HC Deb 14 May 1984 vol 60 cc33-58

'(1) This section shall have effect in relation to the conduct of road checks for the purpose of ascertaining whether a vehicle is carrying—

  1. (a) a person who has committed an offence other than a road traffic offence or a vehicles excise offence;
  2. (b) a person who is a witness to such an offence;
  3. (c) a person intending to commit such an offence; or
  4. (d) a person who is unlawfully at large.

(2) For the purposes of this section a road check consists of the exercise of the power conferred by section 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 in such a way as to stop all vehicles or vehicles selected by any criterion.

(3) Subject to subsection (5) below, there may only be such a road check if a police officer of the rank of superintendent or above authorises it in writing.

(4) An officer may only authorise a road check under subsection (3) above—

  1. (a) for the purpose specified in subsection (1)(a) above, if he has reasonable grounds —
    1. (i) for believing that the offence is a serious arrestable offence; and
    2. (ii) for suspecting that the person is, or is about to be, in the area in which vehicles would be stopped if the road check was authorised;
  2. (b) for the purpose specified in subsection (1)(b) above, if he has reasonable grounds for believing that the offence is a serious arrestable offence;
  3. (c) for the purpose specified in subsection (1)(c) above, if he has reasonable grounds for believing —
    1. (i) that the offence would be a serious arrestable offence; and
    2. (ii) that, having regard to a pattern of crime in the area in which vehicles would be stopped if the road check was authorised, the offence is likely to be committed in that area during the period during which the road check would be authorised to continue;
  4. (d) for the purpose specified in subsection (1)(d) above, if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person is, or is about to be, in the area in which vehicles would be stopped if the road check was authorised.

(5) An officer below the rank of superintendent may authorise such a road check if it appears to him that it is required as a matter of urgency for one of the purposes specified in paragraphs (a), (b) and (d) of subsection (1) above.

(6) If an authorisation is given under subsection (5) above, it shall be the duty of the officer who gives it—

  1. (a) to make a written record of the time at which he gives it; and
  2. (b) to report the authorisation to an officer of the rank of superintendent or above.

(7) The duties imposed by subsection (6) above shall be performed as soon as it is practicable to do so.

(8) An officer to whom a report is made under subsection (6) above may, in writing, authorise the road check to continue.

(9) If such an officer considers that the road check should not continue, he shall record in writing—

  1. (a) the fact that it took place; and
  2. (b) the purpose for which it took place.

(10) An officer giving an authorisation under this section shall specify the locality in which vehicles are to be stopped.

(11) An officer giving an authorisation under this section, other than an authorisation under subsection (5) above—

  1. (a) shall specify a period, not exceeding seven days, during which the road check may continue; and
  2. (b) may direct that the road check —
    1. (i) shall be continuous;
    2. (ii) shall be conducted at specified times,
during that period.

(12) If it appears to an officer of the rank of superintendent or above that a road check ought to continue beyond the period for which it has been authorised he may, from time to time, in writing specify a further period, not exceeding seven days during which it may continue.

(13) Every written authorisation shall specify—

  1. (a) the name of the officer giving it;
  2. (b) the purpose of the road check; and
  3. (c) the locality in which vehicles are to be stopped.

(14) The duties to specify the purposes of a road check imposed by subsections (9) and (13) above include duties to specify any relevant serious arrestable offence.

(15) Where a vehicle is stopped in a road check, the person in charge of the vehicle at the time when it is stopped shall be entitled to obtain a written statement of the purpose of the road check, if he. applies for such a statement not later than the end of period of twelve months from the day on which the vehicle was stopped.

(16) Nothing in this section affects the exercise by police officers of any power to stop vehicles for purposes other than those specified in subsection (1) above.'.—[Mr. Hurd.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hurd

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 11—Road checks. '(1) Subject to subsection (3) below, a police officer of at least the rank of Deputy Chief Constable may authorise the setting up of a road check. (2) In this section and section 5 below "road check" means the obstruction of a road to stop—

  1. (a) all vehicles passing along it; or
  2. (b) vehicles passing along it selected by any criterion provided that in the case of each vehicle stopped the obstruction shall not last any longer than is required to carry out the lawful functions of police officers set out in subsection (2A) herein.
(2A) The obstruction of a road under subsection (1) above shall in the case of each vehicle stopped, last no longer than is reasonably necessary for a police officer to—
  1. (a) ascertain whether there is reasonable suspicion that the driver or any other person has committed an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1972;
  2. (b) ascertain whether there is reasonable suspicion that any person in the vehicle has committed a serious arrestable ofence or is unlawfully at large;
  3. (c) search the vehicle and any persons in the vehicle, provided that such a search is in the exercise of a power conferred on him by any enactment, including an enactment contained in an Act passed after this Act.
(2B) Notwithstanding subsection 2(a) above any vehicle stopped at a road check shall be allowed to continue on its way not later than fifteen minutes after the stop, unless the police officer has arrested all the persons in it who are entitled at law to drive it along the road in question. (3) A police officer may only authorise the setting up of a road check under subsection (1) above—
  1. (a) if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person
    1. (i) whom the officer reasonably suspects of having committed a serious arrestable offence; or
    2. (ii) who is unlawfully at large
is in the immediate area where the road check would be set up or
  1. (b) if he has reasonable suspicion that an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1972 has been committed or
  2. (c) if he has reasonable suspicion that the vehicle or persons in the vehicle are carrying offensive weapons, prohibited articles, illegal drugs or firearms.
(4) An authorisation may only be given under subsection (1) above for a period not exceeding 48 hours from the time of the authorisation but may be renewed from time to time for a further such period. (5) A police officer below the rank of Deputy Chief Constable may authorise a road check if—
  1. (a) the requirements of (3)(a), (b) or (c) above are satisfied; and
  2. (b) it appears to him that a road check is required as a matter of urgency.
(6) If an authorisation is given under subsection (5) above it shall be reported as soon as is practicable to an officer of at least the rank of Deputy Chief Constable, unless it is given on the grounds set out in subsection 3(b) above when it need not be reported. (7) Subject to subsection (8) below an officer to whom a report of a road check is made under subsection (6) above may authorise the road check to continue for the period specified in subsection (4) above if grounds for its continuation exist under subsection (3) above. (8) An authorisation may only be given under subsection (7) above for a period not exceeding 48 hours from the time of the authorisation, but may be renewed from time to time for a further such period. (9) An authorisation under subsections (3), (5) or (7) shall be in writing. (10 Every written authorisation shall specify:
  1. (a) the ground for giving it,
  2. (b) the period for which it is given,
  3. (c) the locality to which it relates,
  4. (d) the name of the officer giving it and
  5. (e) any enquiries taking place during its operation under subsection 2A above or any other enquiries and any result produced by them".
(11) A police officer may not obstruct any road or stop any vehicle except under this section of the Act. Section 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 and all other enactments, statutory or otherwise, authorising a police officer to stop a vehicle or obstruct a road are hereby repealed.'.

Amendment No. 26, in page 6, line 4, leave out clause 4.

Amendment No. 27, in clause 4, page 6, line 20, leave out from 'for' to end of line 24 and insert 'believing that a person who is about to commit or is in the course of committing a serious arrestable offence is in a vehicle in the area where the road check would be set up'.

Mr. Hurd

We come now to the first major subject of controversy in the Bill, that of road checks. It is important to make it clear from the outset that the ability of the police to impose road checks is unrestricted. As the law stands, checks may be set up by an officer of any rank for any purpose for an unlimited period. We are therefore talking not of a new power being created or of an existing power being enlarged, but of the regulation and reduction, to some extent, of an existing power. That is a familiar point that I may have to make again on other clauses. It is necessary to repeat it, because of the main distortion of the opponents of the Bill outside the House that we are creating and bestowing new police powers when we are doing nothing of the kind.

