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Mr. Letwin: I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman. We did not hear an argument from the Minister, so I do not know whether he is saying that centralisation will by some miracle achieve localisation, but I doubt it. I imagine that he would admitalthough he did not do sothat the measures will diminish and not increase local participation and a sense in local communities that they can influence the criminal justice system. As he did not mention that position, however, he did not defend it, so we do not know what his argument is. All I know is that that argument would be difficult to mount effectively, and I suspect that that is the reason why we have not heard it.
I should like to turn now to the only other parts of the Bill with which we have major problems. Apart from a brief tour d'horizon, the Minister was again remarkably silent about them. Communication between the Home Office and the Prime Minister has also obviously been lacking. To judge from what the Prime Minister repeatedly says at Prime Minister's Question Time, it appears that he is under a misapprehension, which I shall correct. He repeatedly asserts that the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives oppose community support officers. I thinkI have never quite been able to disentangle the matter, either at the time or by reading the textthat he may be under the misapprehension that community support officers and accredited schemes are the same. I
What we have opposed and the House of Lords has rejected are two specific powers, which are in fact the same power in relation to two separate items: community support officers and accredited schemes. They are the powers of detention or semi-arrest. That is the issue that is before the House. The Minister did not address it in any detail, but it is important, and again, I understand the argument that he might have advanced for supposing that the limited power of detention is important.
The argument has been advanced by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Deputy Commissioner, who have a perfectly rational case. Their argument is that as they will not quickly obtain through the training schools and from the Chancellor sufficient numbers and funds to put proper numbers of policemen and women back on our streets, it would be better if they could quickly put on the streets as community support officers a group of people who do not require so much training and are rather cheaper. A rational case has also been made by local authorities, including Conservative groups, which have argued that in the absence of sufficient numbers of police officers, it would be good to put quasi-police officers on their streets through the accredited schemes.
We understand those arguments and have some genuine sympathy with them. Indeed, as we proceed with negotiations about the Bill, and as the two Houses undoubtedly find themselves in opposition to each other, we would be willing to concede that some form of experiment or restricted group of experiments should take place. There is much to be said for experimenting on this matter, but that is not what the Bill would have done or will do in the state in which the Government presented it to the House of Lords and wish to present it again.
When the Government have reinserted the missing clauses, including old clause 5, the Bill will do precisely what the Minster had to admit in response to a question that I asked him during his speech. He and his Home Secretary will be given power to use the action plans in clause 5 to force forces the length and breadth of this country to adopt community support officers in place of proper police officers. They will be able to use Treasury influence and ring fencing, and in the last resort they will be able to use clause 5. I doubt that they will ever have to do so; its existence will ensure that they do not have to use it. That is the way in which Whitehall works.
Under the Bill as it was presented to the House of Lordsand as it will go back to the Lords if the Government have their way, as they will in this Housethe Government will have the ability to try to make up for policing deficiencies by introducing a wide range of community support officers who are much less trained and paid somewhat less than police officers, and who have powers that parallel, but do not quite match, those of police officers. We believe that that would be a wrong turning.
Mr. Denham: It will be important to look back at the Official Report to see the reply that I gave earlier. What I said about clause 5 powers was that I did not want to constrain in general the ways in which they might be used
Mr. Letwin: Let us explore it more now. I invited the Minister to preclude the possibility of the clause being used under any circumstances to place in the action plans a requirement for CSOs. He refused to preclude that possibility. The structure of my argument is clear. I am not saying that the Home Secretary will seek overnight to use clause 5 to enforce action plans everywhere to bring about CSOs. That is not how Whitehall works. The process will start with ring fencing and Treasury pressure, beneath which lurks the threat of the use of clause 5. Which chief constable or chief superintendent in charge of a basic command unit will want to have to undertake the experiment of discovering what happens when he is forced into an action plan?
The only safeguard against that line of argument is for the Minister to say that use of the clause is absolutely precludedin which case, let that be included in the Bill. The provision was never there, and it is not there now. We are not debating a measure that will be debated in a court of law, in which case Pepper v. Hart would be relevant and the Minister's assurances would be useful. We are dealing with administration, and that works through combining the massive power of the Treasury and the Home Office to enforce patterns of action on chief constables. That is what we fear. We are willing to countenance a restricted group of local experiments, but not portmanteau powers.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman what powers I should like CSOs to have, because they are listed in schedule 4, which he may or may not have seen. There are vast numbers of them, and we support them all except those on detention. The powers are as follows: the power to issue fixed penalty notices; the power to require a name and address; the power to use reasonable force, which, oddly, survived, although it will not be necessary if the detention order is removed; powers relating to alcohol consumption and the confiscation of alcohol; powers relating to the confiscation of tobacco; powers relating to entry to save life or limb; powers relating to seizure of vehicles; powers relating to abandoned vehicles; powers relating to carrying out road checks; powers relating to cordoned areas; and powers to stop and search vehicles in authorised areas.
Lady Hermon (North Down): Would the hon. Gentleman feel more comfortable with CSOs having the power to detain if the form of declaration in clause 68 was extended to them, so that they would have to declare that they would uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people? That would refer them to the power of detention in the Human Rights Act 1998. Would that clarify the matter and ease the hon. Gentleman's concerns?
The signal moment when the state expresses its power over the citizen is the moment of arrest. That is the single most important thing that the state can do to a citizen. Ultimately, it underlies the rest of the panoply of the state's powersfor example, as regards taxation. One has to pay one's taxes because one might be arrested and put in prison if one does not. The moment of arrest is not a minor issue: it is the crux of the relationship between state and citizen. In this country, it has for many years been carried out exclusively by people who hold the office of constable or are otherwise very highly trainedfor example, Customs and Excise officials. The whole purpose of these measures, if applied nationally, is to avoid the need for the individuals concerned to be so highly trained and to have such authorities, duties, obligations and constraints as police officers have. Were it not so, there would be no point in introducing CSOs. They would not be needed if they had the same level of training, expertise, authorities and obligations, because they would be police officers.
Methods are being devised to enable groups such as Transport for London to police, say, the busesit could be a local areaat their own expense through a contract with the Metropolitan police. A similar method already obtains in another of our great cities. Those are perfectly acceptable means of carrying forward a programme for bringing more money into policing. If CSOs and accredited officers are given the power of detention, that is the signal moment at which the trained constable, with all that that term implies, ceases to be the principal person in England and Wales who can arrest people. We should not take that lightly.