Clause 20

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 18th January 2007.

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Stop and question

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in clause 20, page 16, line 11, leave out ‘necessary’ and insert ‘reasonable’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 19, in clause 20, page 16, line 12, at end insert

‘, if he suspects that he may be able to provide information about a recent explosion or another recent incident endangering life, or the effects thereof.’.

No. 20, in clause 20, page 16, line 14, leave out ‘necessary’ and insert ‘reasonable’.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The amendments refer to the stop and question powers of a member of Her Majesty’s forces on duty or a constable. The clause says:

“A member of Her Majesty’s forces on duty or a constable may stop a person for so long as is necessary to question him to ascertain his identity and movements.”

Why is “necessary” used rather than “reasonable”, which is more frequently used in such cases? Another amendment in the group before us would qualify subsection (1) by adding

“if he suspects that he may be able to provide information about a recent explosion or another recent incident endangering life, or the effects thereof.”

My amendments would offer a belt and braces approach: one tries to change the wording to “reasonable” rather than “necessary”; and another would add the provision that there must be a good reason to stop and question people. Why has the Minister approached the issue as outlined in the clause?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

It is always an interesting stage in Committee when we start debating the difference between words like “reasonable” and “necessary”. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. For the understanding of the court, “necessary” has a better and clearer meaning than “reasonable”. “Reasonable” would cast the mind over a wider range of circumstances, and the important point is that the provision takes into account the mind of the officer  when they make their decision to carry out their actions. Their mind cannot lack certainty or clarity when they make that decision. If they were to make a decision that turns out to have been unnecessary, it would be discovered in due course and they would have to face up to the consequences. “Necessary” is clearer in law than “reasonable”, and we want to provide for certainty in such circumstances.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The Minister knows that “reasonable” is the most important word in the legal system, because, as we discussed in a previous sitting, the man on the Clapham omnibus uses it to determine what is reasonable. We cannot discard the word; it is in almost if not every Bill that we pass. Why is “necessary” used here? If we consider the matter in terms of the person being stopped, “necessary” means potentially forever.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about “reasonable” and its significance, but he must consider a situation in which an officer has to make a decision about whether to stop and question an individual. The certainty provided by “necessary” enables the officer to make a quick decision, which they will need to make in the circumstances. “Reasonable” would cause them to reflect longer in order to satisfy themselves that their actions were reasonable. In that period something may happen: the person may disappear or an event may take place. We seek to provide for certainty in the mind of the officer when they make that decision. “Necessary” does so; “reasonable” would make for wider consideration.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.