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Violent Crime Reduction Bill

Volume 685: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 42.

Page 44, line 35, after “person” insert “other than a member of the security staff of the school”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already inadvertently spoken to this amendment. I hope that your Lordships will spare me the blushes of having to repeat what I said and that you will simply enable me to move the amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I cannot resist the temptation of inviting the Minister to say a little something. When I looked at the amendments in this group, I had no objection to them. The questions that I have simply flow from the practical consequences of the police being involved in searches in schools in such a manner.

During debate on previous amendments, noble Lords talked about the police being called in in circumstances where the staff had been carrying out searches for knives and it had got to the stage where the police might be involved. We have no difficulty with that; we simply wish to ensure that both the staff and the pupils are protected as much as possible throughout any such searches. However, perhaps I may ask a “what if” question.

Where a search has been carried out and a knife has been found or there is a suspicion that a knife will be found and the police have been brought in, what if, in addition to or as an alternative to a knife, the police find some other prohibited matter such as cannabis? What could the consequences of that be? Would the police take action against the student or pupil, depending on the age of the person? In the future, after this SI has winged its way enlarging the number of fixed penalties for possession of cannabis, will they think of imposing on-the-spot fines on pupils? Would that power under Clause 15 of the Police and Justice Bill be delegated to the teaching staff to impose? Ramifications could follow what is a perfectly acceptable extension of search powers.

That occurred to me only when I saw the government amendments. I do not know whether the Minister has been briefed on such matters. This is a new area of more comprehensive searches which should be for the protection of all but which may have some consequences that we need to know will be dealt with properly. At the moment, for example, if a young person is in possession of cannabis, it is often thought more appropriate that he or she is given counselling and medical help rather than being prosecuted immediately. Whether that is right or wrong, one has to consider whether that would be superseded by the imposition of a fixed penalty fine or other matters if the police were brought in to a search at an early stage. I wonder whether that is something that the Government have considered when tabling these amendments.

My Lords, obviously some thought has been given to these issues, not just in relation to this set of amendments. It is clearly something that schools already have to think about. I am sure that from time to time police officers are called into schools. Even in my day—perhaps slightly more innocent days—police officers sometimes appeared on the premises. Some of my colleagues were not always the best behaved. I could regale the House with one or two stories.

The situation depends on the circumstances and on what other materials are found; it also depends on how the police and the school together decide to deal with the matter. I do not like to hide behind clichés, but it becomes an operational issue. In any event, the police tend to take care in such situations and deal with matters as sensitively as they can, having regard to the fact that schools are primarily places of learning and places where we try to make good use of our time.

Yes, it is something that is thought about; no doubt it is something that will be considered when guidance on the issue is put together. I know that there is LEA guidance going back to 1997, entitled School Security: Dealing with Troublemakers, although I have not read it recently. No doubt this is something that was thought about then. Much advice is given to teachers and headmasters on how to deal with these issues. We take such matters seriously. We are considering the situation and no doubt it is something that schools have to consider in any event. I am sorry that I cannot be more specific, but we are trying to focus on one issue which, as the noble Baroness says, raises others.

My Lords, in the light of Clause 15 and the fact that a statutory instrument will extend the fixed penalties for possession of cannabis, perhaps I may invite the Minister to give a stronger commitment. Will the Government consider, as a matter of urgency, consulting teaching staff before fixed penalties are extended to the possession of cannabis in schools?

While I am on my feet—it may be thought to be the reason why I rose in the first place—I indicate that to assist business tonight I will not move my next amendment, which is on what is familiarly called “happy slapping”.

My Lords, I will agree to send the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have contributed to our debates a notice of what practice and guidance is currently offered. I take the point about Clause 15 and the extension of fixed penalty notices, and I have no doubt that that is already under active consideration. I will ensure that her comments are drawn to the attention of the appropriate Ministers and I will endeavour to return to her with more details.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

Page 45, line 24, leave out “has the same meaning as insection 550A” and insert “, in relation to a school, means-

(a) any teacher who works at the school, and (b) any other person who, with the authority of the head teacher, has lawful control or charge of pupils for whom education is being provided at the school; “member of the security staff” means a member of the staff whose work at the school consists wholly or mainly of security-related activities;”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Clause 43 [Power to search further education students for weapons]:

Page 45, line 39, leave out “believing” and insert “suspecting”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Clause 44 [Power to search persons in attendance centres for weapons]:

Page 47, line 10, leave out “believing” and insert “suspecting”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause-

“AMENDMENT OF POLICE POWER TO SEARCH SCHOOLS ETC. FOR WEAPONS

In section 139B of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (c. 33) (power of entry to search for knives etc. and offensive weapons), in subsection (1) for “believing” substitute “suspecting”.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 47 [Corresponding provision for Northern Ireland]:

Page 49, line 12, after “33” insert “, (Increase of maximum sentences for offences of having knives etc.)”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Weapons, etc.: corresponding provisions for Northern Ireland]:

Page 66, line 24, leave out “paragraph 4” and insert “paragraphs 4 and 5”

Page 70, line 16, leave out “regulations” and insert “order”

Page 70, line 30, at end insert-

“Amendment of police power to search schools etc. for weapons In section 139B of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (c. 33) (power of entry to search for knives etc. and offensive weapons), in subsection (1) for “believing” substitute “suspecting”.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 53 had been re-tabled as Amendment No. 54A.]

