Motion A

Public Order Bill - Commons Reason – in the House of Lords at 3:46 pm on 26 April 2023.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom:

Moved by Lord Sharpe of Epsom

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 6H and 6J to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 6K.

6K: Because it is not necessary to amend the stop and search powers contained in Clause 11.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their engagement throughout the passage of this Bill. As I have already said, the Bill has undoubtedly received the scrutiny that the British people would want and expect, and it is only right to acknowledge that, through the scrutiny of this Chamber, important compromises have been made along the way.

I do not wish to detain noble Lords for longer than necessary. We have debated the contents of this Bill scrupulously and there remains just one disagreement. It is still the Government’s position that we do not support the changes proposed by your Lordships to Clause 11 on the power to stop and search without suspicion. This has been reiterated by the other place, which voted to disagree with your Lordships’ Motions 6H and 6J. Our position has been, and remains, that these changes are unnecessary.

As I mentioned in the previous debate, I remind noble Lords that a legal framework already exists for all stop and search powers. Section 3.8 of PACE Code A requires an officer conducting a search to give the following information to the person being searched: that they are being detained for the purposes of a search; the officer’s name and the name of the police station to which the officer is attached; the legal search power that is being exercised; the grounds for the search; and that they are entitled to a copy of the record of the search and can ask for this within three months from the date of the search. I have already committed, as has the Policing Minister in the other place, to amending PACE Code A to further improve transparency of the use of all stop and search powers. We will make it a requirement to communicate the extent of the area authorised for the suspicionless stop and search, the duration of an order and the reasons for the order where it is operationally practical to do so.

There is a good reason for these changes to be made to PACE Code A and not to the Public Order Bill, which is consistency. We want these changes to apply across the board to all stop and search powers, not just those being debated today. Placing them in the Bill would create one rule for stop and search for protests and another for stop and search for other purposes. This would inherently complicate officers’ training, increasing the chance that these powers are misused. I am sure that all noble Lords agree that this is something we must minimise.

I would also like to reassure all noble Lords that amending PACE Code A does not deny these changes to the principle of stop and search-appropriate scrutiny. Changes to the code require a full consultation with external stakeholders, such as the APCC, MOPAC, the NPCC, the Bar Council, the Law Society and others on the proposed changes and must be brought back to the House for us to consult upon before they are enacted into law.

Finally, on the requirement for a charter, it remains our view that this would be unnecessarily burdensome. The legislation already makes it clear when these powers can be used, and this is bolstered further by the additional requirements for the use of stop and search contained within PACE Code A. This will provide the right balance between tackling these disruptive protesters and protecting the rights of each citizen when these powers are used, so I call on all noble Lords not to insist on their amendments and to pass the Bill as presented. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, the Minister said that there is only one disagreement remaining. He was, of course, referring formally to what the House as a whole disagrees about; but we on these Benches have opposed police stop and search in relation to protest from day one, as any stop and search power will have a chilling effect on those wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These are fundamental human rights that are even more important to those who feel excluded from the parliamentary process, such as black and other minority-ethnic people. These groups are less likely to be registered to vote, less likely to have the correct form of voter ID even if they are registered to vote, and more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Black people, for example, are between seven and 17 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people, depending on whether the power used is with or without suspicion. That is despite the legal safe- guards the Minister referred to.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in response to the Baroness Casey Review, accepts the fundamental need to reset relationships between the police and the public, especially on the back of the findings of racism, misogyny and homophobia. Sir Mark Rowley acknowledges the past tendency of the police to impose tactics, rather than collaborate with, listen to and engage with communities. That is exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, said needed to happen, and the wording of the Lords amendment that we should insist on today is taken exactly from the Baroness Casey Review.

On the one hand, we have the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, both pulling in one direction, wanting stop and search to be based on collaboration, listening and engaging. On the other hand, we have this Government pulling in the other direction, rejecting the Lords amendment that would require police forces to draw up a charter on the use of stop and search, in consultation with local communities. This House should insist on the implementation of the recommendations of the Baroness Casey Review and not reject them.

I understand that some noble Lords have been concerned about the precise wording of the amendment. But as the commissioner has found to his cost, not accepting the exact wording of the Baroness Casey Review can result in diverting attention away from actually getting on and doing things instead of debating the meaning of words. However, with other important votes to come this afternoon, and without the support of the Labour Opposition, we appear to have reached the end of the road.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and many others for the detailed scrutiny and the way this Chamber has tried to hold the Government to account. To be fair, the Government have made one or two changes with respect to suspicionless stop and search, and I will go to them in a moment. But before we do, it is important to reiterate that the Bill is about giving powers to the police that the Government say they need, where—I think it is worth repeating—many of us believe they have the powers necessary to deal with the protests that have caused such alarm in government and beyond over the last few months.

