Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Ainsworth: The amendment would ensure that, if the regulations require the IPCC to carry out functions in relation to NCIS, the NCS or bodies of constables maintained other than by police authorities, those functions must correspond exactly to those of the IPCC in relation to Home Office forces. For the commission to have functions with respect to NCIS—

Mr. Hawkins: I want to prevent the Under-Secretary from falling into a trap. He referred to ''Home Office forces'', but I believe that he meant to say ''police forces''. I do not believe that this country yet has Home Office forces.

Mr. Ainsworth: Let me avoid unnecessary delay. I meant the 43 police forces covered by the IPCC under the Bill. Let us sidestep that issue and get on with the meat of the amendment.

For the commission to have functions with regard to NCIS and the NCS, the Secretary of State must make regulations to bring them into the new scheme. With regard to other forces, the commission can enter into an agreement with the approval of the Secretary of State.

NCIS and the NCS are covered by the current system through regulations, and they will be brought

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into the new system in the same way. Most other non-Home Office forces—''non-43 forces,'' if that suits the hon. Gentleman—have also decided to come into the current system. In clauses 23 and 24, we have provided for the Government also to bring these organisations into the new system. It is appropriate to provide for these bodies to be brought into the new system, and within the remit of the commission, by regulations or agreement, and for there to be a certain degree of flexibility, because there will be real differences between them and other police forces. For example, each of these forces are maintained by a different authority, and each authority has a slightly different role and terminology with regard to the officers concerned. Moreover, the forces have different areas of jurisdiction, so we need to study the specific wording of the regulations and tailor it to reflect the specialisation of some of these forces and their differences from other police forces—hence the importance of the word ''broadly''. They cannot just be straightforwardly absorbed into the mainstream complaints system. The provisions allow for the new system to be extended to those forces, while also taking their differences into account.

It is not the intention to introduce something that widely differs from that which applies to others but, as I have said, there are different structures and terminologies, and as this is a statutory provision, that flexibility is needed in order to tailor these provisions to the particular forces in question. That is why we are going down this road: we have no agenda to do something radically different from that which will apply to the normal police force.

Mr. Hawkins: I am somewhat reassured by the Under-Secretary's remarks and, under the ruling in Pepper v. Hart, if this or any future Government were to try to encourage the commission to do something radically different, the Under-Secretary's words could be referred to.

Therefore, I acknowledge that on this occasion—if not, perhaps, on others—we might have been a little too suspicious. However, it is helpful to have the Under-Secretary's reassurance on the record, and having got that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 152, in page 9, line 8, after 'constables);' insert—

    '(bb) any regulations under section (Police powers for contracted-out staff);'.—[Mr. Ainsworth.]

Mr. Paice: I beg to move amendment No. 150, in page 9, line 23, leave out sub-paragraph (ii).

I suspect that the Under-Secretary and other Committee members wonder what is the purpose of removing this sub-paragraph. I assure the Under-Secretary that it is a probing amendment; I have no intention of pressing it to a Division. However, the sub-paragraph raises the issue of victimisation, and that is why I have tabled the amendment. At the outset, it was intended to try to establish what was the Government's view, not about protecting someone who complains about alleged misconduct—which is what the sub-paragraph addresses—but about

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whistle-blowing and protecting a police officer, or a community support officer, or someone on a sub-contract.

On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary said that the Government intended to introduce amendments to achieve that. I trust that I am quoting the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) correctly when I say that paragraph 79 of the Home Affairs Committee's report on the Bill stated:

    ''We recommend that the Bill be amended to bring police officers within the Public Disclosure at Work Act 1998.''

The amendment's sole purpose is to challenge the Government to tell us when they will do that. Umpteen amendments have been tabled, and 100 amendments were tabled the very day that we rose for the Whitsun recess. I am astonished that the Government have not fulfilled their undertaking. Will the Under-Secretary tell us when that will happen?