New clause 25 replaces clause 4 of the Bill as printed. It results from further thought on our part but particularly from discussions in Committee. There are two provisions to which I should draw attention. The first is contained in subsections (1)(b) and (4)(b) of new clause 25. These ensure that, subject to safeguards, a road check may be established to find witnesses to a serious arrestable offence. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) drew attention to the fact that road checks were set up in Brighton last summer with a view to tracing witnesses to a horrifying sexual assualt on a young boy. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) is here. He will remember that he volunteered his support for the inclusion of this provision in the road check powers. I hope that no one will argue against it. The new clause will ensure that the police retain the ability to set up road checks in such circumstances, with a view to tracing witnesses. It would be wrong to take away that power.

The second main change relates to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). He pointed out in Committee that clause 4 appeared to limit the ability of the police to set up road checks for road traffic or vehicle excise purposes. The idea was always to regulate the discretion of the police to use their powers to stop vehicles under the Road Traffic Act 1972 for non-traffic purposes. The Royal Commission made it clear that the ability of the police to stop vehicles at random for regulatory purposes or to enforce the road traffic legislation should remain intact. The new restrictions recommended by the Royal Commission and embodied in the Bill were intended to apply to the enforcement of the general criminal law. The new clause makes that distinction clear by excluding road traffic and vehicle excise offences from the scope of the legislation.

Subsection (2) of the new clause puts it beyond doubt that the power to stop vehicles is conferred not by the Bill but by section 159 of the 1972 Act. That section confers the power only on constables in uniform, and it follows that only constables in uniform may stop vehicles at a road check. The new clause clears up a doubt expressed in Committee.

A number of other points which were raised in Committee are also dealt with in the new clause. Subsection (16) makes it clear that the provisions of the clause are without prejudice to the ability of the police to stop vehicles for purposes other than the arrest of wanted persons or the tracing of witnesses to crime. There is a wide range of circumstances in which the police may need to obstruct roads, and therefore to stop vehicles, for which the restrictions and the safeguards set out in clause 4 and new clause 25 are not appropriate. For instance, if a road is made impassable by floods, the police may obstruct it. That is only one example.

There will be an opportunity on clause 16 to consider the use of common law powers by the police to prevent or deal with public disorder. For the present, I simply point out that the Royal Commission did not intend that the restrictions which it recommended should apply to the public order powers of the police any more than to their road traffic duties. The public order powers are clearly necessary, but they are not easy to define in statute. They cannot be brought within the framework of the Bill, if only because the whole basis of clause 4 and new clause 25 is the restriction of road checks to the prevention or detection of serious arrestable offences, whereas breach of the peace as such is not an offence under the general criminal law.

The replacement for clause 4 suggested by the Opposition is unsatisfactory. New clause 11 would have the effect, through the repeal of section 159 of the 1972 Act, of preventing a police officer from stopping any vehicle, unless the matter was urgent, without the authority of a deputy chief constable. That is manifestly unrealistic. Under the terms of the Opposition's new clause, a police officer who saw a vehicle which had defective lights or which was going through red traffic lights would have to get his deputy chief constable's permission before he could stop it. If he simply suspected that it had been stolen, he would probably not be able to stop it at all.

The main defect of the Opposition's new clause is that it tries to encompass in a single clause the wide range of circumstances in which the police may need to stop vehicles. The road check provision in the Bill has as its underlying purpose the reinforcement of the criterion of reasonable suspicion which is embodied in the powers of stop and search. A power to stop a vehicle to check its roadworthiness has never required the reasonable suspicion test, and there are good reasons for that.

A number of other criticisms can be made of new clause 11. It requires road checks to be authorised by a deputy chief constable. In Committee, the Opposition favoured the rank of assistant chief constable. The Government believe that a superintendent has the right level of authority.

Mr. Kaufman

Why do the Government take that view?

Mr. Hurd

It is a matter of judgment. If the right hon. Gentleman considers that before a policeman can stop a car which he believes to be stolen, or which has shot through a red traffic light, he should be required to telephone the deputy chief constable, he should explain the logic behind that peculiar argument. We are talking about the ordinary authorisation of a road check. In other parts of the Bill a superintendent is entrusted with serious and important decisions— for example, taking body samples or holding people temporarily incommunicado. We think that the superintendent has the right degree of authority in this case too, given that at present any police officer—a constable or a sergeant—can authorise a road check.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman cites references to a superintendent in other parts of the Bill as justification for choosing that rank in this case. However, he never justified choosing the rank of superintendent in those other parts of the Bill. I am reminded of a question that 1 had to answer for the school certificate. I was asked what was wrong with the following sentence: "A pig is rightly so called because it is such a dirty animal." The right hon. Gentleman's argument is equally circular. We want to know what it is about the rank of superintendent —in this or in other parts of the Bill—which makes it appropriate for that officer to carry out this duty.

Mr. Hurd

A superintendent is a person of experience and judgment. If he were not, he would not be in that position. The House must use its judgment and decide on the right level of authority. Under existing law, any constable or sergeant may authorise a road check. We propose to make a restriction. We state that in normal circumstances—special cases will be provided for—only a superintendent may do so.

The Opposition's argument has a gradual inflationary tendency. They will soon be moving an amendment to the effect that every decision, on a road check or anything else, must be taken by the deputy chief constable in person. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is moving further along that path.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman is fantasising. The view that I have expressed is—as so often — that of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. We agree that the superintendent is an officer who has experience and knowledge. How does it happen, however, that he has exactly the amount of experience and knowledge which makes it appropriate for him to exercise this extremely important power?

Mr. Hurd

If, as I know he does, the right hon. Gentleman considers the range of decisions that normally and naturally fall to a superintendent without controversy and compares it with the type of decision that we are discussing, I think that, on sober reflection, he will agree that superintendent is about the right level. It can be argued that the decision should be taken higher, and at the moment it is taken much lower, but in terms of practical policing and the type of decision that we are discussing our proposal as set out in the Bill is about right.

Amendment No. 27, which has been tabled by alliance Members, removes the concept of the pattern of crime from the test. They want to insert a reference to intelligence and be assured that the police officer concerned believes that a person who is about to commit or is in the course of committing a serious arrestable offence is in a vehicle in the area where the road check would be set up". 4.30 pm

The amendment requires too much certainty on the part of the police. If, for example, there had been a series of sexual assaults or a series of robberies at building society or bank branches, the police might not know who was responsible but might be able to discern a pattern. There are therefore reasonable grounds for supposing that another assault or robbery will take place in accordance with the pattern. If a road check were established, the offender might be found but the police could not say in advance that they thought that the offender was in a vehicle in the area and about to commit the offence.

The expression "pattern of crime" is drawn from the Royal Commission report and is not the Government's invention. We believe that it takes account of the points made in Committee and that the Bill's phraseology and the concept of a pattern of crime is right and should be retained.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I am grateful to the Minister for referring to our discussions in Committee and to my support of the extension of road checks to cover the search for witnesses to possible crimes. The Committee had a lengthy discussion about the essence and elements of road checks in relation to police powers and rights of the citizen. There is a fundamental dilemma in regard to those powers and rights.

The Minister has said, as he did in Committee, that the Government are simply putting into the statute book what exists in common law. It has been pointed out that, although road checks have been a feature of British society, they have related to criminals at large. The Minister mentioned the case of a young boy who was assaulted in Brighton last year. Shortly afterwards, a Hartlepool man was sought by the police. In both cases, there was substantial public co-operation with road blocks. New clause 25 extends that power and relates it to the Road Traffic Act 1972, which provides for the stopping of vehicles for any reason in relation to the possible infringement of that Act. The extension covers a person who is a witness to a possible offence, the offender and a person who intends to commit an offence. It is, therefore, a substantial extension. The Opposition argue that such police rights have not existed in common law, as the Minister has suggested.

