Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman needs to be aware that he is in danger of signing up to a group of amendments that would cripple the back-room use of those officers as well. Perhaps he should have an urgent discussion with the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire before we proceed to a vote.

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Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Opposition Members seem to be split about whether we should have civilian staff in police stations. It is not just the Metropolitan police force that is in favour of giving neighbourhood wardens extra powers. My local authority is looking forward to the opportunity to use wardens who have been given extra powers alongside CSOs—and the sooner the better.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady is capable of catching my eye if she wants to make a speech.

Mr. Denham: I return to the point about saving police time and cutting down on bureaucracy. I shall quote from another source that has recently been made available to us, the ''Snapshot of the Criminal Justice System'' published by the Metropolitan police on 13 June. It found that on a given day 21,788 police hours were spent processing arrests. Obviously that is not an average day, but on the one that they looked at that is how much time was spent on that. One of the key objectives of this part of the Bill is to enable police forces to make significant inroads into that figure.

Let us deal with the powers of investigating and detention officers. Our intention is that designated investigating and detention officers should carry out specialist and specific tasks that tie up police officers' time and prevent them from carrying out the visible duties and functions for which they are uniquely trained and equipped.

In imposing a dual requirement on police constables to accompany and supervise investigating or detention officers when carrying out some of their functions, rather than allowing the properly trained and accountable officers to perform tasks themselves, the amendments would undermine the flexibility which is a key feature of this part of the Bill. That is what the hon. Member for Lewes is attempting to do.

He is also attempting—I think unreasonably—to constrain other measures that we want to be carried out by CSOs, such as the power to stop vehicles for the purpose of a road check. If that could be done only when the CSO was accompanied by a police officer, it would remove their effectiveness in assisting with road checks. I see no strong basis for doing that.

If properly used by CSOs and members of accredited community safety schemes, the power to remove abandoned vehicles will help to tackle those problems and allay the concerns of our constituents. I do not know about the constituencies of other hon. Members present, but the blight caused to communities by abandoned vehicles, which may be vandalised, stolen from or burnt out, is a significant problem in my own. The task of dealing with that problem does not have to be restricted to police constables and that is why the Bill is framed as it is. If CSOs could exercise powers only when accompanied by a police officer, the idea of enabling more people to be there serving the community is destroyed in one fell swoop.

The power to enforce a cordon is another example. We put that power in the Bill, after discussion with the Metropolitan police and others, to free up police officers at the very times when additional demands are placed on them. The power is designed to be exercised

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when there is a terrorist alert and under the powers a cordon can be erected only with the authority of a senior officer. However, if a city, a community or our country is faced with a terrorist alert and, subject to the provisions elsewhere in legislation, police officers are still required to supervise the enforcement of a cordon, as the amendments propose, we are clearly not adding to the protection of the public or the safety of the community. Nor would that help us to deal with a serious incident such as a terrorist alert.

I respect the hon. Member for Lewes in many ways, but sometimes he seems to depart to another planet, given some of the things that have happened round the world in the past 12 months. His arguments fail to take account of the need to equip a police force and a police service to respond flexibly and sensibly to demands that we hope we will never have to confront but which, in our heart of hearts, we know that we might have to.

Huw Irranca-Davies: A superintendent overseeing a batch of wardens who were awaiting the enhanced powers that would make them CSOs told me that he was genuinely concerned that they should be the eyes and the ears and have the discretion to deal with things on the ground, so that they would not suck the police into every incident. Does the Minister recognise that if CSOs were not given that discretion, that would negate their role?

Mr. Denham: Yes. The amendments have been designed to achieve the very thing that the Police Federation and others said that they did not want. They would lead to a large number of police officers being tied down to supervising the work of CSOs and accredited community safety officers. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We believe, and it is now emerging as a consensus across the Committee, that with appropriate training and deployment we can rely on people to exercise their powers in a sensible and appropriate manner.

I have made the key points that I wanted to. For the record, I point out that the chief constables of Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and North Wales have all written to the Home Secretary, welcoming the arrangements to improve the visible police presence on the street through the appointment of CSOs, where that is considered appropriate by local decision makers, and under the direct control of the chief constable.

11 am

Norman Baker: I am grateful for the Minister's detailed response and for the arguments that he presented. He spoils his arguments by maligning the motives of those who oppose him. There is no need to accuse me and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) of deliberately tabling wrecking amendments. I have explained more than once our position with respect to CSOs. We support the concept but believe that CSOs should be community-based and enjoy the community's support. For that reason, they should not have powers that might bring them into conflict with the community.

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It is quite a simple position. The Minister may not agree with it, but it is not fair of him to accuse Liberal Democrat Members of trying to wreck the Bill.

Vera Baird (Redcar): Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that it is obvious that the amendments would inevitably limit the effectiveness of all these new types of officer?

