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Policing and Crime Act 2017 (Maritime Enforcement Powers: Code of Practice) Regulations 2017

Volume 788: debated on Monday 22 January 2018

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 provides police officers and other law enforcement with certain powers in the maritime environment so that they are able to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute criminal offences that take place on vessels where the courts in England and Wales have jurisdiction. These provisions close a gap in enforcement powers, ensuring that law enforcement officers are capable of functioning effectively to tackle crime on sea as on land. This is because Section 30 of the Police Act 1996 places a geographical restriction on the exercise of police powers, limiting these to England and Wales and the adjacent waters; that is, the territorial waters which extend to 12 nautical miles.

The maritime provisions, once commenced, will give the police and other law enforcement at sea similar powers to those available to enforcement officers in relation to drug trafficking and modern slavery. The difference is that these powers cover all offences under the law of England and Wales. In summary, these are: the power to stop, board, divert and detain a vessel; the power to search a vessel and obtain information; and the power to arrest and seize any relevant evidence.

The Policing and Crime Act enables law enforcement officers to use these powers in relation to certain ships in international and foreign waters as well as the territorial waters of England, Wales and Scotland. Principally, the vessels will be UK flagged, but law enforcement will also be able to act on non-flagged vessels and foreign ships in certain circumstances in international waters as well as territorial waters. These powers are important because crimes such as rape, murder, firearms offences and grievous bodily harm can take place on UK-registered ships beyond the territorial waters limit, just as they can within those waters or on UK soil. There are other crimes specific to the maritime context, such as illegal fishing, unsafe vessels, piracy and marine theft, which the police must be able to tackle just as effectively as when the crime is committed on land.

Before these new powers are brought into force, a code of practice issued under Section 94 of the Policing and Crime Act will need to be put in place for English and Welsh law enforcement officers to follow when arresting a person under Section 90 of the Act. The code must set out certain rights and entitlements of persons arrested under Section 90, particularly the information to be made available to them on arrest. The Government have now prepared this code of practice, and it was placed before the House on 16 November 2017, together with these regulations. The regulations are necessary to ensure that the code of practice will be in force at the same time that the maritime powers in the Act are commenced.

The code provides guidance as to the information that should be given to a suspect at the time of their arrest. It makes it clear that suspects should be provided with a summary of their rights and warned if it may take more than 24 hours to bring them to a police station. The code will ensure that law enforcement officers provide suspects with information; this includes ensuring that those detained understand what is said to them. Officers will also be obliged to make arrangements to safeguard the health and welfare of arrested persons.

To ensure that the code will be practical and effective, the Government have consulted the law enforcement agencies that will use this code, representatives of the legal profession, devolved Administrations, other external organisations and interested government departments.

Police Scotland is currently drafting equivalent but non-statutory guidance concerning the exercise of its maritime enforcement powers, and we are working closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that this guidance is appropriately aligned. The Northern Ireland provisions will also be covered by non-statutory guidance. The Northern Ireland maritime provisions will be commenced separately to those of England, Wales and Scotland, at a date determined by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The maritime powers in the Policing and Crime Act are essential if we are to ensure that our police and other law enforcement are equipped to be effective at tackling criminality, to enforce the law and to protect the public. However, when these powers are used, it is vital that they are used properly, particularly when a person’s liberty is restricted as under the power of arrest, and that is why the code of practice and these regulations are so important. I ask noble Lords to support the new code, and I commend the regulations to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. I am not sure how illegal fishing is to be enforced against just as effectively as if it was committed on land, but I accept the general point.

We raised concerns during the passing of the primary legislation regarding the extent of these powers, bearing in mind that, as the Minister has said, they allow a law enforcement officer to arrest a person for anything that is an offence in England and Wales on a United Kingdom ship in British waters, in foreign waters or even in international waters. I raised the prospect during those debates that there could be a special constable on a cruise ship pulling out of Southampton who gets into an argument with someone who pokes him in the eye, and who then decides to arrest that individual and orders the “Queen Mary 2” to return to Southampton. The regulations and the power in the Act would allow that. There is nothing in the guidance to officers on the use of discretion, or indeed on whether the powers should be restricted to more serious offences.

The other slightly worrying issue in the draft code is the reference to the Act including,

“a power to require a person on the ship to provide information about themselves and about anything on the ship. The purpose of this is to enable law enforcement officers to take control of the ship”.

I hope that the special constable will not be steering the “Queen Mary 2” into Southampton, with his common assault suspect.

More seriously, in addition to those concerns about the rank of the officer who is using these powers, there is the seriousness of the offence. While I accept that the sorts of offences that the Minister mentioned—rape, murder, firearms and grievous bodily harm—are very serious offences, it is not an exclusive list.

Another concern is that, while I accept that an arrest of somebody for an offence on a British ship in foreign or international waters has to be with the consent of the Secretary of State, the person could potentially be under arrest and in detention for some time before they arrive at a place of detention within the United Kingdom, which is when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act clock starts. That clock is designed to prevent the police detaining people for such long periods that they might do anything to escape from custody, such as make false confessions and so forth. There is nothing in the guidance to say what is to be done to ensure that a suspect’s rights are upheld, as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is designed to do.