The imbalance that new clause 25 creates will be reflected by public dissatisfaction when they begin to understand what can happen to them. Moreover, the new clause introduces the concept of interchangeability. Subsection (4)(c)(ii) says: that, having regard to a pattern of crime in the area in which vehicles would be stopped if the road check was authorised, the offence is likely to be committed in that area during the period during which the road check would be authorised to continue". We can all envisage the establishment of a road check in an area where there has been a pattern of burglaries on a Saturday night. The road check and the power to set it up would be useful, but we would not wish the check to be used for random fishing expeditions when the person caught is not a potential or actual burglar but will, nevertheless, be stopped and inconvenienced.

The Opposition are also worried about new clause 25 in action. Road checks have been set up during the miners' dispute. Road checks were set up in the Dartford tunnel to prevent Kent miners going north. It appears that the Minister has distanced himself from the consequences of that. He said that the checks had been set up on the basis of public order and not this legislation. That is an interesting and useful explanation, because hitherto we have been told that the checks were set up on the basis of common law. Public order has not come into it at all. The Attorney-General tried to clarify the imposition of road checks and said: if a constable reasonably comes to the conclusion that persons are travelling for the purpose of taking part in a picket in circumstances where there is likely to be a breach of the peace, he has the power at common law to call upon them not to continue their journey … Any person who fails to comply … will be committing the offence of obstructing the police officer in the course of his duty".—[Official Report, 16 March 1984; Vol. 56, c.279–80. The Court of Appeal sees the matter in a rather different light. In 1981 it said: We entertain no doubt that a constable has a power of arrest where there is reasonable apprehension of imminent danger of a breach of the peace". There is, therefore, a slight difference between the common law as expressed by the Attorney-General and the common law as expressed by the Court of Appeal.

New clause 25 makes it clear that the stopping of pickets on their way to another coalfield should not be covered by it. If such miners were stopped, they would have the benefit of subsection (15), which says: Where a vehicle is stopped in a road check, the person in charge of the vehicle at the time when it is stopped shall be entitled to obtain a written statement of the purpose of the road check, if he applies for such a statement not later than the end of a period of twelve months from the day on which the vehicle was stopped". It is fair to ask what would happen to people whose cars were stopped if they wrote to the local police station asking for a written statement. Would they be told that they fell within the purview of public order legislation or within a common law stop in the form of a road check?

We see once again the Government's ambivalence about these matters. They are clarifying the law in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, and are seeking to redefine the law and embody the common law. Yet this is an inherent contradiction in terms. We are discussing road checks that may be of two sorts: first, those used in relation to new clause 25 and, secondly, those related to the Public Order Act. That inherent contradiction in the Government's ambivalence will not be resolved and, the law will not be clear. The public will not know, when they are stopped, whether it is being done under the powers of new clause 25 or of the Public Order Act. That confusion has not been clarified on Report, as we had hoped.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the effect of new clause 25 will be to make it permissible to block off every exit from a motorway if industrial conflicts caused pickets to move from one part of the land to another? It would be possible for the police to stop any person who sought to leave the motorway for any reason. In other words, the law is drafted so widely that it justifies almost anything.

Mr. Bell

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has reminded me of a case last week, involving a coach coming from Middlesbrough. A coachload of infants was on its way to the continent for the weekend. They were stopped and the police came on board to ask whether any of them were going to the Nottinghamshire coal mines and whether any coal miners were aboard. That case was brought to my attention last Friday. I do not know whether the miners were in disguise or whether any disguised priests were on the bus.

I should like to deal with the point raised by the Opposition in Committee, which has been repeated on the Floor of the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), with reference to the rank of superintendent. An officer below the rank of superintendent may authorise a road check. We say that that is wrong and that road checks are a fundamental infringement of the liberty of an individual who goes about his lawful business in our land. A minute percentage of those who are stopped at road checks are about to become involved in crime, so there must be serious inconvenience for ordinary citizens who are going about their business. If they are to be inconvenienced, it should be as a result of a chief constable's intervention. We see no reason why that should not be possible. Nothing in new clause 25 would be of such urgency that the decision of a chief constable could not be invoked. The new clause refers to a person who has committed an offence other than a road traffic offence or a vehicle excise offence; … a person who is a witness to such an offence; … a person intending to commit such an offence; or … a person who is unlawfully at large. Communications in Britain are good, so there is no reason why a chief constable cannot be contacted or why his authority cannot be given. In this way citizens' rights would be held in balance.

The Home Secretary has introduced certain safeguards in the clause. There must be a written record of the authorisation and the time at which it is given. Authorisation may be given by an officer of the rank of superintendent or above. That is a spurious safeguard and would simply be an addition to the bureaucratic machinery of written records and reports of authorisation. It is not a real safeguard for citizens of the realm. We are concerned for the balance of citizens' rights, which we believe will be infringed by new clause 25.

4.45 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Government are trying to formulate and put in concrete terms something that up to now had been left to the discretion of police officers under the common law.

Many people have heard of reports such as that related by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). People are stopped en route to picket lines, many of whom have nothing to do with the miners' strike. They are concerned about the power of the police to stop them. They are concerned about interference with their freedom to go along the highways without let or hindrance. Alliance Members welcome, for that reason, some form of codification of the circumstances in which such interference can take place.

On behalf of my Liberal-Social Democratic colleagues, I must say that new clause 11 is more acceptable than new clause 25. Perhaps there is room to quibble on one or two points, such as whether 15 minutes is enough time for police officers to make a proper search before crossing the Rubicon of arrest, but clause 11 is more tightly drawn.

The aspect of new clause 25 to which we would have exception has already been referred to by the Minister. We object to subparagraph (ii) which says that: having regard to a pattern of crime in the area in which vehicles would be stopped if the road check was authorised, the offence is likely to be committed in that area during the period during which the road check would be authorised to continue".

We fear that if the provision were drawn that widely, police officers would be able lawfully to set up random and permanent road checks in certain areas. It is undeniable, if regrettable, that some regions suffer greatly from serious crime. Our reasonable interpretation of the provision is that it may cause road blocks to be set up permanently in those areas.

Mr. Hurd

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the power we are discussing exists already. He is really complaining that the Government are not removing it. As the power already exists, does the hon. Gentleman find that its exercise causes the mischief that he describes?

Mr. Wallace

I welcome codification of the power. One often finds, however, that when a power is codified using words that have not existed before, new interpretations are given to them. Powers that have been written down tend to be used by people who would not otherwise know of them. That may well be the case in areas of social or racial tension. Alliance Members do not believe that that would help to improve relations between the police and the community.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I admire the ingenuity with which the hon. Member is trying to slip around the Minister's question. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the police will suddenly realise that they have a power that is general at present. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that against the police service, because it would mean simply that their intelligence and information about the law was much less than it is.

Mr. Wallace

The point that I was seeking to make is that when laws are codified words are added that can be used and interpreted in court. Lawyers know that often they cover situations that would not have been countenanced otherwise. Indeed, that has happened on several occasions. I read the report of the proceedings on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill that passed through the House in 1979–80, although I was not an hon. Member at that time. The then Solicitor-General for Scotland gave the reason that I have just mentioned for not incorporating safeguards in that Bill.

The term "serious arrestable offence" is defined in clause 105. It is the commission of an offence likely to lead to any of the consequences set out in subsection (6), which include serious harm to the security of the State". If the Government were truly alarmed about the number of leaks from Whitehall, one wonders whether they would have road blocks set up at the top and bottom of Whitehall so that the police could search briefcases to see whether civil servants were taking away unauthorised documents. However, perhaps that is taking things to an extreme.

The Minister said that he wanted to cover cases when the police had reason to believe that a crime was being committed in a certain area. We believe that our amendment No. 27 would cover that. It would cover the situation that is meant to be covered and that the Minister wishes to be covered. It would not allow a wider interpretation, which would be undesirable.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I should like to speak against new clause 25, particularly in regard to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) on subsection (1)(c).

