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Mr. Letwin: I cannot understand what that argument has to do with the removal of abandoned vehicles—the actual power in question. In what way do fixed penalty

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notices relating to dog fouling, or to litter and the Environmental Protection Act 1990, require the power of detention? I simply do not understand the argument.

Mr. O'Brien: The simple and straightforward point is that, if the hon. Gentleman is willing an end, he must also will a means to it. If he wants to be able to issue a fixed penalty notice to an individual, he needs that individual's name and address.

Martin Linton: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. O'Brien: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall deal with the point made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin).

If a person refused to give their name and address, the CSO would be in a difficult position. If the hon. Gentleman cannot work out how to resolve it, that is his problem. He is creating the difficulty, and through the Bill the Government have set out a way to resolve it. The CSO will have the power to detain for 30 minutes, if necessary. If a person refuses to give—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has had his time. I call Mr. Francis Maude.

7.36 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): The last time that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) and I followed one another was 10 years ago, when he succeeded me as Member of Parliament for North Warwickshire. I join him in paying tribute to the Warwickshire police force, which is an excellent force, not despite being very small, but because of that fact—a point to which I shall return if I have time.

I am concerned about police accountability, and I agree that the current arrangements are inadequate. Although there is a deficiency in accountability, I differ from the Government in terms of how it should be dealt with. The deficit should be filled not by increasing centralisation, but by increasing local accountability, and the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made that case to devastating effect.

I want to use the case of a constituent of mine to illustrate the deficiencies of the current system and the way in which they need to be filled. Although the Bill fills them to an extent, it does not do so completely, as the Minister has acknowledged. The Minister referred obliquely in his opening remarks to the case of John Wilson. On 26 June 1996, then aged 16, having attended an international football match, John Wilson congregated with others in and around Trafalgar square. By common consent, he was a completely innocent bystander in a fracas that developed, during which the Metropolitan police—perfectly properly—deployed police in full riot gear.

As I said, John Wilson behaved peacefully. He is a responsible boy from a decent background. During the fracas, he was physically charged by a police officer in riot gear, fell backwards, smashed his skull on the pavement and sustained a double fracture. As a result, he suffers from epilepsy, and in the six years since he has

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been unable to study or to work. The High Court finally judged against the Metropolitan police in a civil action in July last year. The judge said:

That judgment was subsequently upheld in the Court of Appeal, without John Wilson's lawyers being called upon to rebut the Metropolitan police's case.

During that case, the Metropolitan police behaved— I choose my words carefully—disgracefully. I say that in no spirit of hostility. As a part-time London resident, I depend on them, and in a previous career as a barrister many years ago, my mortgage depended on them as my best client. However, during that case they maintained that it was impossible to identify the police constable responsible for the incident. It is inconceivable that such a serious incident, in which a young boy was laid out cold on the pavement and taken to hospital as an emergency, was not reported or recorded. It certainly should have been, and obviously procedures require that it should.

It was even maintained subsequently by the Met that the serial of officers—some 25 officers—could not be identified, so that other officers could not be interviewed about the identity of the offending officer. That is literally incredible. I simply do not believe that the serial could not be identified, but that is what was maintained at the time and has subsequently been stuck to.

Civil litigation was brought by John Wilson's mother, on John's behalf. I pay tribute to Susan Wilson, a redoubtable lady who has stuck to the case with great tenacity for which she deserves great credit. However, the Metropolitan police pursued a campaign of what can be described only as low-level harassment against the case. For example, at one stage, they wrote directly to the legal aid authorities to seek to have John Wilson's legal aid discontinued. It was discontinued, on that unilateral application. However, it was subsequently reinstated, with some strong words of reproof, by the High Court judge.

The police also pursued an appeal against the High Court judge's ruling on the substantive issue of liability, despite having said immediately afterwards that they would not do so. That appeal was rejected out of hand by the Court of Appeal, as was always likely to happen. Even after that, the police have tried to postpone the hearing on the question of damages, again to the obvious irritation of the judge handling the case. I have numerous other examples of petty behaviour by the Metropolitan police solicitor—all, happily, in vain—trying to hinder the conduct of the case.

My point in relation to the Bill is that no effective way exists for the Metropolitan police to be held to account, either for what happened in relation to the initial incident and the failure to investigate it by the police themselves, or for the way in which they conducted their defence to the proper and justified civil action brought by John Wilson. The Police Complaints Authority could not investigate the case because there was no identified officer against whom to lodge a complaint. Some of the later wrongdoing by the police prevented investigation of the original wrongdoing by the police.

I welcome the setting up of the new Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, as drafted, it would not remedy the gap that I have exposed, as the Minister has admitted. I welcome the Minister's commitment to table amendments to fill the gap, because that is very

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important. Incidentally, I pay tribute to the time spent and courtesy shown by the Minister of State on this case. I know that he has taken it seriously.

It has also transpired that neither the Home Secretary, as the police authority at the time, nor the Metropolitan police authority as the successor authority have any power to investigate the case. That is a deficiency in accountability, and should be remedied. Much of the argument today has concerned where that accountability should lie. I simply raise the case of John Wilson to illustrate the deficiencies that exist.

In my opinion, accountability, and the probability that police forces will do what local residents want, will not be increased by giving a power to the Home Secretary to tell forces to do what local people want. He is much less likely than the local police authority to know what local residents want. Given the chance, the police will take decisions that respond to local needs. For example, in my constituency of Horsham and next door in Crawley, the local divisional commander—not even the chief constable—has introduced a terrific scheme that puts the police on mountain bikes so that they can pursue yobs who are being disruptive down the alleyways into the housing estates where police cars cannot go. That initiative is popular with the police and the local residents. It makes the police accessible and available. The only people who hate it are the hooligans who find that the police are silently and unexpectedly upon them. That is a local initiative that has not been imposed by the Home Secretary, although he probably thinks that it is a good idea—everyone else does.

We should consider ways of increasing local accountability and also ask whether police forces are now too big. Many are. The whole notion of economies of scale is a dubious proposition in any circumstances, but in the public sector the reverse is the case. There are inefficiencies because of the scale. We should consider having small authorities, perhaps with directly elected police authorities. That would provide a direct and focused responsiveness to what local people want. It was suggested earlier in the debate that chief constables should be elected. I foresee many difficulties with that, but we should not completely rule it out as a possibility. I cannot imagine anything that would provide greater emphasis on the requirements of local residents, so we should not close our minds to such suggestions.

There are hundreds of different ways in which the local accountability of the police could be improved. However, we definitely should not go in the opposite direction and push more and more power to the centre. I acknowledge that the Government whom I served in the 1980s achieved a certain amount of centralisation. I admit that that was wrong and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said that it was wrong. We should not continue to make that mistake—

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