§ Order for Second Reading read.4.54 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend section 43 of the Police Act 1964 and section 38 of the Police (Scotland) Act (1967) so as to overcome difficulties that have arisen over the status of police officers seconded from their own forces to central service—that is, temporary service under the Crown.
Most of those officers are engaged in training duties at the police staff colleges and district police training centres, but they also include the staff officers to the inspectors of constabulary, members of the police research services unit, and officers engaged in various liaison duties. Their numbers are relatively small. There are only some 600 police officers on central service in England and Wales and in Scotland out of a total police strength of 138,000. However, the services that they help to provide are vital to the efficiency of the police services.
The problem, briefly, is this. Section 43 of the Police Act 1964 provides that an officer on central service is to be treated as though he were not a member of a police force for the duration of his secondment. The position is the same in Scotland. The effect is that a police officer on central service has no police powers, no right to wear a uniform, no protection under section 51 of the Police Act 1964, which makes it an offence to assault a constable in the execution of his duty, and no right to membership of a police staff association.
There are occasions when seconded police officers need to wear police uniforms in public. Staff officers to the inspectors of constabulary need to do so when accompanying the inspectors on their visits of inspection. Officers at district training centres need to do so when they are in charge of parties of probationer constables outside the premises.
An officer in police uniform would be expected by members of the public to exercise police powers if the circumstances demanded it. A central service officer would therefore find himself in a very difficult position if prompt action were needed that called for the use of police powers. He would be faced with the choice of ignoring his lack of police powers and taking the necessary action or deciding not to become involved. In such circumstances a constable, or most constables, would act instinctively as a police officer and take the necessary action—and I believe that they would be right to do so.
We now face a problem, because, before 1964, there was no statutory provision for common police services. Such services were provided on an ad hoc basis, with the officers who were seconded to perform them remaining members of their parent forces. That was not a very satisfactory arrangement. Although the seconded officers were performing duties for which the Secretary of State was ultimately responsible, they were not answerable to 386 him. They were answerable to the chief officers of their parent forces. That produced a blurring of the lines of management responsibility and a potential conflict of loyalties.
In 1964 the opportunity was taken to put central service arrangements on a more rational basis. As central services officers are performing duties for which the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible, it is felt—quite rightly—that they should be answerable to him. That, essentially, is what section 43 of the Police Act 1964 provides.
It might be argued that, as the police service has been able to live with these problems for 25 years, there can be no great need for action to be taken to address them now. I do not think that that is the correct view. If there is a need for central service officers to wear police uniform in public when performing their central service duties, they should have the right to do so. If that means that they may occasionally need to exercise police powers when the circumstances demand, they should retain those powers.
Like any other police officer, central service officers should be given protection against assault and they should have the right to belong to the appropriate police staff association.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, can he say whether the Bill will apply to the small number of Police Act forces in ports, such as the Port of London police, who I understand were covered by the 1964 Act?
§ Mr. Hogg
I concede that I do not know the answer to that question. I shall take guidance, and, if I am permitted to wind up, I shall give my hon. Friend a reply.
I turn to the provisions of the Bill. Subsection (1) of clause 1 provides for the insertion of three new subsections after section 43(3) of the Police Act 1964.
The new subsection (3A) gives police officers the right to wear uniform, the right to exercise police powers, if the need arises, and the right to remain members of the Police Federation. It also gives them the protection against assaults which is provided by section 51 of the 1964 Act.
The new subsection (3B) makes the Secretary of State liable for any torts committed by central service officers in the exercise of their police powers. This liability is likely to arise very rarely, if at all, but a remedy for torts and a liability in tort must be provided.
As central service officers are answerable in law to the Secretary of State for the performance of their central service duties, it seems right that he should be liable for any torts committed by such officers in the exercise of their police powers.
The new subsection (3C) makes it clear that police officers who are seconded as advisers are to be regarded as being on central service. Subsection (2) of clause 1, provides for the Bill to have retrospective effect. This provision protects the position of central service officers who may in the past have acted—either from ignorance of the legal position or in what they regarded as the public interest—as though they possessed the powers and privileges of police officers. We have no records of any such cases, but there could be some. The position needs to be covered.
Clause 2 deals with Scotland, where the present position is broadly the same as that in England and Wales. It is clearly desirable that the legislation relating to police 387 officers on central service should remain consistent on both sides of the border. Clause 2 implements that objective.