It is true that these powers are already within the law. However, the powers already within the law are at odds with new clause 25. The new clause does nothing to clarify the situation. At present, within the criminal law the police have the power to stop, check and make an assessment—

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the position is as follows? It is said that the police have the power to stop people, as shown in the Dartford tunnel case. However, that point has not yet been tested in the courts. It would be interesting to see not only what the English courts said, but what the European Court of Human Rights said about that point.

Mr. Barron

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Later, I shall read a comment by a member of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, which is related exactly to that point.

There is confusion, especially in relation to the current mining dispute, and the matter goes wide of new clause 25. I refer the Minister to two answers given by the Attorney-General in the House on 19 February 1980, when he was clarifying the law on picketing. In answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), he said: It is the duty of chief constables to administer the law. The man on the spot is best able to judge what action he must take. The road checks in the midlands coalfield have nothing to do with a chief constable on the spot making an assessment whether people should be stopped or whether they are likely to cause a breach of the peace if they pass the road checks. In the same debate, the Attorney-General said: That is a problem to be dealt with by the police at the site." —[Official Report, 19 February, 1980; Vol. 979, c. 240–42.] That is creating confusion in the present coal dispute, not only for those taking part in the dispute, but within the law. If new clause 25 is passed, it will do nothing to clarify that confusion.

I wonder whether the Minister is aware of what questions members of the public are asked when they are stopped at road blocks under the so-called "law". Perhaps he can comment on that. I assume that he is aware of the bad feeling created by the road checks, especially in my constituency. Although there are few road checks there, the feeling against the police is high because they are operating miles away from the picket lines.

As a result of the road checks, people are being held in custody—in one case, someone was remanded in custody for 12 days in Lincoln prison. As the Attorney-General said, the decision whether it is likely that someone will cause a breach of the peace should be taken by someone on the spot, not by someone miles away at a road block.

In an article in today's edition of the Yorkshire Post there are comments by Inspector Lax, a spokesman for the South Yorkshire Police Federation. I ask for the Minister's comments on it. I notice that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is present. He is a representative of the Police Federation. If he speaks later, perhaps he will address himself to the article as well. Inspector Lax said: The difficulty is that you have to try to prove someone's state of mind in advance, and anticipate their intentions. That is true, and it is causing great problems at the road blocks. Inspector Lax feels that many of his members are not capable of making that assessment. The article states: The use of police roadblocks to stop miners reaching picket lines could be illegal, a police federation spokesman admitted yesterday.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) was correct in what he said. We must confirm whether the law is being used or abused in the present road blocks in and around the midlands coalfield. However, it might take years for that decision to be made, and the case could end up in another place. That would not be much good to the members of the National Union of Mineworkers participating in the dispute. Members of the police, who are acting under orders at the road blocks, are also confused. That confusion should be cleared up. I hope that the Minister will try to clear up the situation and tell us why he feels that new clause 25 is necessary if, as he said, those powers are already provided for under the law.

Mr. Bermingham

New clause 24 is an absolute disgrace—[HON. MEMBERS: "New clause 25.'] Many of the new clauses are an absolute disgrace, but I should not digress.

The Attorney-General has advised—I would not say ruled because Attorneys-General do not rule—that at present there is a right to stop vehicles, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) said, many miles away from the scene of an industrial incident. The Dartford tunnel stoppages have been debated at length. If new clause 25 is passed, the argument will run as follows. Under the Bill, a "serious arrestable offence" entails a conspiracy. Any group of people who put their heads together and perhaps propose to go on an illegal picket are committing a conspiracy. Two, three or four people might decide, for example, in Faversham in Kent, to go to Sellafield in the north to demonstrate against the dumping of nuclear waste, during which they might commit a public order offence. They would have no intention of committing an offence, as they wanted to hold a peaceful demonstration, but the fact that they were intending to demonstrate would be a justification for their being stopped at a road block on any of the major roads such as the A1, the M1, the M62 or the M6. Demonstrators may travel the length and breadth of the country to exercise the right to protest, which we have exercised for a considerable time. The argument is that because they put their heads together many hundreds of miles away and decide to protest, it is a conspiracy and a serious arrestable offence.

Mr. Bell

Has it ever been suggested that the would-be pickets who were stopped at the Dartford tunnel were going to commit a serious arrestable offence?

5 pm

Mr. Bermingham

The suggestion was never made publicly, but it was implied. No one has had the courage to suggest that publicly. The serious arrestable offence would be the conspiracy to picket. That is the kernel of the issue. The present law does not cover that matter and does not justify it. The Government seek to use new clause 25 to justify what they are already doing. I used the example of the stoppage of pickets at the Dartford tunnel. Examples could equally well include people who protest about nuclear disarmament, the dumping of nuclear waste, or animal liberation causes. We have many protest groups because we are supposed to be a democracy and so allow them. A group of people who decide to demonstrate their view in another part of the country will lay themselves open to being stopped by road checks under new clause 25.

If that were the only ground on which to object to new clause 25 it would be enough, but there are wider and deeper grounds. We have often been told that criminal law is a balance between the needs and the protection of citizens. In a short intervention this afternoon I said that a police officer was nothing more than a citizen with a particular job to do. Regrettably, the Bill is steadily changing his position, from being just a citizen to having special rights, protections, rules and regulations. It is setting him apart. That is bad and unhealthy. As I said on Second Reading, it is causing a division in society, and new clause 25 will take it one more step along that road.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the House has just agreed to a new clause that abolishes for the first time the common law powers of arrest and brings them into the specific framework of the Bill. That is surely a restraining power on the police and not an increase in power.

Mr. Bermingham

I listened to the hon. Gentleman's intervention about abolishing common law powers of arrest and replacing them within the Bill's framework. He said that we had just agreed to that. Although we are not voting on every issue, my silence should not be deemed to be my acquiescence. It may be my resolution to arrange for objections to be raised in another place.

If people are set up as a race apart, more harm than good will be done. The new clause is so broad that the justification for a road block is almost whimsical and simplistic. It is felt that there might be a higher incidence of crime or that there might be a person in a vehicle who is a witness to an offence. How wide can we draw the clause? The new clause means that if a chief constable wants to set up a road block, he does so. I dread to think what that will do to police-public relations. I know from personal experience how angry and annoyed people become when they are stopped for no apparent reason.

Mr. Barron

In view of what is happening in the midlands coalfields—that will be covered by new clause 25 if it becomes part of the Bill—is my hon. Friend as worried as I am that the Police Federation is using printed forms at road checks? Today in the Sheffield Morning Telegraph part of the form is quoted. It reads: 'I know, from briefings whilst performing my duties in connection with the National Union of Mineworkers' dispute, unlawful demonstrations have occurred at local collieries and it is my belief that to allow persons to visit local collieries, to unlawfully picket or demonstrate in large numbers, would intimidate local workers. I consider this conduct is likely to cause a breach of the peace' … The officer completes the statement by adding details of the particular arrest. Is my hon. Friend worried about the implications of having such statements on forms? People can picket collieries in the Nottinghamshire coalfields and yet be within the law.

Mr. Bermingham

I more than welcome an intervention the contains such an important point. It exemplifies the point that I seek to make. We have almost reached the Zola-like equation of: "I accuse=you are guilty ." All hon. Members who believe in a community of individuals must regard that with absolute horror. My hon. Friend is right to present us with the pro forma, typewritten statements of evidence that officers sign before disappearing into anonymity, and to which may be added the briefest of additional, personally witnessed facts. Such statements prejudge the issue and corrupt the evidence. They so corrupt the evidence as to make the business of policing a mockery. I hope that the courts in Nottinghamshire and in other areas that come across such pro forma statements will treat them with the contempt that they rightly deserve and reject them as evidence. They cannot have a powerful basis in our judicial system because officers are being told in advance the line that their evidence should take. The basis of our evidential system is simple: a man should report what he personally has or has not seen, and not what he has been told should be happening.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Does my hon. Friend agree that in such circumstances the law lays a clear duty on the officer to make an individual judgment and not one from a police take-away?

