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Public Order Bill

Volume 731: debated on Monday 24 April 2023

Consideration of Lords message

Clause 11

Powers to stop and search without suspicion

I beg to move,

That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 6H and 6J.

The Public Order Bill is about giving the police the tools they need to tackle the highly disruptive protest tactics we have seen in recent months, and indeed today, which have blocked ambulances, delayed passengers making important journeys, prevented children from getting to school and patients from getting to hospital, and at times held the capital city to ransom. I do not wish to detain the House for any longer than necessary, because we have debated this Bill numerous times in recent months and it has undoubtedly been given the scrutiny the British people want and expect. It is time for that delay to end and for this Bill to become law.

The other place has once more voted to amend clause 11, the power to stop and search without suspicion—although it is worth saying that that power can only be used if a police officer reasonably believes that certain protest-related offences will happen in the very near future, so it is not a power that can be used wholly arbitrarily. It is most disappointing to see that vote after this elected Chamber disagreed with their Lordships in their last amendments.

As my noble colleague explained in the other place, it is our view that the changes are unnecessary. First, a legal framework already exists for all stop-and-search powers. Under section 3.8 of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code A, the code of practice for powers to stop and search, police officers have to give their name or identification number, the police station to which they are attached and grounds for every single stop and search, essentially replicating the proposal in their Lordships’ motion 6H. Those criteria are covered in the GOWISELY mnemonic drilled into every police officer.

Secondly, it is our view that the requirement for police forces to establish a charter on the use of powers would cause unnecessary burdens on police forces and officers, something the Opposition have been concerned about throughout this Bill’s passage. Plenty of long-established safeguards already exist for stop-and-search powers. Additionally, we have supported the National Police Chiefs’ Council in its publication of national guidance on the use of body-worn video, which includes encouraging forces to share footage with external scrutiny groups to support transparency and reflective practice and learning.

On reporting on the use of stop-and-search powers, I would like to reassure the House that the Home Office already publishes an annual statistical bulletin, which outlines in detail the information gathered during each stop-and-search incident. That reporting will be conducted for the use of the new stop-and-search powers, both suspicion-led and suspicionless.

Finally, on publishing a statement giving reasons for the use of powers, as the Government reiterated in the other place, we recognise that communication on the use of these powers is a fundamental element of building trust and confidence between a force and the community it serves. The majority of forces, including the Metropolitan Police Service, already communicate their section 60 authorisations, and I know that communities appreciate knowing the details of the geographical area, time limits and justification for the authorisation. Those forces will continue that practice for these new powers.

Nevertheless, as the noble Lord Sharpe of Epsom committed to in the other place, the Government will amend PACE code A to require that, where it is operationally practical to do so, forces must communicate the extent of the area authorised for the suspicionless stop and search, the duration of an order and the reasons for that order. This Government commit to the spirit of what their Lordships are asking for, in their proposed new subsection (9D) of clause 11, through amendments to PACE code A. We will also amend PACE code A to place data collection within the legislative framework. It will include a breakdown of both suspicion-led and suspicionless searches cross referenced with protected characteristics such as age, sex and ethnicity.

I hope that those clear commitments—made in this House and in the other place, and reiterated here today—will satisfy hon. Members. Making changes to PACE code A is the right way to address those issues. The amendments to PACE code A will ensure consistency across all stop-and-search powers and allow for a full and robust consultation with external stakeholders, providing the right balance between tackling disruptive protesters and protecting the rights of each citizen where the powers are used. For those reasons, I hope that the House will agree with the Home Secretary in respectfully disagreeing with their Lordships’ amendments 6H and 6J.

I rise to speak against the Government’s motion to disagree with Lords amendments 6H and 6J, which we support.

The amendments seek to do two things: first, to instruct officers to give their name, badge number and reason for stopping anyone they search under the new suspicionless stop-and-search powers, and secondly, to compel all police forces to set up a charter—which they would have to consult on, publish and independently evaluate—on the use of their suspicionless stop-and-search powers. To be clear, the amendments have nothing to do with patients not getting to hospital; nothing to do with blocking roads; nothing to do with whether stop and search without suspicion actually takes place. They are to do with the manner in which suspicionless stop and search is conducted.

The amendments are direct recommendations from Louise Casey’s report—although she would go further and apply them to all stop and searches. Baroness Casey’s review of the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service is a 300-page tour de force. The Home secretary welcomed the review and said:

“Accepting Baroness Casey’s findings is not incompatible with supporting the institution of policing and the vast majority of brave men and women who uphold the highest professional standards.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2023; Vol. 730, c. 165.]

The Prime Minister said:

“There needs to be a change in culture and leadership, and I know that the new Metropolitan commissioner will no doubt reflect on the findings of Louise’s report, but is already making changes and that's right, because what was happening before is simply shocking and unacceptable.”

He is right. Officers right across the Met are desperate to see those improvements put in place and action taken to rebuild the confidence of Londoners.

