Mr. Denham: This is an important new clause, which has, I accept, been introduced relatively late in the day. It will make amendments to deem police authorities and, in Scotland, police boards to be employers of police officers for the purposes of health and safety legislation. In the case of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, the service authority for each will be deemed to be the employer of police officers for that purpose.
Currently, health and safety legislation treats chief officers as the employer of police officers. That has led to the anomaly that chief officers are personally liable when prosecuted as employer for criminal offences
Of course, where a health and safety offence has been committed with the consent of, or through neglect by, an individual, that person should be personally liable, and that will not be altered by these changes.
The measures will replicate for police officers the position that already exists for police support staff, and the position that will exist under the Bill in relation to designated support staff. In both cases, police authorities are employer.
Police authorities are well able to discharge the employers' duties and liabilities set out in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. They already fulfil that role in relation to civilians, and the Home Office will negotiate detailed arrangements with all the relevant parties in relation to police officers, in the framework of police authority responsibilities and powers set out in the Police Act 1996.
Those arrangements will be enshrined in a statutory code of practice. We have consulted the Association of Chief Police Officers and other relevant bodies, and we believe that arrangements can be arrived at which will not undermine the operational independence of chief officers.
We will give priority to producing the code. It will provide that police authorities are responsible for ensuring that chief officers have in place a suitable regime for dealing with health and safety issues, and that police authorities can call for reports if they are not satisfied that chief officers are carrying out their responsibilities in that area. The code will make it clear that police authorities are not responsible for carrying out health and safety risk assessments, which will continue to be a matter for chief officers.
Mr. Hawkins: Once again, I can be brief. Although we understand entirely what the Government proposewe see a great deal of sense in itwe raised in Committee our concerns about the growth of the so-called compensation culture and the fact that, as the Minister is well aware and as he fairly accepted in Committee, on many occasions police authorities have been severely hit by compensation claims of various kinds. Taxpayers' money, instead of going on front-line policing, pays for compensation or the increased cost of police pensions, which is a matter of grave concern to many people, both inside and well beyond the House.
In the winding-up speech to what I hope is a fairly brief debate, I hope that the Minister says that the Government will keep under review the question of the compensation culture in relation to the police and police authorities. We certainly do not oppose the Government bringing the position in respect of chief officers in line with that relating to civilian staffas the Minister said, that seems eminently sensiblebut one would not want a chief officer to be regarded and treated in the courts as
We understand entirely what the Government are doing, but we remain concerned. We hope that the Minister confirms that he will keep the compensation culture and its effect on police authority funds for front-line policing under review.
Norman Baker: I can be even briefer. I recognise the reason for introducing the new clause, which I welcome as an entirely sensible measure. I hope that I can continue to welcome Government measures as sensible. If I show such generosity, the Government may reciprocate one day.
Mr. Hogg: I have but one reservation. I accept that there is a good case for transferring responsibility to the police authorities, but if they are to perform the various duties under the legislation, they may, in certain circumstances, find themselves making decisions of an operational kind; otherwise, they will be unable to comply with the obligations under the health and safety legislation.
Lady Hermon: I have a request for clarification, which arises out of a briefing that right hon. and hon. Members were invited to attend last week with the Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner. During those discussions it became clear that the new community support officers will be equipped with only a radio: they will not have handcuffs or a truncheon. The new clause makes it clear that the relevant authority means members of a police force, a special constable or a police cadet. Does that cover the duty of care that is owed to the new community support officers?
Mr. Denham: The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that this new clause does not directly address that issue, because CSOs as support staff are already direct employees of the police authority, so they are covered by health and safety legislation. Constables or sworn officers are being brought into line with the responsibilities of the police authority. There is no change in the position of CSOs, as in our view they are already appropriately covered.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to operational issues. He may have noticed that I read out my speaking note with more than the usual care. I set out our proposals for a code of practice to govern the way in which police authorities exercise their responsibilities, and said that the position of the chief constable would be protected. After discussion with the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, we are confident that police authorities will be able to accept the responsibilities that they are given under this new clause and that the proper independence of chief officers will be protected. We must give priority to producing the statutory code of practice.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) for his support for this measure, and for his recognition of the Government's generosity. We always seek opportunities to reciprocate, although we have not found many yet.
This clause was debated at some length in Committee. We see it as a perfectly reasonable and proportionate mechanism, which requires the affirmative resolution procedure. It gives this and future Governments the flexibility to add limited powers to and to take limited powers out of schedules 4 and 5. Essentially, it enables the Government to give limited powers to community support officers and accredited community safety officers, or in the light of experience to remove those powers from the menu available.
It is worth mentioning that the Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform in the other place saw nothing wrong with the procedure in the clause. A precedent has been set by the Bill, because my understanding is that up until this Bill it had been a matter of course for Governments and Oppositions to respect, pretty much without question, the conclusions of the Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. A precedent has now been set in the other place for not respecting the decisions of that Committee, although I am not sure that that will serve us well in the long run.
None the less, we are moving into the closing stages of our proceedings on the Bill. It is perfectly clear to me that the opposition that this clause has faced is likely to arise again in the House of Lords, where the Government do not have a majority. For that reason we have added our names to the consequential amendment No. 2. What we will lose by doing that is flexibility. Should it in future be shown that existing legislation should apply to community support officers or to accredited community safety officers, that will be much more difficult. Equally, should it appear in the light of experience that a power has been made available to chief constables that should not have been made available, it will be a much more laborious and lengthy process for Parliament to remove it. That is the cost attached to the amendment, but I recognise the parliamentary arithmetic.
I hope that in later discussions there will be support for the measures that we have introduced to enable local authority traffic wardens and others to have additional powers to help with the escort of abnormal loads and to take part in traffic checks. We intended to extend powers in that area, so we have brought that measure forward as soon as possible, because we believe that those powers would rapidly have been seen to be necessary.