Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Huw Irranca-Davies: Although I have limited experience of the matter, I was fortunate enough to spend an evening three or four weeks ago in Leicester square to see the way in which the warden system works hand in hand with the police. The police are not directly involved with the system, but the interrelation between the police and wardens is fundamental. The police have a vested interest in making the system work effectively. It might surprise the hon. Gentleman that the wardens look forward to an increase in their powers from the Bill because they currently feel restricted. Although the relationship between the two groups is not formal, it is very close.

Mr. Paice: I have visited many similar schemes, although not that specific one, and I share the hon. Gentleman's recognition of their value. I must admit that I have yet to meet a warden who wanted the powers because most of them told me that they would be a disadvantage. The question of whether wardens should have the powers is a separate issue. However, the question is that if they have the powers in schedule 5, to whom should complaints be made and who should investigate them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that they will often work closely with the police. However, that does not negate the point that if they use the police powers that they will be given if schedule 5 is approved, the complaint of misconduct resulting from the use of those powers should ultimately, having been through a sifting mechanism, go to the IPCC.

4 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: In justifying the decision that I made this morning, I said that the people whom we are talking about will be working within a police environment under the direct control of the police, and will be doing work that the police have traditionally done. The hon. Gentleman seeks to

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ridicule that by saying, ''Well, that does not apply to escort officers,'' but escort officers will often be, if not within the confines of a police station, then in a police vehicle escorting someone in police custody. That is quite different from accredited persons, who will be working for another organisation out in the community.

Mr. Paice: But they will still be working under a policing umbrella because the chief officer will have approved the scheme. The Under-Secretary says that accredited persons will not be doing things that were formerly done by the police, such as escort duties. However, until now, the confiscation of alcohol in the street, to take an example—we keep using the same one, but there are others—was done only by the police. Under schedule 5, accredited officers will take on, in some aspect, the role of police officers, so the channel of complaint for misconduct should be the same as that for police officers.

I suspect that the Under-Secretary is not prepared to budge on the issue, but I believe that my argument was well-made, although I say so myself. I have heard nothing to counter it, so I beg to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 10.

Division No. 6]

AYES
Baker, Norman Brooke, Annette Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Johnson, Mr. Boris Mercer, Patrick Osborne, Mr. George Paice, Mr. James

NOES
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob Challen, Mr. Colin Follett, Barbara Heppell, Mr. John Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jones, Mr. Kevan Lucas, Ian Munn, Ms Meg Prentice, Bridget Stoate, Dr. Howard

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

Handling of Complaints and

Conduct Matters etc.

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 102, line 43, after 'injury', insert

    'or involves corruption or racial discrimination'.

I start by saying that this is a probing amendment, which I understand is the formulation that one uses if one wishes to have it accepted into law. The amendment relates to the reference of complaints to the commission. Paragraph 4 gives the conditions that determine when it is mandatory for a complaint to be referred to the commission, namely when the conduct alleged to have taken place has resulted in death or serious injury. The amendment seeks to extend that to include corruption or racial discrimination, notwithstanding that there is the option for such

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matters to be referred on, should they be deemed sufficiently important—that is especially the case with regard to paragraph 4(2).

I turn to the reasons why corruption and racial discrimination have been singled out. Corruption is a very serious offence, and it can involve corruption within the police itself, in which case it is essential that it be dealt with by an independent body, rather than by the police. With regard to racial discrimination, as the Under-Secretary will be aware, in the past 10 or 20 years, relations between ethnic minorities and the police have not always been as strong as they might have been. Although welcome steps have been taken to try to improve matters, relations between them are still unsatisfactory. As the Under-Secretary will know, the targets that have been set for the recruitment of police officers from ethnic minorities have been woefully under-met. That suggests that, sadly, there is still a perception problem with regard to the police and ethnic minorities.

In recent years, many serious complaints have been made on the grounds of racial discrimination, or failure to take action on allegations of racial discrimination, and if what I have suggested were expressed in legislation, that would give a welcome assurance to the sections of our community that feel alienated from the police.

