I beg to move amendment No. 119, in page 7, line 21, leave out 'Complaints' and insert 'Conduct'.
The amendment is relatively small, but it focuses on an important matter. We tabled it as a result of our attention being drawn to a letter in The Daily Telegraph on 9 April 2002 by Jan Prebble, the chairman of the South Westminster police/community consultative group, who made the important point that ''complaints'' has a pejorative implication. We agree that that is unhelpful.
The letter stated:
''It really isn't right that the policeman who fired a plastic baton round''—
which had been reported in The Daily Telegraph the day before—
''should have the stigma of having his case referred to something called the Police Complaints Authority. Obviously every gun incident must be looked into but it is inappropriate that every policeman who fires a gun in the face of enormous danger exhibiting, in many cases, amazing bravery should automatically have the matter referred to a 'complaints' body, when the matter—
that caused the police officer to discharge that firearm—
may well have been the subject of praise''.
Will all know the enormous courage exhibited by police officers on so many occasions in the execution of their duty.
Jan Prebble said that, in many cases, investigations have been known to last months—years, in some cases—and throughout that time the police officer has to suffer the indignity of having the matter dealt with by the Police Complaints Authority, even though no complaint has been made against him and when the media coverage has been full of praise for the police officer. She went on to say:
''The Police Reform Bill now going through Parliament seeks to set up a new body to take over from the Police Complaints Authority but its suggested name—the Independent Police Complaints Commission—is no better.''
She said that the police/community consultative group believes that the body should be called the independent police conduct commission. In her letter to an hon. Friend, she said that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety who is a member of the Committee, although he is not here at the moment, told the police/community consultative group that he has ''some sympathy'' with its view. He said that it was true that the new independent police complaint commission will cover police conduct more generally
than just complaints, but that it would cause confusion to change the name at this stage.
Jan Prebble said to my hon. Friend that a slight confusion would be worth while if it relieved the police of such a stigma, and that
''the problem of course goes much wider than just the name of the organisation'',
''Getting the name right would seem to us to be a good start''.
I agree with that. After all, our scrutiny is a fundamental part of the work of Standing Committees, when we try to achieve the best possible legislation. It is not good enough for the Under-Secretary to say, ''Well it's going to cause confusion.''
Surely, the whole point is to try to ensure that the Bill that finally emerges from our deliberations will establish bodies with the most appropriate nomenclature. If the Under-Secretary has expressed sympathy for the views of the South Westminster police/community consultative group, perhaps at a later stage—on Report or in another place—he will consider introducing a Government amendment. We will hear in a moment.
Jan Prebble also supplied me and my hon. Friends with a background paper relating to the police use of firearms. I shall not detain the Committee by reading the whole paper, but one passage is especially well expressed. It states:
''The difficulties met by a police officer when he''
''has to decide whether to shoot or not are mammoth. Take the officer who is faced with a gun. It is impossible to tell whether the gun is a real one or a replica.''
On the day that the South Westminster police/community group spent with the police, they were shown
''a large table tennis sized table covered with guns, almost all of them replicas.''
The display amazed them, and, as a group of intelligent citizens involved in that area, they were asked to guess which were real guns, but they were unable to tell.
Apparently, legislation in the United States requires toy guns to be made of brightly coloured plastic. However, criminals merely paint real guns in fluorescent colours to match the replicas, rather than paint the replicas black, as one might have thought. It is difficult to know whether a gun is real or a toy, so the police are understandably not impressed by newspaper headlines that far too often scream criticism when police officers discharge their firearms at people holding toy guns. Although many national newspaper journalists have received training from the police to explain the problems experienced by police officers in this context, it has done nothing to adjust Fleet street's view.
Armed police always try to be one step ahead of the game, so they have tried to learn lessons from America and through travelling abroad. We must recognise the difficulties faced by police officers, especially in the light of the tragic deaths of police officers who are faced with firearms while acting in the execution of
their duty—whether the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher from the Libyan embassy, which we all remember, or more recent incidents involving police officers who have sadly been shot and killed. It would be helpful for police officers not to face the stigma of automatic referral to something called a complaints body. A new organisation is being established. We have the opportunity to name the commission, and we may regret not taking the opportunity to get the title correct.
I hope that the Government will take this small but significant amendment seriously. Even if they cannot accept it today, I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us that he will keep thinking about it. He may agree in the end, because of the automatic referral to the commission of any police officer who discharges a firearm. ''Police Conduct Commission'' would be a better title.
I can shed light on the matter through personal experience. In August 1975, I was commanding a platoon of infantry in County Londonderry. I became involved in what was later referred to as a gun battle with the IRA. As a 19-year-old second lieutenant, that was highly exciting to me. However, on return to the police barracks—I use the phrase that the Royal Ulster Constabulary would have used at the time—I was surprised to be interviewed under caution, first by the Royal Military Police and secondly by the RUC, as if I had committed some crime. I do not believe that I had; I was carrying out my duty to the Queen, and was doing so within the law, quite rightly.
I am talking about considerably more violent times than the present. I understood that RUC officers went through a similar procedure. I bow to the experience of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), which in many ways is much greater than mine, although perhaps not of quite the same level. RUC officers were frequently involved in gun battles, and in the use of plastic and wooden baton rounds. When injury was inflicted, or when there was the intention to inflict injury, it ended up with officers being interviewed by the Police Complaints Authority, as it was then called. Those interviews, all of which went on their records, occurred so frequently that they became almost a matter of pride. They did them no harm; in fact, in some ways, they could have been regarded almost as a slight professional brag that the officer was involved in such difficult policing.
That force was fighting an extremely difficult enemy, and was conducting itself in a very difficult situation. To that force, such interviews were everyday occurrences. Indeed, a degree of ennui spread among the RUC officers about that understandable but, to borrow a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), pejorative business that they went through.