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Before Clause 55, insert the following new clause-

“OFFENCE OF WEARING MASK ETC.

(1) Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him or her, shall at any public assembly, public procession, public rally or public meeting or any sporting event or entertainment-

(a) wear any mask, cowl or disguise or otherwise conceal his features, or (b) carry or possess any mask, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable-

(i) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £500, or both; (ii) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years, or a fine, or both. (2) The wearing of-

(a) facial make-up or colours at any sporting event, (b) facial make-up, colours or a mask at any carnival or fancy dress function or other similar entertainment, or (c) the wearing of veils, hijabs, burkas or niqabs by females for religious reasons, shall not be an offence under this section. (3) A balaclava, helmet, ski mask or similar item of clothing or motor cycle helmet shall be deemed to be a mask or disguise for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) and (b) if the court (or jury) is satisfied that it was intended to be used as such.

(4) The wearing or carrying in the course of his duties of any item of protective clothing by any police officer or member of the security or emergency services shall be deemed to be with lawful authority.

(5) For the purposes of this section-

(a) a “public procession” and “public assembly” shall have the same meaning as in section 16 of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) (interpretation), (b) a “public meeting” means a meeting held in a public place as defined in section 16 of the Public Order Act 1986. (6) This section shall not extend to Northern Ireland.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, about a fortnight ago, I was telephoned by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon who described to me in great detail the content of this amendment. She also told me that there was a problem in her family and that she might not be able to speak to it. Sadly, her mother died last Thursday night, so she is in a period of mourning and has asked me to move this amendment, which I gladly do. I know that I will not be able to move it in as good a manner as my noble friend Lady Miller, but I shall do my best.

The purpose of this amendment is to make it an offence to wear or carry a mask at any public assembly, procession, rally or meeting, with certain defined exceptions. Before I explain the simple but detailed provisions of this amendment, I would like to remind your Lordships of the historical background. In the distant past, even when a public protest degenerated and violence occurred, the precipitators, including the leaders, did not hide their faces. I remember seeing reruns of the newsreels of the anti-fascist riots in the East End of London in the late 1930s in which every face was clearly visible. If we fast-forward 50 years to the 1980s, the Grunwick dispute generated a fair amount of intimidating behaviour, but the faces in the newsreels were clearly visible. During the coalminers’ strike, which was particularly violent, the faces of the leaders and the men involved were clearly visible. Indeed, Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, complained that the police singled him out and hit him over the head with a riot shield.

However, in the 1980s, there was a significant change of behaviour at protests. I think it goes back to the poll tax protests. I have a recollection of a picture of a masked protestor heaving a scaffold pole through the window of a parked car. At riots in the north of England in the early 2000s, masked rioters were a feature. We have now seen them at anti-war demonstrations, animal rights protests, including the violent campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, anti-globalisation demonstrations, anti-hunting and pro-hunting protests and at protests about the Danish cartoons and the Pope’s recent comments about Islam.

That incomplete list of events is not confined to any one group or political outlook. Each of these demonstrations generating different degrees of violence featured some participants whose faces were hidden. In some cases, the apparent ringleaders could be seen speaking into walkie-talkies or on mobile phones, presumably giving instructions to their troops. Quite often, the organisers of the event would complain that their peaceful protest had been hijacked by outsiders bent on trouble—the usual suspects from rent-a-mob and agit-prop. I have newspaper photographs of masked rioters who broke into the Foreign Office in 1997. On 14 April 1997, the Daily Telegraph reported that the organisers complained that:

“The protest march was hijacked by anarchists and left-wing hooligans”.

On 15 December 1997, the Daily Mail captioned a photograph:

“Hooded mob strike with iron bars and baseball bats”.

Not only is any violence in any circumstances in a public protest totally unacceptable, it is improper that the police should be unable to identify the perpetrators to enable them to be arrested there and then or, perhaps, at a later time when tempers have cooled. A rather futile attempt to solve the problem of masked rioters was made in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which gave the police power to require a person to remove any item which the officer was satisfied was being worn wholly or mainly to conceal the wearer’s identity. I say that that attempt was rather futile because in the riot in the City of London on 18 June 1999, damage worth some£2 million was done, some by persons who had been given £30 each, free transport and packed lunches. According the written replies given to my noble friend Lady Miller by the late-lamented Lord Williams of Mostyn, despite the huge amount of criminality at that event, a mere seven items were seized by the police from individuals, none of whom was arrested. In fact, no arrests were made under the provisions of that Act at that event.

