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Bob Russell (Colchester) rose

Mr. Denham: I do not anticipate the merger of the inspectorate and the police standards unit, as they have different roles. The inspectorate essentially inspects all the police service all the time while the police standards unit will concentrate on particular areas of police activity and police performance. Trying to combine the two in one organisation is more difficult than maintaining them as two separate organisations. I note the prediction in the Select Committee's report, but it does not reflect the Government's view at the moment.

I should now like to make progress. Part 2 establishes the independent police complaints system and a new system for the investigation of complaints against the

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police and police support staff. These provisions also provide for the investigation of serious conduct matters in cases where no complaint has been made.

I wish to acknowledge the important contribution that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has made to the development of the new complaints system. Its report in the 1997–98 Session was, in many ways, the genesis of these reforms, and today's report broadly endorses the approach that we have taken in the Bill. As there has been extensive consultation with all stakeholders, there is strong support in the service for the new arrangements.

The new system will deliver better accessibility for complainants, greater openness and greater independence—particularly in relation to the investigation of more serious complaints. Improved access will be facilitated by allowing a representative of an aggrieved person or an independent body to submit a complaint on his or her behalf. Greater openness will be secured by a presumption in favour of maximum disclosure of information to a complaint, subject to a sensitivity test. Greater independence will be achieved by conferring on the Independent Police Complaints Commission powers to call in any case.

In the case of the more serious complaints—for example, those involving allegations of serious corruption or racist conduct—the commission will either manage or supervise the police investigation. In the most serious cases, the commission will itself undertake the investigation using its independent body of investigators.

I should like to mention a couple of issues on which we are considering tabling amendments to part 2 to respond to points made in Committee in another place. First, as it stands, part 2 excludes complaints that are about not the conduct of an individual, but operational decisions relating to the direction and control of a force. The Government accept that, in principle, there should be some mechanism whereby public concerns about the policing of major events can be addressed. In the most high-profile cases where serious concerns have been aired about the policing of a major event, we consider that there should be provision for the matter to be independently investigated. We are considering how that might best be done.

Secondly, we will table an amendment to part 2 to strengthen the protection afforded to police officers who report misconduct or criminal wrongdoing by other officers. It is right that in such cases the whistleblower should have the full protection afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, and we will therefore seek to bring police officers within the ambit of that Act. I welcome the support of the Home Affairs Committee for that step.

We intend to make a further change to part 2. In a small number of cases, a person has not been able satisfactorily to pursue his complaint against the police because of the inability of the force to identity the officer responsible for the alleged misconduct. A gentleman—I will not mention his name without his permission—who was allegedly injured by police officers in the disturbances following the England v. Germany game in 1996 is a case in point. To allow for such cases, we will table amendments to make it explicit that complaints against the police can be fully investigated when no officer can be identified. If the investigation does not reveal the identity of the officers responsible, no criminal or disciplinary proceedings

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against individual officers can follow, but if there is evidence of misconduct we would expect the chief officer to take responsibility and make an apology or ex gratia payment as appropriate.

Norman Baker (Lewes): We welcome the creation of the independent commission and the Government's proposed amendments. However, we are concerned that the new commission will be swamped by cases because of the availability of manpower and finance. Liberty and others estimate that the commission will deal with only 3 per cent. of complaints. What system will be in place to ensure that it is not swamped? Will it be possible to refer a genuine complaint to a higher level if the complainant so wishes once a case has been through the internal procedures, which is what happens with the local government ombudsman and councils?

Mr. Denham: We will discuss that in detail in Committee. The broad answer is that all complaints will, in the widest sense, come within the ambit of the IPCC. For example, an individual who is dissatisfied with the action taken in a substantial number of cases that would usually be resolved at force level, as at present, will be able to complain to the commission about the handling of his case. That facility is not available at the moment. Clearly, the commission's staff will carry out the investigation in only a minority of cases and the IPCC will directly manage, as opposed to supervising, a further minority of those investigations.

The critical consideration is that the rights of the complainant are built into the system so that someone who is dissatisfied with the handling of the case at a lower level is able to raise that within the commission. It was never the intention that the commission would investigate every complaint, including the malicious cases that inevitably come into the system. The protection is afforded, however. The IPCC acts as an umbrella over the whole system and is able to issue guidance to ensure that its responsibilities are carried out effectively.

Part 3 relates to the removal, suspension and disciplining of police officers. By their very nature, the powers, especially in respect of chief officers, will be used only as a last resort. This point was reinforced by the Home Affairs Committee in its report and I am happy to reiterate and agree with its view that we are concerned with removal in what will be exceptional circumstances.

Of course, a key part of the wider reform process is to strengthen the leadership of the service through better selection, better training and improved arrangements for professional performance appraisal. The question of the early departure of a chief officer should arise only in the most exceptional circumstances. The Police Act 1996 already provides for the retirement of a chief officer in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. So powers exist for the Home Secretary to call on a police authority to exercise its powers to require the chief officer to retire.

It is against that background that the Bill makes three main changes. First, it provides for the option of resignation rather than retirement. With more chief officers being appointed in their early to mid-40s, when retirement would not be appropriate, that is a sensible change. Secondly, the Bill makes existing procedures less cumbersome. Thirdly, it enables the police authority, either on its own initiative or at the instigation of the

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Home Secretary, to suspend the chief officer when that is necessary for the maintenance of public confidence in the force. In another place, the Government included in the Bill procedural safeguards in response to understandable concerns raised by chief officers.

Part 4 is divided into two chapters. Chapter 1 will enable the police service to employ and make more effective use of civilian support staff in a variety of new roles. By doing so, the service will be able to free up for front-line operational duties the time of the record number of police officers that we now have and to harness the work of the extended police family in supporting the police in tackling low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. It will also enable the police service to make effective use of specialist skills in tackling crime. Chapter 1 will also allow close working between the police service and other organisations providing part of the extended police family.

Chief officers will be able to designate support staff as investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers. The police reform White Paper stressed the need to improve the skills and strength of police investigating officers. In part, we will do that by enabling officers to develop careers as investigating officers, but we also need to bring in specialist skills—in IT and finance, for example—to strengthen investigating teams. Chapter 1 will enable such people to exercise appropriate police powers.

Our recent study, "The Diary of a Police Officer", found that 43 per cent. of an officer's time was spent in the police station. We can cut that by giving appropriate police powers to support staff to carry out custody and escort duties. Chapter 1 makes that possible.

Martin Linton (Battersea): Would my right hon. Friend consider extending the power of detention and the power to demand a name and address not only to community support officers but to neighbourhood wardens and street patrols, such as the one that, I am glad to say, started in Clapham Junction this morning? The power to demand a name and address is essential for work against disorder offences.

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