fairly, rather than being unduly harassed and delayed.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon , Newry and Armagh

I thank the Minister for his kind words. It would be churlish of me not to welcome what he has said, in part at least.

Welcoming the amendment, however, is almost akin to welcoming the news that one is going to be not hanged but half hanged. That is of course an exaggerated analogy, but I should like to take this opportunity to repeat a plea that I constantly make to the Minister.

In emergency legislation, we must always safeguard the rights of the individual, whoever that individual may be. The iniquitous business of stopping people on the street —especially young people—under guard of guns, and searching and questioning them, is not only humiliating; it is bad policing and bad military tactics, and completely counter-productive.

Question put and agreed to.