I turn to the details of the amendment. Subsection (1) makes it an offence to wear or carry a mask or other form of disguise at any public assembly of various sorts. The mere carrying of a mask is an offence, because otherwise someone could simply whip it off and put it in his pocket as the police approached him. The wording of the subsection, including the penalties and the onus of proof, follows the wording of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and various subsequent offensive weapons Acts that have been on the statute book for more than 50 years, which the police regard as an effective tool not only for charging wrongdoers but for heading off crimes before they happen.

Subsection (2) provides for what may be regarded as necessary exceptions to the strict rule: the practice of sports fans painting their faces with their team colours; masks worn at carnivals or fancy dress events; and veils and similar garments worn by women for religious reasons. Subsection (1) also provides for a person to establish that he or she has a reasonable excuse. Perhaps a person has some facial disfigurement or is shielding him or herself from the weather. Those are all possibilities, but those issues could be decided by the courts. Whether sunglasses are a disguise is also a fact to be decided by the court. That may not be too difficult if the alleged offence occurred on a dull winter day, but I am aware that the fashionistas believe that shades, as they are called, are hugely attractive and appealing and wear them even on the darkest nights.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my friends, I believe that the same applies to hoodies. That gave the Government some difficulty when Earl Carnarvon—again, late and lamented—raised an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill in 1998 with similar intent. The new clause provides that balaclava helmets, ski masks and motor cycle helmets worn by pedestrians, which are the disguises of choice of rioters, shall be regarded as disguises if the court or jury concludes that that is why they were being worn or carried. The police and security forces are exempted from the operation of the new clause in the same way as they are exempted in the various offensive weapons Acts.

Subsection (5) defines public processions, public assemblies and public meetings in the terms of the established definitions in the Public Order Act 1986. In accordance with the precedents of similar Acts, the amendment does not apply to Northern Ireland, which already has its own legislation on the subject. In the debate on Lord Carnarvon’s amendment in Committee on 31 March 1998, Lord Williams of Mostyn said that the government were “warming” to the idea. Eight years on, the time has come to do something practical about it. If he was warming to the idea then, I am sure that he would have been fully supportive now.

The amendment does not in any way inhibit the right to hold a peaceful—I stress the word peaceful—protest, rally or procession. That is a right that we all support, even when we fundamentally do not support its objectives. The amendment places an effective weapon in the hands of the police that will severely discourage ill-disposed persons from mischief. If it does not, it will enable the police to arrest them on the spot and charge them with a substantive offence. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady O'Cathain for taking up the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Miller. As my noble friend said, this debate has its roots long ago in previous discussions. It will be interesting to see just how government thinking has developed on these matters. I begin by making it absolutely clear that I believe that it is wrong for people to wear masks or other disguises at public protests with the specific intention of preventing the police from properly identifying them when they intentionally break the law by damaging property, committing an assault, engaging in public disorder or otherwise breaking laws that are already on the statute book.

However, my noble friend will not be surprised when I say that the problem lies in finding the best way to ensure that the police have the powers that will enable them to prosecute those who engage in public disorder or other criminal offences.

I note that the police already have the power, under Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to require a person to remove a mask if they go on a protest or engage in public assembly. My noble friend seeks to go further and make it a criminal offence strictly to wear or carry masks in certain circumstances. One of the difficulties flowing immediately from the point made by my noble friend is that she in no way wants to inhibit peaceful protest, which we all hold dear in this country. We have led the world in ensuring that people can protest peacefully, whereas the offence that is created here could be applied to people who are acting peacefully, even though they are wearing a mask. That is one of the difficulties of the amendment. I know that the amendment was tabled with the very best of intentions. It is very difficult to draft legislation. I certainly found it so, and I did not move my own happy-slapping amendment a moment ago, if I can call it that so familiarly, because I appreciate just how difficult it is to ensure that one has a penalty that does not catch the innocent along with those who have anything but innocent intentions.

I am sure that my noble friend will also understand that we have always been very reluctant to support government proposals in the years since 1997, when offences have been created with a reverse burden of proof. We prefer not to approach matters in that way where at all possible, and we are on record as attacking the Government for their attempts to introduce offences that rely on the use of a reverse burden of proof. Unfortunately, of course, that is the route taken by the amendment in its Subsection (1), so I am afraid that I have difficulty with the principle of the amendment.

The amendment would also have practical and apparently unfortunate consequences. For example, anti-war protesters have been known to wear George Bush masks, and Countryside Alliance protesters have been known to wear Tony Blair masks. Let us say that they behave within the current law and protest peacefully. I wonder whether in future they would automatically be guilty of an offence and have to prove in court that they had lawful authority or reasonable excuse to wear those masks. The courts would certainly be full. And what of those who wear masks because of a perfectly innocent fear of repercussions from family members or employers if they are identified as taking part in a protest, albeit a peaceful one in which they behave perfectly well? Should they automatically be guilty of an offence and have to prove in court that they had good reason to behave as they did? It could have unintended consequences.

