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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Roger Gale
Baron, Mr. John (Billericay) (Con)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Cairns, David (Inverclyde) (Lab)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral, South) (Lab)
Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Harvey, Nick (North Devon) (LD)
Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
Howarth, Mr. Gerald (Aldershot) (Con)
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard (North Essex) (Con)
Jones, Mr. Kevan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence)
Joyce, Mr. Eric (Falkirk) (Lab)
Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Raynsford, Mr. Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
Rennie, Willie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD)
Stanley, Sir John (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
Adrian Jenner, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 9 November 2009

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Draft Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009
4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009.
Mr. Jones: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. The Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009 establish procedures for taking action in respect of misconduct by Ministry of Defence police officers in the discharge of their duties. The Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009 provide for appeals to a Police Appeals Tribunal against the findings and specific outcomes of the conduct regulations.
There are currently 3,500 MOD police throughout the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for Defence has the option to deploy Ministry of Defence police to any location owned or run by the Ministry of Defence, anywhere in the UK, to maintain the safety and security of armed forces personnel, civilian personnel and the general public. In recent years, that role has evolved significantly and it continues to do so today.
The review of police disciplinary arrangements was conducted by William Taylor CBE, a former commissioner of the City of London police, a former Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary for Scotland and a former police adviser to the Ministry of Defence Police Committee. The purpose of the review was to consider on behalf of the Home Secretary the effectiveness of disciplinary arrangements for police officers. Mr. Taylor concluded that the system of dealing with police misconduct could be slow and disproportionate and provide little or no encouragement for managers to deal swiftly and appropriately with low-level matters of misconduct.
The Taylor report made several key recommendations, such as that police officers’ disciplinary arrangements are most appropriately determined by Parliament after extensive consultation; that a single code of procedures should be put in place; that, although regulated, the new procedures should be based on the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures; that conduct issues should be separated into two distinct groups—“misconduct” and “gross misconduct”—to promote proportionate handling, clarify the available outcomes and provide a better public understanding of the policing environment; and that the police service must manage the disciplinary arrangements dynamically in order to drive through the change to the internal culture of the organisation and promote acceptance of responsibility at all levels of management.
The Ministry of Defence police’s current conduct and appeals regulations are similar to the Home Department’s police force’s former disciplinary procedures. The two statutory instruments that we will be discussing establish a new set of procedures for the Ministry of Defence police in respect of police disciplinary matters, in response to the Taylor review. The Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations and the Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations were prepared following the passing of primary legislation—the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which received Royal Assent in May 2008. Both sets of regulations for the Ministry of Defence police are based as far as possible on the Home Office’s Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 and the Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008, which came into force on 1 December 2008. A year later, they continue to enjoy the full support of all major stakeholders, including the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The Home Office’s conduct and appeals procedure underwent extensive consultation with chief constables in England and Wales, police authorities, police staff associations and non-police bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Members of the MOD police were also closely involved in the exercise, and fully supported the new procedures and the adoption of new standards of professional behaviour.
The draft regulations have undergone consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Defence Police Federation, and they are supported by the chief constable and the Ministry of Defence Police Committee. Those bodies all recognise the value of moving to a system that will deal with misconduct in a more timely and proportionate way.
The new system will ensure that police managers are given the responsibility and ability to deal with misconduct in a fair, timely and proportionate manner at the lowest level. Time scales have been built into the process to ensure that such matters are dealt with in a timely manner. In cases of gross misconduct, those time scales will also ensure that such matters are dealt with appropriately. An independent member, selected from a list maintained by the Ministry of Defence Police Committee, will sit on a misconduct hearings panel, to bring a public perspective in holding Ministry of Defence police officers to account.
The Taylor review proposed a single new code to be the touchstone for individual behaviour and give a clear indication of organisational and peer expectations. That led to the production of a new “Standards of Professional Behaviour” for police officers, which sets out clearly the behaviour that the public and colleagues can expect of all police officers. Those standards form part of the draft Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations, and replace the existing MOD police code of conduct.
The Taylor review proposed that the new misconduct procedures should be based on the ACAS principle, which would modernise the system and make it easier for individuals and the police service to learn lessons and improve service to the public. One of the key points to emerge was the need to shift emphasis and culture in matters of police misconduct from blame and punishment towards development and improvement. The review stressed the importance of carrying out a full assessment of the alleged conduct at an early stage, with a view to implementing a proportionate response.
The new procedures will provide a fair, open and proportionate method for dealing with alleged misconduct, and hold police officers to account for any such misconduct. When circumstances require, there must be an appropriate sanction for misconduct, and that remains the case. We must ensure that improvement is an integral part of any outcome. Even when an individual has been dismissed, there are lessons for the police force to learn.
The Ministry of Defence police is a national force. It is our policy that all members of the force, whether in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, will operate under the same conduct regulations, policies and procedures. We have therefore kept in close contact with the devolved authorities, the police complaints commission in Scotland, and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. We have informed them about our legislative proposals relating to the new regulations. We have also informed them of our intention to enter into an agreement with the respective ombudsmen and to extend the jurisdiction to the MOD police in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in relation to the regulations.