This is a small Bill, but it is desirable and not, I believe, controversial. I commend it to the House.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
This is one of the few occasions when the Opposition find very little to argue over. This is a non-controversial Bill. I do not intend unnecessarily to delay the proceedings by doing what comes naturally to most hon. Members—trying to spin out a long speech when a short one would do.
The Opposition support the Bill. Most of us thought that the provisions were already incorporated in the existing legislation, and it comes as a surprise to learn that they are not. Most of the provisions are completely sensible. It is absolutely right that central service members should be able to wear uniform, have police powers and be members of the Police Federation or the appropriate staff association. It is also right that the police should be provided with protection against assault.
Two small points have been drawn to my attention. The first concerns the nature of the disciplining of officers who are seconded to the central service. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Minister will answer that point in a constructive spirit. The Police Complaints Authority said recently that it is concerned about the fact that a large number of complaints against the police run into the ground because police officers take early retirement on grounds of ill health. I draw that parallel only because I understand that if someone is seconded to central service, disciplinary action cannot be taken if a complaint is upheld against him. Disciplinary action might be evaded if someone is transferred to central service. The legislation ought to cover such a possibility.
Secondly, when a person is seconded to central service it is not entirely clear to us whether the provisions covering personal financial arrangements and outside business interests, which are incompatible with status as a police officer, will also apply to those who are seconded to central service. Does the Bill provide that the code of conduct that applies to police officers will also apply to someone who is seconded to central service? Those are the only two points that worry the Opposition.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I wish first to declare an outside interest. I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.
The Police Federation warmly welcomes the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister has explained to the House that it enables police officers on central service to be treated as members of police forces for the jurisdiction of constables. It also makes them eligible for membership of the Police Federation and provides them with protection against assaults and the right to wear a uniform. Those are two important rights for any officer who is on central service.
The Bill makes it clear that central service is temporary service under the Crown as it relates to those services that the Home Secretary provides to promote the efficiency of the police. It is therefore a short but nevertheless important Bill. I agree entirely with the Minister that the Bill needed to be introduced, and it ought to be passed by 388 Parliament. The fact that this unsatisfactory state of affairs has continued for some years is no reason for allowing it to continue.
While it may seem astonishing to the man in the street that a police officer seconded from his or her force to central service may experience difficulty over status, that is indeed the case. As my hon. Friend told the House, there are some 600 police officers on central service in England, Wales and Scotland. The services in which they are engaged include the police staff colleges, the district police training centres, the forensic science laboratories and the staff officers to the inspectors of constabulary. They make an important contribution to the efficiency of the police service.
The House will perhaps be surprised to learn that a police officer on central service ceases to be a member of a police force. That came as a surprise to me, and I have no doubt that it has come as a surprise to other hon. Members. He has no powers, no right to wear a uniform, no legal protection from assault in the exercise of his duty and no right to membership of the Police Federation or other police staff associations. That unsatisfactory state of affairs has existed for a long time and needs to be remedied.
It is for that reason that clause 1(2) has retrospective effect. All hon. Members pause when they hear the word "retrospective". The purpose of the clause, however, is to safeguard those officers who have acted in the public interest as though they had had since 1964 the powers that are normally expected of them. I see this as clarification of the existing position rather than as the conferring of new powers on a retrospective basis.
Although the Police Federation warmly welcomes the Bill, there are several points which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to clarify. It appears that, as a result of specifying the provisions in the proposed new section 43(3A), a person engaged on central service shall be treated as though he were a member of his police force. It follows that, in relation to the remaining sections of the 1964 Act, a person, as a result of the existing provisions of section 43(1), shall be treated as though he were not a member of the force in question.
One of the principal purposes of the Bill is to provide that police officers on central service are treated as members of police forces for the purpose of eligibility for the Police Federation. Therefore, an important distinction must be made between the eligibility of officers on central service being members of the Police Federation and the Police Federation's rights to represent such officers for the purposes of negotiations or consultations.
Let us consider for example the police advisory boards established by the Police Act 1964. Section 46(2) of that Act provides:The constitution and proceedings of each of the Police Advisory Boards shall be such as the Secretary of State may determine after consulting organisations representing the interests of police authorities and of members of police forces and police cadets.Whereas section 46(2) makes reference to the Secretary of State determining the constitution and proceedings of each police advisory board after consulting the organisations representing the police forces, will my hon. Friend say whether the Secretary of State is under an obligation to consult the Police Federation in its capacity as 389 representing those members on central service, unless those officers are to be treated as members of their police force for the purpose of section 46?