My noble friend makes very sensitive measures to avoid some of the adverse consequences of proposed new Subsection (1), and I commend those measures, particularly those in her proposed Subsection (2), which would ensure that women who wear veils for religious reasons should not be caught by this proposed new offence. I certainly hope that Parliament will not take action to prevent the wearing of the veil. As my right honourable friend, David Davis—the shadow Home Secretary—made clear yesterday in a newspaper article, he for one would vote against any such law if it were ever brought before the House, as I would. That is a sensitive debate for another day.

The exemption does, however, highlight some of the many problems in achieving proportionality in this new offence. The exemption is for women only. In all seriousness—I am not being at all flippant—I wonder whether there might be a reason for also omitting to protect monks. I live in an area where there are monks on the street; certainly that is not an unusual sight in some parts of the country. They may protest on occasion—I am not sure whether they do—but I would not want them to be covered by the provision. I notice that those in the Box are looking a little puzzled, but perhaps I should not refer to them because they are not in the Chamber. I should say, rather, that there may be those who are puzzled that such an adverse consequence should arise. A monk’s cowl covers as much of the face as the hijab, which is on the list. Indeed, Subsection (1)(a) would specifically criminalise monks, because it refers to a cowl. I realise that that is not intentional.

Subsection (2)(a) lists veils, which puzzles me. The hijab does not cover the face but is included in the list, whereas the chador, which does cover the face, is omitted. It just goes to show that, despite all our efforts, there are different words around the world for items of clothing. Those words might change, and it is very difficult to list the proper definitions satisfactorily in primary legislation.

The added difficulty is that an exemption which refers to the wearing of a veil for religious purposes would put the onus on wearers to prove that they wear them for religious purposes, thus perhaps causing offence which might be justified. I also know that the exemptions in subsection (2) do not mention those who wear masks for medical purposes; for example, those who have been horribly burnt in terrorist outrages and train disasters. They sometimes have to wear masks for months in order to assist the healing process. I am sure that my noble friend has no intention that they should find themselves in court simply to give the reason why they were wearing a mask.

Those are just a few of my random thoughts that came to mind as I read the text of the amendment when it was published last week. I certainly have not sought to consult the police or the CPS on their views about the need for the new offence. I always leave the Government to do that and to inform us. I have, of course, tried to consult those organisations which commonly give us advice. Their approach is very much that the criminal activity that my noble friend is trying to address needs to be stopped; that is, people should not be able to get away with criminal activity merely by covering their faces. My noble friend is right to target that.

However, we do not think that, because of the way in which this new offence is drafted, we could support it: I do not think that it would achieve what my noble friend is trying to do. But it is right that the matter was raised at this stage and I hope that we will be able to talk about it on another occasion in a way that might achieve what my noble friend hopes to do.

My Lords, the creation of an offence of this sort also carries with it the power to arrest. I do not think that it is practical or feasible to call on the police to arrest masked demonstrators in a large demonstration. As the noble Baroness said, we should just think of the number of people wearing Blair or Bush masks in an anti-war demonstration. To put on the police the task of arresting every person wearing a mask is impossible. However, the position is that anyone committing a public order offence or an offence of violence wearing a mask is in for it: it is a very seriously aggravating feature. A far better approach to this problem is to indicate its severity through the sentence passed on a person convicted of a serious public order offence while wearing a mask. That is a far better protection than bringing in a new offence of this sort. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, said, the reverse burden of proof would require the person concerned to prove their innocence. I do not think that that is a feasible way to proceed.

My Lords, I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, in supporting the amendment originally put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to whom we on this side of the House send our condolences for her sad loss. We certainly appreciate that the police should have powers to deal with those who use face coverings to conceal their identity during public demonstrations. Demonstrators involved in intimidatory or violent protests often wear masks or balaclavas, as the noble Baroness said, which hide most of the face. As has been said, that can serve the double purpose of disguising identity and adding to a sense of heightened intimidation.

However, as has already been referenced, there are powers in place to deal with this issue in Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, although the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, said that she thought that they were insufficient. They were amended most recently in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. So, the current situation is that if the police believe that activities may take place in an area that may involve the commission of offences, an officer of or above the rank of inspector may give an authorisation for police officers within a given area for a period of up to 24 hours. Within the area and for the period, the police officer has the power to require the removal of face coverings worn for the purpose of concealing identity and to seize any such items. The officer must be satisfied in each case that the face covering is being worn wholly or mainly to conceal identity.

These powers are not restricted to public assemblies or processions, although the police are most likely to use them in those situations. For example, earlier this year the police issued warnings under Section 60AA for the removal of face coverings during a confrontation between hunt stewards and anti-hunt protestors. The new clause is limited to situations involving large gatherings of people, so it would be of little use where, for example, individuals wearing balaclavas are congregating and the police anticipate that they may be planning a fight. It is defective in that sense.