Mr. Bermingham

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The basis of our law is that an officer should report what he has or has not seen. He must decide whether what he has seen in a particular set of circumstances is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. It is not right to adopt a pro forma statement. This is not the first time that that has happened. The same practice was used on a more limited scale in another industrial strike, and it was frowned upon. To adopt a pro forma statement is almost to coach a witness in advance about what he should or should not say.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, although one deplores the use of pro formas because they produce such bad evidence, they can assist police officers in marshalling their thoughts. For many years pro formas have been used successfully in drink and drive cases to get over the difficulty of treading a path through the various Acts that must be cited.

Mr. Bermingham

I agree that pro formas have been used for several years in drink-driving cases, but they simply set out a series of logical steps, required by law, including asking the motorist to take a second breath test and offering him the alternative of blood or urine tests. There is nothing wrong with using a pro forma that sets out the process, but the difference between that and the pro forma mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) is that in the latter case the police officer is being told how to set the scene in describing an alleged offence. I see the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) nodding in agreement.

I apologise for having digressed in response to interventions. New clause 25 will authorise a police officer to organise a series of ad hoc road checks for the flimsiest of reasons. The result will be that people will be stopped at those road blocks for no apparent reason, having committed no offence and being unconnected with crime. That can only harm police-public relations.

I was about to cite two examples of ad hoc road checks that have annoyed some members of the public. A couple of weeks ago when I left the MI to join the A52, which is the turning for Derby, I, together with four lorries carrying scrap metal, a red van and a tanker carrying milk, was stopped on the slip road. Every vehicle leaving the motorway at that point was stopped and their occupants asked to state their destinations. It does not need much intelligence to know that if I wanted to go to the nearest Nottinghamshire pit, I would have turned off at the A610, which goes straight there. The A52 also goes to Nottingham but is a longer route. However, perhaps I am more intelligent than those who were operating the road block. Unless my eyes deceived me, the little blue notice saying, "Police Slow", was again stuck on the slip road of the A52 as I drove past it this morning coming south. Indeed, it will probably be there tomorrow and the day after. The result will be that many ordinary motorists who have not been involved in offences will be annoyed at being stopped.

The second example occurred late at night going through Chesterfield, where, near a certain night club, the police tend to stop motorists for no apparent reason. They do so usually by walking into the middle of the road and waving their torches, which might not be the wisest way of stopping cars at night.

That is what happens under the law at present. If new clause 25 is passed, how much wider will police powers become and how much greater will public annoyance be?

Mr. Hurd

It pains me to have to repeat a point that I have already made. Nothing is wider under new clause 25. What we are doing is narrowing an existing power for the purposes of criminal law.

5.15 pm
Mr. Bermingham

The Minister and I have argued this point before, and we must agree to disagree on it. I say that the Government are trying to legitimise what has happened on odd occasions and to codify a completely new power to set up road checks and blocks.

No one in his right mind would object to road checks or blocks in the pursuit of a known criminal in a motor vehicle who is a danger to the public, or where the police suspect that stolen property is being carried in a vehicle. However, new clause 25 and clause 4 of the Bill are far too wide, and authorise road checks where they are not always necessary. I urge the House to reject new clause 25. Every hon. Member who puts his or her mind to it could find 1,001 reasons why road blocks and checks and the widening of the powers can only be counter-productive in the long run.

If the police stop vehicles to gain information or apprehend criminals, they should do so carefully and within the terms of new clause 11. I prefer new clause 11 to new clause 25, but I abhor the negation and withdrawal of liberties that are steadily happening in our society, and of which both new clauses are examples.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I welcome the clarification that new clause 25 introduces. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State was good enough to consider in Committee a point that I made about the confusion that could have arisen in relation to road traffic law. New clause 25 puts that right beyond question.

In response to the representations of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley), my right hon. Friend took account of the problems that can arise with grave sexual offences. It must be right for the police to be able to erect road blocks for the purpose of apprehending those who might have committed not one, but a series or pattern of sexual assaults. The House should not ignore what the Government have rightly sought to do here.

Perhaps I could give the House the example of a current case, which is regrettably not sub judice because no one has been arrested. Only this week in Barnet Lane, Elstree, an 11-year-old boy was attacked by two men wearing stocking masks and training shoes. He was grabbed and dragged into bushes, where he was stripped, verbally abused, threatened with a flick knife and indecently assaulted. That incident could be part of a pattern. If the police, responding to the anxieties of parents of children in that area who might also be subjected to such assaults, receive a tip-off that leads them to believe that the attackers might be making their getaway in a motor car, they must have the power quickly to erect road blocks. I am sure that the House will not disagree with that proposition, although from some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) I gained the impression that street blocks were such an infringement of liberty that he did not want them at all.

Mr. Corbett

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that there is no disagreement between us in the circumstances that he has described? My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) sought to point out that during the mining dispute the police have gone on fishing trips round the clock, or at least regularly for long periods, every day of the week. That is what we object to, and it is not on all fours with the example that the hon. Gentleman has just given.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know from his experience in Committee that I intend shortly to deal with the mining dispute. However, in fairness to my right hon. Friend the Minister, I should point out that he has responded to two specific matters: first, the traffic point and, secondly, sexual assaults. To that extent, the Government have honoured the commitments given in Committee.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that I said that one could understand and accept a road block when it was put up in order to apprehend a criminal? I said that quite clearly, just as I said it in Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that setting up a road block arbitrarily, because it is felt that there might be an increase in criminality in the area, is likely to annoy just as many innocent people as criminals? Indeed, the vast majority of those stopped would probably be innocent.

Mr. Griffiths

Of course there is that risk. That is why the task of the police is exceedingly difficult. However, amendment No. 27 would get rid of the term "a pattern of crime". However, I believe that a pattern of crime can be established for sexual assaults and be a material consideration in deciding to put up road blocks. However, that is a difference between us.

There has been much debate over whether the rank of the officer who authorises road blocks is right. I believe that the rank of superintendent can be too high. From time to time, and particularly after a terrorist incident or incidents such as those I have described, there may well be an urgent need to put up a road block at once. Fortunately, the new clause and the Bill provide for that, in so far as that in an emergency a less senior officer can, and undoubtedly would, authorise a road block at once. The fact that he must record it represents the very proper protection of civil liberties and good police practice. That record is available. I understand—my right hon. Friend the Minister will perhaps confirm this—that it will be the duty of each police authority or chief officer to record such events in his annual report so that everyone knows how many road blocks have been erected, who authorised them, on what grounds and why.

Nevertheless, I believe that it is going rather far to provide for a superintendent in all circumstances. A chief inspector in charge of a sub-division has to take some extremely important decisions in operational policing. His decisions touch on race relations, industrial relations, terrorist incidents and the social harmony of our big cities, but henceforth he may not decide on road blocks. The Opposition may believe that there is a case for going to the rank of deputy chief constable, but he may not be available because, for example, he has gone to a conference, gone abroad, or taken a holiday. Therefore, we should not go beyond the rank of superintendent, and I believe that that is, if anything, slightly too high a rank.

