Clause 12

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 18 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power of detention in contracted out prisons and secure training centres

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:15, 18 Ionawr 2007

I just want to develop some of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate mentioned in the debate on clause 11. They relate to the powers of prisoner custody officers to detain suspected offenders. I seek clarity about the geographical limits of PCOs to detain. Under new section 86A(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991:

“A prisoner custody officer performing custodial duties at a contracted out prison shall have the following powers”.

Are those powers limited to the geographical area of the contracted-out prison, or can the PCO exercise powers of detention outside the limits of the prison grounds? That might be relevant, because under new section 86A(3), a person who makes off while subject to a requirement to wait can be guilty of an offence.

The expression “makes off” might need further explanation. Does it mean get clean away, or simply move away in a way that is contrary to the request of the PCO? I can see that if the person gets clean away, that will present a problem for the relevant officer, because he will not have the power to chase after him or call for assistance. Perhaps something needs to be done about that.

I also invite the Minister to explain how new section 9A(2) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 bites. It says:

“Where the officer has reason to believe that the person is committing or has committed an offence...the officer may—

(a) require the person to wait with him for the arrival of a constable for such period as may be necessary (not exceeding two hours); and

(b) use reasonable force to prevent the person from making off while subject to a requirement under paragraph (a).”

Does that mean that the custody officer has under that legislation the power to lock people up? Does the person wait only in a waiting place, say a public room in which he is told, “Please don’t move”, or does the expression “reasonable force” imply that having ordered a person to do as he is told, the officer can physically put him in a room and lock him up until a constable arrives? Those matters will no doubt be made clear during the training of PCOs, and it might be that they are powers that public service prison officers have and private service prison officers do not. It is important that legislators, at least, should know what the Government intend so that we can better understand the context in which the clause operates.

Let me say one more thing before the Minister replies. One of the useful things that we gained from the informal evidence session last week was that Mr. Martin Narey, who had been in the Prison Service for 25 years before he moved to NOMS and then to Barnardo’s, candidly told us that he had spent a long time in the Prison Service thinking that the use of the private sector in the prisons world was wrong. He even used the expression “immoral”. However, by the time that he had finished, he was utterly convinced that the private sector was a useful addendum to the prison system. It is interesting how the Government have followed his lead and, although the Labour party used to be vehemently opposed to private sector involvement in prisons, it now seems to be a champion of it. Is it not interesting how these things change?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

On that final point, what the Government are concerned about is what works. I have a great deal of respect for Martin Narey’s work in the posts that he has held and in his current post at Barnardo’s, where he is doing some excellent work on the provision of support for children and is involved in giving expert advice on the sex offender review that is taking place. We should listen to him. He has said interesting things about the respect and decency agenda in prisons, and the cultural changes that have taken place there. It takes somebody who is very keen and involved with the issues to be able to change his mind in the way that Martin did. That means that we should all show a great deal of respect to the detail of what he has said.

I explained to the Committee what clauses 11 to 15 set out, and we have just had an hour’s discussion on clause 11, PCOs, the criminal offences that may be committed and the ability to carry out the searches that are required. Clause 11 sets out how we want to extend the effective search powers to PCOs, which is likely to increase the detection of potential criminality via visits. Accordingly, it is sensible that PCOs’ increased ability to detect potential criminal acts is matched by provision of a specific power to detain an offender at the point of detection until a police officer can arrive at the prison in question and take over. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked if that power would be extended to public places. No, it will be confined to the grounds of the prison or secure training centre.

These difficulties do not exist in public sector prisons, because we know that prison officers working there are Crown servants who have been given constabulary powers by the Prison Act 1952. We do not consider it necessary or desirable to give such powers to a non-Crown servant to achieve the aim of the clause. However, we feel that this is an appropriate time to resolve the difference in the power to detain. In recognition of the concerns expressed over the granting of such detention powers to employees of private companies, we have been careful to ensure that the power does not provide more than is necessary to achieve our desired aims. The clause does not create an unfettered power to detain, and includes a number of important safeguards that should ensure that it is used only when absolutely necessary.

First, the power to detain can only ever be used by a PCO in relation to a visitor to a prison. Secondly, the detention power will be available only to a PCO working at a contracted-out prison. Thirdly, we propose that the PCO will have the power to require a visitor to wait with him or her only when that officer has reason to believe that an offence against section 39, 40 or 42 of the 1952 Act has been committed, or that the person has attempted, incited or aided and abetted such an offence.

Finally, we propose limiting the period of detention permitted under the clause to what is necessary to allow a police officer to attend the prison and take over the arrest of the suspected offender. To remove any ambiguity that that test might create, we have provided that the period of detention should not exceed, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, two hours in any event. The two-hour period was chosen to allow reasonable time for the police to get to a remotely located prison at peak times. Consequently, detention  under the two-hour power would be, we hope, very much the exception rather than the rule.

In our view, the time limitation and the requirement that there be reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed ensure that any detention under the clause either does not engage or is entirely compatible with article 5 of the European convention on human rights. To ensure that the power to detain is fully effective in those circumstances where it is needed, the clause also makes it an offence to attempt to make off from such a period of detention and allows for reasonable force to be exercised in support of the detention.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

Can the Minister give us any statistics about the number of times that such powers are required and about the concomitant burden that falls on the police force that happens to be local to the prison? Obviously the deployable resources of the police are frequently stretched, although perhaps not always in visiting hours. I would be grateful for some indication from the Minister how often the powers are required.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, I do not believe that the powers will be used on a vast number of occasions. I do not have an exact figure to hand. However, the police would clearly be interested in acting if reasonable concerns had been raised by the prison custody officer. I am not trying to deflect the hon. Gentleman’s question. I am as concerned as he about the use of police resources, but we are trying to set out a sensible opportunity for the police to be called if there is a reason to suspect that an offence is being committed. We think that the two-hour period is enough to ensure that there is no impact on police resources and is appropriate in areas where great distances need to be travelled. If we have any figures, I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman receives them. We are talking about prison visitors here, so any occurrence would be very rare.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The point is about police resources and dealing with prisoners. I understand that, on 12 January, there were 300 prisoners in custody in police station cells. I wondered whether, when the Minister writes to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, he would include an up-to-date figure on the precise number of people who would normally be in prison but are currently in police cells. I think that we need clarity on that.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. and learned Gentleman is tempting me down a route that I do not wish to take and which is outside the scope of the Bill. The issue is of public interest, and the Home Secretary and I intend to keep the House adequately informed, especially on the progress that we have made. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to Operation Safeguard, but to give any great detail at this point would be wrong.

We were talking about where we are heading with the detention powers in the clause. Creating new detention powers raises key civil liberties and human rights issues, which we have taken into account seriously during drafting. I hope that we have put the right  safeguards in place. We think that bringing the private sector into parity with the public sector on these matters is important. I hope that, with the explanations that I have given, clause 12 can stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.