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Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 6th April 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 5:00 pm, 6th April 2005

My Lords, I should underline very clearly that the Bill has been fully scrutinised in the other place. There was proper debate and anxious consideration of it. We have spent considerable time exploring the issues both on Second Reading and in Committee. Therefore, I shall not weary the House by repeating everything that I said yesterday in replying to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, or in replying to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, I should like to deal with a couple of points that they identified as being still of concern in relation to the IPCC.

The noble Baroness asks what we are going to do about complaints regarding non-police officers who take up the role of custody officer. Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002, which set up the IPCC, gives the commission oversight of the investigation of complaints against police officers and police staff. In addition, noble Lords will know that, as now, police authorities, as the employers of police staff, are liable for any wrongful acts committed by such staff. That will also be the case with civilian custody officers.

Looking at the general position, I emphasise that the proposals in the Bill do not remove the ability for a police sergeant to continue in the role of custody officer. We very much recognise the contribution made by uniformed sergeants to the post and the effective and efficient operation of custody suites. We do not want to lose that experience or those skills. In the Bill we are providing a capability for others who have demonstrated that they have the appropriate skill to discharge this function to do so. I said yesterday, and I repeat, that there is provision for appropriate training before any individual could be entrusted with this role. We have spoken about Centrex's role and the guidance.

I remind the House that PACE itself sets the benchmark for how an individual should be treated when detained in a custody suite after arrest. Those provisions will apply as strongly to any new custody officer as they have always applied to those who are detained.

I appreciate the anxiety expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, this is a new body. It will have to be properly integrated. I would not be surprised if in the first instance the majority, if not all, the custody officers who join SOCA come from the police. However, we are not putting in place provisions for what happens now, this year or next year but for the long-term development of the agency. Over time, a number of people will enter the agency who will be, or may be, fitted for that role by virtue of the experience of having worked within it. It is important for us to remember that.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that there is no question of privatisation of the role of custody officer. We are talking here about enabling chief officers—I emphasise that—to appoint to that role police staff employed by the police authority. Therefore, there is no reason for there to be concern that somehow something will be inappropriately done.

I hope that with that further explanation the noble Baroness will think it appropriate not to press her amendment.