Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Norman Baker: Again, we have been told by the Minister that it would be likely that schemes would be subject to the SIA and that it is unlikely that a chief constable would go ahead without SIA approval or membership of a body of the SIA's code of practice, or whatever. We do not know that it will definitely happen. If the Minister believes that membership of the SIA is the appropriate way of dealing with the various bodies, why does he not make it a requirement? He seems to be leaving open the option that a chief constable may decide that the SIA is a jolly good body, but someone who wants to exercise powers does not have to be subject to its requirements. I do not understand why he leaves the loophole open.

I have told the Committee about some grave reservations that my colleagues and I have about the powers being handed over to the private sector in the way proposed by the Bill. I accept the well-made point of the hon. and learned Member for Redcar that the term ''local authority'' could be slightly narrow and it might be more appropriate to use ''public authority''. Nevertheless, the objections that my colleagues and I have to the proposals are so deep that I intend to press the amendment to a Division.

Mr. Denham: That ragbag of assaults on the Bill should not go unchallenged. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Lewes talks about devolution of the police forces when it suits him. However, although it is clearly reasonable to rest on the judgment and explicit legal responsibilities of chief constables set out in the Bill, he portrays a world in which chief constables are never to be trusted and cannot be expected to comply with their legal duties or carry through their responsibilities. That is ridiculous.

The hon. Gentleman conjured up a situation in which a private security company was bribed by a shop to enforce the law in a certain manner. Under the Bill, the chief constable will be able to terminate such an

Column Number: 322

arrangement immediately. It is clearly an offence to act outside the responsibilities in the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman's claims have no credence.

It would be wrong to prescribe every element of the procedure. The Bill sets out that the chief constable will be responsible for the complaints procedure. That lays a requirement on the chief constable to assure him or herself that the complaints procedure is established and maintained. Therefore, the chief constable must monitor how the procedure is working to comply with the responsibilities in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman's idea that that part of the Bill does not exist and that a letter from a company saying, ''We've got a complaints procedure. Leave it all to us and don't worry about how we do things,'' would satisfy the Bill's requirements is wrong. On this occasion, the hon. Gentleman has done himself no credit by conjuring up a series of situations that do not have credibility.

Mr. Paice: As the hon. Member for Lewes appears intent on dividing the Committee, I want confirmation that the amendments on which we shall vote would mean that a significant number of existing warden schemes would be ineligible for accreditation. Will the Minister put on record whether that is the case because if it is, I am afraid that we shall not be able to support the hon. Member for Lewes?

Mr. Denham: Our best estimate—there is no central register of schemes—is that the amendments would put 35 per cent. of existing schemes outside accreditation.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 18.

Division No. 11]

Baker, Norman
Brooke, Annette

Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Borrow, Mr. David
Challen, Mr. Colin
Denham, Mr. John
Follett, Barbara
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heppell, Mr. John
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lucas, Ian
MacDougall, Mr. John
Mercer, Patrick
Munn, Ms Meg
Osborne, Mr. George
Paice, Mr. James
Prentice, Bridget
Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 36, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 323

Clause 37

Accreditation under community safety accreditation schemes

12.30 pm

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 147, in page 36, line 38, at end insert—

    '(aa) that there has not been a bankruptcy order made against the person's employer, or the employer's estate has not been sequestrated, or the employer has not made a composition or arrangement with, or granted a trust deed for, its creditors;'.

This is a less controversial amendment. In fact, I see no reason why the Minister would not feel comfortable with it and be willing to support it, and I await his comments with interest. It concerns who should be eligible to be party to accreditation under the community safety accreditation schemes. I am worried that some definitions under the clause are a little vague. ''A fit and proper person'' may be used in other legislation, but it would benefit from amplification by the Minister. For example, it is not clear whether someone with a criminal record or spent conviction would be deemed a fit and proper person. I should like to know the exact meaning of the phrase when applied under the clause.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that it would be inappropriate for a person or organisation to be given powers if there had been

    ''a bankruptcy order made against the person's employer, or the employer's estate has not been sequestrated, or the employer had not made a composition or arrangement with, or granted a trust deed for, its creditors''.

