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Standing Committee A
Thursday 20 June 2002
[Mr. George Stevenson in the Chair]
Police powers for police
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I beg to move amendment No. 95, in page 34, line 30, leave out 'provisions specifying the'.
Good morning, Mr. Stevenson. Welcome back to the Chair. The amendment is short, but fundamental. As drafted, the Bill will allow chief officers to confer on community support officers or civilian employees the powers that are listed under schedule 4. It is interesting that they will not have that discretion in respect of accredited community safety schemes under schedule 5, which is an all-or-nothing schedule.
Now is not the time to debate the powers themselves. That will be dealt with under a later group of amendments. We have fewer reservations about investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers, but I want to discuss whether CSOs should all have the same powers or whether a chief officer should have the power to vary them within his own force. I am the first to recognise that arguments can be made on both sides. The importance of local decision making has been raised several times. I cannot get away from that, but the downside of variations is worse than the advantages. Therefore, we should remove the discretion of chief officers to decide which powers to confer on CSOs. Under schedule 4—assuming that the Government have their way on other issues—up to 13 different powers will be available for community support officers, six for investigating officers, 11 for detention officers and escort officers are covered by two main broad headings.
Members of the Committee have expressed concern about the need to avoid confusion. However, the clause will cause considerable confusion because each chief officer can confer on CSOs different powers from the menu of 13 that may be different from the powers that the chief officer of the neighbouring force may adopt. I understand that, even within the force, the chief officer could designate different CSOs with different permutations of those 13 police powers. The Minister will say whether I am right or wrong. The main demand for CSOs powers will come from the Metropolitan police, but we must also bear in mind the probability that there will be variations from borough to borough and within the 43 forces throughout the country.
It is the consumer—the public, whom such people will serve—about whom I am most concerned. People do not necessarily know in which force's area they are working, living, shopping or spending their leisure
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time, for example. Therefore they will not know what powers a CSO with whom they come in contact may have. I understand that a police constable is a police constable is a police constable, whichever part of Britain he happens to be in, and has the powers of a constable. The same applies to a police officer of any rank: he will have the powers of a constable. If we have CSOs with a variety of powers, the member of the public involved will not know what powers they have.
I give an example from my constituency—which does not include the possibility of variations within a force. Part of my constituency is on the southern outskirts of Newmarket, which most people think is in Suffolk, as, indeed, most of it is. The county boundary, although precise, is indistinct for the casual person. Some of my constituency and, therefore, part of Cambridgeshire, is in Newmarket. Therefore, a person in one street might be in the Cambridgeshire force, and have one set of powers, and someone in the next street or even in an extension of the same street, where it runs into Suffolk, might have a different set of powers. To me, that is a recipe for confusion. From confusion comes discredit and ridicule of the situation as daft and difficult to understand, and the whole thing falls into disrepute.
In the debate on the matter in the other place, many points were made extremely well. In moving the appropriate amendment, my noble Friend Lord Dixon-Smith said:
''The way in which the Bill is drafted means that a community support officer who has a limited basket of powers, because that is the way that the chief constable has designated him, may work with another community support officer who has a different basket of powers because he may have come from a slightly different area or . . . be held to have a different level of competence. The opportunity for public confusion as to what these people are and how they are functioning is huge.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2002; Vol. 632, c. 418.]
Another noble Lord said something especially apposite:
''Although I cannot prejudge what will happen, I can well foresee different chief constables making different use of the 'menu'. If they make different use of the powers so that their community support officers have different powers, the public might well wonder why that has happened.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2002; Vol. 632, c. 452.]
That was the noble Lord Rooker—the Minister responsible at the time.
The Association of Police Authorities states clearly that
''CSOs must be standardised with the rest of the service to ensure that they are instantly recognisable to the public and their role is properly understood.''
The Police Federation—which opposes CSOs having powers, although that is not the matter under discussion—states:
''Each will be given one, some or all of the powers from the basket of powers provided in the Bill. This is a recipe for confusion and disorder: how will a member of the public know whether a particular CSO has the power to demand their name and address or to detain them''—
which is another issue—
''pending the arrival of a constable?''
Others have made similar remarks, and I shall not detain the Committee. However, if the spectre that
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that conjures up were not so serious, it could be farcical. A CSO could have powers to use, for example, force, or to confiscate alcohol, require a name and address or seize a vehicle, yet another CSO in the same force, in the same street, perhaps a few feet away, will not have those powers. How will the public know? All will have the CSO designated uniform, whatever it may be, but the public will not know who has what powers.
Moreover, even if all CSOs in a force have the same powers, because of the geography of this country, officers of adjoining forces will police in close proximity to one another. They will police adjoining streets and, indeed, in some towns, different sides of the same street, as county, borough or authority boundaries sometimes run down the centre of a road. We might have the absurd situation that a lout on one side of the street, carrying a can of alcohol, behaving badly and cursing and swearing, can be detained by the CSO, but if he crosses to the other side or goes into the next street, he cannot be detained or have his alcohol confiscated. That would bring the whole concept into disrepute.
This is not a debate about CSOs' powers; we will discuss that later. As CSOs are to be introduced, we want them to be successful. The last thing that we want is for them to fall into disrepute, and for the public to treat them with ridicule.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, and I wonder whether he would extend it to the issue of having different laws in different parts of the country. For example, some local authorities have byelaws banning the consumption of alcohol on their streets, and others do not. As he is against CSOs having different powers in different places, does his argument also apply to the eradication of all differing byelaws, of which there must be hundreds?
Mr. Paice: That is a perfectly good point, and I prefaced my opening remarks by saying that I recognise that there are arguments both ways. I wholly support the concept of local byelaws, and those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which are eminently sensible. It is a pity that not every authority has decided to go down that route, because such byelaws will be necessary if we are to restore the order that most of us ordinary, law-abiding peaceful civilians would like to have on our streets.
When talking about CSOs, we are discussing acts that are widely recognised by the public to be illegal, and not byelaws. There have been variations in byelaws for many decades; the public have got used to that. Byelaws are usually made visible, for example by placards or notices that say, ''No dog fouling. Penalty x, y or z,'' so people are aware of them. There is no way that someone will know what powers a CSO officer wearing a uniform has simply by looking at him.
Norman Baker (Lewes): Is there not a difference, philosophically and practically between the existence
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of different laws and the enforcement of laws by persons with differing powers.
Mr. Paice: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is right; there is a difference. People can usually establish fairly quickly what the law is in a particular place. They can do so by reading notices, which are often put up, or by going to the police station or town hall, or by many other means if they are interested in knowing whether they can get drunk in a particular street and wave alcohol about.
However, there will be no way for people to tell what powers a CSO has if chief officers grant different CSOs different arrays of power from within schedule 4. They cannot even go to the police station to ask about it unless they have the name and number of a particular CSO. They will not have any means of understanding what the situation is from the uniform.
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Surely most of us, who are law abiding citizens, do not worry about that, because we assume that we are within the law and are behaving reasonably. Those who flout the law do not worry about that either. It is for a local police force to determine the problems of behaviour and the issues in its area, just as it does with byelaws. It could therefore use its members as appropriate. That would be better than people worrying about who is doing what.