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Standing Committee A
Tuesday 18 June 2002
[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]
Resignation in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Norman Baker (Lewes): Mr. Davies—
The Chairman: Mr. Griffiths.
Norman Baker: That is a confident start to this afternoon's proceedings. Without apportioning blame, hon. Members behind me assured me that your name was Mr. Davies. However, I knew that you were not Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Griffiths, and I certainly knew that you were not Miss Widdecombe, so I was struggling. My apologies.
I want to explore one or two issues with the Minister, especially the phrase ''or to resign'', which is a significant difference between the Bill and the Police Act 1996. What is the meaning behind the phrase, both in its powers and its implications for officers who may be subject to the provision? I stand to be corrected, but there may be a distinction without a difference. For example, if an officer is required to leave the force, he is required to leave the force. Whether such action is called resignation or retirement seems of little consequence, unless the pension arrangements are altered for the officer. I know that the Government are keen to ensure that police officers do not leave the force for suspicious reasons, in that they leave the force before they are subject to proceedings, but benefit from the pension arrangements. Is that the reason behind the words ''or to resign''? If so, will pension arrangements be altered accordingly?
There is a curious use of language in the words ''to resign''. I do not know whether it is an active or a passive verb, as in the case of the former Transport Secretary who recently departed from his post. Is ''I am resigned'' correct English or should it be that he was resigned by the Prime Minister? Is it a gentle way in which to say that someone had been sacked? If an officer were not behaving appropriately or in accordance with his duty, it is more honest to say that he was dismissed, not asked ''to resign''. If police officers want to resign, it should be something that they can do of their own volition, without interference from the police authority or the Home Secretary. I seek clarification of whether there is a distinction between retire and resign. Where does that leave dismissal?
The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. In answer to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), there is a material difference between resign and retire and that centres on the financial provision that would be made
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for the officer who resigns, as opposed to the officer who retires.
I shall explain briefly why the provision is necessary. When a chief officer is called on to step down—to introduce a new phrase into the debate—in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness, it can be only by retirement. Historically, when the legislation was originally drafted, it was probably a reasonable presumption that most officers would reach the rank of chief constable at some point in their 50s when, if they were likely to cease being a chief constable, they would be likely to retire from the police service. It is much more the case now that officers reach the rank of chief constable well before the usual retirement age. The new chief constable of Thames Valley is in his early 40s, and that position is becoming increasingly common. That means that there would be officers for whom the requirement to resign would be more appropriate than the requirement to retire.
Certainly, if an officer were to resign rather than retire, different financial arrangements would have to be made. In particular, there would be a need to make appropriate arrangements for severance pay, as it would not necessarily be appropriate to kick into full pension provision at the age of 42 or 43, for example. We have made a commitment to the Chief Police Officers Staff Association that we will set out clear arrangements and regulations for the type of severance pay and provision that should be made. Obviously, that will need to be discussed with CPOSA as it is the appropriate representative of chief constables.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): As the Minister is well aware, the issue of severance, the amount of pay and the difference between pay on resignation and retirement has been a vexed question in many police authorities. Does he anticipate that he will be able to give members of the Committee at least a draft of the kind of arrangements that he has in mind to include under regulations before the Bill finishes its passage through the House? That would be of great interest to members of the Committee because of the controversies on the subject.
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman asks a reasonable question, but the honest answer is that I shall have to disappoint him. We are not sufficiently far advanced in our discussions on the issue to promise that we will be able to produce draft arrangements before the middle of July if the Bill pursues a smooth course through the Commons and the Lords. I repeat the commitment that we gave in writing to the CPOSA that we would discuss the issues with it. I understand that the expression ''requirement to resign'' has been used as an alternative to the term ''dismissal'' in police regulations for many years. It is custom and practice, apparently, to use that phrase, and we carried on using it in the Bill.
If that is the substantive issue of the clause stand part debate, I shall not further detain the Committee. Perhaps under one of the later clauses there will be an opportunity for me to set out the sum total of the differences between the existing procedures that can lead to the stepping down of a chief constable and those that we are bringing into place.
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Mr. Hawkins: I join in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. I also welcome the Minister back. The welcome from the Opposition Benches is probably as nothing compared with the welcome given to him by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). In the Minister's absence, in a very good natured debate on Thursday afternoon, the Under-Secretary was regretting the fact that he might have volunteered too much and was getting into subjects that he never anticipated getting into. I am sure that both the Minister and the Under-Secretary are relieved.
More seriously, I am grateful to the Minister for what he said in response to my intervention, but he may be a little over-optimistic in assuming that the Bill will have an entirely smooth passage. As he knows, we shall come to some controversial issues. Does the Minister think that if by some mischance the passage of the Bill were delayed and it did not finish its parliamentary stages until the autumn, it would be possible for hon. Members to have a little more idea about how the negotiations were going, and about what financial arrangements were anticipated for retirement as opposed to resignation, or vice versa?
It is sometimes a little dangerous for the Government to say, ''It'll all be fine; we'll work it out in negotiations, and it'll come right under subsequent regulations.'' That applies not only to this Bill but to many others. It might turn out that controversial matters cannot be debated fully in the context of a statutory instrument that introduces subsequent regulations. If the Government propose significant new material negotiated between them and the various police staff bodies, members of the Committee would find it very helpful to have it. Perhaps it is appropriate to put that on the record.
Mr. Denham: Obviously, I shall be as helpful as I can. I shall expand on what I said earlier. Because the provisions affect pay and pensions, there is a statutory framework for negotiations that involves the police negotiating body and the police advisory board. I do not wish to raise expectations that we will have completed that work—or even have substantially advanced it—by the autumn, but I am happy to give the commitment that I will share with the opposition parties whatever information is available during the progress of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Procedural requirements for removal of
Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 257, in page 29, line 4, at end insert—
'(1A) After subsection (2) of section 9E of the 1996 Act there shall be inserted—
''(2AA) Where representations are made under this section, the Metropolitan Police Authority shall, where it proposes to exercise the power mentioned in subsection (1), appoint one or more persons (one at least of whom shall be a person who is not an officer of police or of a government department) to hold an inquiry into the reasons
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for the exercise of the power and report to it and shall consider any report made under this subsection.''.'.
The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 258, in page 29, line 14, at end insert—
'(2A) After subsection (3) of section 11 of the 1996 Act there shall be inserted—
''(3AA) Where representations are made under this section, the police authority shall, where it proposes to exercise the power mentioned in subsection (2), appoint one or more persons (one at least of whom shall be a person who is not an officer of police or of a government department) to hold an inquiry into the reasons for the exercise of the power and report to it and shall consider any report made under this subsection.''.'.
No. 252, in clause 30, page 29, line 39, at end insert—
No. 255, in clause 30, page 30, line 15, at end insert—