Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 14th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 6:15 pm, 14th November 2018

I thank noble Lords for their points on this amendment. I start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that the IPC has been consulted throughout the drafting of the code.

The interactions between noble Lords probably go to the root of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The section on screening outlined in the Schedule 3 code, which mirrors the existing guidance for the equivalent CT powers, is there to provide ports officers with clarity on the distinction between questions that can be asked by police officers in the ordinary course of their duties with a view to deciding whether to examine someone and questions that are permissible only once a Schedule 3 examination has commenced; that is, those questions designed to elicit information to enable an officer to determine whether the person is or has been concerned in hostile activity.

We have all come across police officers as we go about our daily lives and are used to seeing them on local streets and in tourist hotspots or protecting our national infrastructure. Wherever officers are on the ground, it is reasonable to expect them to interact with the public. It is not only a reasonable expectation but a vital aspect of front-line policing.

Such interactions will vary and depend on the specific purposes. They may range from polite conversation between an officer and a member of the public to a situation where an officer wants to query why a person is acting in a certain way or why they are present in a certain place. In such circumstances, police officers do not rely on specific powers of questioning; rather, they are simply engaging members of the public during their ordinary duties, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pointed out. It is no different when officers are stationed at UK ports.

It would be unusual if officers did not interact with the public in this way. It would be even more unusual if front-line officers were not able to use those interactions to determine whether any further action was needed. It is unfortunate that, in trying to clarify this distinction between what would constitute questioning or interaction during ordinary police duties and questioning that can take place only once a Schedule 3 examination has commenced, the language and intention of the code have somehow been misunderstood.

Let me be clear: what is referred to as “screening” in the draft code is not a prescribed process or procedure that ports officers must adopt before selecting a person for examination. It is a clarification of what questions can be asked, if appropriate, prior to selection for examination, as against the questions that can be asked only during an examination.

It is quite possible that a ports officer will speak to members of the public at a UK port in the course of their duties with no intention of selecting them for an examination of any kind. Of course, the person’s behaviour might lead the officer to consider use of a police power, but Amendment 63A could have the unfortunate implication that, in other contexts and absent specific statutory powers, officers are unable to talk to the public or request to see their documents in the ordinary course of their duties to determine whether they need to take the further step of invoking their legal powers. It would define such questioning as being part of the Schedule 3 examination itself, rather than something that takes place before an examination. All that said, even though I do not agree with the amendment, we will consider whether further clarity is needed in the code before formally laying it before Parliament for a debate and approval by both Houses. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.