My experience with the Nottinghamshire constabulary does not suggest that the circumstances are the same. Luckily, violence such as that which I have just described does not occur often in my neck of the woods of Nottinghamshire. It might be more
frequent in Nottingham, but it does not happen often in Newark. However, there is definite resentment among officers who serve with that constabulary at the fact that, if they are involved in doing their duty to the best of their ability, often with bravery as has been said, it is put on their record that they have been in front of the Police Complaints Authority.
There is a feeling that if we have the chance to alter the name, it would be much fairer to the officers concerned if we struck the word ''Complaints'' from the title of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and substituted it with the word ''Conduct''. If we did so, I am sure that the brave and always worthy officers in our police force would be much happier.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath—and the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)—has reported the issue fairly to the Committee and has put the subject on the table in a way that can be well understood. His reporting of the correspondence between one of his hon. Friends and the person he mentions ensures that.
We have sympathy for the point of view being expressed, but the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has told the Committee what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was reported as saying in that correspondence. We believe that, despite the fact that the name may be an issue, seeking to change the title of the Independent Police Complaints Commission now might create difficulties in itself. The name was widely accepted during the consultation process. We have had no representations for a change to the name—not from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities or from the Police Federation of England and Wales. We consulted on the matter. It has been on the table for a long time, and no one raised the issue of the title. We are worried that changing the name at this point in such a way would lead to difficulties. The matter would have to be considered seriously. A genuine issue is involved: ''Conduct'' will go wider than simply ''Complaints''. I am not detracting from the argument that is being advanced, but to do that would create difficulties.
The Under-Secretary will be aware that we in Northern Ireland are at least two years ahead in police reform. In Northern Ireland we have a police ombudsman's office to deal with complaints. Has any consideration been given to a police ombudsman, instead of the commission?
There was a great desire in the police force and widespread support for the proposals to put in place a system that would be seen to be independent and fair and to the benefit of everyone involved, including the police service, not only people who complain about it. The proposal has widespread and overwhelming support and has been consulted on. The title in the Bill—''The Independent Police Complaints Commission''—was part of that consultation.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have some sympathy with the argument advanced.
There is a certain logic to it. However, the Committee takes seriously the problem that would arise if we were to make a change having received such widespread support. We received practically no representations on the issue.
The Under-Secretary accepts that an issue is involved and the way in which we have presented it. If police organisations such as ACPO and the Police Federation were told that Jan Prebble and her group had made the recommendation and specifically asked which they prefer, would the Under-Secretary and his official be prepared to ask the question?
I hope that it is clear from my response to the amendment that we are not dogmatic about the issue, but serious issues would need to be dealt with if we were to make a change, and the matter would need to be properly considered. I do not believe that we could make a change merely off the back of one or two representations or if one part of the consultation had further reflected on the matter and believed that it was a good idea. We are not dogmatic about the matter. If the proposal would be widely understood, would not cause confusion, would clearly be a better title and everyone was on board, I do not believe that the Government would object.
The Under-Secretary's last few sentences were helpful. I make two quick points. First, from my recollection, at no stage did the consultation raise any question about the terminology. It was always going to be called the Independent Police Complaints Commission, so, although it is true that no one expressed anxiety about that, the question was not posed during the consultation. Secondly, I understand that the commission will not come into being for almost two years, which allows a considerable amount of time to reflect on the issue. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take the opportunity to commit himself to doing so.
The issue relates to the debate on part 2. I hope that I have said enough to Opposition Members to convince them that they should not press the amendment at this point and for the Committee to realise that we do not have a dogmatic view of the subject. I have some sympathy with the logic of the amendment, but we do not want to impose anything on consultees or cause confusion. We do not want to detract from—this is something that we must all think about—the benefits that would be gained by setting up an independent police complaints commission. Everybody accepts that there are benefits.
Following his discussion with me—and with you, Mr. Stevenson—the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) is aware of an issue of which other members of the Committee might not be informed. I must put that on the table so that the rest of the Committee know about it before our further discussions on part 2. I thank you, Mr. Stevenson, for allowing me to go beyond the subject of the amendment.
I turn to the Government's intended implementation date of the new system. We
originally intended to introduce the new system and set up the IPCC from April 2003. However, those involved in the development of the new system will know that much thought has been given to the feasibility of that launch date. I confirm that in order to ensure that the IPCC may be effective and proactive, the Government intend that the new the system will be fully implemented in April 2004. The alternative would have been to introduce the new system in phases during the 12 months before April 2004.
A system that is fully operational from day one will ensure that complainants can have full confidence that their complaint is being dealt with in a completely new system rather than in a partially implemented new system. The extra 12 months will provide the opportunity to prepare for the full implementation of all parts of the system from the start. For example, the police service will be given training on how the new system will operate. The Committee should be aware that the benefits of a system that is complete and running from a specific date outweigh the potential benefits of bringing in a partial system as soon as possible, which might cause difficulties and confusion for people with complaints.
Is the hon. Member for Surrey Heath prepared to withdraw his amendment for the reasons that I have given?
I should inform the Committee that the Under-Secretary approached me about that information. I considered that it was highly appropriate that it should be available to the Committee at the outset. Of course, that means that it will be perfectly in order for any hon. Members to discuss the information. However, I am sure that hon. Members would not want to repeat of the same arguments during a clause stand part debate.
We are grateful that the Under-Secretary informed me, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) of that information. Conservative Members think that you, Mr. Stevenson, made a helpful decision in allowing the matter to be raised.
Although we have extra time before the provision comes into effect, after the conclusion of the Committee stage and Report, there will probably be no further opportunity to amend its title, if that were thought to be important. Given what the Under-Secretary has stated—that the question of nomenclature was never specifically addressed in the consultation—I hope that he is, in effect, saying that he and his officials will go back and talk to the Police Federation and ACPO. We are going to talk to them, but I think that both sides of the House need to do that, and that it must be done urgently.
