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Mr. Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker: No. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way to him twice.

7 May 2002 : Column 81

People may not want to work as full-time officers for various reasons. For instance, a mother who has recently given birth may wish to ease her way back into the police force. I hope that the Government will consider seriously the proposal that properly trained officers could work part-time.

Another question concerns specials. They have not been mentioned much today, but their role in policing is very valuable, as I am sure hon. Members of all parties will accept. In December 1971, there were 29,992 specials, whereas on 30 December 2001, there were only 12,068. That is a fall of more than 50 per cent. in the numbers of specials over that period. In fact, there has been a fall of 7,000 since the Government came to power in 1997. I am not making a party point, as the figure was dropping under the previous Conservative Government. Nothing has been done to arrest the decline. [Interruption.] As far as I know, there was no fall in the number of specials under the last Liberal Government of 1906, so my party can claim to be immune from the problem.

Over the lifetime of this Government, there has been a fall in the number of specials in my area of Sussex. There were 465 specials in 1997, and there are 301 now. Specials are valuable. They are properly trained police officers, who do not have the side effects—if I may put it that way—that community support officers might have. However, it seems that little enough is being done to retain them.

I hope that the Government will consider establishing an annual bounty—some sort of fixed allowance—for specials, as that would give them some recognition. I accept that there would have to be some rostering if such a proposal were to go forward. I believe that the Government told the House of Lords that they would consider such a proposal, and I very much hope that they do. We have to arrest the decline in specials—no pun intended.

Community support officers present a more difficult problem. They represent yet another tier of policing, an idea that the Liberal Democrat party put forward first, in our manifesto. Like the hon. Member for West Dorset, therefore, I object to the Prime Minister saying that we have been totally opposed to CSOs. We have not: we have opposed the powers that the Government have been willing to give them, but that is not the same thing.

If the CSOs are to command support in post, they must first be recognisable, which means that they must have a common uniform. Secondly, they must have one set of powers that does not vary between areas. Thirdly, they must be properly trained, by the police. Fourthly, they must be either police or local authority employees. We are against accreditation by external bodies. We do not want accredited officers to be employed by anyone other than the police or local authorities, and the same goes for CSOs.

We want simplicity and accountability. The Government scheme is something of a hotch-potch. It will lead to misunderstanding among the public about exactly who is doing what in which area. People will not know who controls the CSOs; to whom complaints should be made; or what powers the officers may have. That is a dangerous road down which to go. For example, a citizen may genuinely believe that a CSO who wishes to detain him, or issue him with a fixed penalty ticket, does not have the

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power to do so as CSOs elsewhere in the country do not have that power. That is a recipe for disaster. We need clarity and accountability. I fear that the Bill does not provide them.

Another way to reduce the number of tiers would be to wrap up traffic wardens in one of the groups. There is no reason why traffic wardens should be a discrete group, nor why they should not have enhanced powers and act in a more effective manner. For example, traffic wardens can antagonise motorists by giving out parking tickets, but they are unable to deal with problems with which people locally—in the area or the street—want someone to deal. We need to look at the powers of traffic wardens.

Mr. Letwin: Has the hon. Gentleman had a moment to consider the point made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who wondered whether the power of detention was necessary to make the other powers operative? Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the power of detention is necessary in connection with powers such as giving notices for fixed penalties under road traffic legislation, or dealing with dog fouling, or in connection with environmental protection legislation, or in connection with the confiscation of alcohol or tobacco?

Norman Baker: The power of detention is very significant, which is one reason why my colleagues have opposed its being given to people who are not properly trained police officers. That significant power should rest only with the police. People associate the power of arrest with those who wear the police uniform, and they should know that they cannot be arrested by those who wear a different uniform. Allowing other people to have that power is a very dangerous road down which to go, and we intend to continue to oppose that right to detain. There is an argument about how many powers those officers should have. I make no secret of the fact that we are dubious of some of the powers in the schedule.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I suggested that fixed penalty notices in particular would require the identity of the person—the name and address—to be given. Indeed, if a person refused to give his or her name and address, a fixed penalty notice could not be issued and the community support officer would be faced with a very limited choice: he could either use his citizen's power of arrest or let the person go. In practice, would not the hon. Gentleman's suggestion put the CSO in the intolerable position of having to let the person go and not being able to detain him until a police officer arrived?

Norman Baker: First, depending on the offence, citizen's arrest would still apply. That point was made earlier by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). Secondly, people do abscond from police officers. They do so very effectively on occasion—the police officers are unable to catch them. However, I understand the serious point made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire.

Mr. Denham: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker: In a second; I am answering the question that the Minister's colleague asked.

The serious point that the hon. Gentleman makes is one reason why we have to consider the powers given to CSOs. I would personally wish them to have powers that were not

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likely to put them in the situation to which he refers. I would wish them to have powers, for example, in relation to untaxed vehicles—a major problem—and powers similar to those exercised by traffic wardens. They could have a range of non-confrontational powers, such as acting as eyes and ears for the police and assisting constables in the exercise of their duties. Those powers would be straightforward and would not put CSOs in the position to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He raises a genuine issue, which is why we need carefully to consider the range of powers that CSOs are given.

Mr. Denham: I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would enlighten me as to whether he would have preferred the Bill if we had made no reference to the detention powers but had said that we wished those paid employees of the police service to rely on their citizen's powers of arrest? Surely it is better to make it clear in the Bill what Parliament intends.

Norman Baker: That intervention is not very fair; in response to the point made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, I have referred at some length to the sort of powers that my colleagues would wish CSOs to have. To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Wrexham, I have also recognised that a general power applies to all citizens of this country.

Several hon. Members rose

Norman Baker: I ought to make some progress.

It would be rather odd to include in the Bill a power that already exists for all citizens of this country.

I want to deal with the pressure that will be applied to police authorities or chief constables to deploy CSOs. The Select Committee on Home Affairs picked up the issue of ring-fencing expenditure. I was extremely worried by the Minister's response, in which he failed to rule out—in fact, he encouraged the idea—that the Treasury and the Home Office would, in effect, get their own way by the back door. In other words, chief constables would be given the right to deploy CSOs. If they chose not to do so, they would be put under financial pressure to encourage them to do so, until there were CSOs throughout the land and the Government could say, "They have all done it voluntarily. We have not used clause 5; they have taken the decision themselves."

Mr. Denham: I rather suspected that my straightforward and honest answer would be the subject of the most massive distortion by this time in the evening. What I actually said was that I see no objection to providing funding to kick-start the CSO initiative. Indeed, I do not see anything wrong with that. I undoubtedly did not say the other things that it has been claimed that I said, and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well.

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