Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Stinchcombe: Will my right hon. Friend clarify a matter that is troubling me? It relates to the legal nature of the arrangements that he envisages will be entered into under subsection (5). Who will, ordinarily, be the parties to those arrangements? If they were breached, would any legal sanction be available?

Mr. Denham: The arrangement would be between the police and the employers. The Bill provides for the chief constable to remove accreditation at any point if he is not satisfied that standards are being met. I shall take the opportunity to find out whether any further advice arrives, but the emphasis in drafting the Bill was that the chief officer would be able to end the scheme at any point at which he felt that the standards were not being met, and, similarly, would have the discretion to remove from accreditation schemes people who do not meet the standard.

Mr. Stinchcombe: As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) said, it would be impossible under judicial review to compel an exercise of discretion, but it may be possible to quash an exercise of discretion. If the chief constable ceased the arrangements, might the matter come before the courts?

Mr. Denham: As always, in the case of every matter that we discuss in every Bill these days, with the growth of administrative law, public servants such as chief constables have a general duty to act reasonably. We believe that a chief constable's responsibilities in the Bill in relation to satisfying himself about complaints about training and other matters should be sufficient for him not to be—I suspect that this is my hon. Friend's fear—backed into a corner where he is deeply unhappy with how a scheme is operating but feels unable to do anything about it.

In drafting the Bill, we tried to make the chief constable's responsibilities clear and ensure that each of the points on which he needed to be satisfied were points on which he could say, ''I am no longer satisfied'', so that that scheme, employee or employer would no longer be part of the operation. Although I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, I hope that we have structured the provision—

The Chairman: Order. I know that it is difficult from the Front Bench, but if the Minister turns his back entirely to the Chair, that confuses not only the Chair but the Hansard reporters.

Mr. Denham: I apologise, Miss Widdecombe. I hope that we have avoided the situation about which my hon. Friend was concerned.

12 noon

Mr. Paice: I want to pick up the Minister on his point about there being only one scheme. Most of us had recognised that there would be only one scheme in a whole force area, so in London, there would be only one scheme for the whole Met.

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I challenge the Minister on his point that there will be no bilateral arrangements. Clause 37 makes it clear that a chief police officer will make direct arrangements with employers and with every individual accredited community safety officer. Each ACSO will be approved. Therefore, there will be many bilateral arrangements among separate employers under the scheme's umbrella. That point also relates to powers. I am not sure whether each officer within the scheme automatically has the same powers or whether, as clause 37 suggests, separate arrangements will exist to determine which powers are allocated to each officer.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman has picked me up on a perfectly fair point. Although I was right to say that there will not be separate individual accreditation schemes between different employers and the police, the Bill clearly provides for arrangements with employers in the way that he described. Indeed, that is important when considering the private sector and, perhaps, warden and guard schemes that relate to registered social landlords. The Bill will enable accredited individuals' powers to be restricted to not only their working duties, but their place of work. For example, an accredited person employed as a guard in a major shopping centre might be able to exercise his powers only when at work and in the centre. All accredited individuals under a London scheme, for example, would not be able to exercise their powers everywhere in London. That is important because it would make no sense if the Bill allowed a security company's employees who guarded a specific shopping centre to have a range of police powers in circumstances in which they were not accountable to their employer or not at work. The hon. Gentleman was right, which allowed me to clarify my earlier statement about bilateral powers.

I turn to the complaints procedure, which is covered by subsection (6). As schemes develop and guidance is issued, the model for the complaints procedure might vary within a scheme from employer to employer. For example, if a local authority had a well-established complaints system that covered their employees, the chief officer might choose to build on that system for people employed by a local authority. The chief officer would need to be satisfied that adequate complaints procedures were available to people working for a registered social landlord or a private sector employer.

I think that the subsection is a part of the Bill about which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said that it is reasonable for law makers to ask whether we have sufficient detail at this stage. The Bill contains sufficient responsibilities because it is clear that the chief officer has responsibility for ensuring that there is an adequate complaints procedure. The Bill provides sufficient levers to ensure good practice, notably through a later clause that will allow us to issue codes of practice. We should be able to ensure that a good complaints procedure is in place for each case. It would be a mistake, however, to expect that a single national

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complaints procedure should be prescribed from the centre to cover the entire range of organisations that could come within a local accreditation scheme.

