Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, noble Lords will recall the debates we had on the Policing and Crime Bill during the last Session—it seems a long time ago. The Bill received Royal Assent on 31 January 2017 and many of its provisions are already in force, with a number of further measures due to be implemented on 1 April.
The Committee will recall that the Act provided the legislative underpinning for a number of important reforms which included provisions enabling chief officers to make better use of police staff and volunteers, freeing up police officers to focus on their key tasks. Chapter 1 of Part 3 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 amends Section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to enable civilians employed by police forces to be designated with additional police powers. These reforms also enable volunteers under the direction and control of a chief police officer to be designated with powers for the first time. Part 1 of Schedule 3B of the Police Reform Act 2002 sets out a list of powers that are reserved solely for use by constables and cannot be used by police staff or volunteers. Included within that list are some of the most intrusive powers available to constables such as stop and search and arrest.
When we consulted on these reforms in 2015, the Police Federation proposed the removal of one of the original powers of detention officers made available in 2002, that of carrying out an intimate search when a medical professional is not available. While the number of intimate searches conducted by police staff rather than constables is very low—they have been carried out three times nationally in 15 years—this is a very intrusive power and I committed in our debate to restrict its use. Unfortunately, due to an oversight in the drafting process, the Act does not in fact restrict the use of this power, so these draft regulations would deliver on that commitment. Regulation 2 would add the power to undertake an intimate search when a medical professional is not available, under Section 55(6) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, to the list of excluded powers and duties. As with the other powers already on this list, they are reserved solely for use by constables and cannot be used by police staff or volunteers.
The addition to the schedule of excluded powers and duties of the power to conduct an intimate search in the absence of a medical professional will ensure that the most intrusive powers remain available only to police officers, thus preserving the office of constable as central to the delivery of policing in England and Wales. These draft regulations deliver the full intent of the measures already approved by noble Lords in the last Session. On that basis, I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. I recommend that it is used by Radio 4 as one of its puzzles of the day because the complexity of the legislation had me going for a little while.
As I understand it, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 allows chief constables to confer powers of a constable to community support officers and community support volunteers unless the power is specifically excluded by its inclusion in Part 1 of Schedule 3B of the Police Reform Act 2002. I am getting reassuring nods from the Minister’s officials. The Government have woken up to the fact that this would include the power to conduct an intimate search if a police inspector or above—it used to be a superintendent but that was changed in other legislation—considers that an intimate search by a registered medical practitioner or registered nurse is not practicable. This would be, presumably, where there was concern that something was concealed that might cause harm to the individual or to other people, or that important evidence might be concealed which could be lost if the search did not take place straightaway.
I was going to ask the Minister to explain how this power was highlighted as not being suitable for PCSOs or volunteers to undertake but she has already explained that it was the Police Federation which raised this as an issue. However, I wonder how many other powers should be included in Part 1 of Schedule 3B of the Police Reform Act 2002 that we are yet to discover. I was also going to ask how many times the power had been used by PCSOs or volunteers but the Minister said that it had been used three times in the past 15 years.
During the passage of the Bill we made quite clear our concerns about powers that should be reserved for police officers potentially being given to police community support officers and police community support volunteers. However this is an important and welcome addition to Part 1 of Schedule 3B of the Police Reform Act 2002 and therefore we support it.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I am happy to support the regulations before the Grand Committee. It is obviously sensible that civilians are designated as having certain additional police powers as and when an appropriate police officer believes they are needed. Equally, of course, it is important that certain things are prohibited, and certainly an intimate search should not be in the hands of anyone but a warranted police officer. That is why I fully support this order.
I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about how many other powers should be included, he is right that the Government should keep these excluded powers under review. They will give careful consideration to any request to add powers but it should be noted that the regulation-making power within Section 38(6)(c) of the 2002 Act can only be used to add powers to the list—that is, to remove further powers from designated staff and volunteers. The noble Lord probably knows that primary legislation would be required to remove any powers from the list and enable them to be designated to staff or volunteers.