In the last couple of months, it has come down to stop and search without suspicion—for the avoidance of doubt, to deal with protest rather than knife crime, terrorism or serious offences such as those. I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, has agreed to in the amendments to PACE Code A: to require, where operationally practical, to communicate the extent of the area authorised for suspicionless stop and search, the duration of the order and the reasons for it. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said that this would be important to include in any change to the PACE code, so I thank the Government for listening and including it, as well as for placing data collection in the legislative framework of PACE Code A and therefore including a breakdown of suspicionless stop and search by age, sex and ethnicity. Can the Minister confirm my understanding of the changes that the Government are proposing?

While it is welcome, it is to say the least a missed opportunity, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, to respond to the Casey review. If noble Lords refer to page 22 of that review when they return to their offices, they will find that the amendments we put forward, which were supported by the House, are a complete lift from what the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, recommended. My contention is that, given their significance, it was and should have been a real necessity for the Government to put them in the Bill. If things were working with respect to PACE Code A, why was she so insistent that, to restore trust and confidence in the police, this needed to be placed in the Bill? The Government have rejected that, saying that it is fine because of what is in PACE Code A.

Let me share the view expressed on Monday in the other place by David Davis MP:

“why should it not be on the face of the Bill? After all, that would broadcast in clear terms what we want to happen”.

Many noble Lords said this, including the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I. That was precisely the point: not to tuck it away in regulation but to say clearly that, such is the significance of suspicionless stop and search related to protest, the Government would put it in the Bill and demonstrate to everyone what they believe should happen. They rejected that for what I consider to be no good reason. It was not only David Davis; Wendy Chamberlain MP said that, in line with the Casey review,

“we need this provision on the face of the Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/23; cols. 550-51.]

The Government say that they absolutely agree with the Casey review and accept its recommendations. Why then do they choose to ignore what the noble Baroness believes is one of the most important things that the Government need to do to restore trust and confidence in the operation of suspicionless stop and search? It is a real missed opportunity and chance for the Government to demonstrate how serious they are about the use of this power and the need to restore that confidence.

We accept that the Minister and the Government have moved, and we will not take this any further. However, the Government have missed an opportunity to state in the Bill what should happen, and I think that is to be regretted quite significantly because it would have spoken to the communities out there who mistrust the police. The Government should have got behind what the Casey review said, included it in the Bill and avoided any doubt. In spite of the point of difference that remains with us, given that I think the use of suspicion in stop and search with respect to protest is a bridge too far, by and large it is fair to say —it would be churlish not to—that the Minister has moved.

Whether it is with respect to this, or other policy matters we will be debating in the next few weeks, the Government of the day need to have the confidence to govern and not panic in response to the latest headlines

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 4:00, 26 April 2023

My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships by repeating my profound concerns about this Bill at a time when peaceful protest is under attack all over the world, and policing is in such a parlous state in our own country. I must thank all noble Lords who supported the modest improvement that includes some protection for journalists who report on protests, without fear or favour. It is a small but vital protection, and came about because of the biggest defeat of the Government in this House, by about 100 votes that included many incredibly senior and distinguished Conservative noble Lords. I am grateful to everyone who supported that provision, which will now pass into law as a result of this otherwise terrible Bill. I must thank the Minister for the way he has engaged inside and outside the Chamber, and for perhaps helping the Government to see a little sense on that vital protection for journalists.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

Just for the record, I am absolutely furious about the Bill. I think the Government have panicked. It is unworthy of any Government who think freedom of speech is important. Shame on you all.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank almost all noble Lords for their contributions to another fruitful debate. As I have already said, there is no doubt that the Bill received the scrutiny it deserves. I will not go on at great length, but noble Lords have raised the subject of the Casey review. To remind the House I point out that the review said that, as a minimum, Met officers should be required to give their name, their shoulder number, the grounds for the stop and search and a receipt confirming the details of the stop. As I outlined in my opening remarks, it is fairly clear that our amendments to Section 3.8 of PACE Code A go beyond that. I accept the point the noble Lord made about the face of the Bill, but PACE codes are statutory.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the data that we will collect. I refer to a previous debate and reiterate what was said then:

“The Home Office already publishes an annual statistics bulletin which analyses the data from forces across England and Wales. We will also amend PACE Code A to place data collection within the legislative framework. This will include a breakdown of both suspicion-led and suspicionless searches, cross-referenced with protected characteristics such as age, sex and ethnicity”.—[Official Report, 28/3/23; col.131.]

The British public are rightly sick of the disruption that has been caused by a very selfish minority and expect the Government to act. That is what this Bill does, and it is time for it to become law.

Motion A agreed.