Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Denham: On the first point, about the exclusion of subsection (4)(c) from the requirement to make regulations, the feeling is that that approach is too prescriptive, because it seems to require before the event a list of each rank and position in the police service in order to determine whether it would be covered if we wanted to exclude it. It would be more sensible to retain the power to exclude specific posts as, in the light of experience and focus on particular posts, that becomes necessary.

It would be rather a large-scale exercise to produce for each police service, before anyone had been recruited, a list of every post, rank or position that could or could not be occupied by someone of different nationality. However, there is no difference between us about the intention of the policy, which is that there must be the ability to reserve posts of particular sensitivity.

Mr. Paice: I take the Minister's point. We have always found that a listing system in legislation inevitably creates problems, because of exclusion. However, I hope that the Minister will accept that in taking that approach he is effectively opening himself up to legal challenge every time such decisions are made and someone who is not a British citizen might be eligible for that post. The issue of racial discrimination legislation will come into play—unless he tells me that the police force is exempt, but I do not believe that it is. Otherwise, I can imagine a legion of such cases being brought every time someone believes that they might have been discriminated against, whether that is true or not.

Mr. Denham: In practice, it would be important for such issues to be dealt with ahead of receiving an individual application from a particular person to a named post. That would present difficulties if the proceedings got that far. I suspect that at some point especially sensitive posts will have to be identified, but I would resist the idea of needing to have a full list before anyone is recruited to any rank of the police service. Also, there is no risk of legal challenge if the

Column Number: 387

rules clearly provide for the reservation of posts. We would be more vulnerable had there been no provision to make such regulations, and some way down the line someone was told, ''You are not going to become the director of terrorism in the Metropolitan police.'' I believe that we are legally covered.

The second question concerned guidance. The amendment enables the Government to make regulations with regard to immigration status. It is our intention that the regulations that we introduce will include a requirement for applicants to have a settled immigration status in the United Kingdom—they must be eligible to live in this country without any restrictions on their stay. I have examined the drafting, and whether in 15 or 20 years' time somebody would apply the amendment in the same way is something that we will have to leave open. However, the Government intend to introduce regulations to require that foreign nationals must be resident in the UK with no restrictions attached to their stay. I believe that that is the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

9.45 pm

Mr. Paice: It went a bit further than that. I appreciate that applicants must be living here legally and able to stay unhindered, but my question related to the period of residency required prior to making an application—the showing of a commitment to this country. There are plenty of people in the world who can come to the UK and have the necessary immigration status within a matter of weeks or months of arriving. I am more concerned about how long they have been here and been part of British society and so learned how we live.

Mr. Denham: To be honest, that is a matter that we will have to examine in more detail when we draft the regulations. At this stage, we have not set out that there should be a two-year, five-year or 10-year test. In general, the other tests of competence and knowledge that would be part of the recruitment service are probably more focused on identifying whether an individual has sufficient knowledge and understanding of this country to do the job. We can consider whether there should be a further residence test when we come to the detailed drafting of the regulations.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Is it not the case that non-UK citizens are practising and therefore administering the law? It is not necessary to be a UK citizen. My solicitor—an American citizen with permanent residency of 20 years—regularly practises in the courts. In the administration of justice, therefore, non-UK citizens are already part of the process.

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, although I would draw a distinction between someone practising professionally, albeit as part of the criminal justice system, and someone who would exercise the full powers of a sworn constable—powers of arrest and detention over citizens and other residents of the UK. I understand my hon. Friend's point, but the Government believe that becoming a police officer has a significance that sets them apart from other citizens.

Column Number: 388

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being helpful in his response to the Opposition's points. I respectfully agree with his comments to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). However, when he and his advisers consider what the minimum period of residency should be, he should take into account that the Police Federation has urged us that a minimum of three years' residency in the UK should be a precondition of someone being considered. I agree, and think that, in the end, we may need an even longer requirement. Three-years' residency should be the irreducible minimum.

Mr. Denham: I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not want to make any commitment today. There is a logic to his comments, but imagine a situation in which somebody who lived in the UK some time ago—perhaps an American citizen and serving police officer with a distinguished record in America—came to the UK with a British wife and had right of settlement. We might find that we had produced an arbitrarily high barrier to someone who would be welcome in the police service. To be honest, the issue should not be resolved when considering the Bill in Committee, but I undertake on behalf of the Government to examine it seriously when we produce the regulations. Of course, we will consult on those before we lay them before Parliament.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I just wonder how far the provisions are compatible with European law. If I were a Greek dentist who wanted to practise in London as a citizen of the European Union under single market legislation and the great treaty of Maastricht, there would be nothing to stop me. Indeed, there is a long tradition of police officers, such as Inspector Clouseau and Poirot, coming to work in this country. I am rather surprised that a restriction appears to be imposed on European Community nationals serving as policemen in this country.

Mr. Denham: As we shall discuss later, Hercule Poirot turns out to have been working without proper insurance cover during all the dramas that we enjoy on television. We shall try to put that right when we discuss later clauses.

Of course, the European Union has not tried to extend provisions on free movement of labour to certain functions, and one of those is national policing. The Bill is entirely compatible with our international treaty obligations.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 67, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 68

Attestation of constables

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Norman Baker (Lewes): I rise tentatively to make a point on the form of declaration, which contains a reference to the monarch. In the previous clause, an attempt has been made to try to broaden the base of

Column Number: 389

those who are eligible to serve in the police force, which I wholly support. The points made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and others about commitment to this country are absolutely right, and the Minister appears to share that view, as, I suspect, do we all.

Those who have already taken nationality would not by covered by clause 67. That is designed to attract people who have been living in this country for some time, who have shown a deep commitment to the country and who have a satisfactory status, but who are not British citizens. Many such people would not be British citizens because they chose not to take the required oath when they took up residency. Many famous people fall into that category either because they are republicans or think that they might want to return whence they came when they reach 65 or 70. Consequently, they do not want to take the ultimate step of swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Do the terms of the form of declaration undermine the Government's attempts through clause 67 to attract people who are committed to this country but have not taken British nationality for one reason or another?

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): Does the hon. Gentleman believe that deleting the words ''the Queen'' would harm in any way the policing function of a person who swore such an amended oath?

Norman Baker: I think that the form of declaration would be robust without those words and would perform the desired function. The person who swore the declaration would be committed to acting with fairness, integrity, diligence, impartiality and so on. That is a satisfactory oath that meets the high standards that we require of a police officer in this country. Without being disrespectful, the phrase is unnecessary and undermines the Government's attempts to attract people who, for their own reasons, do not wish to take British nationality. If people had taken British nationality, they would not be covered by clause 67.

I did not table an amendment on the matter, but I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments.

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 27 June 2002