Labour tabled Lords amendments 6H and 6J to clause 11 to help put into legislation some of the improvements recommended by Baroness Casey, and it is very disappointing and surprising that the Government have tabled a motion to disagree. Clause 11 brings wide-ranging powers for the police to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest, including anyone who happens to be walking through the area. The Government’s proposals risk further damaging the delicate relationship between the police and the public by significantly expanding stop-and-search powers to a protest context.

We agree that stop and search is a really important tool. The Minister has said on many occasions that stop and search is important for looking for weapons, and of course, we absolutely support that. We support suspicionless stop and searches—or section 60s—when serious violence, or terrorism, has occurred. But it is important to reflect that we are talking about using the suspicionless stop-and-search power not for terrorism or serious violence, but for protests—it is about searching for glue, a padlock, a microphone or a speaker. That will not have been agreed by the chief superintendent but by an inspector, because the Government rejected our amendment to make that change. Really, clause 11 should have been removed from the Bill, but we are not here to debate whether we should have suspicionless stop and search because that debate has concluded. Today, we are debating sensible, important changes to the Government’s clause to insert some safeguards into a wide-ranging power and mitigate some of its potential adverse impacts.

Why do the Opposition object to implementing some of the key elements of the Lords amendments in PACE code A, where most regulations relating to this issue already sit? They can be updated relatively easily if necessary, so is not PACE code A the right place to do this? In relation to Louise Casey’s recommendation, she did not specify that these changes should happen in primary legislation. We are doing these things, just in PACE code A.

My understanding is that the agreement to include some aspects of the amendments in PACE code A does not go the whole way towards what we are suggesting in this legislation. The attitude from the Government—that plenty of long-established safeguards already exist, as the Minister said at the start of his contribution—is wrong. We have lots of regulations in PACE code A and other places that are clearly not always adhered to. Louise Casey has identified this as a problem, she has made a suggestion and we suggest putting it in the Bill, which I think is a reasonable response.

We know that stop and searches can go wrong when there is a communication failure from the officers carrying out the search. We welcome the changes announced in the Lords, although we do not know exactly what the changes to PACE code A will be, or how or when they will happen. Our colleagues in the other place tried to add points about communication into the Bill and suggested increasing the seniority of the officer allowing a suspicionless stop and search, but both amendments were rejected. Baroness Casey suggests as a minimum that Met officers should be required to give their name, their shoulder number, the grounds for the stop and a receipt confirming the details of the stop. Lords motion A1 built on Louise Casey’s recommendations and attempted to add them to the legislation.

It is worth remembering that a recent report by Crest Advisory examining the experience of black communities nationally of stop and search found that 77% of black adults support the use of stop and search in relation to suspicion of carrying a weapon, but that less than half of those who have been stopped and searched felt that the police had communicated well with them or explained what would happen.

It would be helpful to understand whether the Minister agrees with Baroness Casey’s recommendations in full and, if he does not, whether he thinks she is wrong or believes that something else should be done instead. The Casey report was devastating, and Ministers have so far been unable to offer any solutions to make the reforms we need in policing. Here is an opportunity for the Minister to signal the Government’s intent to make those reforms. We have heard the warnings from former police officers that some of the powers in the Bill risk diminishing trust in public institutions. The Peel principles on policing by consent said that

“the police are the public and the public are the police”.

The Home Secretary said in her statement to the House on the Casey review:

“When it comes to changing the law or introducing any frameworks that are necessary, we in the Home Office will do that”.—[Official Report, 21 March 2023; Vol. 730, c. 167.]

Here is a chance for the Home Secretary to keep her word. It will not change anything in terms of who can be stopped; it will just make the process more transparent and better for everyone. On the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, wouldn’t that be a good thing to do? I urge Members across the House to back the Lords amendments and reject the Government’s motion tonight.

I find myself, I am afraid, in agreement with the Opposition spokesperson. I also support the Casey recommendations, based as they were on a horrifying report about the behaviour of the Met over the years. Let us be clear: no Government of any persuasion have managed to get the Met to behave—and not just the Met; other police forces, too—in a manner that is acceptable to the public, bearing in mind that there have been Governments of both orientations since Stephen Lawrence.

The second point I would make very quickly is that when the Home Secretary in 2010—my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), for those who do not remember—limited stop and search, she did not do so out of an excess of liberal sympathy. She did so because, at that point in time, stop and search was being used in such a way that it caused serious race relations problems in several parts of the country. That was because stop and search was largely targeted at stopping violence, and at that point—it may well still be true today—the perpetrators of knife crime and the victims of knife crime mostly came from minority communities. Although minority communities themselves were not happy about the operation of the system, they understood why it was there. That was a different order of magnitude from using suspicionless stop and search to control demonstrations.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that we should have some fairly fierce legislation—which we do have now—for dealing with people who deliberately destroy the lives of the public, or uproot and disrupt the lives of the public. I am a great believer in the right of demonstration, but I do not think it should go beyond a certain level. That is why I support the Lords amendment to put this provision on the face of the Bill.

