Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Paice: I want to press the Under-Secretary on this point, because it goes to the nub of one of my main concerns. He has put into new clause 9 the provision that the Secretary of State may make regulations to deal with the handling of complaints, and he has said that they would have to be the same as would apply to a police officer. That implies that those regulations would put these individuals under the IPCC, or a duplicate system that is identical to it. Is that what he is saying, because if he is going to put them under the IPCC, it would be far simpler to change that part of the legislation than to put all of this in another set of regulations? By giving the Secretary of State power to make regulations, the implication is that there will be a different system for handling complaints.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is on the ball; I am about to address that point.

Norman Baker: On that point, the phrase that the Under-Secretary used was ''as close as possible'' rather than ''exactly the same'', which is the phrase that I would have preferred to have heard.

Mr. Ainsworth: I shall try to satisfy the hon. Gentleman by explaining our intentions on that.

Given that contracted-out staff have different employers, we cannot slot designated persons into the existing complaints provisions in the Bill. The Secretary of State will have the power to make regulations under new clause 9(9) to ensure that

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there is a system for dealing with misconduct that, as near as is practical, mirrors the procedure applicable to regular police officers. That will include bringing contracted-out staff within the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

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New clause 9(10) provides that those regulations may apply to any provision of part 2 that has

    ''respect to complaints against persons designated under this section'',

or the police. Part of the chief officer's responsibility in determining the fitness of a relevant employer would be to ensure that they have satisfactory arrangements in place to deal with the disciplinary issues that might arise. Of course, the chief officer will be able to remove a person's designation if, following an investigation, either he or the IPCC is not satisfied with a person's behaviour or the way that the employer has dealt with the misconduct.

The other amendments in the group are largely consequential upon new clause 9. As we are debating part 2, let me single out Government amendments Nos. 151 and 152. Government amendment No. 151 simply adds contracted-out staff to the list of persons prohibited from appointment as the chairman or a member of the IPCC. Government amendment No. 152 applies the complaints regulations that may be made under new clause 9(9) to subsection (3) of the existing clause 9, so that the IPCC also has the functions conferred on it by those regulations.

I think that I have outlined the main issues. The only difficulty that prevents us from treating contracted-out staff in the Bill in exactly the same way as police authority employed persons is the difference in employee relations. It is our intention to make sure that those regulations mirror as closely as is needed the complaints procedure for police authority staff. I give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke).

The Chairman: Did the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole wish to intervene? I got the feeling from her body language that an intervention was imminent, although I assure hon. Members that I am not touting for interventions.

Mrs. Brooke: I was waiting patiently until the Under-Secretary had finished to hear whether he would answer my question, and then I began to feel anxious that it was not going to be answered.

Mr. Paice: The Under-Secretary addressed the crucial issue on the group of amendments in his speech and in his responses to interventions. It is slightly anomalous that we are debating something that substantively falls elsewhere in the Bill, in new clause 9. However, we are debating it because of its consequences for this part of the Bill. I hope that you will forgive me if we go a bit beyond part 2, because new clause 9 relates to further parts, Mr. Stevenson.

A third group is being added to what is described as the police family. The proposal is to give contracted-out staff a number of police powers. We on the official Opposition Benches do not have any philosophical problem with the use of contracted-out staff for

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detention and escort duties. That does not give us cause for concern in principle, but there are concerns about practicality. The hon. Member for Lewes mentioned the issue raised on the ''Today'' programme this morning. I believe that the efficiency of the system, as in all contracted-out arrangements, depends on the effectiveness of the contract. Often the principle is damaged because the contract is not right in the first place and so cannot be enforced. However, that is a matter of detail: the principle is entirely acceptable, and I shall not digress into questions of which powers people should have. The powers proposed for this group are acceptable, and we do not have a problem with them.

However, my study of the proposal has identified the issue that has exercised the Committee and the hon. Member for Lewes in this short debate already, and that is the matter of complaints. It struck me that we were having another system. The difference is not just between police officers and contracted-out staff. A comparison can be drawn with other civilians employed by the police. According to my reading of the Bill, they will be covered by the independent commission, whereas employees of accredited community safety schemes will not. We have tabled a later amendment to alter that.

I was puzzled by the words of new clause 9, but the Under-Secretary's statement clarified that the Government intend that the regulations will bring the matter within the remit of the independent commission. That resolves one of my concerns, but it exacerbates my other worry that employees of accredited community schemes will come under a different system. We will deal with that in a later debate, but it seems odd that contracted-out employees of Securicor, Group 4 or one of the many other firms that may take on the role of escort duties will come under the remit of the independent commission if a member of the public makes a complaint, whereas complaints against people exercising police powers under schedule 5 who are employed by a local authority—they may ultimately be employed by Securicor or Group 4 under an accredited community safety scheme rather than a contracted-out scheme—would not go to the commission. That seems extremely odd.

Norman Baker: I hope that the hon. Gentleman can help with something so that I can get my head around statements that the Under-Secretary has made. The Under-Secretary has said that because these people will be employed by private companies they will need to be subject to separate regulations, but he has also said that they will be subject to the independent commission. I do not see how both can be true.

The Chairman: That is an interesting point, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have time to put to the Under-Secretary. However, I shall let the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire respond.

Mr. Paice: I was going to say that it is not my job to explain what the Under-Secretary meant, Mr. Stevenson. I was slightly puzzled by his use of words when he said that such matters would be brought within the remit of the IPCC. That gave me some comfort, in contrast to his earlier remarks. From

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Pepper v. Hart, we know that what Ministers say carries considerable force when it comes to interpreting the law and the effect of the regulations. I am standing on the Under-Secretary's word that the regulations will achieve what he says that they will.

However, the proposal enhances the difference between contracted-out staff and employees of accredited community safety schemes, who may be employed by the same overall organisation but whose role in the wider police family may be slightly different. Will the Under-Secretary explain, in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Lewes, why the provision cannot be amended to ensure that contracted-out staff and employees of accredited community safety schemes can both come under the remit of the independent commission? What is the legal distinction that requires him to adopt that different approach?

I come to amendment No. 224, to which the Under-Secretary did not refer. The clause relates to liability, which was debated at some length in another place. There was genuine concern that the liability was unclear in relation to people who are not police officers but who exercise police powers. To the Government's credit, the amendment makes it clear. However, I question whether the approach is right, as the amendment clearly states that the liability falls to the employer of any member of the contracted-out arrangements or the accredited community safety scheme, not to the police. Will the Under-Secretary explain the reasoning behind the wording of the amendment? If people are authorised by a chief police officer, their uniform distinguishes them as a member of that police family, and they exercise the police powers given to them under schedule 5. There is therefore a strong argument that the liability for the use of those powers should fall on the chief police officer, rather than on the employer. There is a question to be answered if someone uses police powers in a way that renders them liable.

I am the first to recognise that my words will probably strike horror into the police service, as it will incur extra liability. That may be another reason why it may not want to pursue the arrangements. However, it is wrong for an ordinary civilian employer to be liable for contracted out staff or members of accredited community safety organisations who exercise police powers. I hope that the Under-Secretary will address that. My desire to explore that issue is genuine. My gut feeling differs from the amendment's approach, but I am open to persuasion.

On new clause 9, will the Under-Secretary clarify why he thinks it necessary to make different regulations, and why he does not simply—to use his words—include those people within the remit of the IPPC?

 
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