There are a number of other defects with the proposed new clause. By making it a substantive offence for a person to wear a mask, cowl, disguise or even carry or possess a mask, the new clause treads on the difficult territory of definitions, which I think was the main focus of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. What is actually meant by a “mask”, a “cowl”, a “disguise” or to “otherwise conceal” one’s features? A person could easily conceal their features by placing a wet towel on their face during a rally on a hot summer’s day. Their intention might be quite lawful—to cool down rather than to conceal their identity—but the new clause does not make this distinction and puts the onus on the individual to show that they had reasonable excuse to put a towel over their face or head. I have my own example of this. Thinking back, I recall going on a demonstration wearing a Groucho Marx mask with a flashing red nose and whirling bow tie. My intention was to add to the levity of the event, not to cause distress or intimidation. It certainly made the police officers laugh. Questions of definition and appropriateness come to mind. Another example might be someone attending a sporting event on a cold day. They might put a scarf around their nose and mouth to keep warm. Arguably they have concealed their features, but not necessarily with the intention of hiding their identity.

To our thinking, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, the wording of the current legislation is clearer in that the police can require a person to remove any item which the constable reasonably believes they are wearing wholly or mainly for the purposes of concealing their identity; that is, it is the constable’s judgment that the person is intending to conceal his identity.

Subsection (2) cites a number of exceptions to the offence, but in doing so makes the offence confusing and difficult to enforce. Subsection (2)(b) excludes the wearing of masks,

“at any carnival…or similar entertainment”,

from the offence. While I can see the sense in ensuring that participants in a carnival, most of whom will be wearing decorative costumes and headgear, are not caught, the same cannot be said of onlookers or a general crowd, some of whom might be minded to cause trouble. They might find the wearing of masks very useful indeed.

Subsection (2)(c) provides a defence for,

“the wearing of veils…for religious reasons”.

That is an understandable exemption, but there could be significant issues with it. The Government recognise that requiring Muslim women to remove their veil is sensitive. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Code of Practice A draws attention to the need for caution in respect of face coverings which are worn for legitimate reasons, such as the wearing of veils by Muslim women. The officer must be satisfied in each case that the face covering is being worn wholly or mainly to conceal identity before he requires a person to remove the item. The code also advises that where there may be religious sensitivities about the removal of such items, the officer should permit the item to be removed out of public view. The code goes on to advise that, where practicable, the item should be removed in the presence of an officer of the same sex as the person and out of sight of anyone of the opposite sex.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, very trustingly said that she left it to the Government to seek the views of police officers on law enforcement. That is quite proper. We have sought the informal view of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which points out that, operationally, there is little pressure for such a provision from officers responsible for policing such incidents. The existing legislation is regularly utilised and appears to be effective in dealing with individuals wearing masks or other items used to frustrate means of identification.

The Government believe that police powers should be targeted at events where crimes are likely to take place. We also believe that it should not be a criminal offence per se to wear a mask or other face covering. Rather, a police officer should have the power to require a person whom he reasonably believes is using a mask or other face covering to conceal his identity to remove it and to seize the item. If the person refuses, that person is then committing a criminal offence. The policing of public events is a delicate balance between protecting the rights of those going about their lawful business and permitting lawful protest. The police at the scene of any protest or public rally are best placed to anticipate whether offences are likely to be committed and whether demonstrators are using facial coverings to conceal their identity.

I have already covered the points on legislation and I do not wish to rehearse the arguments again. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for the sensitive way in which she raised, and put on one side, the issue of veils. In broad measure I agree with what she said on the subject. I accept that the debate about the veil and the terms in which it has been conducted is entirely legitimate and I am sure we all have our own views on it. But that should not have a bearing on the outcome of the amendment. There is scope for confusion and the noble Baroness dealt with that very wisely when referring to its potential impact on different holy orders.

With those comments, I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, will feel content to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am not so sure that I am that trusting. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate—my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the Minister.

None of the three responses to the amendment takes enough cognisance of the fact that intimidation in peaceful protesting is quite a feature. I know, as I guard jealously the right to protest, that I would not take part in a protest march if there were people all around me wearing masks—because I would be intimidated for the very reason which forms the basis of this amendment. It would be obvious that some of the people wearing masks were intent on hiding their identity. Why should one want to hide one’s identity in a free country where we are allowed—encouraged in fact—to protest in freedom? It is a point worth making.

I absolutely agree with my noble friend Lady Anelay that the drafting is weak. I do not think for one moment that the amendment was drafted correctly, but I do think it was wise to try to establish the feelings of the House. There have been many occasions when the House has suddenly come to the conclusion that the drafting of amendments and clauses in Bills is weak, and they have been taken away and drafted again. I am not going into chapter and verse because we have all been here long enough to know that.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said the provision would cause difficulties and asks why we would want to ban the wearing of Blair and Bush masks. I say that there should be a banning of all masks. Why were people in this country able to protest for all those years—and I have given examples from the beginning of the 1900s through to the 1980s and 1990s? People did not wear masks then. The practice has crept in, and why should we allow it? It is like everything else—an insidious introduction of one thing then becomes the norm. I do not think it is the norm for the very reason I have already stated—that of intimidation. Men do not feel anything like as intimidated as women; large women do not feel anything like as intimidated as small women, who do not want to take part in protests when they are surrounded by big hulks wearing nasty masks. Your Lordships should put yourselves into the position of people trying to take part in a peaceful protest.

