“(d) a member of the civilian staff of a police force in relation to whom the conduct took place when in the capacity of a private citizen.”
This amendment is to allow police staff to make complaints to the IPCC in relation to police conduct which impacts on them when not at work and in their capacity as a private citizen.
First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, the shadow fire Minister, for her epic efforts in holding the Government to account throughout what has been, at times, a lively debate?
We tabled the amendment following discussions with representatives of both the police service and Unison, the principal union that represents police support staff. It would allow police staff to make complaints to the IPCC when they are not at work—there is an existing procedure through which they must go—in their capacity as private citizens.
We seek an explanation from the Government as to why, when off duty, police staff who suffer a case of police misconduct should not be able to raise it with the IPCC. There could be a range of issues where they live, socialise and shop. Sadly, incidents sometimes take place and they should have the right to pursue a complaint and use the IPCC’s machinery.
Unlike police officers, police staff are not sworn into office, so they are not limited as police officers are in respect of activities such as political campaigning during their free time. That is reflected in officer pay and employment contracts for the police service. However, under the current provisions, police staff are essentially denied an opportunity that is freely provided to members of the public. It is our view that in accepting a job, a member of police staff should not have to sign away their right to make a complaint to the IPCC regarding a member of the force with which they take the job.
In conclusion, other than where there are legitimate restrictions, for example in respect of police officers and their existing contract of employment, we cannot see a reason why police staff should be so constrained, and we therefore very much hope that the Minister will move on the matter.
The shadow policing Minister knows that a number of levels of complaint can be made against police staff and servicing police officers, and the IPCC is there to investigate the most serious cases of wrongdoing—almost the final arbiter, one might say. The police complaints system should be there for members of the public who want to express dissatisfaction with their interaction with the police. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are existing provisions regarding recordable conduct matters and whistleblowing for when a person serving with the police needs to raise a conduct issue about someone else in their force. Every police force has a professional standards department, with strong powers to investigate wrongdoing. Officers and staff members can report concerns directly to those departments, most of which offer an anonymous online reporting system.
The Minister comprehensively catalogues the arrangements as they stand in respect of a member of police staff, their terms and conditions of employment, and their rights and responsibilities in the course of their employment, but we are talking about events outwith the course of their employment. Why should Joe or Josephine Soap, a member of police staff, be constrained in making complaints to the IPCC when there are grounds so do to?
I remember Joe and Josephine Soap from the Serious Crime Bill last year. I seem to recall that they featured prominently in many of our discussions.
The point I was coming on to is that the Bill significantly strengthens people’s ability to make complaints. For example, clause 21 provides the IPCC with a new power to initiate whistleblowing investigations when a concern is reported directly to it, without waiting for a referral from the police force. In cases where they cannot raise a complaint, members of police staff are explicitly covered by the new definition of a whistleblower.
It is important to repeat, however, that the IPCC cannot and should not handle all complaints at any level of seriousness raised by police staff in their capacity as private citizens. Its role is to investigate the most serious and sensitive cases. All other complaints, whether made by a member of the public or a member of police staff, should be handled by the force or a local policing body. Through the reforms, I want to see the IPCC be the best it can be at ensuring that those serious cases are dealt with. I do not want it to be distracted by issues, albeit important ones, that can be dealt with at a local force level, and I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will be minded to withdraw the amendment.
Briefly, the clause means that we have a category of citizen who works in support of the police but is denied the opportunity to make complaints about the police in their private life. That situation is deeply unsatisfactory, but we have had an exchange in which we have aired the issues.
I also make the point that the IPCC has a dedicated phone line and an email address for people serving with the police who wish to report something to it. What I am suggesting is that the IPCC should perhaps not take on cases that could be dealt with at police force level. We want the IPCC to deal with the most serious wrongdoings of the police.
I agree, but the problem remains that police staff in their private lives will not be able to make complaints like every other citizen is able to do. I regret that, but we have had an exchange on the issue and I very much hope that the Government will look at it again before Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.