I seek to impose a low threshold. The hon. Gentleman may recognise the words. I remind the Committee that they are taken directly from paragraph 11(1)(b) of schedule 2 on page 50 of the Police Act 1996. It relates to members of the police authority, but it applies the same principle. The concept is straightforward. The amendment is uncontroversial. Its wording has been used by Home Office draftsmen or draftswomen in the past. I look forward to the Minister giving it a fair wind.

Mr. Hawkins: I am delighted that the hon. Member for Lewes has taken the wording of his amendment from the excellent Conservative Administration's Police Act 1996. Although my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and I have not added our names in support of the amendment, we agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would do no harm to adopt the same safeguard that was adopted in another context under the 1996 Act. Even if the Minister does not accept the amendment, I hope that he may reflect on it with those who advise him and, who knows, a similar amendment may be tabled by the Government on Report. It would be a sensible addition to the Bill. It would be an extra safeguard and we shall listen with interest to the Minister's response.

Mr. Denham: It is interesting to hear reference made to the Conservative Government when considering the amendment. Let us cast our minds back to the disastrous Conservative recession in the early 1990s when millions of people lost their homes. I recall that

Column Number: 324

a million or so small business went bankrupt. If someone had the misfortune to be bankrupted by the Tory Government in the early 1990s and has, over 10 years, built up a business in the guarding industry, for example, would we want that person to be excluded from participating in such activities because of one event in his life over which he had no control? We do not apply such a test to a wide range of organisations that provide sensitive services to the police service, such as fraud handling.

The point of principle has been referred to, and the test of a ''fit and proper person'' may include his financial history as well as criminal records, checks and so on. However, the amendment could draw into the pool a lot of people whom we would not sensibly want to exclude. I am not saying that such issues should not be looked into carefully, but the broader test of ''fit and proper'' is the responsibility of the chief officer who is running the accreditation scheme and one that should be applied.

I give the assurance that we expect companies that propose such schemes to carry out checks involving character references and criminal records, and that there should be checks of the organisation's financial standing, integrity and legitimacy. I hope that the hon. Member for Lewes will feel that we are meeting the spirit of his suggestion. The narrowness of the amendment might unfairly exclude some people, albeit possibly a small number.

Norman Baker: I shall not delay the Committee unduly. I understand the Minister's point about a time scale. I would have been happier if he had said that the amendment is well founded and needed a provision relating to a time scale inserted into it in order to limit the effect to a recent bankruptcy, for example.

I still believe that the point about having the concept explained is valid, especially as we are discussing the exercise of police powers. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that and find out whether an amended version that includes a time scale would be appropriate. However, in light of the Minister's comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5

Powers exercisable by accredited persons

Mr. Denham: I beg to move amendment No. 215, in page 136, line 16, at end insert—

    'Power to require giving of name and address

    1A (1) Where an accredited person whose accreditation specifies that this paragraph applies to him has reason to believe that another person has committed a relevant offence in the relevant police area, he may require that other person to give him his name and address

    (2) A person who fails to comply with a requirement under sub-paragraph (1) is guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Column Number: 325

    (3) In this paragraph ''relevant offence'', in relation to any accredited person, means any offence which is—

    (a) a relevant fixed penalty offence for the purposes of any powers exercisable by the accredited person by virtue of paragraph 1; or

    (b) an offence the commission of which appears to the accredited person to have caused—

    (i) injury, alarm or distress to any other person; or

    (ii) the loss of, or any damage to, any other person's property;

    but the accreditation of an accredited person may provide that an offence is not to be treated as a relevant offence by virtue of paragraph (b) unless it satisfies such other conditions as may be specified in the accreditation.'.

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 25 June 2002