Clause 23 - Police powers for designated police support staff

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 11th March 2003.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 4:45 pm, 11th March 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 127, in

clause 23, page 16, leave out line 7.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 128, in

schedule 1, page 25, line 30, leave out paragraph 3.

Amendment No. 129, in

schedule 1, page 28, line 2, leave out paragraph 7.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The clause brings us to the Chief Constable's ability to designate civilians to carry out certain jobs. I examined carefully the three sorts of jobs—investigating officer, detention officer and escort officer. In Great Britain, detention and escort officers are often civilians contracting to escort prisoners to and from remand centres, courts and so forth. Whenever I have visited local cells—I hasten to add in my capacity as a Member, not as a customer—I have always noticed civilians acting as detention officers. It is all perfectly sensible. I am less persuaded, however, that investigating officers should fall under the same category.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

On a serious note, if that is the hon. Gentleman's concern, will he acknowledge that scenes of crime officers, who in normal circumstances would be described as investigating officers, are almost invariably civilians in this country?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Indeed, I was coming on to that point. The purpose of amendment No. 127 is to remove investigating officers from the list, not as a blanket provision, but to tease out how the Government view investigating officers in these circumstances. I see a world of difference between a technical, highly trained expert who carries out the sort of scientific activity to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and someone given the opportunity to act as a quasi police officer. Amendment No. 129 deals with powers of arrest. It could be argued that the other two categories within a police station have a power to arrest—that is how I read the legislation, and I doubt that the hon. Gentleman would expect a civilian scenes of crime officer to be given powers of arrest in Great

Britain. On balance, I would not want them to have such powers.

An investigating officer with powers of arrest who has access to excluded and special procedure material—amendment No. 128 states that they should not have such access—sounds like a fully-blown police officer by any other name, except for the fact that the person is a civilian. I question whether we want that sort of police service anywhere in the United Kingdom. For me, this is not specifically a Northern Ireland issue. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify what the Government have in mind with regard to the investigating officer.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I shall be brief. When I first saw the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Spelthorne, I thought along the same lines as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). However, the remainder of the section confers substantial powers on the investigating officer and others, which one would not normally expect to be given to support staff. Fingerprint experts, scene of crime officers and forensic scientists do not normally have to be given guidance on the reasonable use of force.

I am concerned that compartmentalising the different functions of policing in that way will ultimately be bad for police morale. We seem to be saying that parts of their job can be taken in isolation because they are not that difficult. That approach is not unique to Northern Ireland: it comes through in many aspects of government policy on policing, and I consider it to be unhelpful.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

In the time available to me, I shall do my best to persuade the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment. I may not have quite enough time to do so.

If amendment No. 127 were to be accepted, the Chief Constable would no longer be able to designate civilian police support staff as investigating officers. We resist that amendment for good reasons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green indicated, the clause is particularly relevant to scene of crime officers, most of whom are civilians, and I believe that it would be appropriate for them to continue in that role.

Investigating officers, have a vital role to play in dealing with specialist areas such as financial and information technology crime. The powers that they will exercise are mainly linked to entry, search and seizure, and include powers to obtain and exercise search warrants to seize evidence, and to apply to a judge for access to confidential material.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

On a point of order, Mr. Amess. Although it grieves me to interrupt my hon. Friend, as it is the first opportunity that she has had to contribute to the debate today, I understand that my comments cannot be made once the 5 o'clock deadline falls.

It therefore falls to me to interrupt the proceedings to offer my gratitude to you as Chairman, Mr. Amess, to the police and security staff, to the Committee Room staff who have serviced our deliberations, and

to the Hansard Reporters who have so faithfully tidied up and recorded our detailed contributions. I would also like to pay tribute to the invisible support that Ministers receive on these occasions. Without that support, we would perform far less effectively than we do—I will leave the judgment of our effectiveness to others.

During our consideration of this small but important Bill in relation to the changes that we have travelled through in Northern Ireland, the debates have been good humoured, thoughtful and deeply probing. The detailed scrutiny has helped me to develop arrangements for improving policing in Northern Ireland.

It would be remiss of me to fail to thank the usual channels for the way in which the Bill has been managed, particularly given the changes that we had to make at short notice last week to accommodate members of the Committee. I am grateful to all those who have contributed.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I second the vote of thanks to the entire litany mentioned by the Minister, without repeating it in the time available On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I thank you, Mr. Gale and Mr. Benton for presiding over our affairs with such wisdom and courtesy. I particularly thank you, Mr. Amess, for your courtesy in correcting me earlier this afternoon. The experience reminded me of Lewis Carroll's ''Father William'', who could kick you downstairs with such infinite grace that you would think that he was handing you up.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Amess. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire and I associate ourselves with the Minister's comments and those of the hon. Member for Solihull. Last week, proceedings took an unusual turn, but it is a testament to the good will all round that we moved on as smoothly as we did. I have greatly enjoyed being part of these proceedings.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

Further to that point of order, Mr. Amess. I associate myself with the comments of Members who have just spoken. I have enjoyed being on the Committee, although I would not have minded had we sat last Tuesday.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

All that was quite out of order of course, but I thank all Members for the courtesies that they have extended to my two fellow Chairmen, who did all the work. I also give a big thank you to the Clerks for their invaluable advice.

It being Five o'clock, The Chairman proceeded to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Question put, That clause 23 stand part of the Bill, That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill, That clauses 4, 24 and 25 stand part of the Bill, That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill and That clauses 26 and 27 stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 5.

Division number 8 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 23 - Police powers for designated police support staff

Aye: 12 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 24 and 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clauses 26 and 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.