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Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Somewhat ironically, the Conservatives' comments reveal the true nature of their opposition. As two such contributions have shown, they are against community support officers. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) nods, but in my constituency CSOs will be welcomed. In Stanley, our experiment with community safety wardens has proved very popular, and I am sure that CSOs will prove likewise.

The Government have taken a very practical approach to ensure that the Bill is enacted. It is clear that an alliance has been forged between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on this issue, but the public should take note of the fact that this Government are not simply talking about making communities much safer; they are putting in place provisions to achieve that end. The Opposition have nitpicked and gloated, both today and in Committee.

Mr. Hawkins: As the Minister acknowledged, the reality is that agreement was reached on 98 per cent. of the Bill. There were only one or two contentious points—points of substance—one of which the Government conceded, so it is outrageous for the hon. Gentleman to speak of Opposition nitpicking.

Mr. Jones: I would be happy if the Conservatives had made it clear in Committee and on the Floor of the House

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that they are against CSOs—the hon. Member for Upminster did so a moment ago—but instead they are trying to neuter them. It is clear that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) is not convinced that CSOs will be effective, but I am and so are the Government, who want to ensure that communities are made safer. The Opposition should have the courage of their convictions and say that they are against CSOs, rather than trying to neuter them.

Mr. Francois: Rank-and-file police officers are unable to speak in this House, but we are. We are not nitpicking; we are simply articulating the concerns expressed to us by several such officers in our constituencies. They earn their living as police officers, and they are seriously concerned about whether this idea will work. We are representing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. This debate is moving outside the strict terms of the amendment that we are discussing. As we have another group of amendments to discuss and a limited amount of time, it would help the House if we could focus exactly on the amendment before us.

Mr. Kevan Jones: I find it strange that Conservatives are now acting as the trade union officials of police authorities. I welcome CSOs and so will my community. This Government should get a lot of credit for their introduction, but the Opposition will claim that credit, or—once they prove popular—they will say that they thought that they would work. We shall also see the usual double standards from the Liberal Democrats. I support the amendment, in the sense that we need to get the Bill passed.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am grateful for this opportunity to speak. I regret the sentiments of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), who accuses Conservatives of gloating: this subject is wholly above such pettiness.

Mr. George Osborne: Absolutely.

Patrick Mercer: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I also resent the idea that the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) suggest that he is acting as some sort of trade union official. The hon. Member for North Durham, the Minister and others—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not heeding my advice.

7.15 pm

Patrick Mercer: Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall stick rigidly to the subject.

I should like to add my support for the withdrawal of clause 45, and to point out that Nottinghamshire constabulary has broadly welcomed its withdrawal. I should also point out that I spoke to those policemen not

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as a trade union official, but as their Member of Parliament. Despite what was said in Committee, all of them—

Mr. Kevan Jones: Has the hon. Gentleman asked those of his constituents who are ordinary members of the public whether they are in favour of CSOs and safer communities?

Patrick Mercer: Yes, I have, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for enabling me to point out my assiduousness in doing so. Naturally, my constituents are concerned about safety, but they are somewhat concerned and confused about the nature of CSOs. The policemen to whom I have spoken welcome the withdrawal of the clause. They view this as an opportunity for CSOs to take to the streets and, if they prove successful, perhaps to grow into the sort of institution—I am thinking of traffic wardens—that we all know and may not like, but which we certainly respect. It is not a question of gloating; they regard this as a common-sense measure, which I like to think Opposition Members have persuaded the Government to adopt.

I am grateful to the Minister for showing enormous common sense in respect of this clause, and I add my support to the amendment.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling): I support the amendment, but I am disappointed that we have reached this compromise. It is clear that the amendment is necessary simply to ensure that the Bill is enacted. Much of the antisocial behaviour legislation that we pass gives rise to problems with flexibility. We repeatedly have to return to such issues, saying that we need to enact primary legislation. The point of the clause was to give flexibility, so that, if necessary, the Secretary of State could regulate and change community support officers' powers to tackle antisocial behaviour.

If the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and others do not want CSOs in their areas because they believe that they will not work, I am happy to have them in mine. CSOs will provide a further option in the range available in tackling antisocial behaviour. It is important to note that, because the legislation will work in an unprecedented way, CSOs to some extent will not prove as effective as we would like.

Several hon. Members rose

Vernon Coaker: We will therefore have to return to the matter and make the necessary changes through primary legislation. Our constituents will say, "Why hasn't the House allowed CSOs the flexibility to use their powers on the street in such a way that they can tackle antisocial behaviour?"

Patrick Mercer: The hon. Gentleman may be missing the point somewhat. It is not so much that people oppose CSOs but that—in my experience of my constituents and members of the police force—they are cautious about the proposals. We do not understand them fully, and that is why we welcome the withdrawal of the clause.

Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman will have to defend that position. It is a reasonable position to take,

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and Conservative Front Benchers also take a reasonable position, although they seek to decry the position that I take. My point is that because the Home Secretary will not have the flexibility that the original provisions provided, the CSOs will be introduced with curtailed powers. With the amendment, if we wish to change that, we will need primary legislation to do so. That is wrong and we will unnecessarily deny CSOs the flexibility that they should have.

Mr. Denham: I am pleased to receive such support for a Government amendment. My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for North Durham (Mr. Jones) have made excellent contributions to the debate. It is a matter of sadness that some of the opposition to the provisions has stemmed from opposition to the whole concept of CSOs, rather than the merits of clause 100. The provisions were examined by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which did not find them offensive in procedural terms. It was always the case that the flexibility we sought would have been exercised subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, requiring positive votes in both Houses of Parliament.

It is a great shame that the drive to undermine the concept of CSOs, which has been so common among the Opposition, has led to opposition to the provisions. None the less, I want the Bill to make progress so that we see real CSOs out there in communities, including some exercising the full powers that they will have.

Mr. Paice: I wish to reaffirm on the record, so that no one is under any illusion, the fact that the official Opposition do not oppose CSOs. It is true that with a blank sheet of paper we would have made different proposals for providing extra help for the police. However, we have never and will never oppose the use of civilians in assisting the police. The only debate has been about the range of their powers, and that will be the subject of tomorrow's debate. We do not oppose CSOs, nor giving them some powers: we are concerned about the range of their powers, and that is why we have opposed these provisions.

Mr. Denham: In tomorrow's debate, we will see just how many Opposition Members support their Front Benchers in that position. The tone of many contributions has not been in line with those remarks. However, for practical reasons, we have agreed to remove these provisions from the Bill and perhaps we could now move on to the last group of amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 103

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