To respond to the Minister’s question to the Opposition spokeswoman, we should turn the question on its head: why should it not be on the face of the Bill? After all, that would broadcast in clear terms what we want to happen. We want the police to behave in a respectful and careful manner when they use this power. Indeed, I am slightly surprised that the Lords amendments did not also include making sure that video footage from the body cameras was available, including to the lawyers of the people who were stopped and searched after the event, if need be.

I think this is a worthwhile amendment. As has been said, I think it is very much in line with the Casey report, and we as a Government have to set our minds to ensuring that every recommendation of the Casey report is put in place and to returning the Metropolitan police and other police forces to the level of public respect that we wish they had now.

I, too, rise to speak in support of the Lords amendments. These are amendments about suspicionless stop and search, and we need to draw a breath and remind ourselves that suspicionless stop and search really is a significant power. It is a hugely invasive, intrusive and arbitrary police tactic that causes incredible inconvenience for those who are impacted, and that is something that has not seemed to register at all with the Government throughout the entire process of discussing clause 11.

From the Casey report, we also know of the hugely significant impact that these powers can have on black and minority ethnic communities in particular, so it is plain wrong to be pressing on when trust has been undermined by a series of horrendous stories, particularly regarding the Metropolitan police, but far from exclusively. Nobody in this Chamber is saying that suspicionless stop and search powers are never, ever appropriate, but there must be serious justifications for them. Of course, there are serious justifications when it comes to terrorism or serious violence, but the powers in the Bill apply in circumstances that do not come remotely close to justifying their use. In some circumstances, we are talking about an inspector having a suspicion that somebody somewhere might commit a public nuisance. That is absolutely no basis for setting up a suspicionless stop and search regime, so this is an appallingly inappropriate expansion of such powers at a time when Casey has called for a reset of practice with regard to them.

As such, we support these Lords amendments. The arguments in favour of them have been set out comprehensively in the last two speeches that we have heard. If anything, the amendments are very limited and do not go anywhere near far enough, but they are just about better than nothing, and they may provide some reassurance for those who are going to be at the sharp end of such searches. We therefore support them and disagree with the Government motion.

I return to trust, which is the basis of policing by consent. We need trust in the police, not just so that when people pick up the phone they get assistance, but from an intelligence perspective as well. One concern that I have had consistently throughout the debate on the Bill is that, in eroding that trust, we will fail to get the intelligence that we need in order to prevent some of the offences that the Government are attempting to stop via the Bill.

The Minister has pointed out the additions to the PACE code, but I wonder whether, if those in the other place had not persisted in their course in relation to suspicionless stop and search, we would have got that climbdown from the Government. I agree with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) that we need this provision on the face of the Bill. The reality is that when we look separately at section 60 searches—again, this is from the Casey report—it does not appear that a sudden surge in use had any effect on the underlying trend.

I have deep concerns that if the Government are successful in disagreeing with the Lords amendments today, which I suspect they might be, we will miss the opportunity of the Casey report and, several years from now, we will be standing in this place debating the fact that—we told the House so—stop and search does not work.

I do not want to rehearse at great length points I have made previously, but I reiterate in response to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), that the Government believe that these powers, which are to be used in limited circumstances, are necessary pre-emptively to prevent people who are going equipped to disrupt the day-to-day lives of fellow citizens, whether it is with equipment to allow them to lock on to pieces of critical national infrastructure, to glue themselves to roads or to climb up gantries and attach themselves to equipment over the M25. They go equipped—it is an intentional, planned activity—and there are occasions when it will be necessary for the police to conduct stop and searches where they reasonably believe that a crime may be committed, even when no suspicion attaches to a particular individual.

I reiterate my point that the substance or key points of the amendments either are covered or will be covered by PACE code A. In relation to Lords amendment 6H, as I said, the officer giving their name and their badge number, the details of the stop they consider relevant and the grounds for the search are already covered by paragraph 3.8 of PACE code A. It is in there already, and officers do it already. In relation to issuing a statement giving the reasons for these particular powers, we will make sure that PACE code A sets that out even more clearly. The amendments have either been implemented already, or we are committed to implementing their substance and spirit using PACE code A.

Why are we using PACE code A, rather than putting the amendments in the Bill? First, it is for consistency. These sorts of conditions are set already in PACE code A, and we want to be consistent with how things operate already. Furthermore, when setting out guidelines, it is generally better to use instruments such as PACE code A or regulations, because where changes or updates are needed, it is much easier to do that by amending secondary legislation, guidelines or codes of practice, rather than by going back and amending primary legislation, which can happen only infrequently.

Those are the reasons we have taken the approach we are taking. There is a good rationale for that, and I therefore urge the House to join the Home Secretary in respectfully disagreeing with their lordships on Lords amendments 6H and 6J.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 6H and 6J.

Lords amendments 6H and 6J disagreed to.

Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 6H and 6J;

That Chris Philp, Scott Mann, James Sunderland, Shaun Bailey, Sarah Jones, Gerald Jones and Stuart C. McDonald be members of the Committee;

That Chris Philp be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.

Committee of Public Accounts


That Ashley Dalton be added to the Committee of Public Accounts.—(Sir Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Selection Committee.)