Clause 6 - Powers of police officers in relation to a prohibited place

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 12 Gorffennaf 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 11:15, 12 Gorffennaf 2022

The powers set out in clause 6 allow for a police officer to exercise specific powers in order to protect prohibited places. A person commits an offence if they fail to comply with an order imposed under the police powers in relation to a prohibited place. Those powers include the ability to order a person who has accessed or entered a prohibited place or is in the vicinity of one to leave it immediately. Under these powers, a police officer may also arrange for the removal or movement of a vehicle or device from a prohibited place or an area adjacent to a prohibited place.

Alongside the police powers, the clause provides that is an offence to fail to comply with an order given by a constable under those provisions. As an example, if a person is circling the perimeter of a prohibited place and taking detailed photographs of the infrastructure and activities within, the police may order this person to cease to engage in that activity and leave the area immediately, given that they are carrying out an inspection of the site and their activity is in an area adjacent to the prohibited place.

In order to exercise any of those powers, a constable must reasonably believe that doing so is necessary to protect the safety or interests of the United Kingdom. For example, exercise of the powers may be necessary for the prevention of activity that could harm or disrupt the operations or functioning of a prohibited place. In most instances, we consider that the use of these powers will be intelligence-led and that the police will be called to prohibited places where there is a concern identified from the site itself.

The aim of the police powers in relation to prohibited places is not to impede legitimate activity, such as lawful protest, but rather to catch and deter activity around prohibited places that is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the UK. That includes activity that is harmful to and disrupts or impedes the functioning or operations of a prohibited place, such as scaling fences, blocking access points or wider disruption to the critical and sensitive work being conducted at these sites. Ahead of implementation, my officials will work with the police and the College of Policing to ensure that clear guidance and training are in place to ensure that the powers are used reasonably and proportionately to protect these sites.

The additional powers are a critical part of the reformed prohibited places regime and provide significant operational utility, given that they enable law enforcement to prevent harmful activity from taking place at these sensitive sites—activity that could be a precursor to state-threat offences such as espionage or sabotage. Without their inclusion, the UK will be less equipped to counter hostile activity as it happens, which will leave these sites more vulnerable to state-threat activity or wider threats that do not have a state link.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Subsections (1) and (2) set out the powers that police constables can exercise to protect a prohibited place, which include ordering a person to cease their activity or move away from the site. Subsection (3) provides that a constable must reasonably believe the use of those powers to be

“necessary to protect the safety or interests of the United Kingdom.”

This includes prevention of activity that could harm or disrupt the operations or functioning of a prohibited place in a way that could jeopardise the safety or interests of the United Kingdom.

The clause gives the police powers to direct people to stop using devices and leave the area, but when I discussed its detail with a recently retired senior police officer he observed that the clause seemingly does not confer on the constable the power to seize the device or any video or images or, indeed, sketches or footage off the back of an eagle taken by the device. Can the Minister explain whether that is the case? If so, would the clause not benefit from an addition to prevent any such sensitive material from leaving the scene with a person instructed to take it with them?

I find it curious that all police officers tend to be referred to as “constable” in legislation, despite the fact that constable is just one of several possible ranks. Indeed, there is some variety in the responsibilities for keeping sites defined as prohibited places safe. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary, overseen by the Civil Nuclear Police Authority, is the armed police force in charge of protecting civil nuclear sites and nuclear materials in England and Scotland. The Ministry of Defence police is responsible for law enforcement and security of military bases in the UK; as it says on the tin, it reports into the Ministry of Defence.

Will the Minister confirm that the powers conferred in clause 6 extend beyond those officers serving in regular police forces that report to the Home Office? It is the specialist forces sitting outside of those structures that tend to pick up the lion’s share of the responsibility for protecting prohibited places. Could he confirm that the powers apply to all officers, regardless of rank, and where the military also provide defences at their own sites, or are at least partnering in that work? Could the Minister explain whether the powers extend to the military, or are exclusively for police officers?

Finally, the powers conferred will also allow a constable to arrange for the removal of a vehicle from a prohibited place “or an area adjacent” to it. Does the Minister envisage any further guidance on what constitutes “adjacent to a prohibited place” to assist a constable in determining distance, proximity, and so on, in making those judgments and communicating those clearly in a reasonable way to members of the public?

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the very good points she has raised. My understanding is that the powers currently apply only to police officers, not to members of the military. It is very clear throughout the clause that it refers to “a constable”, and it is referenced as “Powers of police officers”.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

Is that not a hole in the legislation? We are coming on to Cyprus next, where it is not civilian police that do security there, and I can think of a few others around the world where it is done by the military. Therefore, should those powers not also be given to the military?

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

When we talk about military, MOD police will have those powers.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

Yes, but a number of sites are not guarded by MOD police—although there are some—but are the responsibility of the UK armed forces, which are not police.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Both the right hon. Member for North Durham and the hon. Member for Halifax made a very good point. We will take that away and look at it. If they want to strengthen the Bill, we are happy to work with them to do that.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Ceidwadwyr, Burnley

Would my hon. Friend agree that there is a difference between providing force protection for a site and providing constabulary and law enforcement duties?

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We must also bear in mind that it is not our intention to introduce search-and-seize powers under these police powers. This is part of the tiered approach we referred to earlier, with the police being able to warn people to go away before they fall foul of the law. There is the opportunity to give them that warning before any arrest.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

I agree with the hon. Member for Burnley, but there are also sites that are benign, so it is not a force protection point but a constabulary duty that is carried out by members of the armed forces. Therefore, I think they need these powers if this is a comprehensive suite of powers.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member. As I said, that is certainly something that we will look at and come back to.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Ceidwadwyr, North Wiltshire

The Minister has concluded his remarks, unless I am much mistaken.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.