I turn to the contentious issue of the road checks that have taken place in recent weeks, during the mining dispute, in many parts of the country. I do not want to say anything provocative or inflammatory about them. However, I should like to remind the House of one or two facts. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, a Law Officer of the Crown—and the police must take that into account—gave the House his ruling, and did so before the chief constable of Nottinghamshire called for outside help. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said: there is no doubt that if a constable reasonably comes to the conclusion that persons are travelling for the purpose of taking part in a picket in circumstances where there is likely to be a breach of the peace, he has the power at common law to call upon them not to continue their journey and to call upon their driver to take them no further."—[Official Report, 16 March 1984; Vol. 56, c. 279–80.] That is the end of my right hon. and learned Friend's advice to the House. I believe that it was largely on the basis of that advice that the incidents at the Dartford tunnel followed. There was great concern about what happened there, and an attempt was made to obtain an injunction against the Kent chief officer. But that injunction did not succeed. To that extent the issue has been only half tested in the courts. I hope that it will be fully tested in the courts. If the NUM or anyone else believes that the police have acted outwith their powers, it is up to the NUM or that person to go to court. It may take a long time—and I accept that that is a problem—but the Police Federation most certainly does not stand in the way of having the matter tested in the courts so that everyone knows where they stand.

Mr. Barron

In February 1980, the Attorney-General talked about people taking that decision on site. However, in March 1984 he seems to have spoken in much broader terms and given police constables a licence to discover whether someone miles away from a picket line is likely to cause a breach of the peace.

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would object if I sought to interpret the reasoning behind the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. As a Law Officer of the Crown, he does not act as a political Minister in any sense in such matters. It is his task to interpret the law. I think that his statement stands by itself. I remind hon. Members that it was offered well before there was any question of mutual aid being called into the Nottinghamshire area. That is the first objective fact.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Attorney-General's interpretation is not shared by all senior police officers? For example, the chief constable of Manchester said on television that he would not have interpreted the law to mean that he should stop coaches at the Dartford tunnel.

Mr. Griffiths

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has referred to the chief constable of Manchester, because, much as I admire many of the things that Mr. Anderton does, I must say that I thought it most unwise of him to appear on television and disagree with the chief officer of another force who was dealing with a situation of which he —not Mr. Anderton—had full knowledge. At the time, I said that the chief constable of Manchester was ill-advised to do that, and I say that again.

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's very sensible intervention, however, is that the police have to take account of the advice of the Attorney-General. They are not required or obliged to do so, but in the circumstances—

Mr. Bermingham


5.30 pm
Mr. Griffiths

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, as I know that others wish to speak, and there may be a Division a little later. I merely remind the House that the Attorney-General made that statement, that the police have to take account of it and that they do so.

I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) that the pro forma dreamt up by someone in the Nottinghamshire force in relation to statements by police officers before the courts was an error. I am pleased to quote the Police Federation on that. The hon. Gentleman quoted a newspaper article, but I shall give the precise words of the Police Federation. Having quoted the proposed pro forma in full, the Police Federation states: Just what the courts might make of a succession of such identical statements, all giving the sworn views of picketing of the testifying officer, is best left to the imagination of the lawyers who, instructed by the NUM, would have a field day. How right that is. I ask the House to accept it as a measure of the good sense of the police service of this country that the Police Federation then continues: Fortunately, some members of visiting PSUs"— the support units— have refused to go along with this highly politicised verbiage, and have insisted on making their witness statements in their own way. After all, they are professional police officers". That is exactly how it should be. The pro forma may well have been produced partly to save court time. Nevertheless, I believe that it was a mistake, and it is to the credit of the Police Federation that it has recognised it as a mistake and said so.

Finally, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, the particular matter with which we are dealing is not strictly a public order issue. The question of stopping people on motorways is somewhat tangential to both the new clause and the amendments, but, as it has arisen, it is proper that something should be said about it. I know of no police officer who enjoys setting up road blocks. All the many officers with whom I discussed the matter had serious reservations about setting up road blocks in Kent, Surrey or Suffolk in connection with events several hundred miles away.

No extension of existing police powers is involved. Whether the powers have been used in the past is a matter for debate, but such actions are certainly well within existing powers. In fact, the new clause clarifies, constrains and limits what the police may do. Therefore, it seems extraordinary that it should be the subject of a full-scale frontal attack on the Government. The police have been doing what they believe to be their duty. The matter can, and no doubt eventually will be, tested in the courts, but when such action is taken to prevent the obstruction or intimidation of men seeking to vote or to work, it seems to me that the police are doing no less than their duty.

Mr. Dubs

Any limitation on freedom of movement within a country must be a serious matter and it is absolutely right that the House today and the country in recent weeks should have expressed concern about any limitation on the right of citizens to travel freely within this country. Many of us have criticised totalitarian regimes for not allowing their citizens to travel freely. We should therefore examine extremely carefully any move by any Government to apply such limitations here.

The Government's new clause 25 gives the police clear and explicit powers systematically to prevent or control the flow of all traffic and thus of people into an area. The Minister said that there was nothing new in the new clause, that the powers had existed for a long time and that, if anything, the new clause limited the powers of the police compared with the existing situation. Even if that is true in theory, I wonder whether it is true in practice.

Many of us have asked parliamentary questions about the use of powers to stop and search, to establish road blocks and to search vehicles, but unfortunately replies to questions about the London area have given us no idea of how frequently the existing powers are used. My last parliamentary question clearly sought that information but the reply merely gave a global figure for the number of stops in the Metropolitan police district in 1983. We do not know how often the existing powers are used, but we understand that they have been used rather sparingly—at least until the dispute in the coalfields began a few weeks ago.

I understand that at present vehicles are stopped on the basis of powers in the Road Traffic Acts. People seeking to join picket lines several hundred miles away were stopped under the Road Traffic Acts, but the police then used their common law powers relating to a possible breach of the peace to tell the occupants of the vehicles that they could go no further. Until that dispute began, my impression was that road checks were used sparingly by the police. New clause 25, however, will give the police every incentive to use the powers more widely even if, in theory, there is no extension of the present powers.

The basis of a great deal of the Bill and the powers for road checks derives from the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. The Minister referred earlier to the phrase in the new clause, having regard to a pattern of crime in the area". If I heard him aright, he suggested that the phrase came from the Royal Commission report. Paragraph 3.32 of the report, however, refers to a defined area over a specified period". The Minister's comment was thus not entirely accurate. One of our concerns here is that the word "area" as used in new clause 25 is nowhere defined, whereas the Royal Commission clearly referred to "a defined area". There must therefore be serious doubts as to how wide an area can be embraced by the provisions of new clause 25 as at present worded.

The new clause also contains very wide powers in terms of the number of days. The police can use the powers for a period of seven days and then renew them for further periods of seven days. I question whether there are real circumstances in which the police would want to use their powers in that way. A road check lasting seven days is pretty onerous and coercive. What is more, it will not be very effective if it is in place for seven days at a time. Most of the local villains that it is expected to catch will come to know of its existence and will find ways around it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there has been a road check on all the roads entering St. James's square. It has been renewed for some time. It was necessary.

Mr. Dubs

I suggest that the circumstances were highly exceptional. I was saying that I doubted whether in the normal run of events there should be road checks lasting as long as seven days, with the power to renew them. I agree that St. James's square was exceptional, although I go on to question whether some of the powers used by the police there—although we do not dispute their use—had full legal backing. However, that is a subject for an argument on another occasion.

Subsection (16) of the Government's new clause says: Nothing in this section affects the exercise by police officers of any power to stop vehicles for purposes other than those specified in subsection (1) above. I appreciate that subsection (1) does not include the powers contained in subsection (2) relating to the Road Traffic Act. However, the effect of subsection (16) also is to continue to give the police powers to stop vehicles under other legislation, and it may also bring them close to using common law powers for this purpose—a matter about which I have serious misgivings. It is one of the reasons why new clause 11 is drafted in the way that it is.

When we are dealing with police powers which are as wide-ranging and as potentially destructive of the liberties of the individual, we ought to be careful about how they are used.

