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Standing Committee Debates
Police Reform Bill [Lords]

Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Standing Committee A

Tuesday 25 June 2002


[Miss Ann Widdecombe in the Chair]

Police Reform Bill [Lords]

10.30 am

The Chairman: I remind members of the Committee that mobile phones and pagers should either function silently or not at all. Our proceedings must not be interrupted by bleeps, rings or whirrs.

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move,


    (1) the Order of the Committee of 23rd May, 2002 be amended as follows—

    (a) in sub-paragraph (6) (proceedings to be brought to a conclusion by 1.00pm on Tuesday, 25 June 2002), for the words '', Clauses 38 to 42 and New Clauses and New Schedules relating to Chapter 1 of Part 4'' there shall be substituted the words ''and Clauses 38 to 42''; and

    (b) in sub-paragraph (7) (proceedings to be concluded by 7.00pm on that day), after the words ''proceedings on'' there shall be inserted the words ''New Clauses and New Schedules relating to Chapter 1 of Part 4,''.

    (2) the Standing Committee recommends that 1 1/2 days be allotted for consideration and Third reading of the Police Reform Bill [Lords].

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 4

Powers exercisable by police civilians

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I beg to move amendment No. 66 in page 134, line 19, at end insert

    'whom he reasonably suspects to be in possession of an object that is likely to cause harm or injury'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 67 in page 135, line 3, at end insert

    'whom he reasonably suspects to be in possession of an object that is likely to cause harm or injury'.

Mrs. Brooke: Amendment No. 66 refers to the power of an escort officer to take an arrested person to a police station and amendment No. 67 is concerned with the escort of persons in police detention. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and I want to insert into the Bill a protective clause. At present, an escort officer has the power to search a person in his lawful custody and retain any items found. My hon. Friend has frequently asked at which point we draw the line because he believes that the provision is a step too far. We are concerned about liberty and direct infringements, and we do not want to go the whole way down such a road.

The amendment recognises those situations in which a search must be conducted in order to prevent an incident, which might cause harm to the officer or

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the person in custody. It is logical and it is necessary for the protection of people. The escort officer must reasonably suspect that a person is in possession of an object that is likely to cause harm or injury before being able to carry out such a search. Then—and only then—could a non-intimate search take place. The amendment would add basic criteria to the Bill, which should be in place before a search can be made. It would result in the best of both worlds. It would safeguard the rights of the citizen, but would allow for a search to be made to protect the escort officer.

Mr. Denham: Unfortunately, I was absent from the first sitting that you chaired, Miss Widdecombe, so I should now like to say how pleased I am to see you in the Chair rather than where the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) is sitting in Committee.

The amendments would restrict the powers of escort officers to conduct a search because they will confine the grounds to situations in which escort officers reasonably suspect a person to be in a possession of an object that is likely to cause harm or injury. The Government will resist them because they would hamper the ability of escort officers to carry out their duties. Consequently, there would be little point in designating non-police officers as escort officers in the first place and that would undermine our aim of freeing-up police officers for other duties. There is a good reason why escort officers who have detainees in their lawful custody should have the same powers as constables to search those persons under subsection (6A) of section 54 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and to seize anything found on such a search under subsection (6B) of section 54 of the Act. After all, escort officers are under a duty to prevent people whom they are escorting from escaping and are responsible for the safety of those in their custody.

It is important that an escort officer is able to conduct a search to ascertain whether the person in his custody has on him anything that he could use to cause physical injury to himself or another person, damage property, interfere with evidence or assist escape. The ability should not be restricted by a reasonable suspicion of possession test.

As an example, an escort officer might escort a detained person from one police station to another who might have on them a seemingly harmless item such as a mobile phone, which might be used to assist in organising an escape. Under the amendment, the escort officer would be unable to seize the item, because they would be unable to conduct a search, and because of the nature of the item itself.

An even more serious situation would be when the person being escorted has a concealed knife. The officer might not have reasonable grounds to suspect that a knife is being carried until it has been pulled on him or another person, by which time it is too late.

Given that police officers do not routinely search every person they escort, that raises the question of on what grounds and on what basis police officers who exercise the power carry out a search. In practice, I am told, police officers tend to exercise their PACE powers by carrying out a risk assessment. They would not

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search every person, but there would be some in whose case they thought that the risk was higher and a search would be carried out. That seems a reasonable approach. That does not necessarily pass a strict legal test of reasonable suspicion. They would consider the nature of the individual whom they were escorting.

To apply a test, whether to police officers or escort officers, of reasonable suspicion, would unnecessarily constrain their powers. It is far better for those escorting detained persons to have the scope to search whenever they are worried that certain articles might be concealed and about whether articles could be used for any of the purposes set out in section 54(4)(a). That is the position for police officers. There is no evidence that that power is misused or wrongly applied, and I see no basis for a more restrictive approach for civilian escort officers. On that basis, I ask the Committee to resist the amendments.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On this occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, I and other Conservative Members agree more with the Minister than with the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke). On many occasions, we have shared the views of Liberal Democrat Members in trying to amend the Bill, but, for the purely practical reasons that the Minister set out, the amendment would unduly hamper the work that such officers will be asked to do.

Those of us who, like me, have spent time working as a barrister, visiting cells and seeing the work of those carrying out detention and escort duties, believe that it is essential that people designated for such work have the opportunity to do searches properly, without being unduly hampered, both for their own protection and, as the Minister explained, for the preservation of law and order more generally. Although we understand entirely the genuine motivation of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole in tabling the amendment, on this occasion, we cannot support her because we agree with the Minister.

Mrs. Brooke: I listened carefully to the Minister, and on the basis that he came up with an argument that was not only persuasive but right, in as far as our amendment had not covered circumstances in which someone was carrying something that would aid escape, I cannot, being a reasonable person, say other than that seems perfectly reasonable.I shall beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, because I accept the reasonableness of the argument, but I still believe that we are going down a road that I am not convinced that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and I want to go down.

I ask the Minister to consider the guidance that should be given to civilians. He ably described how a police constable would carry out a risk assessment, but for someone with far more limited training, an adequate risk assessment is difficult to carry out on the spur of the moment. We have spoken quite a lot about training and that would be of particular importance in this matter. On the subject of guidance, there should be

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more instances when the search could take place, but I am not happy with a carte blanche. I put it to the Minister that a line needs to be drawn somewhere, but not in the place suggested under the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 206, in page 134, line 33, leave out 'under section 35'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Mr. Denham:: I beg to move amendment No. 207, in page 134, line 37, after second 'that' insert 'or any other police'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 208 to 211.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said that we are going down a road that she is not happy with. The amendments address the question of how long that road is. As hon. Members will realise, the Bill as drafted allows escort officers to carry out their duties within only one police force area. Quite reasonably, the police put it to us that there is no reason why, if someone was arrested in Northumbria but was wanted for questioning in Surrey, a civilian escort officer should not escort him. The amendments to schedule 4 paragraph 31 would allow designated escort officers to escort detainees between police force areas. The amendments are purely practical, and I commend them to the Committee.


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