Public Order Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 4:35 pm on 14th March 2023.
Moved by Lord Sharpe of Epsom
That this House do not insist on its Amendments 6, 7, 8, 9 and 36 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 6A, 7A, 8A, 9A and 36A.
6A: Because it is appropriate for the police to be able to exercise the stop and search powers contained in the clause removed by the Lords Amendment.
7A: Because the Amendment is consequential on Lords Amendment 6 to which the Commons disagree.
8A: Because the Amendment is consequential on Lords Amendment 6 to which the Commons disagree.
9A: Because the Amendment is consequential on Lords Amendment 6 to which the Commons disagree.
36A: Because the Amendment is consequential on Lords Amendment 6 to which the Commons disagree.
My Lords, your Lordships’ Amendment 6 and the related consequential amendments remove the power to stop and search without suspicion from the Bill. While I recognise the strength of feeling expressed by noble Lords when considering these amendments during Report, the Government cannot accept the removal of the suspicionless stop and search powers from the Bill. The other place has also disagreed to these amendments for their reasons 6A, 7A, 8A, 9A and 36A. I therefore respectfully encourage the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to reflect on Motion B1, which seeks to overturn this wholly and which I do not think appropriate.
Suspicionless stop and search is a vital tool used to crack down on crime and protect communities, and we see it as entirely appropriate that these measures be extended to tackle highly disruptive protest offences. These are much needed proactive powers. Large protests are fast-paced environments where it is difficult for the police to reach the level of suspicion required for a suspicion-led search. The police should not have so sit by idly where there is a risk that someone will commit a criminal offence, and this is why suspicionless stop and search powers are necessary.
This view is shared HMICFRS, which found that suspicionless search powers would act as a deterrent and help prevent disruption and keep people safe. I want to be clear that the power to conduct a suspicionless search does not mean that anyone at a protest will be at risk of being searched without suspicion. The vast majority of protests in this country are peaceful and non-disruptive. These powers will be used only in the exceptional circumstances where it is likely that people at a protest will go on to commit criminal offences that cause serious disruption to others.
I also want to assure your Lordships, as I have sought to do throughout the passage of this Bill, that the safeguards on existing stop and search powers will apply to these powers, both for suspicion-led and suspicionless stop and search, and that includes body-worn video and PACE codes of practice. The Home Office also publishes extensive data on the use of stop and search to drive transparency. We expect the police to operate in a legitimate, fair and transparent manner, which includes decisions surrounding their use of this power.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has tabled Motion B2. I want to remind the House that the power to conduct a suspicionless stop and search in a public order context will only be used in limited cases where a police officer of or above the rank of inspector reasonably believes that protest-related offences will occur and therefore authorises its use. In such cases, suspicionless stop and searches are limited to a specified locality for a specified period, but no longer than 24 hours. This can be extended for a further 24 hours to a maximum of 48 hours by an officer of or above the rank of superintendent, but it cannot be in place for more than 48 hours.
The reason why we have set out the thresholds and time limitations in this way is that we wanted to keep the legislation as consistent as possible for officers who will be using suspicionless stop and search powers. The amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would set a higher authorisation threshold for suspicionless searches than if officers are searching for a weapon, and limit the initial window that officers would have to use these powers, which has the potential to confuse officers with the well-established Section 60 legislation that we have discussed previously.
Suspicionless stop and search can be authorised only if specific protest-related offences are likely to be committed. These are the offences in this Bill and the offences of obstructing the highway and public nuisance. As the offence of public nuisance is committed so frequently by those who use disruption as a protest tactic, it is nonsensical to remove it from the list of relevant offences. Doing so would completely undermine this power.
The Government recognise that communication is a fundamental element of building trust and confidence between the force and the community it serves. As good practice, most forces already communicate their Section 60 authorisations, and I know that communities appreciate knowing detail on the geographical area, time limits and the background of the issue. Therefore, although I am sympathetic to the final proposed new subsection in the proposed amendment, which would establish in statute a requirement for the force to communicate when the powers are used, I do not think we want to introduce an inconsistency between the Section 60 legislation framework, which does not carry a communication requirement, and the proposed powers in the Bill. I therefore ask that your Lordships’ House does not insist on these amendments.
I must inform the House that if Motion B1 is agreed to, I cannot call Motion B2 by reason of pre-emption.