The Under-Secretary's response has been reasonable; he has acknowledged that there is an issue here, and he has said that he will continue to address it. On that basis alone, my hon. Friend and I are not going to press the matter to a Division this morning. However, as the Under-Secretary is aware, we have come very close to doing that. I hope that the
Under-Secretary and his officials have understood that we think that this matter should be urgently considered.
That is a good point, and it might be worth considering, especially by the Under-Secretary, between now and when the body comes into existence. However, as the hon. Lady will understand, our amendment was based specifically on the representations that were made to us.
Although the letter that led to me drafting the amendment was published in The Daily Telegraph some time ago, the background papers only came to my attention yesterday, because they were sent to another hon. Member and then passed on to my hon. Friend and myself. Therefore, we have not had enough time to go back to the Police Federation and ACPO—because we have only had, literally, overnight to do that—but we will do so, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will also do that.
In keeping with the spirit of the debate, I say to hon. Gentleman that if he is going to talk to people about whether they think it is right to change the title, he needs to go far wider than the Police Federation and ACPO. The original title was suggested by Liberty, and there are benefits to being seen to have set up an independent police complaints commission. That illustrates that many issues need to be considered. The matter is not straightforward.
I take on board the Under-Secretary's point, but he must understand that he, with his army of civil servants, has more resources than we do, and therefore he can consult more widely. He will consult, and we do not want to duplicate his work. We have a more direct line to certain organisations, and he, given his political perspective, may have a more direct line to others. However, the Government can consult with anybody, and they have the resources to do that.
If we were to replace ''complaints'' with ''conduct'', we would not undermine the independence of the body. The Under-Secretary is aware of that. This has been a long running saga. Organisations such as Liberty are particularly concerned about establishing a body that is truly independent, but replacing ''complaints'' with ''conduct'' might matter more to police officers, who do not want the pejorative term, and nor do the law-abiding organisations that support the police, such as the police/community consultative group. They do not want the stigma of something being called a complaint; conduct is a more neutral word. I think that the Under-Secretary understands that that is why the police organisations are likely to be especially supportive of the change of words, although it would not in any way undermine the
independence of the body, which is the important matter that organisations such as Liberty are particularly concerned about.
Specifically on the basis of what the Under-Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I wish to respond to the Under-Secretary's comments about the implementation date that he now proposes for the IPCC. I thank him for his customary courtesy in letting me know about that in advance. If Ministers always displayed such courtesy, the Government might find it easier to get their business through the House.
It is obviously regrettable that a body that is welcomed as a concept by hon. Members of all parties will come into being a year later than many would have liked. However, the Under-Secretary is right to say that, if the advice from officials means that he is not confident that the body will be up and running effectively and efficiently by April 2003, he will delay its introduction. The worst thing would be if a body that everyone wants to be in place were unable to carry out its work in a way that inspired confidence among the public and the police. If that delay is the price that has to be paid, it is one worth paying.
On the substance of the amendment, I listened, as always with care, to the hon. Members for Surrey Heath and for Newark. The latter has experience of Northern Ireland that I lack, and it is worth reflecting on. I understand what was said about a matter that is not a complaint being referred to the new body, and so I understand why the amendment has been tabled. However, I caution the Under-Secretary not to accept the case without reservation, for the very reason that he himself gave.
The new commission is being proposed because there has been a history of dissatisfaction among members of the public about how complaints about the police have been handled. That is why the proposal has been made. It is important that the body is seen to be independent, rigorous and one that will inspire confidence in people with complaints that they want to take forward. A diminution of the title may have a beneficial effect in terms of how the police regard it—and I do not underestimate that—but it may have a detrimental effect on people who want a truly independent body for the purposes set out in the legislation.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 151, in page 7, line 31, at end insert—
'(bb) he is a person in relation to whom a designation under section (Police powers for contracted-out staff) is or has been in force;'.
I was hoping to make a substantial speech.
The Committee is aware that a key aim of the police reform programme is to free police officers from the bureaucratic burdens that keep them in police stations so that they can fight crime on the streets and provide the physical presence that reassures our communities.
One of the ways in which we are doing this is to allow properly trained civilians to take on tasks which do not require the full skills and training of a police officer. That is the basis of the provisions of clause 35, which allow for chief officers to designate community support officers, investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers employed by the police authority to carry out the range of duties listed in schedule 4.
Since the publication of this Bill, several police forces have been in touch with us about their plans to contract out custody services to private providers. They have indicated that it would help to maximise the effectiveness of such plans if private providers could make use of the various custody-related powers that we are aiming to open up to civilians through the Bill. They include powers to search, fingerprint and photograph detained persons and to escort such persons between police stations and between police stations and other locations.
As an illustration of the potential benefits to the police, Cheshire constabulary has suggested that contracting out escort duties relating to custody could save 27,000 police hours per annum, or the equivalent of 15 officers released to front-line operational duties.
Did the Under-Secretary hear the report on Radio 4's ''Today'' programme this morning? A senior judge believes that a huge cost to the taxpayer is incurred through the use of private escort services for prison duties, because one in seven prisoners now turns up late for court. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the system, it does not seem to be policed very well.
I did hear part of the report. The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but it largely related to provisions for the Prison Service and is not directly relevant to our discussion. I hope that he does not seek to deny that we have had genuine representations. In the Wiltshire area, I have personally seen that custody suites and detention arrangements have been civilianised to the great satisfaction not only of those working in those areas, but of police constables working with those detention arrangements. We have had those representations.
There is a belief among certain forces that substantial benefits can be gained, in terms of cost and in the expertise that can arise through specialisation. I am not making that up or trying to prove something to the Committee in the absence of representations having been made. According to the police in those forces, further significant savings would be available from the contracting out of detention duties within custody suites. Cleveland police are looking to free up 23 officers through such a scheme.
There are clear potential benefits from civilianisation through improved efficiency, saving resources and freeing up police officers from other
duties. That is the message that we are receiving from the police service. With suitable safeguards in place, there is no reason why some of the powers open to police authority-employed designated persons could not also be available to civilians employed by private providers.