Mr. Ainsworth: I am quite worried by what the hon. Gentleman said. I really hope that he will not withdraw the amendment because I was going to accept it.

The provision was part of a package to ensure that police officers receive protection from unfair treatment or discrimination if they report wrongdoing in the police service. In Committee in another place, my noble friend Lord Bassam said that we were happy to consider an amendment to allow police officers to be covered by the protection afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 as an alternative to the provision in clause 9(4)(b)(ii). Lord Bassam said that if we brought forward an amendment to that effect, the provision in clause 9 would be redundant.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety subsequently repeated that intention on Second Reading. The appropriate Government amendments will be tabled shortly. In all probability, they have been tabled now and a letter is in the post to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire to inform him of that. We shall discuss those amendments on 27 June. It is appropriate and necessary to make changes to clause 9.

If the hon. Gentleman does not withdraw his amendment, I shall accept it. We will make the necessary omission from clause 9. The appropriate amendments will be tabled in good time to allow us to make a provision that I believe enjoys agreement throughout the Committee. I urge the hon. Gentleman to press his amendment to the vote so that we can accept it.

Mr. Paice: I wish that I had tabled more probing amendments that I did not intend to press to the vote because we might have achieved more success if I had adopted such a strategy.

I listened to the Under-Secretary carefully. I am anxious to be helpful because, as he said, we share the same objective. I ask him to clarify one point and perhaps he will intervene, if that is appropriate.

As the clause is drafted, the provision goes beyond whistleblowers. It protects anybody who reports misconduct whether a whistleblower or an ordinary

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member of the public who complains but is worried that a police officer might try and exact revenge for the wrong reason. I am wary not to remove that protection by removing the provision from the Bill.

I shall keep rabbiting on to allow the Under-Secretary to be briefed. It is sensible that anyone who alleges misconduct is protected from victimisation. That should not only apply to whistleblowers.

Mr. Hawkins: It occurred to me that if my hon. Friend gave way, it might give the officials more time to scribble their note. Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is any uncertainty on whether other categories of people might need the protection afforded by sub-paragraph (ii), it may be wiser to not to pursue the amendment now, but to wait until we see the precise terms of the Government amendment? There would still be time to make any consequential amendments to clause 9 on Report to ensure that we do not lose the protection that so concerns my hon. Friend.

Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend has made a constructive suggestion about how to move forward—unless the Under-Secretary is able to resolve the issue now. Does the hon. Member for Lewes still wish to intervene, or is the Under-Secretary able to move fast enough to respond to my point before I sit down?

Norman Baker: I wanted to echo the thoughts of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), and my intervention will allow more time for the Under-Secretary to be briefed. It is a novel situation indeed when an hon. Member wishes to withdraw an amendment that he has tabled, but the Government wish to accept it. I have not come across such a thing before. Would the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire agree that it would be useful for the Under-Secretary to intervene at this point, because we are running out of things to say?

Mr. Paice: I am always open to constructive suggestions from wherever they come. Far be it for me to stand in their way. However, despite the hilarity and jocularity of the last few moments, this is a serious point: we do not wish to remove the protection that would apply to anyone else who reports misconduct simply to ensure that police officers are brought within the Public Disclosure at Work Act 1998. A lot depends on the content of the Government amendments that the Under-Secretary believes have been tabled today.

Mr. Ainsworth: As I said, it is unfortunate that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire cannot see the new Government amendments before I effectively ask him to withdraw this one. I hope that I can assure him that, if any dangers remain after he has seen those amendments, we will do whatever is necessary to try to ensure that there is an opportunity for him to make his concerns known. I had hoped to have done things differently, and that he would have been able to see exactly our intentions before I asked him to withdraw the amendment. However, in order to make the provisions, we need the clause to be amended. As far as I am aware, we are not trying to do anything untoward or that would remove protections within the Bill.

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I do not know how else to go forward. I was surprised when the hon. Gentleman said that this was a probing amendment and that he did not intend to push it to a Division. I can only give him my assurance: I can go no further.

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