Motion A

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

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Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 3:46, 26 April 2023

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