New clause 9 sets out the framework of powers for contracted-out staff. I stress that the clause opens up to contracted-out civilian staff only the powers relating to detention at police stations and to escorting—and no others. Investigatory and on-the-street powers, which the Bill will make available to police-employed investigating officers and community support officers, will not be opened up to contracted-out staff.
With regard to the powers of contracted-out staff, we have created a third category of empowered civilian staff who will be employees of the companies contracted to provide detention and escort services to the police authority. Such a person would be able to apply to the chief constable for designation as either a detention officer or an escort officer—or both. Before granting the designation, the chief officer would have to be satisfied that the person was suitable to exercise the relevant powers, capable of carrying out the associated functions and appropriately trained—as is the case for designated civilians employed by the police authority. Also, as is the case for the employer of accredited persons, the chief officer would need to be satisfied that the contractor is a suitable person to supervise the designated person.
Following on from that point, clause 9(2) states that the matters that the police complaints commission can investigate are
''the handling of complaints made about the conduct of persons serving with the police''.
If we proceed with the contracting out of tasks such as finger-printing and so forth, are the persons involved ''serving with the police'' and liable to have complaints against them investigated?
I shall come to that point later on.
As part of the designation process, the chief officer would be able to endow the contracted person with appropriate powers. The relevant sets of powers would be those currently described in the parts of schedule 4 that cover detention officers and escort officers. The chief officer could choose freely from those lists of powers in respect of each individual designation, and each power would come with the capacity to use reasonable force, where such a capacity was available to a constable using the same power.
Where a designated person ceased to be an employee of the relevant employer, or the contractual arrangement between the employer and the police authority was terminated, the designation would lapse. Much of the supporting infrastructure of the provisions that are already envisaged for persons who are designated and accredited by a police authority would also be applied to contracted-out persons, such as the requirement to wear a uniform, the offences of assaulting, obstructing or impersonating a designated officer, the obligation on contracted-out staff to have due regard to the relevant
provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice, and the provision for the chief officer to modify or withdraw the designation at any time.
In addition, new clause 9 includes provisions for dealing with allegations of misconduct by contracted-out staff who are exercising police powers. Designated persons will work very closely with the police, often on police premises, and will be recognised by many as part of the police service, as they carry out what have traditionally been police functions.
Again, I shall seek to address that point at a later stage.
Our intention is that when designated workers provide services to the police, complaints about them—or allegations of misconduct where there is no complaint—should be handled in a manner which is as close as possible to the procedures that are followed when police officers and employees of the police authority are involved.
Regulations under this clause will ensure that there is one system for dealing with complaints involving police officers and designated persons. We do not want a member of the public to have to pursue several complaints through different avenues when those complaints have arisen from one incident involving police officers and designated persons.
I want to press the Under-Secretary on this point, because it goes to the nub of one of my main concerns. He has put into new clause 9 the provision that the Secretary of State may make regulations to deal with the handling of complaints, and he has said that they would have to be the same as would apply to a police officer. That implies that those regulations would put these individuals under the IPCC, or a duplicate system that is identical to it. Is that what he is saying, because if he is going to put them under the IPCC, it would be far simpler to change that part of the legislation than to put all of this in another set of regulations? By giving the Secretary of State power to make regulations, the implication is that there will be a different system for handling complaints.
On that point, the phrase that the Under-Secretary used was ''as close as possible'' rather than ''exactly the same'', which is the phrase that I would have preferred to have heard.
I shall try to satisfy the hon. Gentleman by explaining our intentions on that.
Given that contracted-out staff have different employers, we cannot slot designated persons into the existing complaints provisions in the Bill. The Secretary of State will have the power to make regulations under new clause 9(9) to ensure that
there is a system for dealing with misconduct that, as near as is practical, mirrors the procedure applicable to regular police officers. That will include bringing contracted-out staff within the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
New clause 9(10) provides that those regulations may apply to any provision of part 2 that has
''respect to complaints against persons designated under this section'',
or the police. Part of the chief officer's responsibility in determining the fitness of a relevant employer would be to ensure that they have satisfactory arrangements in place to deal with the disciplinary issues that might arise. Of course, the chief officer will be able to remove a person's designation if, following an investigation, either he or the IPCC is not satisfied with a person's behaviour or the way that the employer has dealt with the misconduct.
The other amendments in the group are largely consequential upon new clause 9. As we are debating part 2, let me single out Government amendments Nos. 151 and 152. Government amendment No. 151 simply adds contracted-out staff to the list of persons prohibited from appointment as the chairman or a member of the IPCC. Government amendment No. 152 applies the complaints regulations that may be made under new clause 9(9) to subsection (3) of the existing clause 9, so that the IPCC also has the functions conferred on it by those regulations.
I think that I have outlined the main issues. The only difficulty that prevents us from treating contracted-out staff in the Bill in exactly the same way as police authority employed persons is the difference in employee relations. It is our intention to make sure that those regulations mirror as closely as is needed the complaints procedure for police authority staff. I give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke).
I was waiting patiently until the Under-Secretary had finished to hear whether he would answer my question, and then I began to feel anxious that it was not going to be answered.
The Under-Secretary addressed the crucial issue on the group of amendments in his speech and in his responses to interventions. It is slightly anomalous that we are debating something that substantively falls elsewhere in the Bill, in new clause 9. However, we are debating it because of its consequences for this part of the Bill. I hope that you will forgive me if we go a bit beyond part 2, because new clause 9 relates to further parts, Mr. Stevenson.
A third group is being added to what is described as the police family. The proposal is to give contracted-out staff a number of police powers. We on the official Opposition Benches do not have any philosophical problem with the use of contracted-out staff for
detention and escort duties. That does not give us cause for concern in principle, but there are concerns about practicality. The hon. Member for Lewes mentioned the issue raised on the ''Today'' programme this morning. I believe that the efficiency of the system, as in all contracted-out arrangements, depends on the effectiveness of the contract. Often the principle is damaged because the contract is not right in the first place and so cannot be enforced. However, that is a matter of detail: the principle is entirely acceptable, and I shall not digress into questions of which powers people should have. The powers proposed for this group are acceptable, and we do not have a problem with them.
