HC Deb 24 April 1998 vol 310 cc1142-4
Mr. Maclean

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 8, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 9.

I wish to speak for no more than two minutes on the amendment. We are led to believe that the Bill has not been extended to cover police officers because the Home Office is working on new procedures to obtain openness and accountability in police forces. That is all very well, but it is not a reason in itself to cold-shoulder the police from the benefits of the Bill. When the Home Office gets round to that review—I have not checked, but this must be the 20th or 30th Home Office review—it may come up with procedures, but that is no reason why the police cannot be included in the Bill.

I want to impress on the House the value of police officers having the same rights and procedures available to them as civilians. If the Minister does not want to believe me, he may believe the chief constable of Sussex who, I believe, is head of the Association of Chief Police Officers committee in charge of public information. He said: I was surprised to see that it is proposed to exclude police officers. I find this puzzling, since police support staff who may well have access to the same information will not be excluded. The same argument applies to the secret services. The chief constable continued: If I take my own case as a police officer, I would be excluded from the provisions of the Bill, but my personal assistant, who has access to all the information that I do, will be protected by it. I believe that this is wrong. This association has taken a very firm stance in seeking to emphasise the need for integrity in police operations and honesty among all staff in the police service. Police forces have nothing to fear from malpractices being revealed. In fact, the contrary is the case—that chief officers of police need to know where corrupt and improper practice is going on so that they may tackle it as soon and as effectively as possible.

In another place, the Minister should look favourably on including the police service, because it wants to be included in the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Ian McCartney

The amendment is unnecessary. The Government gave an absolute commitment in Committee and outside the Committee to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the sponsors of the Bill that the police regulations will provide protection equivalent to that in the Bill. That has been welcomed. There will be no disparity in the treatment of police officers, or in their capacity to whistleblow in the circumstances set out in the Bill.

Police officers are office-holders and are subject to a separate regulatory regime. With the Under—Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), we are working to bring the two regimes into an interlocking arrangement to ensure that police officers will be protected to the full if they put information into the public domain.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept those assurances. As a former Minister of State in the Home Office, he will understand the steps that my hon. Friend is taking to ensure that the regulations are upgraded. Those regulations were introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. It seems that he did not quite get it right, but I give a commitment that this Government will get it right. In the relationship between the police force and the Home Office, police officers will have proper and adequate protection.

Mr. Maclean

I was confident that the regulations were right when they were introduced. They can always be added to, and no doubt improved. The Bill would give better protection than police regulations, but I was not convinced at all by the Minister's argument. I know that the other place will not be convinced either, but for reasons that I think the House will understand, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

2.26 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I wish to thank many people, honourable citizens in the House and without the House, and the Department of State.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.