The draft Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations provide for appeals against certain findings or outcomes made under the conduct regulations. The appeals should be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, with time scales built into the new regulations to ensure that that is the case. The Police Appeals Tribunal chair will have powers to dismiss appeals at an early stage where there is no real prospect of success and no other compelling reason why the appeals should proceed. The tribunal will also have powers to overturn the findings of the original panel and amend the sanction that is imposed.
The Police Appeals Tribunal is a three-person panel for senior officers and a four-person panel for non-senior officers. The chair is selected through the Judicial Appointments Commission for officers serving in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and must have five years’ legal standing for both panels. For officers serving in Scotland, the chair is selected from a list nominated by the Lord President of the Court of Session. The chair will have a casting vote and may decide the case on papers and dismiss it without convening the panel if he or she considers that there are insufficient grounds and that there is no other compelling reason why the appeal should proceed. There is no appeal against a decision of the tribunal or the chair; the only challenge, as in all situations, is through judicial review.
Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): As the regulations have been drawn up, has account been taken of the semi-dependent United Kingdom police forces, if I may call them that, such as the British Transport police, the atomic energy police and—dare I say it—the Mersey tunnels police? Has the Minister drawn experience from those other police forces in drafting the regulations?
Mr. Jones: We were guided by the Taylor review. I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in the Mersey tunnels; on previous occasions, I have been a supporter of his work on the tunnels.
The Taylor review informed the regulations. I cannot comment on the Mersey tunnels police, but I can certainly talk about the atomic energy police. Another piece of work is happening across the Government; it is looking at not only harmonising the regulations but whether some cross-working can take place.
I would like to thank the Home Office officials who assisted in the drawing up of the regulations. If we adopt the regulations today, the disciplinary procedures will be not only thorough, but speedy.
4.42 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I, too, welcome this opportunity to serve under your distinguished chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I should like to put on record the fact that hon. Members know that you are a staunch defender of many of the traditions of the House—something that many of us welcome.
The Minister is right to remind us that 3,500 people are employed in the Ministry of Defence police and guard service. Those of us with military constituencies are very much aware of the excellent work that they undertake across the land. Their role is very different from that of the military police—it is essentially to ensure the security of bases, and it is appropriate for us to record our appreciation of the work that they do.
I welcome the Minister’s proposals; their purpose is quite clear. He has explained them to us—they try to reflect the changes that have been made in the Home Department police force, so that disciplinary procedures can be conducted on a more informal basis where appropriate. The regulations will reduce bureaucracy and dispense with the somewhat cumbersome and heavy-handed arrangements that currently prevail in the Ministry of Defence police and which previously prevailed in the Home Department police. In moving away from the more formal and adversarial courtroom style, it is hoped that disciplinary problems may be resolved in the first instance by less formal means such as negotiation, discussion and meetings. That is a sensible way in which to proceed.
Today, we are discussing the detail of the procedure and the arrangements that will apply, much of which is a formality. Before I make the one or two points that I have, I should like to remind the Committee of some of the more cumbersome previous arrangements. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) drew attention to them when he dealt with the statutory instrument affecting the Home Office police force last year. He said that under the then situation, even unsatisfactory performance cases—for instance, an officer failing to fill in a crime report—were heard in front of a panel of officers from the Association of Chief Police Officers. Such cases went to the highest level, and as my hon. Friend said, that was not proportionate. I hope that that gives the Committee some flavour of the kind of changes that the regulations will make.
I have some questions for the Minister. First, the explanatory notes indicate that the responses to the consultation were “broadly supportive”. In his remarks, he said that an extensive consultation exercise was undertaken. I would be grateful if he said whether there was any opposition, and if so, what its nature was. I have not heard a peep out of the Ministry of Defence police in Aldershot, and on the basis that they have not been in touch with me, I assume that all is well, although perhaps I should not make that assumption.
Secondly, have any lessons been learnt from the application of similar procedures to Home Office police officers? As I understand it, the new arrangements have now been in force for about a year. Will the Minister tell the Committee whether the new arrangements are working out well, and whether any problems have arisen?
Thirdly, during the proceedings on last year’s statutory instrument, my hon. Friend referred to the training of sergeants and inspectors, upon whom much more of the burden may fall in the earlier stages of examining disciplinary proceedings. Does the Minister intend to ensure that training is given? I understand that, overall, the MOD standards department will monitor and review all formal sanctions to ensure that the new regulations are understood and applied consistently across the force. It may be helpful if the Minister can tell us how the changes will be introduced in practice.
Finally, there is reference to the fast-track procedure. Fairly extensive regulations relating to that procedure is set out in part 5 of the conduct regulations.
4.49 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
5 pm
On resuming—
Mr. Howarth: My last question is about the fast-track procedure, on which there are 17 regulations. Will the Minister help the Committee and give us some indication of the kind of cases that might be subject to fast-track procedures? I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
5.1 pm
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): As a special constable with the British Transport police, I am not sure whether I am obliged to declare an interest but, on the grounds that it is safer to say such things, I have done so.