Furthermore, and perhaps more important, there are the provisions of the Police Negotiating Board Act 1980. As my hon. Friend will be aware, section 1 of that Act provides for the consideration by the board of questions relating to hours of duty, leave, pay and allowances, pensions, or the issue and return of police clothing, personal equipment and accoutrements. Similar considerations apply to the Police Negotiating Board Act 1980 as to section 46 of the Police Act 1964. Although central service officers may be members of the Police Federation, arguably the Police Federation may not represent their interests on the negotiating board without any amendment to the 1980 or 1964 Acts.
I hope that those matters will be clarified during the debate and dealt with in Committee so that officers engaged on central service shall be treated as if they were members of their police force for the purpose of the Police Act 1964 and the Police Negotiating Board Act 1980. They are clearly very important to officers engaged on central service. I do not wish to detain the House any further, except to repeat that the Police Federation warmly welcomes the Bill and hopes that it will have a speedy passage through Parliament.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The only oddity about the Bill is that it has taken a quarter of a century to come before the House. It enjoys the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and need not delay us long.
I should like the Minister to amplify the reasons why the Bill is retrospective. It is somewhat odd that he has chosen to make the Bill operate retrospectively when, apparently, he is not aware of the number of incidents involving central service police officers who have acted as though they possessed the powers and privileges of police officers in each year since the Police Act 1964. I wonder whether his decision to legislate was taken in response to a general representation about the desirability of that change, which is obviously understood, whether or not there are outstanding cases that may be affected by the retrospective provisions.
The Minister's written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) suggested that he did not have the information that might have thrown some light on the reasons for the retrospective provisions, but the Minister did not address the matter directly this afternoon. Perhaps he will do so in his concluding remarks when he hopes to reply to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor).
It seems right that there should be no doubt that police officers on central service can use police powers that they would enjoy when attached to their force and that they should have legal protection against assault. Can the Minister say whether there have been cases in which that lack of cover has presented a problem? Clearly it is a problem theoretically, but we do not usually legislate to deal with theoretical problems.
I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the import of the Bill's provisions.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I shall speak briefly in support of the Bill. Like other hon. Members who have spoken so far, I warmly welcome the Bill, not only because it removes an anomaly in the Police Act 1964 and the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, but because it demonstrates the willingness of the Home Office to amend the 1964 Act where change is necessary to produce a more efficient and effective police service.
The services concerned with the amendment to section 43 of the 1964 Act fulfil many valuable functions on behalf of individual police forces, and those services should be organised on a national basis. They include the police staff college at Bramshill into which my Select Committee on Home Affairs has recently inquired.
It is clearly anomalous that officers in central service posts should not hold the historic office of constable. Although there may not have been many occasions when officers on central service have been called upon to perform police duties involving the exercise of jurisdictional powers, that is more likely to happen in future years, especially now that more than 600 officers of all ranks are involved in those duties—a not inconsiderable number.
I mention that point because I feel that it is probable that the number of central service posts will increase as time goes on in response to those policing problems which clearly require a national response and a common solution. I note the growing importance being placed on the Association of Chief Police Officers achieving co-operation between the 43 police forces in England and Wales. It is for consideration whether a strengthened ACPO secretariat should become part of central services.
The Bill also removes the Police Complaints Authority from its position as a central service. That change is supported by the authority, and will doubtless help to reinforce its perceived and actual independence.
There are only two minor queries that I wish to raise. First, it does not extend to Northern Ireland. I fully appreciate the reason for that. As Northern Ireland has only one force—the Royal Ulster Constabulary—it has no need for combined central services.
Nevertheless, from my visits to the police staff college at Bramshill, I am aware that some of the staff there are from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Are officers from the RUC on the staff at Bramshill to lack the jurisdiction of constables and eligibility for membership of staff associations held by officers on the staff from England, Wales and Scotland? That point will be of particular interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who so ably represents the Police Federation of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If a central service officer were to engender a complaint of misconduct while exercising the powers of a constable vested in him by the Bill, the question would arise as to who should take responsibility for the complaints process under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Would the Secretary of State for England and Wales—the Home Secretary—or would the Secretary of State for Scotland be liable? Would the Secretary of State, who is liable in respect of torts committed by that officer under new subsection 43 (3B) of the Police Act 1964, be responsible, or would it be the chief constable of the force to which the officer was said to belong under subsection (3A)? I should be grateful for clarification from my hon. Friend on those two small matters.
