Clause 9 - Exemption from liability for certain damages

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6 May 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 6:30, 6 May 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 38, in

clause 9, page 6, line 37, after 'not', insert 'personally'.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 39, in

clause 9, page 7, line 5, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

There are a couple of points that we want to touch on. We felt that it might be helpful to add the word ''personally'' through amendment No. 38. We will return to liability in part 3, which we will debate later this week, and I alert the Minister in advance to the debates we might have about who might be liable under part 3.

It is a small point but, having done quite a lot of civil law in addition to criminal law, I know that stating in the Bill that the officers concerned cannot not be made personally liable might sometimes be helpful. A few moments ago, the Minister referred to situations in which proceedings might be brought against senior officers. The Bill uses the generic phrase ''a constable'', which could apply to anybody at any police rank, from police constable up to chief constable, but it might be helpful to add that phrase and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Amendment No. 39 would delete subsection (3)(b). We are aware that the Government have had all sorts of problems that were not anticipated before the Human Rights Act 1998 was passed. There have been many debates between my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and the Home Secretary about whether in other areas of the law the Government might be wise to derogate from the European convention on human rights and then reaccede to the human rights legislation with reservations.

It is absolutely clear is that the human rights legislation that the Government have introduced has caused a substantial number of extra cases to be brought to court and a substantial extra cost to the taxpayer. Whatever one feels about looking after human rights, a lot of people in my constituency—and, I am sure, in constituencies up and down the country—are seeing the law of unintended consequences in operations, whereby, for example, claims for damages are being brought by burglars against house owners. Most people wonder whether the Government have completely taken leave of their senses in opening up such a huge extra area of litigation and cost.

I simply want to probe whether the Government are referring yet again to awards of damages under the Human Rights Act. It seemed to us that the clause was another example of the Government finding that in introducing every bit of legislation, they have to contemplate further costs of litigation and further awards of damages, which are going to cost the taxpayer money. It was worth getting that on the record because of the reference in question. At this stage, the amendment is only a probing one. I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say on those two slightly different, serious points.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall be brief. To be consistent with the Liberal Democrat stance, I place on record that we are greatly concerned that any legislation should be

compatible with human rights, and I cannot envisage us supporting arguments that go against that. Our concern is about exempting police constables from liability. What about the authorised people that we have been talking about? They are not mentioned. Will they be liable for any damages that they might cause to property when they enter it?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The clause is designed to ensure that police officers and police forces are not liable for damages arising from the exercise of their powers under this part of the Bill. The clause is intended to prevent malicious attempts to seek redress for the actions of the police from criminals who might have been involved with the supply of drugs. However, if a police officer fails to act within the boundaries of the Human Rights Act or acts in bad faith, it is entirely right that that matter should be addressed by the courts; I hope that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is not suggesting that that ought not to be so.

There is no need to amend the clause with regard to the personal liability of the constable. Constables do not have any other form of liability. Under section 88 of the Police Act 1996, chief officers are already liable for the unlawful conduct of constables under their control. Subsection (1) of clause 9 deals with the constable's potential liability and subsection (2) with the chief officer's.

On the point that has been raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, as we are exempting police officers and police forces from malicious attempts to seek redress, that should also apply to those who have been authorised to conduct themselves in this way, along with the chief constable. They would be covered by the same exemption.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I understand what the Minister has to say. We are obviously not going to agree about the Human Rights Act, but it was a useful debate on personal liability. I do not want to detain the Committee longer, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.