Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I shall speak also to the next three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper, which I shall move in their proper place at the appropriate time. I will explain, in turn, all the orders, which were laid before Parliament on 10 May 2012.
The Terrorism Act 2000 (Codes of Practice for the Exercise of Stop and Search Powers) Order 2012 reflects a recommendation in the Government’s review of counterterrorism and security powers, published in January 2011. The review recommended that stop and search powers under Sections 44 to 47 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allowed police officers to stop and search persons without any reasonable suspicion that the person was a terrorist, should be repealed and replaced with a more focused power.
Section 47A of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 provides for a considerably more stringent test to be met before a police officer of ACPO rank may authorise the exercise of powers to stop and search persons and vehicles without reasonable suspicion. In effect, the Act places the powers provided by the Terrorism Act 2000 (Remedial) Order 2011 on a permanent footing. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 also amends the counterterrorism stop and search powers in the Terrorism Act 2000, which require reasonable suspicion to enable searches of vehicles or their occupants.
The codes of practice, which govern the use of terrorism stop and search powers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, set out detailed requirements for the making of an authorisation and the exercise of the powers. They reflect the significantly greater thresholds for the use of the powers and reflect lessons from the experience of the now repealed Section 44 powers.
The new stop and search powers, and the robust statutory framework provided by these codes, provide the police with the powers they need to protect the public while ensuring that there are robust safeguards to prevent a return to the previous excessive use of stop and search without suspicion.
The next two orders—the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Code of Practice for the Video Recording with Sound of Post-Charge Questioning) Order 2012 and the Terrorism Act 2000 (Video Recording with Sound of Interviews and Associated Code of Practice) Order 2012—also reflect a recommendation from the Government’s review of counterterrorism powers. That review recommended that the provisions contained in the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 which enable the post-charge questioning of terrorist suspects should be commenced. This could help in individual prosecutions and may encourage terrorists who have been arrested and charged to assist investigations. The Act requires that any post-charge interviews of suspects must be video-recorded with sound and that a code of practice must be issued to provide guidance on that recording. It also provides that the relevant PACE codes of practice must make provision for post-charge questioning.
Accordingly, we are revising the relevant PACE codes and introducing a new code of practice for the video-recording with sound of interviews of individuals detained in respect of terrorism or terrorism-related offences. We have decided, as an additional safeguard, to require that interviews conducted pre-charge under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 should also be video-recorded, as should interviews under Schedule 7 to that Act. This reflects a commitment made by the previous Government during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. If the House approves these codes, we will commence the substantive powers shortly afterwards.
Lastly, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Codes C, G and H) Order 2012 is also before the Committee. This order makes changes to the PACE codes of practice relating to detention, treatment and questioning in Code C, power of arrest in Code G, and the detention, treatment and questioning of suspected terrorists in Code H.
Other than the changes to Code H relating to post-charge questioning, which I have already alluded to, the most significant changes to Codes C and H relate to two areas: increasing safeguards in the procedure to be followed by the police where a detainee changes their mind about wanting legal advice, and clarifying what the custody officer can delegate to other staff in order to help the efficient operation of custody suites, along with a number of other changes to reduce the administrative burden on custody officers and staff.
There are a number of other technical changes to Codes C and H which I do not propose to go through individually, but, obviously, if the noble Baroness— I do not see any other noble Lords here—wishes to ask any more detailed questions on them, I will deal with them in due course.
The changes to Code G, alongside what is now Section 149 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, deliver on three coalition commitments by giving to police officers who are considering making an arrest guidance on deciding whether an individual was acting in self-defence, to protect another or to maintain discipline in a school. There is further guidance to police officers on arresting those who have attended voluntarily for questioning.
The revised PACE codes were published in draft format on 1 November for statutory consultation in accordance with Section 67 of PACE, in parallel with the consultation on the new video-recording code of practice. A summary of consultation responses and a detailed table of the changes for each code were attached to and published alongside the Explanatory Memorandum.
These codes of practice provide invaluable guidance to both police officers and the public on how the police should use their powers fairly and effectively. Furthermore, the video-recording codes will provide an important safeguard that will enable the post-charge questioning powers provided by the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 to be commenced. I commend the orders and their attendant codes of practice to the Committee. As I said, I will move the other three orders in due course once we have dealt with this one.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and for information on the four orders before us today. For most of my research on this matter, I felt at a distinct disadvantage. I hope that the comments that I am about to make do not become a regular feature of our debates in Grand Committee or on the Floor of the House, but I have to say that the Home Office website really is a disgrace. I understand that it has not been accessible since we returned from Recess. I have been unable to access via the website either the codes of practice or the consultation; nor have I been able to respond to the consultation. My questions will therefore have to reflect the paucity of information that I have been able to obtain.