If 20 people are wearing Bush masks, there could be a pile-up in which somebody goes for somebody else and causes grievous bodily harm. How on earth would the police be able to identify the perpetrator of the violence? I still think that there is a problem here. The Minister was very gentle with me about this, knowing that it is a pretty dodgy amendment. But I come back to this point: how can the police get at these people if they are masked? I can see a reductio ad absurdum situation in which a lot of people are wearing Bush and Blair masks. I do not think that there will be any Groucho Marx masks with the red nose and bow ties—they are not intimidating. If we allow this to happen, we will find ourselves, like many other countries, not able to do anything about violent protests.

I understand all the arguments that have been made against the amendment. I pray in aid the fact that Lord Williams of Mostyn said that he was warming to it. There is a feeling in the House, even among those who disagree with the amendment, that it may have some merit. I would like to think that somewhere along the line, this issue might be aired again and action taken. I pray that we do not have a raft of violent demonstrations in which people are badly hurt and no arrests are made because masked perpetrators cannot be identified. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

After Clause 58, insert the following new clause-

“REMOVAL OF SPORTS GROUNDS ETC. FROM PRIVATE SECURITY INDUSTRY REGULATION

In section 4 of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 (c. 12) (exemptions from licensing requirement) after subsection (5) insert-

“(6) A relevant employee who engages in licensable conduct shall not be guilty of an offence under section 3 in respect of that conduct if it is carried out in connection with the use of a certified sports ground or certified sports stand for purposes for which its safety certificate has effect.

(7) In subsection (6) “a relevant employee”, in relation to a certified sports ground or certified sports stand, means a person employed by-

(a) the holder of its safety certificate; (b) a person who manages the ground or stand or occupies the premises where it is or owns an interest in those premises; (c) a company which is in the same group as a company falling within paragraph (b). (8) In subsection (6) the reference to the use of a certified sports ground for purposes for which the safety certificate has effect is a reference to-

(a) the use of the ground for activities specified in a general safety certificate in force in respect of the use of that ground; or (b) the use of the ground, on an occasion specified in a special safety certificate which is so in force, for activities specified in that certificate. (9) In subsection (6) the reference to the use of a certified sports stand for purposes for which the safety certificate has effect is a reference to-

(a) the use of the stand for viewing activities specified in a general safety certificate in force in respect of the use of that stand; or (b) the use of the stand, on an occasion specified in a special safety certificate which is so in force, for viewing activities specified in that certificate. (10) In this section-

“certified sports ground” means a sports ground in respect of which a safety certificate is in force; “certified sports stand” means a sports stand in respect of which a safety certificate is in force; “company”, “holding company” and “subsidiary” have the same meanings as in section 736 of the Companies Act 1985 (c. 6); “group”, in relation to a company, means a holding company and all of its subsidiaries; “safety certificate”, “general safety certificate” and “special safety certificate”- (a) in relation to a sports ground, have the same meanings as in the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 (see sections 1(4) and 17(1) of that Act); and (b) in relation to a sports stand, have the same meanings as in Part 3 of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 (see section 26(2) and (11) of that Act); “sports ground” has the same meaning as in that Act of 1975 (see section 17(1) of that Act); and “sports stand” means a stand within the meaning of Part 3 of that Act of 1987 (see section 26(11) of that Act).””

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment would remove from the remit of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 in-house personnel who undertake the activities of a security operative on any part of a premises that is covered by a safety certificate under either the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 or the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987.

Noble Lords may recall the debate we had on this subject on 17 May this year, when I tabled a similar amendment, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Addington, who speak on sport for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches. I am happy that they both support this amendment, as well as consequential Amendments Nos. 58 and 59. Further contributions in favour of the amendment were also made then by my noble friends Lord Hoyle and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, both of whom have a great knowledge of the sporting world.

It is worth reminding the House briefly of this issue. The Private Security Industry Act 2001 was intended to raise security standards in licensed premises and reduce criminality within the security sector. Unfortunately, the Act has been inadvertently applied to stewards employed by governing bodies of clubs at sporting grounds. There is no evidence of criminality or poor standards in stewarding services at sporting events, yet the cost to licence them under the Security Industry Authority would be prohibitively high. For many stewards involved in quite standard activity the requisite qualifications would cost several hundreds of pounds and would require hours devoted to training time. Clearly, the financial and administrative costs of licensing sufficient stewards to work at events held at ventures such as Twickenham, Lords or the Wimbledon championships would be huge—and we are not talking simply about a loss of financial revenue. As well as posing a threat in increased costs at sporting events it also threatens to divert resources away from investment in effective stewarding to licensing costs and training procedures that are not appropriate.

