Clause 24

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 18th January 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Search for unlawfullly detained persons

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Given that we have passed clause 22, which gives a pretty wide definition of powers of entry, I do not see why clause 24 is necessary.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I do not think that I have ever heard the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire be so brief, concise and controversial all at once.

Sir Nicholas, it is generous of you to allow time for Committee members to make points on each of the clauses in stand part debates. My point is small and relates to the drafting of clause 24(1), which states:

“A member of Her Majesty’s forces on duty who reasonably believes that a person is unlawfully detained in such circumstances that his life is in danger may enter and search any premises for the purpose of ascertaining whether the person is detained there.”

I stress that the words “a person” are used twice in clause 24. It is unfortunate that the opening words of subsection (2) are, “A person”. That is confusing because it implies, wrongly, that that person is somebody other than a member of Her Majesty’s forces. For the purposes of complete clarity and the  understanding of the clause, it would be helpful if the opening words of subsection (2) were also “A member of Her Majesty’s forces”, rather than “A person”. It is a minor point, but it would assist understanding of the clause.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

In response to earlier debates, the Minister explained that the Army is intended to be down to garrison strength and its personnel will very rarely be on duty, which means that they will perform policing duties very rarely. On that basis, I do not know why the Bill goes to such lengths to confer policing powers. The police already get such powers under draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes, and the matter is already governed by common law. Like the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, I have to ask what the justification is for going any further.

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

I have said that what we seek to putin place through the clauses that we are debatingthis afternoon has been arrived at after careful consideration of the types of scenario that may pertain and require the police to have certain powers. The clause describes one of the scenarios with which we believe the Army should be empowered to deal. I emphasise, however, that use of the power must be authorised by a commissioned officer. We recognise that it is a serious matter and that a commissioned officer should have to give approval.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle is right to say that the police already have sufficient powers under statute and common law to take action to save life and limb. The power in the Bill applies only to the armed forces. For the reasons I mentioned earlier, it is unlikely to be used because it is increasingly unlikely that the Army will be deployed in operational situations in Northern Ireland. However, should the circumstances arise, the Army needs to be able to deal with them. If someone has been kidnapped or imprisoned against their will, it is important that the Army, as well as the police, should be able to deal with it.

In answer to the short speech and question of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, we need the powers because if someone has been kidnapped and if the Army are first to come across it, they will need to deal with it urgently. The clause gives them the power to do so.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

My intervention may be slightly longer than my speech, Sir Nicholas, but I hope that it will be within the usual constraints.

The Minister has not addressed my concern, which is that we do not need clause 24 because it is perfectly obvious that clause 22(1) covers the same circumstances. More worrying is the fact that clause 24 does not seem to impose the restrictions of authorisation outlined in detail in clause 22. I do not see why the Minister thinks clause 24 is necessary. It gives much more power to members of Her Majesty’s forces than clause 22 but without the authorisation limitations outlined in clause 22.

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

The simple answer to the hon. Gentleman’s further probing question is that clause 22 deals only with powers of entry. Clause 24 deals with  powers of search and entry. We took considerable care when drafting those powers to ensure that they are the minimum required in the circumstances that pertain. It is necessary to have such powers in place. A situation may arise in which they could save peoples’ lives.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

What the Minister says is important; we need clarification on the record. By implication, he is saying that clause 22 does not give powers of search and entry but merely of entry. That is the only logical way to interpret what he said. That is worrying, because it means that a constable can go into premises but do nothing more. Will the Minister explain exactly what clause 22 does permit, as it could one day be of significance in court?

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

Entry to premises may be necessary in the course of operations for the preservation of the peace and the maintenance of order. That clause deals with the powers of entry alone. I want to make clearto the hon. Gentleman the scenario that we want to deal with through clause 24. If someone has been kidnapped, imprisoned or held against their will, their life may be at risk. In such circumstances, we believe that the Army needs those additional powers.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The more the Minister answers, the more confused I become. He says that clause 22 refers only to the power of entry. The sort of scenario that I painted when the hon. Member for Tewkesbury was speaking was the example of a house being used by people who were involved in rioting or whatever, and that the police or the Army had to enter in the interest of maintaining the peace. Is the Minister saying that the Army could not look into cupboards or under the stairs or under beds to see if people were hiding there? Are they allowed only to go through the door?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify my remarks. Clause 22 gives the power of entry. Powers given elsewhere in the Bill enable Army personnel to take further appropriate action. For example, schedule 3, which we have just dealt with, gives the power to seize explosives. Having been given the power to enter, the Army can take further action under the powers given in schedule 3. Hon. Members will see that, throughout the Bill, the Army is given other powers that maybe required in the scenario that pertains. Initially, however, we need to give the Army the power to enter, which is given in clause 22. Clause 24 gives additional powers in relation to detained persons.

Finally, I can tell the hon. Member for North Down that I will happily go away and look at “a person”, “the person” and “a member of Her Majesty’s forces” and ensure that all the appropriate phrases are in order.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.