Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Hawkins: I have listened carefully to what the Under-Secretary has said, and I understand his point that there might be exceptional reasons why a certain category of report might not need to be published. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and I may not have chosen the perfect approach, but I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for at least accepting that the spirit of our intentions is worthy and for understanding the philosophy behind them. My worry was more broadly concerned with parliamentary scrutiny than the whole matter going before a wider public. I freely concede that the words

    ''and cause the report to be published''

would place every report in the public domain.

Does the Under-Secretary accept that my suggestion that parliamentary scrutiny could be dealt with differently? A different exception could be added at the end of subsection (5), saying:

    ''and caused the report to be published (except in circumstances where the commission and the Home Secretary both felt that there was an exceptional public interest reason for it not to be in the public domain).''

Alternatively, will the Government consider tabling an amendment, under which the Home Affairs Committee can see every report? We want to ensure that an issue that is sufficiently important for the IPCC to report it to the Home Secretary is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. A form of wording may enable that to happen without all reports having to enter a wide public domain. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will consider that. He knows where we are coming from. There is no division in the Committee about the need for openness.

3.15 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not want to give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that I shall make changes. I try to be reasonable and consider all proposals that are put to me. I hope he accepts that, given our previous exchanges in other Committees. I am sure that he accepts my point that the amendment would trammel the IPCC and not the Home Secretary. I am not saying that I shall not consider the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I do not want to give the impression that I want to move away from allowing the IPCC to give reports to the Home Secretary with the comfort of knowing that, when it is not appropriate, they will not go further than him.

Mr. Hawkins: I accept from all my dealings with the Under-Secretary that he is reasonable and thinks constructively about such matters. I am grateful to him for his intervention. It gives me the comfort of knowing that he will give further thought to the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and I accept that there could be

Column Number: 149

better ways in which to deal with the problem to take account of our worries and the risks that may arise from the wording of the amendment. In those circumstances, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Complaints, matters and persons

to which Part 2 applies

Mr. Paice: I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 12, line 34, at end insert

    '; or

    (d) he is an accredited person for the purposes of section 37'.

This morning, the Under-Secretary said that he was pleased that I was not about to pursue the complaints procedure because it went beyond his brief. I do not know whether he was hoping that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety would be here by now, but we have now reached the point at which I wish to pursue the matter.

The purpose of the amendment is to bring people who are serving within an accredited community safety scheme within the remit of the IPCC. That is a straightforward objective and there is no getting away from it. Assuming that new clause 9 is included in the Bill, and on the basis of what the Under-Secretary said about the complaints procedure for contracted-out staff, if there is a complaint against a police officer, clearly, it would go to the IPCC, as would a complaint against a civilian support officer. Complaints against contracted-out escort or detention officers would also be—to use the Under-Secretary's words—within the remit of the IPCC.

However, if there is a complaint against an individual employed within an accredited community safety scheme, frankly, the complaint procedures are extremely vague. We have not yet reached clause 34 and schedule 5 which bring those officials into being. The chief officer simply has to be persuaded that the employer—whether a local authority or anyone else—has a satisfactory complaints procedure. That means that the complaint would be heard only by that employer, so there would be no level of independence. Clearly, the complaint would not be anything like as rigorously investigated or resolved, as would be the case if it were referred to the IPCC.

With your forbearance, Miss Widdecombe, I will refer to later clauses and schedules because they specifically relate to the amendment. Schedule 5, sets out the proposed

    ''powers exercisable by accredited persons''.

I am the first to accept that those powers are not as wide as those being given to community support officers. I am pleased that the Government agreed with the view expressed in the other place and by both Opposition parties that accredited persons should not have powers of detention, and that the Government decided not to reintroduce that measure for members of accredited schemes.

Column Number: 150

Nevertheless, significant police powers are granted within schedule 5, all of which will also be held by community safety officers. A contradictory situation could arise whereby, in the same borough, town or village, a community support officer could be employed by a police authority, be wearing the appropriate uniform, and do something that gives rise to a complaint. A member of the public knows that any complaint would ultimately go to the IPCC.

In the next street, however, an official within an accredited community safety scheme, who is also attired in an official uniform and using identical powers—confiscation of alcohol, for example—may also do something that gives rise to a complaint. If a member of the public wishes to complain, they have only the assurance that the complaint will be investigated by the employer. That is an inconsistency within the Bill, and extremely confusing to the public. The same power misused by one person is investigated by an independent commission, but misused by another person, it is investigated simply by that person's employer.

The situation becomes even murkier when we take into account this morning's amendments. As I understand it, the contracted-out staff may be employed by organisations such as Group 4 or Securicor—I readily accept that there could be others. From studies and visits we also know that accredited community safety schemes may involve the same organisations. I know that on that aspect there is a difference of opinion between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. That debate will take place at a later date. However, under the Bill is drafted, accredited community safety schemes could be run by employers such as Securicor or Group 4. We could face circumstances in which some members of staff of Securicor who are contracted out could ultimately have misconduct reported to the IPCC, whereas other members of staff employed by the same employer using police powers granted under schedule 5 would have allegations of misconduct investigated only by Securicor or Group 4, or whoever is involved.

Norman Baker: Even worse, it could be the same member of staff, who is transferred within the organisation on different tasks and on one day is under the IPCC and on another is under his employer.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman is right. It makes matters even murkier that the same member of staff could be involved.

The amendment is intended to encourage the Minister to consider consistency and transparency. First, there should be consistency in the accountability for the use of police powers. If people with police powers are accused of misconduct in using them, ultimately they should all be investigated by the same authority with the same rigour and independence.

Secondly, on transparency, such people are there to serve, as are we. The public must understand the line of accountability and consideration of complaints. We cannot expect members of the public to understand all the ins and outs of the different members of the police family. The ordinary person in the street, if such a person exists, will know that there is someone in a

Column Number: 151

uniform acting in some way as a policeman. They will probably know that that person is not a proper policeman, but we cannot expect them to know that the powers that such people have depend on who employs them, and to whom to complain. The public need transparency and should know when someone in uniform is using police powers, exactly whom to complain to and that that complaint will be considered in the same way regardless of who the person may be—it could, as the hon. Gentleman says, even be the same official.

There are two fundamental reasons—one of which relates to consistency, the other to transparency—why it is essential for people who use police powers and serve in an accredited community safety scheme to be brought within the remit of the independent commission. The Under-Secretary may say, as he said this morning in answer to challenges from Opposition Members, that it is not possible to specify that in the Bill, as we have in the amendment, because of different employment law, for example. If that were the reason, I would happily accept that I might be technically wrong. However, I hope that he will not try to dismiss the issue on that technicality. A huge distinction is involved. He is taking powers in new clause 9 to issue regulations to deal with the anomaly—to repeat his words, regulations to bring contracted-out staff within the remit of the independent commission. There seems no reason why the Secretary of State could not issue regulations to bring accredited community safety officials within the IPCC's remit.

3.30 pm

I do not want us to get too bogged down in the precise wording of the amendment. The issue is whether such people should fall within the independent commission's remit. I believe that they should, and the Government will be hard pushed to persuade me otherwise.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 13 June 2002