Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Brooke: Does the Minister envisage that there would be no circumstances in which a police constable would not be summoned to the aid of a detention officer in a station?

Mr. Ainsworth: All kinds of circumstances are likely to arise in detention areas of police stations. All kinds of decisions have to be made and people have to help. I ask hon. Members to accept that medical staff are present at and conduct the overwhelming majority of intimate searches that are carried out in police stations. That will continue. It is felt that a non-medical person ought to deal quickly with some emergencies. If civilians are to be there, it is appropriate that we train them to take decisions and involve themselves in such urgent circumstances. What is important is that they are appropriately trained and deal with emergencies in the right way. In such circumstances, there is no advantage in dragging a constable from another part of the police station to conduct the search.

Ian Lucas: Would not another relevant circumstance be if an emergency arose on the journey that we discussed earlier from Lewes to

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Wrexham, with an escort officer and an individual in a motor vehicle, but no police officer or medical person present? In those circumstances, it might be in the interests of the detained person as well as the escort officer for a search to take place at that time.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is right to point out that it is essential for people who will be given the powers to have the appropriate skills, so that they can use them in all circumstances in which they are required.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked whether I meant that the provisions would involve bringing certain individuals within the remit of the IPCC. I am happy to say that that is the intention, but we cannot do it simply through the Bill because the sanctions or charges that might be brought against a person within the complaints procedure will depend upon the contractual arrangements entered into. It needs to be done through secondary legislation.

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Contracts will have to be entered into in the full knowledge of the requirements that will apply to the staff, and in the knowledge that staff will be covered by the complaints procedure and people will be able to make complaints against them. The contracts will have to cover the situation whereby they will be cancelled if there is an inability to meet the standards required. If contracts are cancelled, designated powers will automatically fall for all of the employees of the contract.

Norman Baker: Let me try to get some clarity about this matter, at least in my own mind. If a member of the public makes a complaint against a person who works for a private company undertaking escort or detention work for the police, can the complaint be investigated independently by a member of the IPCC, in the same way as a complaint against a police officer can be?

Mr. Ainsworth: There are two important things. First, so as not to confuse members of the public as to what complaints procedure they should use, we want them to be able to use the same complaints procedure in all cases. We do not want them to have to ask whether the person involved was a police officer or a civilian or whether one of each was involved. We want them to be able to make a complaint simply, openly and easily, so the same complaint procedure should be used for all cases. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that such complaints would fall within the remit of the IPCC.

I ask hon. Members to accept that we need to introduce measures by secondary legislation because we need to tailor the charges and sanctions that might be brought against individuals to the contractual arrangements. We intend that the arrangements should mirror the independent complaints procedure as closely as is practical, so that there is one system that will not only be convenient for people to use but will meet the standards that we want to achieve.

I hope that I have been able to satisfy people on the issues of intimate searches and contractual arrangements.

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The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire raised the issue of legal liability for unlawful conduct in amendment No. 224. The amendment creates new subsections (8) and (9) to cover the

    ''liability for the unlawful conduct of employees of a person with whom a chief officer of police has entered into any arrangements for the purposes of a community safety accreditation scheme''.

In respect of contracted-out staff, we have attributed the liability to the employer. The normal legal position is that an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of his employee in the course of his employment. Persons contracted to provide detention services are likely to be operating in a police station under the day-to-day control of a police officer. It will be for the employer to join the police officer as a party if the action complained of arose from a direction given by someone for whom the chief officer was responsible—if a police custody officer told a contracted-out detention officer what to do, for example. Escort officers are likely to have a little more independence of action than those employed within a custody suite, but their employer should also be liable for the conduct in relation to their designation. Where the liability lies depends upon where the instruction came from. We have no desire to break the responsibility of employers for the actions of their employees. I do not know whether I have managed to satisfy the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire.

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way. His answer has gone a considerable way towards satisfying me. Amendment No. 224 also refers to employees of accredited community safety schemes, which is a slightly different matter, but of equal concern.

I understand the Under-Secretary's point about the employer being able to join the chief constable in action that might arise for liability for unlawful conduct. However, my concern is that individuals may have used police powers unlawfully. That is why I wonder whether the police should have some responsibility, or liability, for the way in which people use or misuse the powers that the police, not their employer, have given them. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would also speak about employees of accredited community safety schemes.

Mr. Ainsworth: Whether we are talking about accredited community safety officers, detention officers or escort officers, the basic principle is that employers must maintain responsibility for their employees. They have entered into a contractual arrangement; they are aware of the powers that will be given to their employees under that contractual arrangement. The fact that their employees might misuse the powers that they have been given should not rule them out of any responsibility for the people whom they have chosen to employ. However, if they are under the direction of a police officer in their actions, the responsibility moves to the chief constable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that giving their employees powers should not remove the liability of employers for their behaviour.

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Mr. Johnson: I am sorry if I seem to be slow, but I should like to be absolutely clear about something. If I am frisked by a detention officer at Heathrow and complain that I have been mistreated, will the new IPPC investigate the behaviour of the detention officer?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is not right, because that is not necessarily the case for a police officer. There are arrangements to decide who should deal with complaints. We envisage that the majority of complaints will still be dealt with by the force, but the IPPC will be able to involve itself if it so chooses. It will have oversight of the system, including complaints made against civilian staff as well as those made against constables. There is no desire or intention to make the system in any way different.

The hon. Gentleman raises another issue, which is not directly connected with civilian staff. There is no automatic right in the early stages of a complaint for it to be dealt with by the IPPC. Of course, if people are unhappy about the way in which their complaint is dealt with, they can always say so to the IPPC, but there is no automatic right in the way that he suggests. That applies to police officers in the same way as it does to civilian staff.

Norman Baker: I am still trying to clarify the matter and the Under-Secretary's reply has probably muddied it rather than cleared it up. I think that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and I are asking the same thing. If the independent commission decides, in a minority of cases—not the majority that are dealt with in another way—that it needs to investigate an incident itself, will it have the same powers with respect to a private company as it does with a police officer? Will it be able to take evidence, look through the accounts and take statements, for example?

The Chairman: We may be drifting into the procedures used by the IPCC rather than the establishment of that commission. Schedule 3 will allow us to talk about conduct and procedures. The questions are pertinent, but I do not want to drift into another schedule.

Mr. Ainsworth: You are right, Mr. Chairman. The hon. Member for Henley has raised a wider issue and his is a different question from that of the hon. Member for Lewes. I understand why he has raised it and I shall try to make it clear. The hon. Member for Lewes is right. The same procedure will apply. The IPCC will have the ability to look at a complaint in the same way as it would if one were made against a constable. The hon. Member for Henley put it the other way around. He asked whether an individual, if frisked, had the right to ask for the independent commission to investigate his case. I was trying to answer both questions. I hope that I have now satisfied hon. Members that the intention is that the regulations mirror the system for ease as well as for the standards that are to be maintained.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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