The amendment tabled in May was withdrawn following the Minister’s reassurance that the Government would consult the sports world thoroughly on this issue and, if appropriate, return to the matter when the Bill reached us here on Report. That is what we are doing today. I pay tribute to the Minister at the Dispatch Box today, Richard Caborn and Vernon Coaker—the Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office—and their officials, who worked diligently with me and the sports sector over the summer to get this issue right. There has been detailed consultation with the sports world, including the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Rugby Football Union, the Rugby Football League, the Football Association, the Central Council of Physical Recreation and others. I thank all those bodies for their contribution to the consultation and the briefing provided to me. I pay tribute to them, too, for the existing standards in place in our sports stadiums, which can truly be described as among the best in the world for the safety and comfort that they offer spectators.

It is worth explaining briefly to the House the specific arrangements that will apply to football grounds under this arrangement. For the official record, I should say that I am the president of the Football Foundation, a body which in its past life as the Football Trust did a huge amount of work to invest in better facilities and safety at football grounds. Much of the credit is due to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who, when he was vice-chairman of the Football Trust, did so much of the essential work that was carried out then.

This amendment will apply also to football, which has a slightly different safety and licensing regime from that applied to other sports, coming under the remit of the Football Licensing Authority. As was previously agreed with the Home Office as a result of the problems that I outlined, football will receive an exemption from the requirements of the Private Security Industry Act 2001. The football authorities in the shape of the Football Association, the Football League and the FA Premier League have all given undertakings to the Home Office that as part of their inclusion within the framework of this amendment they will continue to implement the outlined framework that would have applied under the exemption process. In practice, that means that they will continue to operate effective steward training courses and include a recently introduced module on conflict management. The football authorities have also committed that football clubs will apply criminal record checks to their in-house security staff, who undertake activities that without my amendment would be licensable under the Private Security Industry Act. In recent years, the football authorities have worked hard to ensure that our football grounds are among the safest in the world, and these latest commitments on steward training and qualifications on Criminal Records Bureau checks will further safeguard members of the public attending football matches in this country. I commend the football authorities for the constructive approach they have taken on this issue.

I have been informed by government Ministers that, should this amendment be carried today, its consequences will come into effect immediately upon the Bill receiving Royal Assent. That is important, as it means we will minimise the time that in-house sports stewards and security staff continue to work—technically, at least—contrary to the law.

The amendment is slightly different in approach from that tabled previously. That is because it needs to ensure that all in-house staff—that is, those who are employed rather than contracted—should not be required to be licensed by the SIA when they undertake the activities of a security operative on any part of a premises that is covered by a safety certificate, under either the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 or the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987. The original amendment would only have removed some staff on specific premises who undertook licensable conduct, but not other personnel, including those who supervise certain other people and those who are themselves provided by their employer to a third party.

Will the Minister confirm that he will issue formal guidance notes on how the new measures will apply? It is important that sporting events organisers like the police and the SIA will understand the new arrangements, but clear guidance is also needed on the arrangements that will apply to contracted stewards, who will of course be required to be licensed only if they conduct licensable activity. I urge the Minister to publish a clear definition of licensable activity at sports grounds.

Will the Minister also confirm that in future the legal requirements for ensuring that contracted stewards working at sports grounds who are licensed falls upon the employer of those stewards; that is, the contractor and not the sporting event organiser who has purchased their service? Sports organisations I speak to are concerned that they will still be subjected to unnecessary inquiries and monitoring from the Security Industry Authority. It is important that the Minister clarifies that from the Dispatch Box.

I commend the amendment to the House by reading the following words, which have been sent to me by the Central Council of Physical Recreation. It represents the sporting sector in the UK, and says that,

“this exclusion for sport will come as a great relief to a number of CCPR member organisations, who would otherwise have incurred a very considerable and unwelcome financial and regulatory burden”.

I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall briefly add my words of support for the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. We are talking here about correcting one of the cock-ups of history. The initial Act was not supposed to get into this field at all. It was brought forward in an atmosphere dominated by stories about organised crime starting to get into the bouncer industry, leading to conflict and violence with people wanting to use facilities. That is the background. The Act then swept up huge numbers of groups who did not have any problems.

The Government have an opportunity to put their hands up on behalf of Government as a whole and say, “Occasionally things go wrong, but we will address them”. If they can do that today, they will be doing everyone involved in the legislative process a favour. We will always make mistakes, but if we set the precedent of correcting them when they are identified we will save a lot of time, and I hope that next time we will do it a little quicker.

My Lords, I shall also be brief. On behalf of my noble friend Lord Glentoran I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, as he did in Committee. I add my own support, too. In Committee I raised questions regarding implications for those who run golfing events. I thank the Bill team for the assurances I have been given during the summer that make it clear that the European tour has nothing to fear, because its stewards would not fall foul of this legislation anyway.

