Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 36, line 11, leave out from 'with' to end of line 14 and insert,

    'any local authority falling within the police authority area'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 13, in page 36, line 15, leave out 'employers' and insert 'local authorities'.

No. 14, in page 36, line 19, leave out 'employers' and insert 'local authorities'.

No. 15, in page 36, line 23, at end add—

    '(7) In this section ''local authority'' means the relevant local authority, that is to say—

    (a) in relation to England, a county council, a district council, a London borough council, a metropolitan council, a unitary council or the Common Council of the City of London; and

    (b) in relation to Wales, a county council or a county borough council.'.

No. 16, in clause 37, page 36, line 27, leave out 'any employer' and insert 'a local authority'.

No. 17, in page 36, line 28, after 'employees', insert 'or sub-contractors'.

No. 18, in page 36, line 28, leave out 'employer' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 19, in page 36, line 30, leave out 'person' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 21, in page 36, line 31, after 'employee', insert 'or sub-contractor'.

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No. 22, in page 36, line 31, leave out 'employer' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 23, in page 36, line 36, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 24, in page 37, line 8, leave out 'employer' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 25, in page 37, line 17, leave out second 'person' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 26, in page 37, line 18, leave out 'whom' and insert 'which'.

No. 27, in page 37, line 20, at end add—

    '(9) In this section ''local authority'' means the relevant local authority, that is to say—

    (a) in relation to England, a county council, a district council, a London borough council, a Metropolitan borough council, a unitary council or the Common Council of the City of London; and

    (b) in relation to Wales, a county council or a county borough council.'.

No. 36, in clause 38, page 37, line 37, after 'time', insert,

    '(and in case of accreditation under section 37, after consultation with the local authority)'.

No. 37, in page 37, line 43, leave out 'employer' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 38, in page 38, line 2, after 'employees', insert 'or sub-contractors'.

No. 39, in page 38, line 2, leave out 'person' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 40, in page 38, line 8, leave out first 'employer' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 41, in page 38, line 8, leave out 'or employer'.

Norman Baker: We are addressing many amendments, but most of them are consequential to amendment No. 12, so I shall focus on the principle of accountability.

During the Parliament that ended in 1997, I imagine that this sort of amendment would have been eagerly tabled by Labour hon. Members. They would have been frothing at the bit to object to the Conservative Government's introduction of powers to extend policing to the private sector without accountability. They would have leapt up and down about such a proposal. However, I suspect that they will all vote against my proposal to put controls on how far the private sector can be involved in policing in a way that I regard as unaccountable—Labour Members have not yet convinced me that that is not the case.

Committee members from all parties have frequently said that accountability is a key issue. The central question is whether it is right or in the public interest to extend policing powers—albeit relatively minor ones—to those who are not directly accountable to the police, or to an elected body such as a local authority, or even to housing associations, or other bodies that have pseudo-respectability.

The Minister envisages that a private company can, for its own reasons, deploy members of staff, who are answerable to it and acting in its interests, to undertake what is effectively public policing. There may be an argument for the accreditation of individuals, where they are solely on private property—for example, in supermarkets—although whether they should have police powers is another matter.

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We are all in favour of bringing up the standards of those who act as security guards, or in similar capacities. However, we are talking about a different matter when, first, they are given police powers and, secondly, they may be operating in public areas.

Newhaven town centre, in my constituency, is privately owned, apart from the high street that runs through the middle of it. It is not covered; it looks like any other highway. However, I presume that the owners of Newhaven town centre will be able to apply for—and would receive—authorisation from the chief constable for an accredited scheme to be operative there. If that were to happen, if someone was cycling in the town centre in an area that they regarded to be public land, an individual who was employed by a private company—and who was, predominantly, looking after its interests, rather than the public's—would be able to stop them and give them a fixed penalty ticket for riding on a footway, or for consuming alcohol, or for any of the other categories of powers that are set out in schedule 5.

They include the power to require the name and address of a person who is acting in an antisocial manner. The Minister has, under pressure, withdrawn the right of accredited persons to detain people, and I welcome that, but that does not go far enough. His current line is inconsistent, because he now proposes to allow these people to require a name and address, but not to give them any powers to enforce that. It would be better if they did not have that power because, at present, there is no sanction if someone says, ''Get lost.''

There could be a situation in which a private company has interests divergent from those of the public, and rather than acting in the public interest such people would act in the interests of the company concerned. The type of restrictions that they wish to put in place and the sort of behaviour that they wish to engender within the area of the scheme in which they are operating, may not be ones that the public at large would wish to see. However, having got past the hurdle of the chief constable, the private organisation would be able to have the powers.

The chief constable is the only publicly accountable safeguard within the scheme because the Minister has rejected our view that the local police authority should be able to determine whether the scheme should be set up. We are relying on one person—the chief constable—to ensure that private individuals who have police powers and act in a private company's interests are also acting in the public interest. To some degree, that is policing for profit.

I draw the Minister's attention to the view of the Police Federation of England and Wales. He may choose to paint it as one of self-interest, but they are police officers on the ground and know the realities of policing better than either the Minister or myself—they fill a space at it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The federation says that it is totally opposed to the powers conferred in the Bill on accredited safety officers. It believes that the public will be even more confused about the role and powers of ACSOs, and

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that the involvement of the private sector opens up a series of nightmare scenarios, including infiltration by those minded to further criminal activities.

We have discussed the view that arrangements for handling complaints against ACSOs lack transparency and accountability, which the federation also believes. It is concerned that chief officers could also end up facing civil action arising out of ACSO schemes.

The federation raises serious concerns. Why does the Minister not envisage a system of policing in which police powers are enforced by people directly accountable to the police or to a local authority? When we discussed CSOs in an earlier debate, the Minister was keen to say that their powers were comparable to local authority powers. We did not necessarily buy that argument, but he raised, by way of defence, the powers of environmental health officers, trading standards officers or planning officers going on to sites to look at planning applications. The difference between those three and the scheme proposed is that they are all accountable to the local authority. At the end of the day, there is a proper complaints system that is publicly accountable. There are elected councillors who will lose their seats if anything goes wrong. There is a local government ombudsman and a system in place that people respect. That will not happen under this arrangement.

Mr. Jones: I am somewhat lost by the argument pursued by the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, the schemes would have to be approved by the chief constable and their effectiveness monitored. The amendment seems to imply that the safeguard of democracy is somehow to have them under the control of the local authority. The conclusion of the argument would be that the police authority should come directly under the same control, or that we should have directly elected police authorities. As he knows, the police authority is not solely made up of councillors, and the only way to have the accountability that he seeks would be to have them under control or directly elected.

Norman Baker: That is a red herring, although I do not know whether it is a deliberate or well-meaning one. The Government recognise that there is a major role for local authorities in policing. They introduced crime and disorder partnerships. I give credit to the Government for that good idea, which seems to be working well. It combines the benefit of police experience and professionalism with the opportunity for locally elected councillors who know their patches well to have an input into what happens on the streets. It works well and I give the Government credit.

However, both those elements are accountable and the hon. Gentleman misses the point that what is proposed comes outside the crime and disorder partnership—it is at one stage removed. There may well be arguments about how the police authority is constructed—whether it should be partly elected, and what the democratic accountability should be—but that is a separate issue to that proposed today. We are discussing the accountability of privately employed people having police powers.

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Prepared 25 June 2002