Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Mr. Mitchell: We are discussing both the terms and conditions of employment by SOCA and the nature of the complaints procedure. They need to be kept separate. I think that I heard the Minister say—this is key—that she was satisfied that the terms and conditions were likely to be more rather than less attractive than those of the component parts. If I heard her say that—she is looking as though I did not, but if I did—

Caroline Flint: I said that there would not be any detriment to the terms and conditions of those transferring to SOCA. I was making the point that to freeze the terms and conditions of those arriving in SOCA from one of the precursor organisations so that they could return only on the terms and conditions that they left would disadvantage those who might gain experience in SOCA, which would be reflected if they returned to the other organisations.

6.45 pm

Mr. Mitchell: The Minister has made her position clear and the record will reflect that. SOCA has to be able to recruit, motivate and retain those who are going to carry out the extremely important work that we expect of SOCA. I am happy not to press the amendments, because the Minister's position is clearly understood by the Committee to reflect a prime concern and it will be for the terms and conditions to meet that absolute requirement.

I have some sympathy with what the Minister says about complaints and we may want to return to that on Report. However, following the charming way in which she accepted the points behind amendment No. 107 it would be churlish of me to press the other amendments, so I shall not do so.

Mr. Heath: We have had a useful debate. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has indicated that he does not intend to press his amendments on the complaints procedure; I part company with him on that point, because it is important that we have a common complaints procedure for SOCA and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is
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probably the most appropriate place. I have argued consistently during the past couple of years that we need to extend the provisions for the complaints procedure to Customs and Excise officers, who are outside the police complaints procedures but often exercise the same sort of powers as police. The same applies to the officers of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate when they are exercising quasi-police powers. There is a question about the adequacy of the resources that are available to the IPCC to that much larger role, and whether there might be detriment to the police service as a whole because its complaints procedure has effectively been hijacked by many other operatives in different spheres. That is a debate to which we will have to return another day.

What the Minister said about individuals' capacity to retain not only their pre-existing terms and conditions, but effectively enhance them during service with SOCA, is helpful and I am happy to hear it. However, there is so much that we still do not know about how SOCA will operate. Will it have a rank structure and, if so, what type? Will promotion within SOCA be recognised on return to a police force? The person concerned will no longer be in the office of constable and have no opportunity to sit a board. Will someone who has risen through the ranks at SOCA have to return to their police force in the rank they were in when they left, despite the fact that they have had considerably enhanced experience while working in SOCA? We need to debate those matters later.

The Minister and I do not agree about the lead amendment, which deals with the office of constable. We do not agree that it is in the interests of SOCA that constables leaving the police service should retain that the office of constable while they are in SOCA. I am not going to persuade her and she is not going to persuade me. We have debated the matter already and divided the Committee. I do not see any great advantage in doing so again. We will undoubtedly return to this matter on Report and in another place. On that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

Delegation of power to designate

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 95, in clause 39, page 21, line 28, leave out from second 'to' to end of line 31 and insert 'his deputy'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 96, in clause 40, page 21, line 36, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

Mr. Heath: We now come to the delegation of the power to designate a person as a constable. The clause allows the director general of SOCA to delegate the power to make designations to any employee of SOCA, albeit qualified by the words ''At the prescribed level''—although we know not what that
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might mean at the moment, because that is to be done by an order of the Secretary of State.

My simple solution to that uncertainty is to provide that the only people who are appropriate to make the designation and give the powers of constable, which are significant, be the director general of SOCA or his deputy. Further than that, the capacity to designate should not go. The matter is serious and we expect the director general to show due diligence and ensure that the person who is to be designated has had the proper training, is an appropriate person to carry out the responsibility and office of constable and understands the duties, powers, privileges and responsibilities that go with the post.

My proposal is to specify precisely the individuals who have the appropriate capacity: they are the director general or his deputy. The other amendment, No. 96, would remove the references to the person to whom the power is delegated under the subsequent clause.

Caroline Flint: The amendment is not realistic. SOCA will have 4,500 staff and although not all of them will be designated powers, a sizeable number will be. It is impractical to expect designation to be made only by one or two people, which is why we cannot support the amendment. Given that the task is important, we believe that it should be discharged by someone of sufficient seniority, which is why we included in subsection (2) the power of the Home Secretary to specify the grade of the employee below which the task cannot be delegated. SOCA is still developing its grading structure and human resource function, so I cannot say now what grade we have in mind. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be high up the management line.

In addition, there is no provision in the Bill for a deputy director general. I mentioned earlier that the next management level down from the director general will consist of four director posts, so the amendments would be even more unworkable. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw them.

Mr. Heath: I accept—because we only heard it today—that there will be no deputy director general, although I find that slightly odd in such an organisation. There will be the capacity for the organisation to lack leadership in the case of the illness of the director general. Indeed, when we went through the agonies of redesigning the senior management of police forces, it emerged that we could not have two or three assistant chief constables and not identify one of them as the deputy to the chief constable to act in the absence of the chief constable. We have gone through that process, so why on earth are we going through it again with the establishment of the new organisation? There may be several directors but, in effect, one of them will be designated the deputy.

I should be content if the Minister tabled an amendment saying that the director general or the directors would have such capacity. I agree that it is impractical for one person to designate all the constables within the service, but it is also impractical to allow the matter to be dealt with at
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too low a level of responsibility. It is a significant and serious business and it is entirely impractical for the responsibility to lie with a single individual—the director general or someone acting in his absence. I am not persuaded by the Minister's argument. I intend to take the matter further when we have more information about the management structure of the body as a whole, which I hope that she will provide. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 41

Person having powers of a constable

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 97, in clause 41, page 22, line 9, at end insert 'the'.

This is pedantry. It would allow consistent drafting, so I hope that the Minister will say that she agrees with it.

Caroline Flint: Yes, we accept the amendment, and we have spotted a few other such examples, so we will make some changes to those subsections later.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 41, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 42 to 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45

Designations: supplementary

Amendment made: No. 29, in clause 45, page 24, line 34, leave out

    'seconded person (within the meaning of section 28)'

and insert

    'person to whom section 28 applies by virtue of subsection (3)(a) of that section'.—[Caroline Flint.]

Clause 45, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 47

Modification of enactments

Amendment made: No. 30, in clause 47, page 26, line 4, at end insert—

    '(c) conferring on the Director General of SOCA functions exercisable in relation to such persons.'.—[Caroline Flint.]

Clause 47, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 48

Employment provisions

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 98, in clause 48, page 26, line 21, leave out 'not'.

The amendment would reverse the assumption inherent in clause 48, so that every person acting in the office of constable, whether they were in the police service or in SOCA, is treated the same. That seems an appropriate and admirable sentiment.
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