However, my study of the proposal has identified the issue that has exercised the Committee and the hon. Member for Lewes in this short debate already, and that is the matter of complaints. It struck me that we were having another system. The difference is not just between police officers and contracted-out staff. A comparison can be drawn with other civilians employed by the police. According to my reading of the Bill, they will be covered by the independent commission, whereas employees of accredited community safety schemes will not. We have tabled a later amendment to alter that.
I was puzzled by the words of new clause 9, but the Under-Secretary's statement clarified that the Government intend that the regulations will bring the matter within the remit of the independent commission. That resolves one of my concerns, but it exacerbates my other worry that employees of accredited community schemes will come under a different system. We will deal with that in a later debate, but it seems odd that contracted-out employees of Securicor, Group 4 or one of the many other firms that may take on the role of escort duties will come under the remit of the independent commission if a member of the public makes a complaint, whereas complaints against people exercising police powers under schedule 5 who are employed by a local authority—they may ultimately be employed by Securicor or Group 4 under an accredited community safety scheme rather than a contracted-out scheme—would not go to the commission. That seems extremely odd.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman can help with something so that I can get my head around statements that the Under-Secretary has made. The Under-Secretary has said that because these people will be employed by private companies they will need to be subject to separate regulations, but he has also said that they will be subject to the independent commission. I do not see how both can be true.
That is an interesting point, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have time to put to the Under-Secretary. However, I shall let the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire respond.
I was going to say that it is not my job to explain what the Under-Secretary meant, Mr. Stevenson. I was slightly puzzled by his use of words when he said that such matters would be brought within the remit of the IPCC. That gave me some comfort, in contrast to his earlier remarks. From
Pepper v. Hart, we know that what Ministers say carries considerable force when it comes to interpreting the law and the effect of the regulations. I am standing on the Under-Secretary's word that the regulations will achieve what he says that they will.
However, the proposal enhances the difference between contracted-out staff and employees of accredited community safety schemes, who may be employed by the same overall organisation but whose role in the wider police family may be slightly different. Will the Under-Secretary explain, in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Lewes, why the provision cannot be amended to ensure that contracted-out staff and employees of accredited community safety schemes can both come under the remit of the independent commission? What is the legal distinction that requires him to adopt that different approach?
I come to amendment No. 224, to which the Under-Secretary did not refer. The clause relates to liability, which was debated at some length in another place. There was genuine concern that the liability was unclear in relation to people who are not police officers but who exercise police powers. To the Government's credit, the amendment makes it clear. However, I question whether the approach is right, as the amendment clearly states that the liability falls to the employer of any member of the contracted-out arrangements or the accredited community safety scheme, not to the police. Will the Under-Secretary explain the reasoning behind the wording of the amendment? If people are authorised by a chief police officer, their uniform distinguishes them as a member of that police family, and they exercise the police powers given to them under schedule 5. There is therefore a strong argument that the liability for the use of those powers should fall on the chief police officer, rather than on the employer. There is a question to be answered if someone uses police powers in a way that renders them liable.
I am the first to recognise that my words will probably strike horror into the police service, as it will incur extra liability. That may be another reason why it may not want to pursue the arrangements. However, it is wrong for an ordinary civilian employer to be liable for contracted out staff or members of accredited community safety organisations who exercise police powers. I hope that the Under-Secretary will address that. My desire to explore that issue is genuine. My gut feeling differs from the amendment's approach, but I am open to persuasion.
On new clause 9, will the Under-Secretary clarify why he thinks it necessary to make different regulations, and why he does not simply—to use his words—include those people within the remit of the IPPC?
I want to discuss the escorting of prisoners, and bring my experience to bear on this matter of great importance. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was a criminal advocate. One of the most difficult situations for the police was where an individual was arrested at one end of the country on a warrant from a magistrates court or crown court. The individual would, quite properly, immediately
have to be transported back to the other end of the country to be brought before the court at the first available opportunity. That is a regular occurrence in the courts. For example, an individual could be arrested in Lewes on a warrant from Wrexham magistrates court. It would then follow that the police—it may only be the police as the law currently stands—must escort that individual from Lewes to Wrexham magistrates court on that particular day at the first available opportunity. That means that an officer would have a five-hour drive, which, with the return journey, would amount to 10 hours, so a whole shift can be spent simply escorting a prisoner.
At a time when we all rightly value police officers, that is a substantial drain on a police force in any constituency. It is important that the new provision is introduced, because regulated individuals who are not police officers can properly carry out that function. We must recognise that drain in discussing the other side of the coin, which has been brought up by Opposition Members, concerning the regulation of the individuals who will transport prisoners in such circumstances. We must get the system right and ensure that the individual is under similar obligations to a police officer. My mind was put at rest by the Under-Secretary's statement that the situation will be as close to that of a police officer as possible.
It is impossible to make the position exactly the same, because the sanctions that would apply to that individual cannot be the same as they would be for a police officer. That would require a situation in which the contract in a particular case would have to address the obligations of the contractors on an individual basis. The undertaking that has been given concerning the production of the regulations, coupled with the Under-Secretary's assurance that those regulations will be as close to the current rules as possible, means that we are taking the correct way ahead. It will produce the benefit of freeing up police officers from such an onerous, tedious and relatively straightforward obligation, while including the necessary safeguards for private contractors.
For the benefit of the hon. Member for Lewes and after this morning's reference to a judge's comments about late arrivals at court under the private system, I should tell the Committee that my experience in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that the Prison Service had an appalling record of producing prisoners late at court. I spent many mornings simply waiting for someone to be delivered.
I do not know how to follow that, but I shall do my best. It has taken my breath away.