There are certain safeguards—I argue that they are not enough—about the way in which the police can now apply road checks. But it is even worse in subsection (16), because that means in effect that the other powers of the police to stop vehicles are not subject to the safeguards in new clause 25. Despite the Government's argument that it is important to recognise that there are these safeguards, they go on to say in subsection (16) that there are other police powers and that those safeguards will not apply. That is why we seek to exclude those other powers. In our new clause we seek to ensure that the safeguards will apply to all circumstances in which road checks are set up.

Subsection (1)(b) of the Government's new clause says that the police may stop vehicles if they think that a vehicle is carrying a person who is a witness to an offence. In Committee, we spent some time discussing the tragic case of the offences connected with a young boy in the Brighton area. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) supported the Government's view about the need to give the police powers in such circumstances. I agree that that is an example where it is right for the police to have such powers. My fear about subsection (1)(b) is that it is a very wide power. It goes much wider than any power envisaged during our debates in Committee. It gives the police a sweeping power to look for individuals who may have been present when an offence was committed.

I question whether such wide powers should be given without safeguards. I can envisage circumstances where the individual may have been on the scene of a crime and the police set up a road block not to catch the criminal, who may already be in custody, but to catch someone who may have been in the area. That begins to take on the dimensions of a fishing expedition. It gives the police very wide powers.

Although I support the use of such powers to deal with circumstances such as the tragic case in Brighton, I question whether we should go this far. The powers could be used in a sweeping manner, and I doubt whether that is right. The Opposition do not dispute that there are circumstances in which there is a need for road checks. Our argument is that their use should be limited and that there should be more safeguards than we have now underlying the ability of the police to make use of such powers.

New clause 11 seeks to replace all the current grounds for stopping vehicles. It also omits the phrase to which we have taken exception throughout our debates— having regard to the pattern of crime in an area. We do it because that phrase gives the police powers to impose road checks in virtually any inner city area. The police can say that they want a road check in any inner city area, and they can have one. That is too wide, and it is one of the reasons for the wording in new clause 11.

5.45 pm

I am also worried about the time that people may be stopped under new clause 25. In new clause 11 there is an attempt to limit the time to 15 minutes, which surely is sufficient for the purposes that the Government have described. We also seek to limit the length of time for which a road check may be imposed. Instead of seven days we say that there should be a limit of 48 hours.

There has been some argument about the seniority of the police officer most appropriate to authorise a road check. The Minister talked about an officer who was senior enough and had the necessary judgment. Our new clause suggests a deputy chief constable. The Minister said that he would prefer a chief superintendent. However, a deputy chief constable is more senior, has more experience and therefore has better powers of judgment than a chief superintendent. That is one reason why we have argued for that change. The second reason is that we have looked again at the report of the Royal Commission, which says in paragraph 3.32: We therefore propose that a police officer of rank not less than assistant chief constable should be empowered to authorise in writing the setting up of road checks for a limited and specified period in the following circumstances. As I understand it, the rankings in the police have changed somewhat, and that deputy chief constable in our new clause is equivalent to assistant chief constable as described in the Royal Commission's report. We have two reasons for suggesting that that would be the appropriate seniority of police officer necessary to authorise road checks of the type envisaged in the new clauses.

The Minister also said that if there was a matter of urgency, new clause 11 would not allow the police to act with haste. To say that is to misread our new clause. I remind the Minister of subsection (5): A police officer below the rank of Deputy Chief Constable may authorise a road check if … it appears to him that a road check is required as a matter of urgency. We do not say that if the circumstances are urgent it is necessary to await the authorisation of a deputy chief constable. We say that a more junior officer may also authorise a road check if the matter is sufficiently urgent.

I refer again to the report of the Royal Commission, which also defines the circumstances in which a road check may be established. These are much more limited than those envisaged by the Government in new clause 25.

I repeat what I said at the outset of my remarks. Setting up a road check is not to be done lightly. It should not be allowed easily to the police. It is seen by citizens as a coercive or potentially coercive use of police powers. As I told the Committee, on two occasions I was driving home from Labour party meetings and was stopped by road checks several years ago before becoming a Member of Parliament. On one occasion they merely looked at me and waved me by. On the second occasion they asked where I had been and where I was going before waving me on. There is something rather threatening about being stopped by a police road block when driving home between 10.30 and 11 in the evening. I did not like it, although I understood the reason for that road check at the time. The police did not tell me, but I guessed that it was connected with a terrorist incident somewhere else in London. It is a menacing thing to happen. I can understand why the average citizen would not like it and would prefer such road checks to be kept to a minimum. That is why Labour Members much prefer new clause 11 and intend to vote against new clause 25.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) has made his usual thoughtful and thorough speech. If I may protect my reputation for a second, he virtually accused me of inventing the phrase "a pattern of serious crime". It is in the Royal Commission's report at paragraph 3.31. It says: We understand and acknowledge the potential value of such a procedure to the police when a clear pattern of serious crime is observable. But we do not think that in these instances the consequent infringement of the liberty of the subject can usually be justified by applying the 'reasonable suspicion' criterion. If such checks are to be allowed, they should be confined to particular types of serious crime and should be regularised by the introduction of a measure of supervisory control. Similar considerations apply when a wanted criminal is at large. Precisely. Those sentences are the origin of new clause 25 and of the words "pattern of serious crime" which the hon. Gentleman seems to think I have invented.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman has not invented it; he has simply wrenched the phrase out of the context of the Royal Commission's report. The Royal Commission is specific. It says: it sometimes happens that there is a spate of crime, such as housebreaking, in a specific area, which is regularly committed over weekends or at other identifiable times. In order to detect such crimes the police find it necessary to check the occupants and contents of vehicles passing in and out of the area at particular periods. We understand and acknowledge the potential value of such a procedure to the police when a clear pattern of serious crime is observable. Therefore, the Royal Commission does not allow the licence that the Government are taking in the new clause. It limits it stringently and the Government are overriding the Royal Commission's recommendation.

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was here earlier. The hon. Member for Battersea said that the phrase in the Bill "pattern of serious crime" was not in the Royal Commission's report and that I had been inaccurate in claiming that it was. I have been trying—mildly—to demonstrate that I was right and the hon. Gentleman was wrong. With characteristic adroitness, the right hon. Gentleman is shifting the accusation in saying that I am drawing different conclusions from himself as to the actual provisions that would flow from the Royal Commission's report. I am perfectly prepared to defend our provisions. Indeed, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, that is what I propose to do. They are a better interpretation of the Royal Commission's report than is the Opposition's new clause.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman talks about my characteristic adroitness, but that does me no good. The right hon. Gentleman is misquoting. The Royal Commission's report talks about a clear pattern of serious crime". There are two limiting adjectives, even within the limiting context. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to withdraw it all and put in the words "clear and serious" it might make it a touch better.

Mr. Hurd

The word "serious" is in the Bill. New clause 25 talks about serious arrestable offences. Clarity is the essence of the matter, as the right hon. Gentleman and I would agree. "Clear and serious" is certainly there.

In my opening remarks, I did not complete the critique of the Opposition's new clause because it did not seem to be necessary. However, the hon. Member for Battersea has spoken in some detail. The two limits that he proposes of 15 minutes for the search and two days for the authorisation would cause more trouble than they would be worth. Fifteen minutes is too long in most cases but too short in others, perhaps where it was necessary to search a heavily laden van. The Opposition's new clause brings within its scope all the road traffic offences. Fifteen minutes might not be long enough for vehicle examiners to test and weigh a heavy goods vehicle. Similarly, if one is thinking of the possibility of a pattern of offences repeating itself, it is a little difficult to ask the police to pinpoint that occurrence within the next two days. Therefore, seven days is about right.

It is clear to everyone, except perhaps the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), that new clause 25 does not deal with powers under the common law. Neither new clause 25, nor any other clause, deals with action taken by the police under common law powers to prevent possible breaches of the peace. We have made that clear—perhaps clearer than it was before—in subsection (16), on which the hon. Member for Battersea rightly focused.

