Clause 51 - Powers of entry etc

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 8 September 2022.

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

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

With this it will be convenient to consider that schedule 8 be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The clause gives effect to schedule 8, which provides the police with powers of search, entry, seizure and retention in a number of scenarios relating to STPIMs. For the sake of ease, I will cover the clause and the schedule together.

Before I go into the detail of the clause, I remind the Committee that STPIMs will be a tool of last resort. The Government will use every other tool at our disposal before resorting to such significant measures. Again, I remind the Committee that these measures mirror those in the TPIMs regime.

In order to effectively enforce the regime and check an individual is complying with the measures under their STPIM, the police will have the powers they need to enter premises, conduct necessary searches and seize and retain items as necessary. They will also be able to arrest the individual for a “breach of” offence if they fail to grant police access.

Schedule 8 provides powers to the police to enter and search premises without a warrant to locate an individual for the purpose of serving an STPIM notice or another specified notice on them; to search an individual or premises when serving an STPIM notice for the purpose of discovering anything that might breach any measures specified in the STPIM notice; to search premises on suspicion that an individual subject to an STPIM notice has absconded; and to search an individual subject to an STPIM notice for public safety purposes. It provides a power to police with a warrant to search an individual or premises to determine whether an individual is complying with the measures specified in the STPIM notice. There are also powers for a constable to seize and retain items found in the course of such searches.

I remind the Committee that the STPIM itself is kept under review and requires a court’s permission to impose the measure. That means that a court will have already agreed with the assessment of the Secretary of State that the individual meets the meet five conditions in clause 33, which the Committee has already agreed to. That means it is proportionate in terms of a national security determination for the police to be able to undertake the aforementioned activities without a warrant. The powers will be essential to managing and enforcing the measures imposed under STPIMs and, importantly, they provide the right balance between effective powers and safeguards for the rights of the individual.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have a couple of queries on schedule 8, which provides powers of entry, search, seizure and retention in a number of scenarios relating to part 2 notices.

I have queried the use of the word “constable” in legislation before, but it seems to be standard. Paragraph 9(9) states:

“The warrant may be executed by any constable.”

Previous schedules specify certain ranks and specialisms, such as counter-terrorism officers, to undertake such duties. Are we satisfied that further stipulations on who may execute a warrant are not required?

Sub-paragraph (10) states that a warrant issued by a court to search the individual, the individual’s place of residence, or other premises specified by the warrant, expires after 28 days. That period feels a bit odd to me. We want officers to have the flexibility they need, but I cannot imagine a scenario in which they have grounds to apply for a warrant but then take more than 20 days after it is issued to execute it. I am grateful to counter-terrorism police for sharing a bit more about their operations and how these warrants are used, which has provided some reassurance on this front, but will the Minister confirm that a warrant cannot be executed more than once in the 28-day period?

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Clause 51 applies schedule 8, which makes provision about various powers of entry, search, seizure and retention—to enter and search premises for the purpose of personally serving, to search for items that breach the notice, and to search when there is a suspicion of absconding. A warrant is required to search people or premises for the purposes of determining whether an individual is complying with the measures specified in the notice, and the warrant is to be granted only if necessary.

However, some of the powers in paragraph 10 appear to be rather broad, allowing a person to be searched without a warrant to see whether they might be

“in possession of anything that could be used to threaten or harm any person”.

I am not quite sure what that means. Unlike in the case of other warrantless powers, there is no requirement even for suspicion that someone is likely to threaten or cause harm. What is the justification or the reason for that?

Paragraphs 11 and 12 contain very strong powers to retain certain items which are seized, with no time limit other than

“as long as is necessary in all the circumstances.”

There follows a non-exhaustive example of what could represent necessity, but necessary for what? Is there provision for a person to challenge the ongoing retention of property seized by police under these powers? Is there a model for this drafting that has been used elsewhere? If there is, and if a piece warrantless search and retention legislation exists, how frequently is such a measure used?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Member for Halifax asked about the use of the term “constable”. It is standard, and she will realise that mostly it will be counter-terrorist police who lead on STPIMs, and who the most appropriate person is will be reviewed by the operational commander. The use of the term “constable” and the equivalent ranks in other forces and relevant services is standard for these purposes.

The provision on when a warrant may be executed is operationally beneficial to those who may have reason to delay or have to wait for a window to open when action can be taken. I will not go into the potential operational requirements on any element, but clearly they will vary: in some circumstances, it will be appropriate to act immediately; in others, it may be necessary to wait.

The provision on retention for

“as long as is necessary” is also standard, including in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The Bill also contains provisions allowing people to apply to have property returned.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 51 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 8 agreed to.