HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc802-6

  1. '(1) The following enactments shall be amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3)—
    1. (a) section 51A of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (c. 37) (application of Part 1 of that Act to the police);
    2. (b) section 49A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18) (right of police officers not to suffer a detriment in relation to health and safety at work issues); and
    3. (c) section 134A of that Act (right of police officers not to be unfairly dismissed in relation to health and safety at work issues).
  2. (2) In subsection (1) of each of those sections, for "officer" there shall be substituted "authority".
  3. (3) For subsection (2) of each of those sections, there shall be substituted—
    1. "(2) In this section 'the relevant authority' means—
    1. (a) in relation to a member of a police force, a special constable appointed for a police area or a police cadet appointed by a chief officer of police, the police authority or, in the case of a combined area in Scotland, the police board (within the meaning of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (c. 77));
    2. (b) in relation to a person appointed as a police member of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Service Authority for that service;
    3. (c) in relation to a person appointed as a police member of the National Crime Squad, the Service Authority for that squad:
    4. (d) in relation to any other person holding the office of constable or an appointment as police cadet, the person responsible for maintaining the body of constables or police cadets in question.
      1. (2A) The Commissioner of Police for the City of London shall be treated for the purposes of this section as if he were a member of the City of London police force."
  4. (4) After subsection (2A) of section 5 A of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (c.37) (which is inserted by subsection (3)) there shall be inserted
    1. "(2B) The following provisions (which impose the same liability for unlawful conduct of constables on persons with their direction and control as would arise if the constables were the employees of those persons) do not apply in relation to any liability arising in respect of a contravention of this Act—
      1. (a) section 88(1) of the Police Act 1996 (c. 16);
      2. (b) section 97(9) of that Act;
      3. (c) section 42(1) of the Police Act 1997 (c. 50);
      4. (d) section 86(1) of that Act;
      5. (e) paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 8 to that Act;
      6. (f) section 39 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (c. 77); and
      7. (g) paragraph 14(1) of Schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (c. 16).
    2. (2C) The provision which may be made by health and safety regulations includes in particular—
      1. (a) provision which, for the purposes of this Part specified in the regulations, treats the acts or omissions of a chief officer as if they were acts or omissions of the relevant authority in relation to the constables or police cadets under that officer's direction and control;
      2. (b) provision which treats premises under the control of a chief officer as premises under the control of the relevant authority in relation to that officer.
    3. (2D) In subsection (2C) 'chief officer' means—
      1. (a) a chief officer of police;
      2. (b) the Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service;
      3. (d) the Director General of the National Crime Squad; or
      4. (e) any other person having direction and control of a body of constables or police cadets."
  5. (5) In each of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (3) of that section, for "chief officer of police" there shall be substituted "police authority".
  6. (6) In subsection (4) of that section, for "or (c)" there shall be substituted ", (c) or (d)".
  7. (7) Section 5 of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997 (c. 42) (payments by police authorities etc. out of relevant funds in relation to contraventions of health and safety legislation) shall cease to have effect.
  8. (8) An order bringing this section into force may make such savings and transitional provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit.'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Denham

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 108.

Mr. Denham

This is an important new clause, which has, I accept, been introduced relatively late in the day. It will make amendments to deem police authorities and, in Scotland, police boards to be employers of police officers for the purposes of health and safety legislation. In the case of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, the service authority for each will be deemed to be the employer of police officers for that purpose.

Currently, health and safety legislation treats chief officers as the employer of police officers. That has led to the anomaly that chief officers are personally liable when prosecuted as employer for criminal offences alleged to have been committed by their forces under health and safety legislation. That is because forces are not legal entities and cannot therefore be prosecuted as organisations. A chief officer may find himself or herself in the invidious position of being prosecuted as an individual, rather than in a representational capacity, and incurring a criminal record. That could damage the image of policing for no good reason.

6.45 pm

Of course, where a health and safety offence has been committed with the consent of, or through neglect by, an individual, that person should be personally liable, and that will not be altered by these changes.

The measures will replicate for police officers the position that already exists for police support staff, and the position that will exist under the Bill in relation to designated support staff. In both cases, police authorities are employer.

