Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 29th October 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 5:30 pm, 29th October 2018

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has explained, the amendments relate to the new power to seize flags and other articles provided for in Clause 2(4). Under Section 13(1) of the 2000 Act, it is an offence to wear or display in a public place an item of clothing or other article in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. The seizure power in Clause 2 is intended to ensure that the police and the CPS have the best evidence to pursue a prosecution for a Section 13(1) offence.

Of course, the police already have powers to seize evidence following an arrest, but in some circumstances, particularly in the context of policing a march or demonstration, arresting an individual may not always be an option if the legal tests in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for making an arrest are not satisfied; or arrest may not be the appropriate policing response at that time if, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, it is judged that it would provoke further disorder. In such a case, if the police wish to take action against a person displaying an item such as a flag or banner, instead of arresting the individual, the officer may choose to report them for summons on suspicion of committing an offence under Section 13(1) of the 2000 Act.

The new power introduced by Clause 2(4) would enable the officer, in these circumstances, to seize an item such as a flag which they reasonably believe to be evidence of the Section 13(1) offence in the absence of an arrest. The officer must be satisfied that seizure is necessary to prevent the evidence being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed. By preventing the loss or destruction of such items, this power will better support investigations and will provide and better preserve more evidence to help take forward prosecutions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, highlighted, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, mentioned on the previous amendment, this provision will have different implications in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK. This is because of the unique role that flags and banners associated with certain organisations in Northern Ireland—some of which are proscribed—can have, and the particular approach taken to policing this issue in Northern Ireland. The Government are very much alive to this issue, and I am happy today to give noble Lords the assurance that they seek. We have fully consulted relevant partners in Northern Ireland, including the PSNI and the Department of Justice, in the development and introduction of this policy. Those partners are well aware of it and are content with it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether we had consulted any other organisations, and I was not quite sure which she might have had in mind.