Norman Baker: No, I do not accept that. I accept that they would limit the CSOs' powers, and by that strengthen CSOs by making them more acceptable to the community and therefore more effective. The implicit consequence of what the hon. and learned Lady says is that there should be no ceiling to the powers given to CSOs. She must accept that a line must be drawn between the powers exercised by police officers and those exercised by people who are not police officers. The argument today is about where that line is drawn.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the amendments would mean that police officers would not spend their time trapping villains but would be trapped with the CSOs for every minute of the day?

Norman Baker: I do not accept that, and Labour Members should allow me to develop my arguments. I have given way consistently, and will be happy to again when I have addressed the points.

Where is the line to be drawn between civilianisation and professional policing? That is the nub. To what extent should we give police powers to—

Mr. Hawkins rose—

Norman Baker: All right. I give way to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).

Mr. Hawkins: I think that I might be able to help the hon. Gentleman. Does not he share my surprise at the intervention by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who on Second Reading said of her own constituency:

    ''A poll has been taken about whether the wardens would benefit from having powers of detention, and they do not want them. They fear that they would not be safe while exercising such powers and that they would be distanced from the community.''—[Official Report, 7 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 117.]?

That was the end of the hon. and learned Lady's speech.

Norman Baker: That was an interesting intervention. I am glad that I allowed the hon. Gentleman to intervene.

Vera Baird: The hon. Gentleman will have to give way. What on earth has that got to do with what I said to him earlier? My wardens do not want the powers, but my chief constable might well want CSOs to have them.

The Chairman: Order. We have spoken about hon. Members' motives and what was said on Second Reading. I hope that the Committee will return to the amendment. I am sure that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) will do that.

Norman Baker: I shall do my best, although the intervention by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was pertinent.

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I was talking about the line to be drawn between civilianisation and professional policing. It is nonsense to say that we do not want to free up police, where that is consistent with the objectives that I have set out. It is not sensible or accurate to say that we do not want civilians to help the police. There is widespread support for scene-of-crime officers or for people to analyse blood samples, or whatever. Plenty of people work for the police and, by doing so effectively, free up police. Sussex police in my constituency has been very good at freeing up officers, but the question is where to draw the line. I draw the line between powers that are non-confrontational and those that are potentially confrontational. When the confrontational powers are used, it would be appropriate for persons to be accompanied by police officers.

We heard that Labour Members want community support officers to be the eyes and ears of the police. I do, too, and there is nothing to dispute. It is an Aunt Sally put up to be knocked down. We also heard that they want the police to be freed up. I do, too, and we should consider the Minister's point about cordons. Undoubtedly many police officers are used to establish cordons, but whereas he wants no officers to be used in establishing cordons, I want one, perhaps in a particular area, to supervise the CSOs. That would not be terribly onerous or demanding and would not reduce the ability of the police to do other work. I am perfectly happy to see CSOs helping, as it is a sensible proposal and would be good use of their time, but the Minister is being disingenuous.

The Minister also mentioned escort officers. Unless I have misunderstood, escort officers do not feature in the amendments. CSOs and detention officers both feature, but escort officers do not. There is no suggestion, except in a later amendment, that their work should be curtailed. We have accepted escort officers as part of other Government proposals to free up the police and bring in civilian help.

The Minister's other point was that there was no objection to civilians' exercising the powers of detention officers. That is not true, and I can guess only that he has not seen the Police Federation briefing, which made it clear that it has objections to those proposals. A parliamentary briefing was sent out in June 2002, and on page 16 it says:

    ''We oppose detention officers having the power to require attendance at a police station for fingerprinting . . . arrest at a police station for another offence . . . and require attendance at a police station for taking a sample''.

Those are in paragraphs 19, 20—the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and I referred—and 27 respectively. Therefore, it is not true to say that there are no objections to the powers. The Minister may wish to gloss over them, but they are there. The question comes down to this: where do we draw the line between the powers that are appropriate for police officers to exercise and those that are appropriate for civilians to exercise?

The Minister introduced the issue of terrorism and emergencies. We are all conscious of situations that could arise, especially post-11 September. Who could not be so conscious after seeing those terrible pictures

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from New York? However, the Minister must recognise a point that was made during the debates on anti-terrorism legislation, which is relevant now because it relates to the powers of police constables and CSOs. He must be careful not to throw away the civil liberties agenda in his efforts to clamp down on terrorism.

It is no use saying that everything must go and there are no civil liberties implications, because there are. A balance must be struck and a line drawn between accountability and civil liberties and not unnecessarily restraining the police and giving them the powers necessary to do their job. The Minister draws the line where no police officer is required to be present before an area is cordoned off, and I would draw it where one constable must be present to supervise the CSOs.

 
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