Police authorities are well able to discharge the employers' duties and liabilities set out in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. They already fulfil that role in relation to civilians, and the Home Office will negotiate detailed arrangements with all the relevant parties in relation to police officers, in the framework of police authority responsibilities and powers set out in the Police Act 1996.

Those arrangements will be enshrined in a statutory code of practice. We have consulted the Association of Chief Police Officers and other relevant bodies, and we believe that arrangements can be arrived at which will not undermine the operational independence of chief officers.

We will give priority to producing the code. It will provide that police authorities are responsible for ensuring that chief officers have in place a suitable regime for dealing with health and safety issues, and that police authorities can call for reports if they are not satisfied that chief officers are carrying out their responsibilities in that area. The code will make it clear that police authorities are not responsible for carrying out health and safety risk assessments, which will continue to be a matter for chief officers.

Mr. Hawkins

Once again, I can be brief. Although we understand entirely what the Government propose—we see a great deal of sense in it—we raised in Committee our concerns about the growth of the so-called compensation culture and the fact that, as the Minister is well aware and as he fairly accepted in Committee, on many occasions police authorities have been severely hit by compensation claims of various kinds. Taxpayers' money, instead of going on front-line policing, pays for compensation or the increased cost of police pensions, which is a matter of grave concern to many people, both inside and well beyond the House.

In the winding-up speech to what I hope is a fairly brief debate, I hope that the Minister says that the Government will keep under review the question of the compensation culture in relation to the police and police authorities. We certainly do not oppose the Government bringing the position in respect of chief officers in line with that relating to civilian staff—as the Minister said, that seems eminently sensible—but one would not want a chief officer to be regarded and treated in the courts as personally liable when the matter should properly be dealt with as one of corporate responsibility, if I may put it that way.

We understand entirely what the Government are doing, but we remain concerned. We hope that the Minister confirms that he will keep the compensation culture and its effect on police authority funds for front-line policing under review.

Norman Baker

I can be even briefer. I recognise the reason for introducing the new clause, which I welcome as an entirely sensible measure. I hope that I can continue to welcome Government measures as sensible. If I show such generosity, the Government may reciprocate one day.

Mr. Hogg

I have but one reservation. I accept that there is a good case for transferring responsibility to the police authorities, but if they are to perform the various duties under the legislation, they may, in certain circumstances, find themselves making decisions of an operational kind; otherwise, they will be unable to comply with the obligations under the health and safety legislation.

Lady Hermon

I have a request for clarification, which arises out of a briefing that right hon. and hon. Members were invited to attend last week with the Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner. During those discussions it became clear that the new community support officers will be equipped with only a radio: they will not have handcuffs or a truncheon. The new clause makes it clear that the relevant authority means members of a police force, a special constable or a police cadet. Does that cover the duty of care that is owed to the new community support officers?

Mr. Denham

The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that this new clause does not directly address that issue, because CSOs as support staff are already direct employees of the police authority, so they are covered by health and safety legislation. Constables or sworn officers are being brought into line with the responsibilities of the police authority. There is no change in the position of CSOs, as in our view they are already appropriately covered.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to operational issues. He may have noticed that I read out my speaking note with more than the usual care. I set out our proposals for a code of practice to govern the way in which police authorities exercise their responsibilities, and said that the position of the chief constable would be protected. After discussion with the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, we are confident that police authorities will be able to accept the responsibilities that they are given under this new clause and that the proper independence of chief officers will be protected. We must give priority to producing the statutory code of practice.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) for his support for this measure, and for his recognition of the Government's generosity. We always seek opportunities to reciprocate, although we have not found many yet.

The compensation culture is of concern across a huge area of public life, and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and I would not suggest that there is a particular problem with the police service. However, we need to take a number of steps. Proper attention needs to be paid to health and safety, especially occupational health matters. That is certainly part of the answer. We should minimise the situations in which officers feel that compensation claims should be made. The hon. Gentleman, being a lawyer, will understand better than I the difficulty of denying someone access to the courts for proper protection.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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