The Opposition's new clause would tackle the problem in a different way. They would abolish the common law powers and would, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, thus have made it impossible for the police to take the action which was necessary in St. James's square. The hon. Gentleman said that that was exceptional. Most tragic things are exceptional, thank heavens. Surely that is not a reason for not providing for them. That is not a reason for taking away from the police common law powers which they need, exceptionally, to deal with particularly dramatic or tragic situations. The hon. Gentleman's retreat on that was rather lame. He was retreating from the criticism rightly made by my hon. Friend.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that he has misled the House on this point? He started by saying that the purpose of the clause was to narrow existing powers under the common law. He now admits that, under subsection (16), the existing powers under the common law are being maintained. Therefore, surely it is wrong to suggest that in some way the clause narrows existing powers.

Mr. Hurd

Perhaps the hon. Lady will pay me the compliment of reading what I said in my opening remarks. I tried to deal carefully and specifically with that point. We are dealing here with a wide power.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

The right hon. Gentleman cannot remember what he said.

Mr. Hurd

I remember exactly what I said. If the hon. Gentleman is not careful, I shall repeat it.

We are dealing here with a wide and unlimited power under the Road Traffic Act to stop vehicles. Without touching in any way the common law powers of the police, the Bill restricts the use that the police can make of this Road Traffic Act power when they are dealing with a search for offenders and, in particular, attempting to bring to justice those who have committed serious arrestable offences. That is perfectly clear in the new clause. We are restricting and regulating in a specific area covered by the Bill a wide and unrestricted power. For the hon. Member for St. Helens, South to argue that, in some way, by restricting a power we are extending it, is the best example of the black is white argument that I have heard in the House for a long time. If he looks at subsection (4) and the limits which it imposes, I hope that he will see that his argument is based on sand.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), perfectly legitimately, used this debate on new clause 25 to criticise the action that the police are taking under common law powers. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General dealt with the legal basis of that in the answer of 16 March which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has already quoted. The hon. Member is entitled to his view. There are procedures open to those who feel that the police have gone too far. There is the complaints procedure under the existing legislation, and there is the possibility of challenge in the courts. Both those procedures are possible. The complaints procedure is certainly being used, and that is perfectly legitimate. The legal procedure—the challenge in the courts—could also be used. That is not relevant to this clause. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South, in his effort to make a connection between the two by talking of conspiracy, was ranging far into fantasy.

6 pm

On the substance of the point, we would be interested to know whether the Opposition as a whole are saying to the police that at this time, in dealing with the difficult situation created by the National Union of Mineworkers and its tactics, they should allow the unlimited accumulation of pickets at the entry to coal mines without taking any steps in advance to avert the violence that might result. They would be entitled to that view, but, if they were to state it, I think that it would be rightly rejected.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 141.

Division No. 295] [6 pm
Adley, Robert Butterfill, John
Alexander, Richard Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Amess, David Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Ancram, Michael Cash, William
Ashby, David Chapman, Sydney
Aspinwall, Jack Chope, Christopher
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Baldry, Anthony Cockeram, Eric
Batiste, Spencer Colvin, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Coombs, Simon
Bellingham, Henry Cope, John
Bendall, Vivian Cranborne, Viscount
Benyon, William Crouch, David
Berry, Sir Anthony Currie, Mrs Edwina
Best, Keith Dorrell, Stephen
Bevan, David Gilroy Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Dover, Den
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dunn, Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Durant, Tony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Dykes, Hugh
Braine, Sir Bernard Eggar, Tim
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Emery, Sir Peter
Brinton, Tim Eyre, Sir Reginald
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Favell, Anthony
Brooke, Hon Peter Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Forman, Nigel
Browne, John Freeman, Roger
Bruinvels, Peter Gale, Roger
Buck, Sir Antony Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Budgen, Nick Glyn, Dr Alan
Burt, Alistair Goodlad, Alastair
Gower, Sir Raymond Powell, William (Corby)
Greenway, Harry Powley, John
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Grylls, Michael Price, Sir David
Hargreaves, Kenneth Proctor, K. Harvey
Haselhurst, Alan Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hayward, Robert Raffan, Keith
Heathcoat-Amory, David Renton, Tim
Hickmet, Richard Rhodes James, Robert
Hind, Kenneth Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Holt, Richard Rifkind, Malcolm
Hordern, Peter Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Howard, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rost, Peter
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Rowe, Andrew
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Ryder, Richard
Knowles, Michael Sackville, Hon Thomas
Knox, David Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lamont, Norman St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lang, Ian Sayeed, Jonathan
Lawler, Geoffrey Scott, Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lester, Jim Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Sims, Roger
Lightbown, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lilley, Peter Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Speller, Tony
Lord, Michael Spencer, Derek
Luce, Richard Squire, Robin
Lyell, Nicholas Stanbrook, Ivor
McCurley, Mrs Anna Stern, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Maclean, David John Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Major, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Malone, Gerald Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Marlow, Antony Stradling Thomas, J.
Mates, Michael Sumberg, David
Mather, Carol Tapsell, Peter
Maude, Hon Francis Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mellor, David Temple-Morris, Peter
Merchant, Piers Terlezki, Stefan
Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Thornton, Malcolm
Moate, Roger Tracey, Richard
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Trotter, Neville
Montgomery, Fergus Twinn, Dr Ian
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Viggers, Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Moynihan, Hon C. Walden, George
Mudd, David Waller, Gary
Neale, Gerrard Ward, John
Neubert, Michael Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Newton, Tony Watson, John
Nicholls, Patrick Watts, John
Norris, Steven Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Onslow, Cranley Wells, John (Maidstono)
Oppenheim, Philip Wiggin, Jerry
Osborn, Sir John Wolfson, Mark
Page, John (Harrow W) Wood, Timothy
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Woodcock, Michael
Parris, Matthew Yeo, Tim
Pawsey, James Young, Sir George (Acton)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Pollock, Alexander Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Alton, David Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)
Anderson, Donald Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Barnett, Guy
Barron, Kevin Kirkwood, Archibald
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Lambie, David
Beith, A. J. Leighton, Ronald
Bell, Stuart Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Bermingham, Gerald Litherland, Robert
Bidwell, Sydney Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Blair, Anthony Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Loyden, Edward
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Buchan, Norman McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Caborn, Richard Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Maclennan, Robert
Campbell-Savours, Dale McNamara, Kevin
Carter-Jones, Lewis McTaggart, Robert
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Marek, Dr John
Clarke, Thomas Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Maxton, John
Coleman, Donald Maynard, Miss Joan
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Mikardo, Ian
Corbett, Robin Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cowans, Harry Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Craigen, J. M. Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Crowther, Stan Nellist, David
Cunningham, Dr John Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) O'Brien, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) O'Neill, Martin
Deakins, Eric Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dewar, Donald Park, George
Dixon, Donald Parry, Robert
Dobson, Frank Patchett, Terry
Dormand, Jack Pavitt, Laurie
Douglas, Dick Pike, Peter
Dubs, Alfred Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Prescott, John
Eadie, Alex Radice, Giles
Eastham, Ken Redmond, M.
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Richardson, Ms Jo
Fatchett, Derek Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Faulds, Andrew Robertson, George
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Rooker, J. W.
Fisher, Mark Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Forrester, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Foster, Derek Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Foulkes, George Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Skinner, Dennis
Garrett, W. E. Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
George, Bruce Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Golding, John Soley, Clive
Gould, Bryan Spearing, Nigel
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Stott, Roger
Hardy, Peter Strang, Gavin
Harman, Ms Harriet Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Heffer, Eric S. Torney, Tom
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Wainwright, R.
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Wallace, James
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Howells, Geraint Wareing, Robert
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Welsh, Michael
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Wigley, Dafydd
Janner, Hon Greville Winnick, David
John, Brynmor
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Tellers for the Noes:
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Mr. Frank Haynes and
Kennedy, Charles Mr. James Hamilton.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert

Question accordindly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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