We accept that it is important that, for what are very serious offences, people should not be able to escape justice just because they are on board a ship, but the elements that we were concerned about when we debated the primary legislation are not contained in the code of practice, and that is of concern to us. We support the regulations as far as they go, but we fear that they do not go far enough.

My Lords, as we have heard from the Minister, the code before the House this evening deals with the practice to be followed by law enforcement officers when arresting a person under the powers conferred by Section 90 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The powers may be exercised with the authority of the Secretary of State for specific situations on UK ships, ships registered in the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands or overseas territories, foreign ships and ships without a nationality in UK waters. I have no issue with the code as far as it goes, but the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has made a number of important points on which I look forward to the Minister’s response.

However, I suggest that the Government should consider a wider group of issues and seek to extend these powers further to protect the UK economy and to protect seafarers from employment abuses, particularly around the national minimum wage. While there has been significant progress on land, the position of seafarers remains insecure. The payment of wages below the national minimum wage in the UK merchant shipping industry should not be tolerated, and nor should the scandal of nationality-based pay discrimination. There is also the emergence of modern slavery in work in the waters around the UK, which must not be tolerated. Every action should be taken to eradicate it.

The merchant shipping industry and the fishing industry are very important to the economy of the United Kingdom, and we all want to see these industries being profitable and maintaining the highest of standards. The fact is that some people and some companies in these industries are not playing by the rules, and the enforcement action taken so far by the Government is not good enough. So will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the RMT union? Alternatively, will she arrange for us to meet another Minister if that is more appropriate? The RMT is the union for seafarers, and these are serious issues which need to be looked at.

I am aware that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published guidance on seafarers and the national minimum wage and that the national minimum wage has been referred to, for the first time, in guidance to the Border Force working to prevent modern slavery on the seas. I know that there is a Department for Transport-led working group including the RMT, Nautilus, the UK Chamber of Shipping and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy looking at enforceable regulations around the national minimum wage for seafarers working between UK ports and between UK ports and the continental shelf.

These are important issues that need to be looked at seriously, and I am pleased to have been able to raise them today. They are perhaps not the subject of these regulations, but I hope the Minister will agree to my request for a meeting so that we can work together to find a solution to these issues.

I thank both noble Lords for the points that they have made. On the first series of points from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I just underline again that these powers cover all offences under the law of England and Wales. Clearly, not abiding by the minimum wage is an offence; were that to be extreme, one could say it falls into the modern slavery category. I am very happy to meet with the noble Lord and the RMT, and look forward to doing that.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a point about an incident where someone was poked in the eye out at sea. Law enforcement officers will need to ensure that their use of these new enforcement powers is both necessary and proportionate, just as they would on land. Although it might be possible for the powers to be exercised for a minor crime on board a ship, such as for a poking in the eye—I recall that in that previous debate the example given was of the theft of a Mars bar—we expect that the powers will be used sensibly and proportionately by officers, just as they use their powers under PACE. Given the need for proportionality, we would not expect that forces would obtain Section 8 PACE warrants to raid domestic premises at the crack of dawn to investigate an allegation of a poking in the eye, and it is for that reason that we would not expect these maritime powers to be exercised to stop, board, divert and detain a ship at sea to investigate such an allegation. Instead, we expect that they will be used to investigate allegations of more serious crime. I am sure the noble Lord would agree and that that is the point he is getting at.

The noble Lord also talked about exceeding the 24-hour detention period. He is right to raise that. However, we need to recognise the exceptional nature of the maritime environment, where conditions are different to those on land. The powers can be used anywhere in the world, subject to the agreement of the Secretary of State, and to the agreement of other states where their vessels and waters are involved. If we put in place a strict time limit, this would undermine our ability to use the powers globally as intended. It is intended for the suspects to be brought to a police station as soon as reasonably practicable and that they will be warned if this could take more than 24 hours. While the detainee is on board the vessel, the law enforcement official would explain to the detainee the maximum length of time that is anticipated will elapse before the person is brought to shore, and they will be reminded that the caution given to them at arrest continues to apply while they are detained. As for the welfare of the individual concerned, the code ensures that the detainees are told how long they are likely to be held before arriving at the police station or other authorised place of detention and are provided with a summary of their rights.

I think that is it. I do not have the answer to the question about rank of officer, but I will get it for the noble Lord.

I was pleased to hear that this applies to all potential infringement of legislation, as we heard when we had a meeting outside the Chamber. The issue is that I do not know whether guidance will be issued for when a ship is boarded on matters such as the rates of national minimum wage paid there. Are those issues that the officers boarding the vessel will look at? Obviously, an HMRC national minimum wage officer would look at that, but they have not got these powers. Can the noble Baroness say now that the police or other officials boarding a ship would have it in the back of their mind that these are issues they should be looking at as well?

I do not disagree with the noble Lord. Perhaps I should write to him with greater detail, and obviously if necessary we can meet up.

Motion agreed.