I begin by saying for the sake of clarity that the Liberal Democrats do not object in principle to particular functions being undertaken by the private sector. It depends on the functions, safeguards and conditions. I was interested by the comments of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) about how the Prison Service—I shall not talk about it too much, just as an example—was inefficient in delivering prisoners some years ago. However, it appears that the private sector is also inefficient in delivering prisoners, judging from the comments that we heard this morning.
The Under-Secretary talks about potential savings: yes, a paper exercise will bring potential savings and I agree that a police officer should not be tied down for 10 hours at a time transporting prisoners, but we must have a contract and a system that work, otherwise, we will have a hived-off private sector arrangement that is not subject to a tight contract and in which people are employed on poor wages. Whatever the problems, employees will not feel that they have to turn up each day. It will end with a van not turning up to escort a prisoner, a police officer—in Lewes or elsewhere—having to look after the prisoner at short notice, and the escalation of Crown court costs because the prisoner has not turned up. This morning I heard that cost estimated at £8,000 a day. What appears as a small saving on paper can, without proper implementation, amount to a huge cost.
We cannot agree to what is set out in this part of the Bill without knowing exactly what powers will be available and what safeguards will be in place, which will be the subject of debate on later parts of the Bill. We seem to be asked to give carte blanche. We can talk about the principle here, but its acceptability will be governed by the details to be debated later.
One concern rehearsed at length—I shall deal with it briefly—is about dealing with complaints. It is not clear—I am unsure whether the Under-Secretary's comments were welcome—whether complaints against private sector individuals will be brought within the remit of the IPCC. People employed by private companies are subject to separate regulations, so I am uncertain how the matrix will work. Will the Under-Secretary provide further clarification?
Intimate body searches are a sensitive issue. The Under-Secretary should recognise that many people are queasy about allowing people who are not formally police officers to carry out such searches. My noble Friend Lord Dholakia raised the matter in another place. He said that the issue of body searches in police stations was, in his experience, one of the reasons for the sparking of severe race tensions in Britain's inner cities. My noble Friend knows about these issues and we should not skate over the matter. The Under-Secretary must recognise the degree of sensitivity and respond to the earlier intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole.
What happens if the private contractor fails to live up to the required standards? If I understood him correctly, the Minister said that if an individual employee were found wanting, the method of dealing with the problem would be to delete him from the contract. I am unsure what would happen if a three or five-year contract were signed with a private sector company that turned out to be hopeless. When Group 4 started to operate in the prison service, it was the subject of criticism and ridicule across the country. Other examples of hopeless private sector outsourcing could be cited. Indeed, the Criminal Records Bureau seems to be going down that road at present. What can be done if a contractor proves ineffective and useless? Can a contract be terminated early, or is it simply a question of tweaking? That is important because otherwise we shall end up with more police time being used for the reasons to which the hon. Member for Wrexham alluded.
I should put on record that I am unhappy about the way in which the Government have introduced new clause 9. The Under-Secretary might have read the piece in The Guardian—I know that Labour Members pay great attention to The Guardian.
Indeed. Some Labour Members prefer the Daily Mail, but I shall not go down that road.
''The government has deliberately misled parliament over secret plans to privatise part of the police force, including a new detention officer empowered to carry out intimate body searches.
A leaked briefing paper prepared by Home Office civil servants instructs the Home Office minister Lord Rooker not to tell his fellow peers of plans to contract out detention officers to the private sector.
The leaked paper—prepared for the report stage of the police reform bill in the Lords on April 16—states: 'On no account read out the following paragraph'''—
which I shall now read out.
'''At the moment the bill does not allow for detention officers to be contracted out to the private sector, but we are hoping to be able to put forward amendments in the Commons to enable that.'''
If the Government had that in mind, they should have come clean with the House of Lords and had a proper debate. Although I am sure that the Under-Secretary was not involved, the suspicion must be that the conclusion was reached that it would be easier to get the amendment through the Commons than the Lords because, of course, the parties are more balanced in the Lords. [Interruption.] It is an outrageous suggestion I know; how could that possible be the case? Although the Under-Secretary was helpfully courteous at the start of this sitting, no such courtesy was afforded to their Lordships when the decision was taken not to reveal the Government's thinking.
New clause 9 raises worries, especially a philosophical worry about the range of powers given to escort officers and detention officers. For example, what happens if a person resists or causes problems while being escorted? Where would that leave the private sector employee or the person who was being escorted? What would happen if a person objected to a
private individual conducting an intimate body search? Would that person have the right to demand that the search was carried out by a police officer? That safeguard should be in place. Has the Under-Secretary considered giving detained individuals the right to request that a body search is conducted by a police officer because that could be one way to address the situation? I am prattling on about that idea, but I hope that the Under-Secretary will write down the point and remember to respond to it.
There are so many uncertainties about the range of powers, the safeguards and the uncertainty of the complaints procedure that I, for one, am unable to support new clause 9 until we have safeguards and detailed discussions. For that reason, may we have a separate vote on new clause 9? If that is not possible, my colleague and I will vote against the group of amendments, although the other amendments in the group are not necessarily controversial.
Order. I hope that the Under-Secretary will forgive me. I like to call hon. Members before the Under-Secretary replies. I did not know that the hon. Lady wished to contribute.
Thank you, Mr. Stevenson. I hesitated slightly, so that is my fault. If the Under-Secretary wants to intervene, I shall welcome that. What I am about to say might be unnecessary if he answers my question.
I wanted to say something about intimate body searches because a person who experienced such a search at the hands of private contractors simply as a visitor to an institution contacted us expressing a lot of concern. Clearly, a visitor would not be subject to the same level of probing as that undertaken by a detention officer. There was a policy of close body searching of visitors and it was argued that it seemed to apply particularly to women. I am sure that men would say that the same applied to them—there are plenty of them in Committee to do that—but I shall take the feminist approach. The woman was intimately touched and felt that the contractor's hands were moving all over her body. She complained and, at her next visit, she experienced a worse and even more intrusive body search.
