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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the Minister gave a full and good reply, but the difference between us remains. The difficulty is that his ultimate sanction, the removal of accreditation from an employer, will not necessarily provide adequate satisfaction to someone who runs into difficulty with an accredited person exercising a police power. One can envisage a
That could cause immense difficulty. The situation would not be as easy to deal with if one was dealing with a commercial group such as Securicor or Group 4, as with employees of a local authority, where one might meet a slightly different attitude. Unless we can persuade the Government to move on the matter it will be difficult to persuade commercial firms to become involved and take the risk, however good their complaints procedure may be. It is not a question of complaints procedure so much as liability. Complaints procedure is one thing, but liability is another. When one sees what happens nowadays when the courts argue liability, it is a different situation.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the only point in moving the amendment is to inquire whether the phrase we have suggested deleting is otiose and whether the clause would have the same meaning without it. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the short answer is "No"; it is not otiose. Subparagraph (7) of paragraph 10 of Schedule 3 is designed to allow flexibility to make regulations for the time periods with respect to the requirements of paragraph 10 in relation to conduct matters arising from civil claims.
I will explain further because the matter is worth putting on the record. The words the amendment seeks to delete are useful because, unlike the normal situation where a complaint is made to the police, the paragraph is concerned with circumstances where police conduct is challenged in the civil courts; for example, by an action for assault, false imprisonment or mistreatment.
It is right in such circumstances that there is greater flexibility in determining when the clock starts ticking and the time period starts running. The proposed deleted words would allow the regulations to empower the independent police complaints commission to determine the appropriate time period for compliance with the requirements, as I said earlier, in relation to an appeal of a civil claim brought out of time. If the words were taken out it would be damaging to the interests of the complainant, and, one would argue, natural
The noble Lords said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 116. I shall be brief. Under Clause 12, alleged misconduct by anyone serving with the police can be dealt with under the new system. Paragraph 27 of Schedule 3 currently provides for the new complaints commission to make a recommendation and, if necessary, a direction to the appropriate authority regarding the disciplinary proceedings to be brought against,
The purpose of these amendments is to extend that power to disciplinary proceedings against both special constables and civiliansthat is, civilians employed by the police. It is entirely appropriate for it to be extended to special constables, as the complaints commission will in any event be able to bring, conduct or intervene in disciplinary proceedings against them. The Government believe that it will also be appropriate to extend it to support staff to ensure that the complaints commission will be able to decide that disciplinary proceedings should be brought against a civilian who has committed an act of misconduct. When the complaints commission exercises this power, it will have to take the specific terms and conditions of employment of the civilian into account. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we welcome and support the contents of Clause 15. Our amendment seeks to improve it in a way that reflects the current provisions of Section 77 of the Police Act 1996. This requires police authorities not just to keep themselves informed as to the working of the complaints procedures. It goes further and links this to the duty on authorities to maintain an efficient and effective force, and thus gives them scope to act if things are going wrong.
We welcome the establishment of the new IPCC. But, let us face it, when complaints reach the IPCC it usually means that things have gone seriously wrong somewhere. As we all know, prevention is far better than cure. We want to ensure that police authorities can have in place a rigorous process and structure to oversee all complaints, and to take remedial action where there are concerns.
I hope that the noble Lord's emollient mode will extend to my moving this amendment, because Clause 15 is important. However, as currently drafted, it does not in our view go quite far enough. Issues relating to complaints, whether to do with the alleged conduct of police staff, or issues relating to direction and control, go to the heart of the efficiency and effectiveness of the force; and they go to the heart of public confidence in policing.
Section 77 of the Police Act 1996 recognises this by tying oversight of complaints issues to the statutory duty of police authorities to secure the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force. That enables police authorities not just to monitor what is going on, but also to act where the handling of complaints impacts on efficiency or effectiveness.
Our amendment is based on the wording of Section 77 of the Police Act 1996, which will, of course, be repealed by this Bill. The difference made by the slight change in wording incorporated in the amendment is small, but important. It would ensure full and proper oversight and accountability for complaints. The public should demand no less. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the spirit of the amendment. I appreciate that he may well want to consider whether the wording of the amendment can be improved, but the key issue is the principle of effective oversight of the complaints procedures and clear accountability to local communities. I should welcome a commitment that the Government will take the matter away and bring forward proposals at Third Reading. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this is quite an interesting point about the drafting of the provision. I have looked again at the wording and reflected on what the noble Baroness has said. The provision currently places a duty upon police authorities to keep themselves informedor at least this is what the drafting is aboutof the workings of the complaints system.
We read our provision as being slightly wider than the similar one used in Section 77 of the Police Act 1996, to which the noble Baroness has referred. We cannot see a reason to limit it just to one function of a police authority, when they have others; for example, and in particularand the noble Baroness and I have talked about this aspect in the past inside and outside the Chamberof achieving best value. We believe that lessons from the complaints system may be relevant to all the police authority's functions. Our argument really is that the amendment of the noble Baroness is more restrictive than she imagines. We think that our wording is broader.
We are mindful that the police authority must keep itself informed of the workings of complaints systems so far as is necessary in relation to all its functions, rather than the narrow confines of efficiency and effectiveness. In practice, we do not think that this duty will be very different to the one placed upon police authorities by the current system.
Therefore, I am not minded to suggest that we want to accept the amendment, but if the noble Baroness writes to us explaining how she feels her amendment broadens rather than narrows the provisionas we argue in defence of our own positionobviously we will reflect on that. We are probably not one million miles apart. We are trying to achieve that necessary breadth because we think that it is in the interests of the public and the police and in the interests of securing an effective and efficient complaints system. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. However, if she wants to give some further thought to the matter we shall certainly listen to her.
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