Skip to main content

Stop-and-search Powers

Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2011

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State updated the House this morning on plans to make amendments to powers of stop and search in Northern Ireland. These powers are essential in Northern Ireland for tackling the threat from terrorism. They have prevented attacks, saved lives and led to arrests and convictions. The Police Service of Northern Ireland uses all available legislation to deal with the terrorist threat. Oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place to ensure that powers are used properly.

I thank the Minister for that response and for the statement that has been placed in the Library. The use of section 44 powers has undoubtedly saved lives in Northern Ireland, along with powers under the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. What assurances can he give the House that the PSNI will in no way be hampered in its efforts to disrupt and prevent terrorist activities?

That is an entirely legitimate question. The changes that we are making are to bring legislation in Northern Ireland into line with changes to section 44. The hon. Gentleman should be reassured, because, as he would imagine, we have been discussing these matters closely with the PSNI. It has a range of other powers at its disposal, but I agree that it would be a retrograde step to limit its powers at what is a difficult time in Northern Ireland. The proposed amendment will not do that.

Will the Minister kindly confirm the precise details of the Army’s powers of stop and search if deployed in Northern Ireland?

With your leave, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their generous tributes to my young constituent—only 20 years of age—David Dalzell, who fought alongside his fellow Rangers in 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment with great courage, enthusiasm and pride, but sadly lost his life in a tragic accident in Afghanistan at the weekend. I thank all Members for their comments today.

I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s comments. I can confirm that there are no plans to change the powers of stop and search for the military in Northern Ireland.

How can the Minister justify not changing the Army’s powers of stop and search in Northern Ireland, which exceed those granted to the police under the 2007 Act? They are not subject to annual renewal by Parliament as emergency provisions, as they were throughout the years of the troubles, and are now permanent and not subject to any of the accountability checks that apply to police powers?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the rising terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, and he will recognise the part played by the military’s bomb disposal units and the need to go about their business, not least in his own city of Londonderry, where unfortunately we had an incident recently.

When the police in Northern Ireland have used stop-and-search powers, they have used them when there is a reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity. Will the Minister reassure the House that that will continue to be the case? Dissident republican activity is on the rise, and those powers are required principally and forcibly by the police to thwart that terrorist threat.

Look, we want to make those powers watertight; we do not wish to water them down. It is because the PSNI has used those powers proportionately that we are where we are with section 44, and the Home Secretary was clear in saying that. She went to Northern Ireland and specifically said that the PSNI had been behaving properly, but we do not want anything we do in Northern Ireland to be subject to a possible challenge. That is why we are taking that action, and why a code of practice will be worked out in conjunction with the PSNI—as I say, to make the powers that we have watertight, not to water them down.