Amendment 12

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 20 October 2021.

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Lord Paddick:

Moved by Lord Paddick

12: Before Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—“Meaning of special constablesIn all legislation in force applying to England and Wales (including legislation enacted after the coming into force of this section)— (a) the term “members of police forces” shall be deemed to include special constables, and(b) the term “constable” shall be deemed to include a special constable.”Member’s explanatory statementThe aim of this amendment is to ensure that special constables are considered to be members of the police service, as they are in Scotland.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, Clause 3 enables special constables to be represented by the Police Federation, which is an important and welcome acknowledgment of the role played by specials in police forces—but it does not go far enough. I have been surprised at the lack of knowledge among those I have discussed the amendment with surrounding the role of special constables, who are sworn servants of the Crown with all the powers and responsibilities of a regular police officer. The only difference is that special constables are unpaid volunteers whose only recompense is to be paid expenses. I have also been surprised to learn how widely special constables are now used across a range of policing duties.

When I was a serving police officer, specials were generally treated quite badly by regular officers, who referred to them as “hobby bobbies”. It was almost seen as a punishment for a regular officer to be paired with a special constable on patrol—a liability rather than an asset. Such attitudes were unfair and, in most cases, unjustified. As the devastating cuts to policing continued at the end of the coalition Government, special constables came to be increasingly relied on to perform an extensive range of duties, including being trained in public order to be used in the front line on potentially violent demonstrations. Special constables carry warrant cards, handcuffs and CS spray, can exercise force and make arrests, unlike police community support officers, who are unable to do any of those things. Their uniforms have evolved over time so that today they are barely distinguishable from a regular police officer.

To all intents and purposes, and as far as the law and the public are concerned, special constables are in every way the same as regular police officers, except they are unpaid volunteers. That equivalence has been recognised in Scotland, where they are considered to be members of the police force, but it is not the case in England and Wales. While I welcome the recognition that this Bill proposes to give special constables in allowing them to be represented by the Police Federation, I am at a loss to understand why they are not also to be considered members of police forces to which they belong in England and Wales, as they are in Scotland.

Special constables have a vital and increasingly important role to play. In many places, the visible policing presence on our streets has all but disappeared; specials could help to fill that gap. The nature of policing is changing, with increasingly complex and technical crime being committed, such as online fraud. While police forces cannot compete with tech giants in terms of salaries for those technically qualified and experienced, there are opportunities for those with technical expertise to devote some of their spare time to serving their fellow citizens by becoming special constables dedicated to cybercrime, for example.

If I recall correctly, the Labour Party would seek to recruit significant numbers of special constables, were it to be in government—but that requires more than a statement of intent. Being a special constable has to be an attractive proposition to potential recruits, and recognising them as full members of police forces would send a clear message as to how important and valued they are. Can the Minister explain to the Committee why special constables cannot be members of police forces in England and Wales when they are in Scotland? I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this amendment, proposed by my noble friend Lord Paddick, is one that I wholeheartedly support. Many years ago, when I was a magistrate, it was one of my happiest duties to swear in the new special constables. It was fascinating to hear their reasons for wanting to serve their communities voluntarily and to learn about their day jobs. Whatever motivated them, whatever their background, they shared the same driving commitment to help to keep us safe. They put themselves in as much danger as a full-time officer, and they do it voluntarily.

For many years, as my noble friend Lord Paddick, has said, full-time officers derided them. Fortunately, they began to see their worth and special constables are now, almost, fully integrated into the workforce and finally treated properly. I am delighted that my noble friend has brought forward this amendment and I support it totally.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I am very happy to discuss Amendment 12, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It is really interesting and certainly gives us cause to think about the issues he has raised about special constables being members of police forces in England and Wales, as they are in Scotland. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response as to why that is not appropriate, or whether the legal difference between England and Wales and Scotland with respect to specials is an important difference and there is some logical reason for it. It is certainly something for this Committee to think about. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bringing this amendment forward.

We also very much support the provisions in Clause 3, which allow special constables to join the Police Federation. This is a long overdue change, so the Government are to be congratulated on bringing that forward.

It is really important for us to put on record—given that our proceedings are read by many outside and watched by others—what will be the Committee’s unanimous view of the importance of specials and the work they do. All, or many, of us will have been out with our local police forces on the beat. I have at times been out with the specials. It is important to remember that, when a special turns up at an incident in a uniform, with the full powers of the police constable, the people to whom he or she is going do not ask them whether they are a special or whether, because they are special, they do not somehow put themselves in danger in the same way that a full-time police officer would. They are just grateful that a police officer—a uniform—has turned up to support them.

It is really important for us to state in this Committee debate that we support the specials and value the work that they do across communities up and down the country. It is also worth reiterating the evidence given to the Bill Committee in the Commons by John Apter, who said that special constables

“stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues. They have exactly the same powers and they carry exactly the same risks.”