Training is covered by clause 37(4)(d). Again, it will need to be appropriate to the powers that are being exercised. We expect Centrex—the central police training and development authority—to establish training packages. It will build on the work that has been undertaken successfully over the past year and examine the responsibilities of police officers and others, and the type of training that is necessary to deliver those competencies and responsibilities. We shall set down in the training packages for accredited staff—as for CSOs—what skills they are expected to exercise and show how they have been trained to carry out such skills in line with training procedures. It is much more important to concentrate on the content of training in that logical way rather than on whether it was undertaken for three, five or seven weeks. It is critical to identify the powers and responsibilities that will be exercised to make sure that the training is appropriate. As experience develops, we shall be able to use the powers under later clauses to impose a binding code of practice.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): How will the success or otherwise of the training be assessed? If it is found to be unsuccessful and the ACSOs fail their exams, will they be made to take them again?

Mr. Denham: At present, there is constant feedback between the police service and training bodies about the quality of training. When deficiencies are identified, they are addressed within that process. I expect it to be similar under the Bill. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked about the exercise of police powers. The Bill does not require each exercise of police powers to be reported to the chief constable any more than each parking ticket given by a local authority traffic warden is reported to the chief constable, even though such activity was carried out by a police employee a few years ago. As part of their self-assurance about the operation of the schemes, we expect chief constables to have in place adequate monitoring to show how the accredited community safety officers were working, the effectiveness or otherwise of their powers and the overall impact on levels of crime, antisocial behaviour and public reassurance. I do not believe that it would be sensible or necessary for the Government to prescribe those mechanisms in the setting up of the schemes.

Patrick Mercer: The reason why I asked that question is that a detention officer in Newark said that, while his job was useful, worthwhile and relieved a regular police officer, his training lacked in depth and quality. He acknowledged that he was part of a new scheme and that, as it developed, it would improve. I wanted to bring that officer's remarks to the attention of the Minister.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is still the case today that several police officers in specialist roles have not received the level of

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specialist training that we would have liked them to receive. The police skills standards organisation is developing a competence-based framework for appraising and assessing the development of police officers. That framework gives us confidence that the new police powers can be identified and that appropriate training is being given. Over the past few years, a much more systematic approach has been developed to tackle the sort of problems identified by the hon. Gentleman.

I hope that I have covered many of the issues that have been raised, and I now turn to the point about compliance with the European convention on human rights, which was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar—although she has also anticipated much of the response that I am about to give to that, as I would expect from a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

With regard to potential liability under the Human Rights Act 1998, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights acknowledged, many of the potential employers of accredited persons—such as local authorities—will be obvious public authorities within the meaning of section 6 of the Act. It is for the courts to decide which bodies and persons are public authorities for the purposes of the 1998 Act. However, in the Government's view, those private employers who enter into arrangements with the chief officer of police to accredit employees and accredited persons themselves would also be held to be public authorities within the meaning of section 6(3)(b) of the 1998 Act, which refers to

    ''any person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature''.

They will be held to be public authorities when they exercise powers and duties that are conferred on them under the provisions of the Bill.

The Government would be reluctant to make express provision that employers under community safety accreditation schemes are to be regarded as public authorities within the meaning of section 6(3)(b) of the Human Rights Act. That is because the approach taken by the Human Rights Act to the definition of public authorities was a matter of deliberate policy; and although it may be true that some aspects of the case law on this topic remain to be clarified, it is likely that employers of community safety accreditation schemes would be regarded as public authorities when performing functions in connection with those schemes.

I do not wish to rehearse further the debates that were held during the passage of the Act, and subsequently, on the pros and cons of listing public authorities in the legislation. I would prefer to rest the Government's case, but I hope that I have given at least some of the clarification that my hon. Friend was seeking.

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