The person who contacted us said that she was happy to speak out. She had the confidence and the background to make a complaint. However, many women—and men, for that matter—who might not dare to complain about such behaviour. However right the system is, if a situation occurs in which people will not make complaints about intimate matters, it is a cause of great worry. My colleagues and I are determined to oppose intimate body searches by detention officers, let alone by private contractors. I hope that the Under-Secretary will give such matters serious consideration. Yes, all could be well in an ideal
world, but there is so much potential for such a practice to go badly wrong whereby people will be suffering in silence and feeling humiliated.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be extremely helpful if those supplying contracted-out services had basic human rights training? If they knew what was meant by degrading treatment and understood their powers of detention under human rights legislation, it would be most helpful and eliminate many complaints and worries.
I agree. I am not sure whether training would totally overcome the problem, but employees providing contracted-out services need relevant training and experience.
I am somewhat puzzled by the hon. Lady's argument because no one welcomes intimate body searches, no matter who carries them out. As the hon. Lady said, people who carry out that task have received the appropriate training. Moreover, people who undertake searches at our airports and elsewhere are not police officers; they can be employed by contracted-out organisations. Surely that is the issue, not whether police officers or others undertake such tasks.
We are discussing instances when training may have been received, but is not producing the proper results. I advise caution. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and I will have more to say about the general principle of who carries out intimate body searches. However, I agree that human rights training is important for those dealing with escort and detention cases.
I apologise to the hon. Lady for not picking up on the issue of intimate body searches earlier. I am so flattered by the constant stream of nice things being said about me by the hon. Member for Lewes that I am loth to upset him in any way. However, I do not accept his remarks that the way in which Lord Rooker handled such matters in another place was not to a satisfactory standard. I know him; I have read the report of the debate in Hansard and there is no justification for saying that was an attempt by Lord Rooker to mislead or prevent discussion.
We have managed to have a reasonable relationship when doing business together, but the hon. Gentleman does politics no good when he does not stick to the issues, or wrongly suggests that others are trying to mislead Parliament, whether in the House of Lords or the House of Commons. Lord Rooker made it clear that decisions had not been taken, that issues had simply been raised within the Government and that there would be an opportunity to discuss the matter once we had reached a conclusion. He did not attempt to mislead the House of Lords for devious reasons, and I cannot stand here and accept such comments without a response.
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to go away and read exactly what Lord Rooker told the House of Lords. He said that representations had been made, that an issue was being considered, that the machinery of government had reached no decision and that the issue would be brought up if that was felt appropriate. There was no ulterior motive whatever in the way in which the matter was raised, and it is completely unfair to make that suggestion.
The Minister is doing a valiant job, and is being splendidly disingenuous, but those of us who have seen officials' briefings know that the game has been given away when documents are leaked to a national paper showing that ministers have been told in large bold capitals not to read something out.
Order. It might help the Committee if I say that I am particularly conscious that hon. Members should refer to what was said here and in another place, rather than to what was not said. I hope that hon. Members will take that into account in considering the issue.
Opposition Members have gone back to the good old style of seeing not only other people, but me, too, as disingenuous, and I feel far more comfortable being put in that category. I have refuted what I think is unfair comment about a colleague in another place, and I shall take the matter no further.
I was hugely grateful to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire for saying that the inclusion in the complaints system of the classification of people that we are discussing, but not of others, was a debate for another time. After having agreed with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to take this part of the Bill in Committee, I found out that the way in which the amendments had been structured brought a lot more within the debate's remit than I had expected. I hope that it has not been so obvious that my right hon. Friend is the expert on the Bill, not me. Although I feel able to respond to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, it is probably more appropriate, in terms of the Chairman's rulings, for my right hon. Friend to pick it up later.
The crucial point is that intimate body searches required by the police are rarely carried out by non-medical persons. The overwhelming majority are conducted by medically trained people who are brought in for that purpose. At present, a non-medical person, such as a police constable, may be required to carry out such searches where there is a degree of urgency and a real danger—this is all covered by the current regulations—that a person will damage themselves or someone else. There is, therefore, a requirement to act immediately. If we allow detention suites to be manned by civilians, those who are available to do the job and who have appropriate training will have to respond to emergency circumstances in exactly the same way as a constable would. In such circumstances, it would not be in the best interests of the person themselves to put the urgency on hold while a constable was fetched
from another part of the police station to carry out a body search. The constable would not necessarily be better trained or prepared to do that than the people manning the facility, who would be required to have the appropriate training.
On Second Reading, a Labour Back Bencher intervened on the Minister to ask why, if occasions on which a police constable had to carry out such a search were so rare, it was necessary to give the power to another group of people. Surely a police constable could deal with them, especially as, presumably, the person would be in a police station.
If the hon. Gentleman stopped looking at Hansard and listened to what I was trying to say, he and I might be closer than we are on this point. He wanted to raise that issue to suggest that someone agreed with him.
If we allow civilianisation in the detention area, there will be gains in terms of specialisation of skills as well as cost savings. I have seen that in Wiltshire, and other police forces have testified to the gains that could be available. In the relevant emergency circumstances, rare or otherwise, I believe it appropriate for the people on hand doing the job to be able to respond. The alternative is that they go and find a police constable from another part of the police station. That would not necessarily be in the interests of dealing with the emergency appropriately. It would be in the interests of efficiency and safety if the people who did the job in the detention suite were appropriately trained to deal with such circumstances.
In the overwhelming majority of cases in which an intimate body search is required, medically trained staff are brought in to carry it out. We have no intention or desire to change that. It is only when there is danger to the individual or others that it is appropriate for non-medical staff to involve themselves in intimate searches. The provision is so that responses can be made in emergency circumstances.