In that short phrase, John Apter has completely summed up our view of the work that they do. Alongside that, Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, said that special constables

“epitomise the relationship between the public and the police”.— [Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 18/5/21; col. 26.]">Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 18/5/21; col. 26.]

It is important, in this short debate on the amendment, to put that on the record. I know it will be the unanimous view of the Committee, but I am also interested in the noble Baroness’s response—sorry, the Minister is the noble Lord; I will get it right. I have been in the Commons for a long time and it takes a little while to get used to—I am nearly there.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, raises an important issue on which we need some clarification, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench

My Lords, I want to amplify one point made by both previous speakers. I am sure that the Minister would agree that what we want to do in the police force—all parts of the police force—is to encourage recruitment. The feeling that one has standing encourages that enormously. I would just like to make this point: we want to encourage recruitment, and therefore if police special constables feel that they are part of the police force, they are more likely to join and stay.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining his amendment. Before I get on to dealing with this amendment, I want to say that I was very moved by the noble Lord’s earlier comments. In the interests of full disclosure, I should declare that I was an inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police. That is where I started out; I can confirm that one never forgets the smell of a mortuary.

Amendment 12 effectively seeks to dispense with the need for Clause 3 by ensuring that, for all purposes, special constables are treated in law as members of a police force. Our professional and dedicated special constables increasingly carry out a range of specialised and front-line roles in their mission to keep us and our communities safe, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted. He also made some very relevant points about the technical skills that they can bring. They often face the same risks as regular officers while on duty; they deserve the same protection and support as regular officers where appropriate. That is why, through the Bill, we are enabling special constables to become members of the Police Federation, should they wish to do so.

Having been subject to long-standing separate regulation in England and Wales, the distinct nature of special constables is recognised in law with clearly defined benefits that result directly from this separate status. In contrast, legislation in Scotland has long included special constables as “members of police forces” and has been drafted to take this into account. It would not be appropriate for special constables to have access to the same conditions of service, or indeed face the same restrictions, that legislation confers on regular officers. Including special constables in the existing definition of “members of police forces” would have that effect. Legislation on the pay and pensions of “members of police forces”, for example, is not relevant to special constables, who are unpaid volunteers, choosing to give up their free time to help strengthen our police forces. As warranted officers, special constables in England and Wales hold the office of constable and are therefore already included in the term “constable”. This means that, where legislation confers powers on a constable, they will also be exercisable by a special constable.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned how we value special constables, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I will digress briefly to set out what the Home Office is doing to recognise and support the special constabulary. The Home Office has raised the profile and status of the annual Lord Ferrers Awards, which recognise the outstanding contribution of volunteers in policing. We have consulted on proposals to extend the eligibility of the Queen’s Police Medal to special constables, along with proposals to lower the service threshold for bars to the Special Constabulary Long Service Medal from 10 to five years. Those proposals could support the retention of highly committed volunteers who may, for example, be incentivised by an award that recognises more realistically the length of service volunteers are able to provide and their ongoing commitment to public service. I hope that this also answers something of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about recruitment.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to John Apter, chair of the Police Federation. I note that he started out as a special constable, which I suppose, by implication, suggests that that is a route into becoming a regular police officer.

For those reasons, we consider that this amendment is not necessary and could cause confusion to the status of special constables, which the law recognises as distinct from regular officers. Further, this amendment could have unwelcome, unintended consequences, for example by applying pay provisions to volunteers. I hope that, in light of my explanation and assurance, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond for her support and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his inquisitiveness and his recognition of the value of specials. I warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, to the Dispatch Box. I am not sure whether this was his first outing, but it was a very, very good one. As he will find out, we work collaboratively in this House and it is good to work with such a wonderful Home Office spokesman—if that is not too over-the-top.

However, I did not actually hear—or if I did, I did not understand—why special constables are included as members of police forces in Scotland, and how all the objections the Minister raised, in terms of why they could not be members in England and Wales, have been got around in Scotland. As this is the Minister’s first outing, I would not press him to give me an answer now if he would prefer to write. But something tells me he may have the answer in his hands, in which case I shall allow him to respond.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:30, 20 October 2021

I will try. The noble Lord is asking why specials are treated as members of the police force in Scotland but not in England and Wales. Special constables in England and Wales have been subject to long-standing separate regulation for members of police forces, and their distinct nature is recognised in law, with clearly defined benefits that result from this separate status. By contrast, legislation in Scotland has long included special constables as members of police forces, and it has been drafted to take that into account. I hope that goes some way to answering the noble Lord’s question.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It was a good try, but it quite clearly does not answer the question at all. Specials in Scotland have always been considered to be members of police forces; they are not paid, but if that happened in England and Wales, they would have to be paid like regular officers. I would like, if possible, for the noble Lord to write to me with a fuller explanation, rather than just stating what the facts are; an explanation of why the facts are as they are would be extremely helpful. But at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed.

Clause 4: Meaning of dangerous driving: constables etc