I know that the Minister likes to be helpful and his private office contacted me to say that it would look into this matter, for which I was grateful. I was grateful, too, to the parliamentary adviser at the Home Office, who was able to send some information to us. However, he was unable to access it until today—it came over at 1.55 pm. There were 356 pages. I can read pretty fast, but not that fast. I hope that the Minister can take my comments back, because it would have been helpful to have information on the significant changes being made, albeit in a digested form, and a summary of responses to the consultation. It would be helpful to have that information always made available if it is not going to be available on the website. I hope that some mighty experts will resolve this matter; otherwise, as I have threatened previously, I will phone the Minister on a Sunday afternoon to get the information that I need while I am working on these issues.
We agree with tighter restrictions on stop and search. As I think the Minister knows, and as my colleagues have said in the other place, the powers were being used more widely than originally intended in the legislation. Indeed, former Home Secretary Alan Johnson had already taken some action in that area and provisional data had shown quite a significant drop in the number of stop-and-search cases from 2009 to 2010. We support sensible measures that will bring the legislation more closely into line with the original intention behind stop and search.
I have some specific questions—as I said, I was unable to obtain a copy of the consultation and have only the Explanatory Notes to work from. If the Minister does not have answers to them, I will be very happy for him to write to me with the information. The noble Lord said that there were 11 responses in the Explanatory Notes, of which the majority were in favour. Who were these responses from, since some but obviously not all of them were listed, and which organisations were not in favour or had objections to the changes being made? What issues did they raise with their concerns and what changes were made to the draft order following the consultation responses that came in?
Turning to the other two orders on counterterrorism and video recording, again, can the Minister say something about the issues raised in the consultations? I have the consultation responses on the code of practice on Codes C, G and H but not specifically on video recording, although there is some information in there. There is obviously a crossover. However, if other issues were raised, by whom were they raised and what changes were made to these two specific orders on video recording as a result of the consultation responses?
On the Police and Criminal Evidence Act order, I would like to commend those who were able to get some good information for the shadow Ministers who are looking at these issues. I was pleased to see a number of points being taken on board, particularly when potentially vulnerable people are being questioned and on mental health issues. A lot of the representations that were made in response to the consultation were taken on board. I hope the Minister understands that I feel rather limited, given the lack of information available. If that could be resolved for future orders and if he can answer my questions either now or in writing, that would be appreciated.
My Lords, I start with an abject apology on behalf of both myself and the Home Office in response to the noble Baroness’s complaints about the website. I have raised it within the department but I will now go back to it. The first thing I had better do is find out which of us five junior Ministers has responsibility for the website, if any at all, and make sure that one of us looks personally at these problems to ensure that we can sort it out. Obviously, the noble Baroness should not have to wait until 1.55 pm today to get the information that she needs to deal with these matters.
It might also be worth my while offering the noble Baroness my home and mobile numbers so that she can get hold of me in Cumberland on a Sunday afternoon. I will tell her whether I will be available on future Sundays on an ad hoc basis, so that she can occasionally discuss these things. Again, I hope that the noble Baroness will get hold of me in my office whenever she is going to have specific problems because, as she knows from her own extensive experience in government, these matters can very often be resolved by talking about them beforehand. Similarly, if she comes through my office I am always more than happy to arrange a briefing for her to make sure that these things happen. This is a complete apology with my and the department’s mea culpa. We will try to resolve these matters.
Having said that, I was grateful for what I suspect is her and the Official Opposition’s general support for the line down which we are going on these matters. However, I appreciate that she has a number of fairly detailed questions about how we adjusted things as a result of the consultation, who was in favour and who opposed and, on the video recording, the responses to the consultation and what changes we made. On stop and search, the changes were limited as we had previously consulted on a similar remedial code of practice order. These changes related to removing references to random searches, and there was further advice on photography issues.
At this stage, it would probably be better for me to offer to write in greater detail to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, giving fuller, further and better particulars of these matters so that we can get all this right. I note the Official Opposition’s general support for what we are doing, but obviously we have to resolve many more detailed points. Having said that, I hope the noble Baroness will allow me to move this order, and to offer, first, my apology again and, secondly, the guarantee that I will write to her with fuller and better details on the consultation.