All kinds of circumstances are likely to arise in detention areas of police stations. All kinds of decisions have to be made and people have to help. I ask hon. Members to accept that medical staff are present at and conduct the overwhelming majority of intimate searches that are carried out in police stations. That will continue. It is felt that a non-medical person ought to deal quickly with some emergencies. If civilians are to be there, it is appropriate that we train them to take decisions and involve themselves in such urgent circumstances. What is important is that they are appropriately trained and deal with emergencies in the right way. In such circumstances, there is no advantage in dragging a constable from another part of the police station to conduct the search.
Would not another relevant circumstance be if an emergency arose on the journey that we discussed earlier from Lewes to
Wrexham, with an escort officer and an individual in a motor vehicle, but no police officer or medical person present? In those circumstances, it might be in the interests of the detained person as well as the escort officer for a search to take place at that time.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that it is essential for people who will be given the powers to have the appropriate skills, so that they can use them in all circumstances in which they are required.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked whether I meant that the provisions would involve bringing certain individuals within the remit of the IPCC. I am happy to say that that is the intention, but we cannot do it simply through the Bill because the sanctions or charges that might be brought against a person within the complaints procedure will depend upon the contractual arrangements entered into. It needs to be done through secondary legislation.
Contracts will have to be entered into in the full knowledge of the requirements that will apply to the staff, and in the knowledge that staff will be covered by the complaints procedure and people will be able to make complaints against them. The contracts will have to cover the situation whereby they will be cancelled if there is an inability to meet the standards required. If contracts are cancelled, designated powers will automatically fall for all of the employees of the contract.
Let me try to get some clarity about this matter, at least in my own mind. If a member of the public makes a complaint against a person who works for a private company undertaking escort or detention work for the police, can the complaint be investigated independently by a member of the IPCC, in the same way as a complaint against a police officer can be?
There are two important things. First, so as not to confuse members of the public as to what complaints procedure they should use, we want them to be able to use the same complaints procedure in all cases. We do not want them to have to ask whether the person involved was a police officer or a civilian or whether one of each was involved. We want them to be able to make a complaint simply, openly and easily, so the same complaint procedure should be used for all cases. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that such complaints would fall within the remit of the IPCC.
I ask hon. Members to accept that we need to introduce measures by secondary legislation because we need to tailor the charges and sanctions that might be brought against individuals to the contractual arrangements. We intend that the arrangements should mirror the independent complaints procedure as closely as is practical, so that there is one system that will not only be convenient for people to use but will meet the standards that we want to achieve.
I hope that I have been able to satisfy people on the issues of intimate searches and contractual arrangements.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire raised the issue of legal liability for unlawful conduct in amendment No. 224. The amendment creates new subsections (8) and (9) to cover the
''liability for the unlawful conduct of employees of a person with whom a chief officer of police has entered into any arrangements for the purposes of a community safety accreditation scheme''.
In respect of contracted-out staff, we have attributed the liability to the employer. The normal legal position is that an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of his employee in the course of his employment. Persons contracted to provide detention services are likely to be operating in a police station under the day-to-day control of a police officer. It will be for the employer to join the police officer as a party if the action complained of arose from a direction given by someone for whom the chief officer was responsible—if a police custody officer told a contracted-out detention officer what to do, for example. Escort officers are likely to have a little more independence of action than those employed within a custody suite, but their employer should also be liable for the conduct in relation to their designation. Where the liability lies depends upon where the instruction came from. We have no desire to break the responsibility of employers for the actions of their employees. I do not know whether I have managed to satisfy the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way. His answer has gone a considerable way towards satisfying me. Amendment No. 224 also refers to employees of accredited community safety schemes, which is a slightly different matter, but of equal concern.
I understand the Under-Secretary's point about the employer being able to join the chief constable in action that might arise for liability for unlawful conduct. However, my concern is that individuals may have used police powers unlawfully. That is why I wonder whether the police should have some responsibility, or liability, for the way in which people use or misuse the powers that the police, not their employer, have given them. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would also speak about employees of accredited community safety schemes.
Whether we are talking about accredited community safety officers, detention officers or escort officers, the basic principle is that employers must maintain responsibility for their employees. They have entered into a contractual arrangement; they are aware of the powers that will be given to their employees under that contractual arrangement. The fact that their employees might misuse the powers that they have been given should not rule them out of any responsibility for the people whom they have chosen to employ. However, if they are under the direction of a police officer in their actions, the responsibility moves to the chief constable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that giving their employees powers should not remove the liability of employers for their behaviour.
The hon. Gentleman is not right, because that is not necessarily the case for a police officer. There are arrangements to decide who should deal with complaints. We envisage that the majority of complaints will still be dealt with by the force, but the IPPC will be able to involve itself if it so chooses. It will have oversight of the system, including complaints made against civilian staff as well as those made against constables. There is no desire or intention to make the system in any way different.
The hon. Gentleman raises another issue, which is not directly connected with civilian staff. There is no automatic right in the early stages of a complaint for it to be dealt with by the IPPC. Of course, if people are unhappy about the way in which their complaint is dealt with, they can always say so to the IPPC, but there is no automatic right in the way that he suggests. That applies to police officers in the same way as it does to civilian staff.
I am still trying to clarify the matter and the Under-Secretary's reply has probably muddied it rather than cleared it up. I think that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and I are asking the same thing. If the independent commission decides, in a minority of cases—not the majority that are dealt with in another way—that it needs to investigate an incident itself, will it have the same powers with respect to a private company as it does with a police officer? Will it be able to take evidence, look through the accounts and take statements, for example?
You are right, Mr. Chairman. The hon. Member for Henley has raised a wider issue and his is a different question from that of the hon. Member for Lewes. I understand why he has raised it and I shall try to make it clear. The hon. Member for Lewes is right. The same procedure will apply. The IPCC will have the ability to look at a complaint in the same way as it would if one were made against a constable. The hon. Member for Henley put it the other way around. He asked whether an individual, if frisked, had the right to ask for the independent commission to investigate his case. I was trying to answer both questions. I hope that I have now satisfied hon. Members that the intention is that the regulations mirror the system for ease as well as for the standards that are to be maintained.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.