391 My queries in no way detract from my support for this welcome measure. It is a short Bill and, as we have discovered, it is a non-controversial measure, but it represents a worthwhile improvement to previous legislation and it may pave the way for further developments in the police central services. It may thus contribute to the development of a more efficient and effective service, which we all wish to see.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
I am grateful for the general support that hon. Members have given to the Bill. I will seek to respond to the specific questions raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) asked whether the Bill applies to ports police, of whom there are a small number of forces. Neither the Bill nor the Police Act 1964 apply to ports police. Ports police are set up under private legislation and the Minister responsible for them is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) raised a number of points, including the matter of business interests. It is true that a member of the forces may not carry out any business in addition to police duties. There is no specific parallel for officers on central service, but as far as we are aware, none of them has ever done so. Such conduct would be strongly discouraged. We have the sanction of returning such an officer to his own force where, of course the ordinary principles would immediately apply.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield also raised related questions about disciplinary procedures, including whether a police officer could evade a disciplinary charge by being transferred to central service. Although there is probably no barrier in law to such a step, there are substantial practical barriers. An officer would not be appointed to the central service in such circumstances and if such a transfer happened through inadvertence, the officer would be returned promptly to the force from which he came.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) raised several questions. Before answering, I want to say how pleased we are about his appointment as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation and I am certain that the Police Federation will benefit enormously from the advice that he is able to give it. He is correct in saying that, under the Bill, officers are not members of their own force save to the extent that is preserved in the Bill. There are specific points that need to be considered on pay, allowances and conditions. The pay and conditions of service of police officers generally are, as my hon. Friend stated correctly, negotiated in the police negotiating board. Those arrangements do not apply to police officers on central service, whose conditions of service are determined by the Home Office. To that extent, his analysis of the position is correct.
My hon. Friend's analysis of the Police Negotiating Board Act 1980 is also correct. Section 1(1)(b) of that Act provides for the staff side of the Police Negotiating Board to represent the interests of members of the police forces and police regulations apply only to members of police forces. Section 43(1) of the 1964 Act makes it clear that an 392 officer on central service is not a member of a police force during his period of secondment, so police regulations do not apply to him and his conditions of service are not a matter for negotiation in the police negotiating board. That is the position at present. and nothing in the Bill disturbs that. If my hon. Friend tables amendments, they will be considered, but I do not want to give any undertaking about the Government's response should he decide to do so.
I must say to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that I am grateful for his support for the Bill. He raised two related questions, one on assaults and the other on the more general question of retrospection. He was right, as I have made plain, to say that the Bill will be retrospective in its effect. The reason is that there have been cases in which officers engaged on central service have acted in the public interest as if they possessed the powers and privileges of members of a police force by, for example, wearing uniform and effecting arrests. It could be said in law that they had acted unlawfully and that, by effecting an arrest, either they had committed the tort of unlawful arrest—unless they had the powers of a citizen in the specific circumstances—or that they had conceivably committed an assault. Those are nice points of law. To cover them, and to prevent some of my colleagues from earning money that they do not deserve in litigation on such matters, the Bill is retrospective.
Central service officers may also have benefited from insurance schemes and provident funds arranged by the police staff associations. One could raise a query about the lawfulness of those benefits. That would be a misfortune, and it is another justification for the Bill being retrospective. The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of assaults on central service officers. We have no knowledge of any such assault, but clearly such an assault is possible and it is right, as a matter of principle, that we should deal with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) raised the question of Northern Ireland. Neither the Bill nor the Police Act 1964 and the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 apply to Northern Ireland. It follows that Royal Ulster Constabulary officers who are at Bramshill as instructors will not be covered by the Bill. It may be possible to contemplate changes and we shall have to consider the scope of the Bill. If my hon. Friend wants the matter to be considered, we will consider it, but at this stage I cannot give any undertaking or commitment about the Government's response.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North also asked a specific question about what would happen if an officer serving on central service were subject to a complaint arising from the use or misuse of his police powers. The answer is that he would be forthwith returned to the force from which he had come and the ordinary complaints and disciplinary procedures of that force would then follow.
I hope that I have responded to all the questions asked of me. I am grateful to the House for the support that has been given to the Bill and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).