The Under-Secretary might reply by saying that it is possible to pick out other crimes that are equally serious, and which have not been included in that list, and that if one wanted to make the list exhaustive, it would be very long indeed. I understand that point, but I ask him to put on the record his recognition that corruption and allegations of racial discrimination are serious matters, and that, in many cases, they would merit being forwarded to the commission.

Mr. Ainsworth: Amendment No. 5 would have the effect of placing a duty on the police to refer a complaint to the commission, if the conduct that is complained about involves corruption or racial discrimination.

Under paragraph 4, the police must refer a complaint to the commission if the conduct that is complained about resulted in death or serious injury or falls into a category specified in regulations, or if it is called in by the commission.

The categories specified in the regulations will include serious corruption and serious racist conduct, as well as shooting incidents in which an officer discharges a firearm in the course of an operation, miscarriages of justice that allegedly result from misconduct, and serious arrestable offences.

The regulations will have the full force of the legislative requirements. However, it is useful for the Secretary of State to be able, from time to time, to amend the categories for which it would be appropriate to have that automatic referral. Nevertheless, complaints about alleged misconduct that lead to death or serious injury will always have to be referred to the commission.

Given my assurance that the regulations will cover serious corruption and racist conduct, I ask the hon.

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Gentleman to accept that the amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Hawkins: I wanted to hear the Under-Secretary's response to the hon. Member for Lewes before intervening. It is no surprise that he anticipates such issues being covered in regulations that we have yet to see, and it would help members of the Committee to see a draft of the sort of regulations that the Secretary of State has in mind. If the Under-Secreary is as positive as that, there must be some sort of schematic presentation of such regulations somewhere in the Home Office, and it would help to see it without holding the Under-Secretary and his colleagues to every dot and comma. The Under-Secretary always tries to be helpful to Committees of which he is in charge, and it would help if he could disseminate that information.

Mr. Ainsworth: I cannot give a clear commitment, as I do not know how far we are down the road that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I will let him know when we have something that we can put in front of him.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful for the Under-Secretary's characteristically helpful response. It would be good if he could circulate something, even if it is an early draft. However, I have one concern in relation to the general issue that the hon. Member for Lewes raised. When the Under-Secretary talked about what will be in the regulations, he introduced the qualification ''serious'' when he talked about ''corruption or racial discrimination'', which are not qualified in amendment No. 5 tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes. That may go some way to addressing another of my concerns. It is well known to all of us who have been involved in legal matters that if career criminals want to muddy the waters after their arrest, one of the easiest things for a serious gangster to allege is that the police are corrupt. That is commonplace. There should be some way of determining whether the commission should consider an allegation of corruption, or whether it is merely an attempt to muddy the waters.

As the hon. Member for Lewes rightly says, we are all aware of the sensitivity of issues relating to racial discrimination. Before entering the House, one of my jobs as a corporate lawyer involved representing a large national company. From time to time, as happens with large companies, members of staff made entirely spurious allegations of racial discrimination against it, because they thought that by doing so they could get in on what I call the compensation culture and make a large sum of money. I represented the company when a member of staff alleged that a regional manager was guilty of racial discrimination. Unbeknown to the person making this entirely spurious claim, it turned out that that the manager's parents had been refugees from the holocaust. Because of his family background, he was the last person in the world who would be guilty of racial discrimination. When I, and others, cross-examined the person making the spurious complaint in front of an industrial tribunal, it also turned out that one of her allegations in support of her claim was that the area manager had said to a chap in reception who happened to be from an ethnic minority, ''Oh,

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you look like Neil Diamond.'' That was purely a reference to the dress that he was wearing. Neil Diamond was white, which completely undermined the basis of the complaint. It had been intended as a compliment—not racial discrimination—about his style of dress. Spurious complaints can be made as part of compensation culture. Cautious words, which the Under-Secretary suggests will appear in the regulations, are necessary about allegations of serious discrimination.

 
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