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Power To Stop And Question

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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`In section 18(2) of the 1978 Act the words "to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or", and the words ", or both" shall be deleted.'.— [Mr. Archer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 29.

I am sorry that the literary style of new clause 10 did not meet with the approval of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and I hope that he finds new clause 12 more pleasing.

We continue to deal with the problems arising from the power to stop people and to do various other things to them, such as question or search them. Section 18 of the principal Act enables the forces to stop and question someone. Already we have found ourselves once again in difficulties about how these various powers fit together.

In Committee we observed that the obligation on a member of the public to answer questions put to him by members of the forces was a serious inroad into the right of silence which is a much vaunted feature of our constitution. We did not seek to remove the obligation, but we observed that the penalty for refusing to answer, which runs to a maximum of six months' imprisonment, seemed to be draconian. The new clause seeks to remove that penalty, leaving the alternative penalty of a fine of up to £ 400.

I note that in amendment No. 29 the Government have given us all that we asked for and more. I welcome the prospect of the Minister speaking to the amendment, so I shall not delay the House further.

It would be churlish of me not to respond to the almost pathetic appeal which was addressed to me by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). I am afraid that my answer will disappoint him : I prefer Government amendment No. 29 to his new clause.

9 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

As the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) has acknowledged, Government amendment No. 29 seeks to achieve the same effect as new clause 12. It makes two changes to section 18 of the 1978 Act, both of which arise from discussion in Committee. The first resolves the drafting point which was raised by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and makes it clear that the power to stop and question persons includes the power to ask what they know about any recent explosions and other recent incidents which have endangered life.

The second part of the amendment abolishes the penalty of imprisonment for the offence of failing to stop or refusing to answer questions. In Committee the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) raised this matter, and on consideration the Government agree that the penalty of imprisonment is disproportionate to the offence.

I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West moved his new clause, but, in the event that he did and that he now withdraws it, I should be happy formally to move amendment No. 29 at the end of this brief debate.

For the avoidance of doubt, may I say that it was not my intention to move the new clause.

Order. The Chair must deem that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) moved his new clause. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman wish to withdraw his new clause?

Having got myself into a procedural difficulty, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) will be called in due course formally to move Government amendment No. 29.