I was delighted to be invited to take part in the Committee. I enjoyed hearing the Minister’s remarks, and I seek his guidance in relation to a couple of questions. First, on reading through the draft Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009, I noticed that on page 2, “agency” is defined as
“Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency”,
but on page 3 “the force” is defined as the “Ministry of Defence Police.” For the benefit of the Committee, will the Minister clarify the relationship between the Ministry of Defence police and the MOD guard force? On the face of it, there seems to be some confusion in how the regulations have been drawn up.
The second part of my comments relates to part 2, regulation 10 on suspension. It is the general view of most members of the public that we do not have enough police officers in this country, and I am pretty sure that we do not have enough police officers in the MOD police. All too often, police officers are suspended when they are accused of misconduct, rather than the alternatives being looked at. It states clearly in the draft regulations that
“The appropriate authority shall not suspend a police officer under this regulation unless”
one of three conditions is satisfied. Those are
“(a) having considered temporary redeployment to alternative duties or to an alternative location...the appropriate authority has determined that such redeployment is not appropriate in all the circumstances of the case;
(b)(i) the effective investigation of the case may be prejudiced unless the officer concerned is suspended;
(ii) the public interest requires that the officer should be suspended.”
Will the Minister emphasise that part of the regulations to the Ministry of Defence police? There are all sorts of ways in which police officers under investigation can be gainfully employed—let us remember that, if they are suspended, it is on full pay—without them necessarily being suspended in the first place.
5.3 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I commend the Minister’s presentation of the regulations and I commend the brief speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering; he raised a very apposite point. I wish to make a related point and to emphasise that increasingly we live, sadly, in a grievance culture, where people are encouraged to bring their grievances against the authorities. We know of teachers, medical professionals and, indeed, police officers whose services we lose while protracted proceedings take place. A great deal of money and talent is wasted, and the lives of the people concerned are spoiled, only to find at the end of the proceedings that there are no charges to answer.
My hon. Friend made an extremely good point, in relation to which I wish to raise a point relating to the heading “costs,” which is at the end of the draft Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations. Regulation 25 states:
“An appellant shall pay the whole of his or her own costs unless the tribunal directs that the whole or any part of them are to be met out of Ministry of Defence funds”.
Could the Minister explain under what circumstances defence costs will be met? Would it not be better to write into the regulations what those circumstances are?
For example, if the appellant is acquitted at the end of the appeal, should the Government not pay the costs? How does that relate to the costs of the accused at the beginning of the process? Are those who are accused to fund their own legal costs throughout? Would they be eligible for legal aid? There should be a simple rule of thumb: if they get off, their costs should be paid by the Government, because they have been wrongly accused. Could the Minister enlarge on how that is meant to operate? I presume that the regulations are broadly in line with the equivalent civilian regulations, so perhaps he will take advice on the matter.
5.6 pm
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Most of the Committee sees that much of the regulations are good, so they will have a fair following wind. Interestingly, the kaleidoscope of constabularies seems to have fascinated people more than anything else.
I would be grateful if the Minister could help me with one point. Regulation 3(4)(a) and (b) refers to paragraphs 3(a) and 3(b), regulations 35(7) and 55(3), and something that I have not heard of before: “Extended Special Unpaid Leave”. Could he give us some indication, following up on the point made by the hon. Member for Kettering, as to what exactly extended special unpaid leave is? I can understand study leave, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave and a great many different leaves, but I am not entirely sure what extended special unpaid leave would be, particularly in reference to the point made by the hon. Member for Kettering.
5.7 pm
Mr. Jones: I shall first deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Aldershot. On representations from other organisations opposed to the regulations, I am told that we did not receive any opposing views. Monitoring of the system in the home service police is being conducted at the moment and we shall—I think later this year—be receiving any lessons learnt so far, but that process is ongoing.
The fast-track system will operate in cases in which there is sufficient evidence in the form of statements, documents or other materials without the need for further evidence—basically, if the evidence is seen to be overwhelming.
What is important about all the regulations is that the entire idea is to speed up the system. Quite rightly—the point was made by the hon. Member for Kettering—we do not want a large number of police officers to be suspended for a long time without due process. The regulations will speed up the previous archaic system, in which the individual was suspended for a long period—it used to be evident in waiting for panels to be put together. The regulations are designed to ensure that the more simple misdemeanours are dealt with at the lowest possible level.
On defence costs, the hon. Member for North Essex raised a point that I think is applicable in civil cases, but I shall write to him with a specific answer. In terms of the issues around the anorak intelligence of the regulations, the hon. Member for Kettering may well have spotted a mistake. The Ministry of Defence police are known as the Ministry of Defence police and guarding service. However, the regulations cover only the MOD police, and not the MOD guarding service.
On extended special leave, I shall write to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North with a definition of the terminology.
Mr. Jenkin: Can the Minister clarify his answer to the point that I raised? I did not understand what he meant. Under what circumstances would the MOD usually pay the costs of the appellant in an appeal case?
Mr. Jones: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with the answer.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009.

Draft Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009

Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009.—(Mr. Kevan Jones.)
5.11 pm
Committee rose.
 
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