My Lords, this is one of those happy occasions where the speaking notes start with the word “accept”. I put on record my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Pendry for raising this important issue in our debate of 17 May and for agreeing at that time to withdraw a previous draft of his amendment until after the conclusion of the Government’s consultation exercise. I thank my noble friend for working closely with Home Office Ministers, officials and the sports sector over the summer to finalise the wording of the amendment which he so helpfully tabled today.

I am also grateful to noble Lords who have played a part in this, including the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Glentoran. I thank them for making it clear during previous debates that the licensing of security staff at sporting and other events is of cross-party concern. This debate has usefully underlined that point. No one is engaging in political point-scoring here. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that I have form on this subject. I was the Minister responsible for taking the Private Security Industry Bill through your Lordships’ House. I believe that at that time the noble Lord, Lord Cope, warned me of unintended consequences. I gave an assurance that the Bill would not undermine the effective and well regulated stewarding of sporting events, in the way it could have done if we had not had this useful amendment.

As my noble friend Lord Pendry mentioned, in March the Home Office published a consultation document which considered the options available for applying the Act to security staff at sports and other events, set out the Government’s views on the options and sought comments on issues related to implementation. The consultation closed on 16 June 2006. The consultation paper made it clear that,

“it is right in principle that the sports and events sector should remain within the scope of the licensing provisions of the Private Security Industry Act”,

and it consulted on the options within that, including whether there were arguments for exemptions or exclusions.

As previously mentioned, my noble friend Lord Pendry initially tabled this amendment during the consultation period. I am grateful to my noble friend for withdrawing it pending the end of that consultation. Over the summer officials discussed the issue further with my noble friend and the relevant bodies and analysed all the comments received on the issue.

In August, the Home Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Vernon Coaker, wrote to all respondents to the consultation to let them know of his decision that all in-house staff who carry out security activities in premises covered by the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 or the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 should be removed from the remit of the 2001 Act.

Ministers have looked at this issue very closely, including at the evidence for and against the licensing of the sports sector and how the requirements of the sports safety legislation reduce risk. There is no evidence of a problem with criminality among the security staff, and no evidence of any public concern about the standards of security staffing. Ministers concluded that the overall risk for events held at premises covered by sports safety legislation is inherently low and that SIA licensing would not bring any significant added value to spectator safety and security over and above that already provided by the safety certificate where one is in force. Consequently Ministers agreed with my noble friend Lord Pendry that officials would work with him to ensure that his amendment to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill removed all those it was intended to remove from the Private Security Industry Act 2001.

The amendment of my noble friend Lord Pendry will also cover football. Ministers considered the responses to the consultation that mentioned football, and on reflection decided that the same evidence that applies to other sports also covers football. Ministers announced in 2005 their intention to grant football an exemption, through which the football authorities were required to show that they had equivalent processes in place to those imposed by the SIA. The two key gaps which were identified were about training on conflict management and criminal records checks, and action by the football authorities to address those gaps was required as a condition of the exemption. The football authorities have undertaken to voluntarily work to those same standards under the amendment. That makes the system much more straightforward without losing any of the safeguards that would have been required under the exemption. This is being addressed through an affirmative order that will amend secondary legislation to give the relevant football bodies the power to undertake CRB checks on football security staff. Work has already begun on this, and it is expected that it will come into force in December.

My noble friend Lord Pendry asked whether the Government would issue formal guidance notes on how the new measures would apply. Officials are still working on the final regulatory impact assessment, which will be published later in the autumn and which will include more detailed information. But it is important to remember that not everyone who works as a sports or events steward needs to be licensed. Those who do not need to be licensed include volunteers, ticket collectors and all safety stewards who do not undertake any guarding responsibilities. Broadly speaking, in-house security staff do not need to be licensed unless they work as manned guards in licensed premises, work as wheel-clampers, provide security services under contract to a third party, or supervise certain other licensable persons.

The Home Office is also developing draft frameworks that will set out the approach that the Secretary of State will take when considering applications for removing activities from the scope of the 2001 Act under the various routes. Those will be published later this year. The organisers of other events that do not take place in sports grounds covered by the amendment will then be able to make applications against those frameworks.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Pendry and to all others who have contributed to the debate. I undertake to write to him on his second question, because I want to make sure that the clarification that he seeks is more precise, and I will of course share that correspondence with other noble Lords who have expressed an interest in the issue. I give notice that I am entirely happy to accept the amendment.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, spoke for the sporting world when he said that if the Minister responded positively there would be a great deal of rejoicing. I was not going to raise the question of the Minister sinning in the 2001 Act; he raised that himself. I assure him that there is not just rejoicing in heaven for the sinner who repenteth, but there will be rejoicing throughout the sporting world when it reads this debate. I thank the Minister for his positive response.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Repeals]:

Page 79, line 24, column 2, at end insert-

“In section 14A(4C), the word “But”.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Page 57, line 7, at end insert-

“( ) section (Mandatory premises licence condition: door supervision);”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Page 57, line 8, leave out “and”

Page 57, line 10, at end insert “; and

(d) section (Removal of sports grounds etc. from private security industry regulation),”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before ten o’clock.