Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Patrick Mercer (Newark): Is not the point that there will be confusion in the exact circumstances that the hon. Gentleman described? Whatever the mock-up uniform, the difficulty of the circumstances or the clarity—in theory—of the delineation, by the time that such people get on the ground, youths who have their tobacco or alcohol taken away will object strenuously. Those people will need powers in order to be complained against.

The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Member for Lewes responds, may I draw the Committee's attention to the scope of the amendment? I suggest that the hon. Gentleman addresses his remarks to that.

Norman Baker: I have three objections to the Under-Secretary's comments, which are the reasons why I support the amendment. I have referred to my first and second objections, which are inconsistency and potential conflict. My third objection relates to confusion. We need to bring order to the wide and disparate family. We will not be able to do that if there are different systems for various people, and the position is not widely understood.

3.45 pm

Surely the Under-Secretary sees the logic of my argument. I hope that he thinks about the matter as he did this morning, and accepts that, because Group 4 or Securicor employees at police stations are fulfilling a quasi-police role, they should be subject to the IPCC, as should others who are fulfilling a quasi-police role. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, the consequences will be that, if complaints are made about such people, Group 4 or Securicor will not have the same determination to deal with these matters because they involve their employees. The IPCC is independent and will consider such matters dispassionately. If a complaint is made against an employee of a private sector company and the employer concludes that the employee has behaved inappropriately, the employer will consider how to deal with that and try to ensure that no opprobrium is heaped on the organisation that would bring it into disrepute. That should not be possible.

Mr. Ainsworth: Whether Group 4, for example, was the employer of two different people in different situations is neither here nor there. That is the point. There would be different contracts, exercising different powers in different circumstances. As for those to whom we referred this morning, there would be a real danger of the public becoming confused, because such people would be working in close proximity with the police, often in a police station environment, and under the direction of a senior officer. It is right that they should be covered by the same conditions.

Accredited people will not necessarily be working closely with the police. They will be out in the community and identified as people who are different from police officers.

Norman Baker: The Under-Secretary has missed the point. More complaints will be levelled against community support officials on the street because they are in regular contact with the public than against those who are employed in police stations, who will be subject to disciplinary procedures within the police

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station. If anything, the complaints procedure should be better—not worse—for such people.

If a private sector employer receives a complaint about one of its employees, when it considers how to deal with the complaint—notwithstanding any protocol or agreement that may have been signed with the chief constable of the area—the employer will assess the consequences for the organisation. That factor should not be taken into account, but it will be. For those reasons, it is appropriate that such officials should be subject to the IPCC. I have not heard any arguments from the Under-Secretary that have convinced me to the contrary.

Ian Lucas: There has been some confusion in the debate. I hope that I am not the only one who is confused. We are not talking about community support officers. That ct is understood by some Opposition Members, but the hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred specifically to community support officers. The important aspect is the nature of the powers of the individual, and that should determine whether he falls within the remit of the IPCC rather than that of his employer.

The powers that we discussed this morning when talking about Group 4 employees relate to detention and escort under clause 35(2)(c) and (d). Those powers are exercised by support officers. If private contractor employees exercise those powers, it is appropriate for them to fall within the remit of complaints to the IPCC.

We are now discussing people who are employed under community safety accreditation schemes. They are entirely different animals and do not have the powers of community support officers. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary says, such people will have similar powers to those currently exercised by warden-type people. For example, they might have similar powers to environmental health officers, who I believe are entitled to seize evidence in particular cases, and no doubt will seize evidence from people who do want to give it to them. People already operate effectively under that remit. The rationale for retaining such people in the current structure is that they already operate effectively. That is why they fall outside the IPCC umbrella.

I understand the Opposition's point about consistency. However, their argument has lacked clarity. Some of them have been referring to community support officers when in fact we have been discussing people involved in community safety accreditation schemes. [Interruption.] Certainly—I made a note—the hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to community support officers in his intervention.

Norman Baker: I am not sure that any Member did that, but if a Member did confuse community support officers with accredited persons, does that not show that even among a group of people who have spent a great deal of time studying the Bill there is confusion? Does that not underline the case for clearing up the confusion in the Bill?

Ian Lucas: It is not necessary to consider the description of the person involved. The important

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point is the power that that person exercises. The powers that we discussed this morning are those of detention and escort. Those powers will be exercised by the community support officer, who will be employed by the police authority. They will also be exercised by people employed by third-party contractors. That is why they fall within the remit of the IPCC. If something does not need fixing, why change the current system? Environmental health officers exercise similar powers effectively and have not fallen within the remit of the Police Complaints Authority before. There is no reason to change that.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I accept the hon. Gentleman's points about local authorities, but later we shall discuss accreditation by bodies other than local authorities. Will he have the same confidence in the complaints system of Tesco, for example, or other bodies that might accredit officers?

Ian Lucas: I shall continue to focus on the important issue—the extent and nature of the individual's power.

Mr. Paice: Like the hon. Member for Lewes, I have heard nothing to counter the strength of the argument that he, I and my hon. Friends have advanced. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) rightly referred to the nature of the powers, which are, however, slightly different from his interpretation. He refers to environmental health officers, but as far as I know no environmental health officer or other local government official can go up to a group of youths drinking in the street and confiscate their alcohol. That is one of the powers that is proposed to be given to accredited community safety officials.

Mr. Ainsworth: Park wardens have a statutory duty to confiscate tobacco from under-age children. For the sake of consistency, if that is the hon. Gentleman's argument, is he suggesting that park wardens should come under the police complaints arrangements?

Mr. Paice: I am not aware of any park warden who has confiscated tobacco from somebody under age—not even in the days when it was me. The Under-Secretary's point is somewhat far fetched.

I want to take the matter a little more seriously. Let us consider the powers of escort officers. The Under-Secretary said that we were discussing people who are working closely with the police and in police stations. An escort officer will not do that. Most of the time an escort officer will be working with only the individual who is being escorted. An escort officer's powers are extremely limited. There are just two powers: the power to take an arrested person to a police station and the power to escort persons in police detention. However, a member of an accredited community safety scheme has six powers, which include the confiscation of alcohol and tobacco. Of course, that confiscation is not only from people who are under age, but from people of all ages. There is a clear distinction, but we are putting escort officers with limited powers under the remit of the IPCC but not accredited community safety officials. As the hon. Member for Lewes said, we are telling the employer simply that it must have its own complaints system.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that such an accredited organisation would work very closely with the local police force? That has been established with Covent Garden street trader wardens and Leicester square wardens. Additionally, the ultimate sanction is to remove the accreditation. There will be a close working relationship with the police and, ultimately, the powers could be taken away. What further assurance does the hon. Gentleman want?

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman has made the point that I was going to make, although he has used a reverse emphasis. The Under-Secretary said that accredited safety officers will not work so closely with the police but escort and detention officers will work closely with the police. There is a split in the Government ranks.

The Under-Secretary referred to clause 37(3) and clause 38(6). Yes, of course they allow the chief officer to withdraw accreditation. Equally, the chief officer could withdraw a contract that applies to the people who we discussed this morning. My point is about inconsistency. In one case it is—rightly—necessary to involve the IPCC, despite the fact that the chief officer could withdraw the contract, but in another case it is not.

 
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