Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Ainsworth: The last thing that I would try to do is slide out from under the argument on the basis of a technicality. The issue has been around for some time and was debated at some length in the other place, so it is not new, and was already on the table.

Clearly, there must be a robust mechanism for redress if a member of the public wants to make a complaint against an accredited person, and the public will want to be satisfied that the organisation's complaint system is satisfactory. That will be secured through the arrangements under clause 36(6), which places a duty on the chief officer responsible for accreditation to ensure that the employers of those people

    ''have established and maintain satisfactory arrangements for handling complaints''

made against them. If those arrangements are not applied satisfactorily, clause 38(3) allows the chief officer to withdraw the accreditation. Clause 38(6) is also relevant. It makes the accredited person and their employer jointly liable for unlawful conduct.

Column Number: 152

It is worth noting that local authorities already have their own complaint systems for people that they employ as neighbourhood, street and dog wardens, park keepers and environmental health officers. Such people have been exercising similar powers to those of accredited community support officers for many years. To my knowledge, no one has suggested—although I may well be wrong because all kinds of suggestions are made in the House—that that category of person should be brought within the remit of the Police Complaints Authority. No one is suggesting that complaints against such persons should fall to the IPCC.

As my noble Friend Lord Rooker explained in another place, if it is inappropriate to use the new IPCC for existing local authority employees, it is surely equally inappropriate to bring accredited community support officers within the commission's jurisdiction. Far from stopping or minimising confusion, the hon. Gentleman's proposal is likely to cause even more. Accredited persons will not be able to use reasonable force; indeed, as he says, we have now accepted that they should not have the power to detain. They are therefore not on a par with community support officers, who will be subject to the new complaints system. They will have limited powers to deal with public nuisance including litter, dog fouling and environmental concerns such as abandoned cars.

Accredited persons fulfil a complementary role to that of the police and community support officers, and will not be thought of by members of the public as part of the police service; we are trying to guard against that.

Norman Baker: That is important, and it is why I raised the issue of the powers given to accredited persons on Second Reading. Would not the Under-Secretary accept that to give those officials powers such as those of confiscation of alcohol, tobacco and so on could bring them into conflict with members of the public, and that that is a different matter to an environmental health officer going into a restaurant and saying whether it is fit for opening?

Mr. Ainsworth: Other local authority officers might come into such conflict and have powers to deal with various sections of the community. It has never been suggested that those officers should be brought within the remit of the IPCC, and it is our contention that accredited persons should not, either. It would be burdensome, and counter to the point of these proposals, if the police and the commission were involved in complaints against such accredited people. It would divert police and commission resources away from handling complaints against officers and police authority support staff, which should be the core business of the commission.

Mr. Hawkins: I have concerns, despite the Under-Secretary's protestations that these people will not be seen as police. At the first appearance of the proposed community support officers alongside the Met, their uniforms were almost indistinguishable, and the media expressed concern and surprise that the commissioner, Sir John Stevens, had not seen the new uniforms before that great launch. Ministers—including the

Column Number: 153

Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety, who is not present—have frequently talked about the police family including the community support officers. I do not think that it will be like that. If their uniform is very similar to that of the police, they may be brought into situations of conflict, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Lewes have said. If that is what happens, they should come within the remit of the IPCC.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman should not pray in aid half a story. He ought, at least, also to say what the commissioner did on that occasion, and the changes that he sought to make because of the potential for confusion.

Accredited persons will be accountable to their employers: they will need a disciplinary code and a satisfactory mechanism for dealing with complaints to enable them to gain or keep their status of accreditation and fulfil their role within the remit of the local chief officer, who has the power to remove that accreditation.

The chief officer has a duty to ensure that a satisfactory mechanism of that kind is established and maintained. If there is an allegation that an accredited person has committed a crime, the police will be able to investigate the matter in the normal way. If an allegation of misconduct is made that breaches the relevant employers' stated disciplinary code, the chief officer will be able to insist that appropriate action is taken, otherwise the accreditation can be removed.

Mr. Paice: I ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether his argument is consistent. Why was it necessary this morning—rightly in my view—to give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations for contracted-out staff to come within the remit of the IPCC, when it is not necessary with regard to the matter now under discussion? In both cases, we are talking about people employed by third parties outside the police force. In both cases, he could have said that the employers must have their own complaints system and all the subsequent back up, but in one case he has chosen the IPCC, and in the other he has not. Where is the consistency in that?

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not believe that there is any inconsistency whatsoever. This morning, we were talking about contracted-out personnel who would be working within a police station environment, and performing a role that is carried out by police officers under the direct control of the local police force and, as I said, if the appropriate standards are to be maintained and if the interests of clarity and the public are to be met, such people should come under the same regulation.

We are now talking about accredited persons who will operate under a very different environment, who will be identified in a different way, and who will have a different employer. Therefore, we are talking about two very different circumstances.

I see no inconsistency in what I am saying. If we consider the other people who are employed by such organisations—which are, in the main, local authorities, which have various types of powers—

Column Number: 154

there is potential for confusion. The size of the burden would be a considerable problem that would take the commission and the complaints system away from what we all want: an independent complaints system for police officers and those who work in police areas carrying out duties otherwise performed by police officers. The amendment would have a detrimental effect. The arrangement should be retained as proposed and the responsibility should remain with the employer.

Norman Baker: The Under-Secretary is not very convincing on that point—I hope that he does not mind me saying that. There is inconsistency and if the Under-Secretary cannot see that, there is something wrong with his logic. There is inconsistency if one part of the police family is subject to the IPCC and another part is not. There is inconsistency if some people who work for Group 4 are subject to the IPCC but others are not. There is inconsistency if a person who works one day at a police station is subject to one formula but a person who works on another day is not. There are inconsistencies all over the place.

The Under-Secretary has failed to grasp that the amendment is an attempt to regularise and bring coherence to the disparate groupings of people in the wide police family. That is set out in the Bill although it is somewhat complicated in itself as an attempt to bring order. The Under-Secretary's insistence on different arrangements is perpetrating that disorder rather than providing coherence.

The suggestion that the situation is comparable to that of local authority employees does not wash. It might wash if the Under-Secretary noted the comments of his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who has been reinstated in ministerial office. On Second Reading, he said that if all CSOs and officials are given powers, they must be treated in the same ways as police for training, complaints and similar matters. If they remain as street wardens with local authority powers, that is an entirely different matter. If they are at that level, they will not come into conflict with local people in the way in which they will if they are given the powers in the Bill. I hope that you do not mind me referring to the powers, Miss Widdecombe, because they are relevant to our discussion.

If street wardens do not have powers, evidence shows that they are seen as part of the community. They are welcomed and considered to be the person living next door who is doing a job for the public good. If those people, who do not receive proper training in the way in which police officers do, are given powers, that might bring them into conflict with volatile members of the public such as youths who have been drinking alcohol or who have tobacco that they do not want confiscated. Such youths will not welcome a person who they consider to be an elevated park keeper coming along in a mock-up uniform to tell them that they must hand over their tobacco or alcohol. There is a considerable possibility of conflict in that situation. Additionally, the good will that would be present for a person without the powers will evaporate.

Column Number: 155

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 13 June 2002