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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

9.39 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Unsurprisingly, the debate has concentrated on two issues—standards and the level of policing. A clear division of views on what to do has evolved. We have heard some very good speeches from both sides of the House, although I detected in some of the Government Back Benchers' speeches a little whiff of the old

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traditional Labour left-wing antagonism towards the police. That is a pity. Nevertheless, a number of speeches welcomed the present situation, and I will come back to that in a moment.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) spoke about a constituency case that supports the Government's proposed amendment on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and we welcome that. My hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) all spoke about centralising powers and the use of civilians as community support officers and community safety accreditation organisations, yet those two issues represent considerably less than half the Bill. It is remarkable that most of the debate has concentrated on a small part of the Bill, with one or two exceptions. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) spoke about another issue, which I shall mention shortly. However, almost all the speeches focused on two issues that represent a relatively small part of the Bill.

As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney said that the Bill failed to address three of the most crucial issues. He said that the police cannot attract and hold good officers and cannot get rid of bad ones, while those in the service are strangled by paperwork.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) brought the wisdom of experience to the debate, for which I am grateful. She stressed the need for the support of police officers when we embark upon change. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary does not seem to have learned that lesson yet.

Much of the debate has been about centralisation. The Select Committee said that the former clause 5 was unacceptable. Even with the proposed safeguards that the Government had planned to introduce, the Select Committee was, at best, lukewarm about it.

In response to an intervention from me, the Minister of State said that there are no existing powers with which police authorities can deal with problems. He is quite right. However, the answer is not to take powers to the Home Secretary but to give them to the police authorities. The whole of part 1 is about taking powers to the centre. Some provisions, such as the regulation of equipment, are perfectly acceptable. However, no one who studies the whole of part 1 can argue that the removal of the original clause 5 has taken away every opportunity for the Home Secretary to intervene when he thinks that things are going wrong.

Clause 2 deals with codes of practice, clause 4 with directions to police authorities, and clause 6 with the regulation of procedures and practices. Clause 77 gives the Home Secretary immense powers over three-year strategy plans. The Bill provides plenty of opportunities for the Home Secretary to take action. My right hon. and hon. Friends all spoke of the need to decentralise.

The issue of community support officers also occupied much of the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) brought home to us the fact that a large number of very successful schemes operate under present legislation, using neighbourhood wardens, local guardians and even ambassadors. I have seen a number of such schemes in operation and several other hon. Members described their success in their constituencies.

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The point is that such schemes are operating, but those civilians do not have a range of police powers. What is more important, they do not have the power of detention.

I have spoken to many support organisations and, without exception, not one has said that it wants detention powers. Indeed, a number say that having such powers would do them a disservice and get in the way of their fulfilling such a role. There would be an obligation to comply more with PACE provisions on training.

What happens after 30 minutes remains unanswered. One or two hon. Members made the point that in their constituencies, the likelihood of an officer being able to reach someone within 30 minutes of detention was remote, and that certainly applies to part of my constituency.

In relation to other powers introduced under schedules 4 and 5, there is the likelihood of a huge variety of provision and immense confusion throughout the country. At present, the schedules do not provide for a fixed system; they offer a pick-and-mix menu. Every chief constable will be able to decide which powers to give to his community support officers or accredited safety organisation. It is possible that where CSOs exist, they will have different levels of power in different forces: in London, the powers may differ between boroughs and, in the case of people employed by an accredited safety organisation, from employer to employer. That is a recipe for considerable confusion. It will give rise to public concern, and there will be a failure to appreciate the role of civilians.

There are some issues that have not been covered by the Bill, including the standards unit. Listening to some of the Labour Back Benchers who were talking about the standards unit, one would have thought that the inspectorate did not exist. However, there is a perfectly competent inspectorate, which, we understand, the Home Secretary has no plans to alter or disband. Like the Select Committee, we cannot understand the necessity for a distinct and separate organisation called the standards unit. That is not to say that we are against raising the standards of all to those of the best or against spreading best practice, but we are asking whether we need two separate organisations. The distinction between their roles is unclear.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne referred to the provisions that would allow blood samples to be taken from people who could not give their consent. I do not detract from her support for that change, but I also know that, for more than a year, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) has worked hard for a change in the law. I welcome it, although we must obviously consider the finer detail in Committee.

Several Members referred to ASBOs. The orders are not the raging success predicted by the former Home Secretary: the most recent statistics showed that just under 500 had been granted. Police officers and other people involved are extremely concerned about the amount of bureaucracy and time required to generate an ASBO. We welcome changes to the system and we welcome the extension of the orders, but there is little in the Bill to address the fundamental reason for their lack of success—the problem of bureaucracy in the criminal justice system.

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The Bill includes a provision to remove the obligation for police officers to be British citizens, or citizens of the Commonwealth or Ireland. We can be persuaded of the need to end that rule, but before the Bill completes its passage the Government should publish the exact criteria to be required of would-be recruits, as regards language ability, residence qualifications and so on.

Several hon. Members referred to another absence in the Bill—provision for special constables. In the White Paper, the Government stated that they wanted a revival of the special constabulary. We all agree with that. However, the Bill contains nothing that would achieve that. The Government have a policy vacuum in that regard: they seem to have no idea how to revitalise the specials.

The official Opposition welcome a large part of the Bill, but we object to two points of principle. The first is the extension to civilian officers or officials of police powers of detention. As several hon. Members pointed out, that will put civilians in the front line in the community. We believe that community or neighbourhood policing should be recognised as having the most important role in the police force. That is where problems can be resolved before they get out of hand. We want neighbourhood police to be seen as an elite force, not as a second division.

The other point of principle is the issue of powers being taken by the Home Secretary. I have some sympathy with the Under-Secretary. Anybody who has been privileged to stand at that Dispatch Box knows the temptation to command and control, but that temptation must be resisted, not just because it is wrong but because it cannot work. It is a downward spiral of ever-closer scrutiny and involvement in day-to-day decisions. That is why we will resist moves to restore the original clause 5 to the Bill.

9.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): There is one thing about which I agree with the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice)—there has been a clear division in tonight's debate, which has concentrated on the main areas of disagreement. I would describe it differently, however. There has been a real contrast. On the one hand, there have been thoughtful contributions, mostly, but not exclusively, by Labour Members. Some of the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), for instance, were aimed at Members of Parliament generally and not just at Ministers. Such contributions showed, in the main, a depth of support for the proposals. Coupled with that were the Home Affairs Committee report and contributions by members of that Committee that gave an in-depth analysis of the Bill. There was a clear contrast between that and contributions by Members on both Opposition Front Benches who have been brought in to back up their new alliance in opposition to the Bill. That synthetic opposition was aimed at measures that are absolutely necessary if we are to tackle effectively some of the problems that my hon. Friends have exposed tonight.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), who was supported in large part by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), told the House that the police force in this country was demoralised, under-resourced and abused. Those comments were aimed at the Home Secretary. I was in the House when the Home

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Secretary challenged hon. Members to give a single item of evidence that he has made comments purporting to attack the police force. I heard not a shred of evidence coming back. Why do Opposition Members such as the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness and for Aldershot continue to peddle such nonsense without providing a shred of evidence for any of their allegations?

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