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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Police Reform Bill [Lords]

Police Reform Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 247

Standing Committee A

Thursday 20 June 2002

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Police Reform Bill [Lords]

Clause 35

Police Powers for Police Authority Employees

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 143, in page 35, line 3, leave out subsection (8).—[Mr. Baker.]

2.30 pm

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: Amendment No. 42, in schedule 4, page 123, line 40, leave out paragraph (a).

Government amendment No. 171.

Amendment No. 43, in schedule 4, page 124, line 22, leave out paragraph 2.

Government amendment No. 173.

Amendment No. 44, in schedule 4, page 124, line 32, leave out paragraph 3.

Government amendments Nos. 175 to 177.

You were concluding your speech, Mr. Baker, on amendment No. 123.

Norman Baker (Lewes): I was indeed, Mr. Griffiths. I was going to say that you had cut it tight, but perhaps it is better to say that your timing is immaculate. I had just about concluded.

I am wholly opposed to powers of detention being handed to CSOs. It is inappropriate that such powers should be exercised by anyone other than police officers. It will bring CSOs into difficult and dangerous situations and will be counter-productive for policing, particularly if there are different powers in different parts of the country. That is the view of the House of Lords and I hope that, instead of steamrollering the measure through, the Minister will listen carefully to the arguments.

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I want to address some of the issues raised by amendments Nos. 143 and 42, and then speak to Government amendments Nos. 171, 173, and 175 to 177. The amendments in this group would either give community support officers and other designated persons the powers they need to perform the role for which they are intended to maximum effect or deny them such powers.

Amendment No. 143 would seriously undermine the ability of investigating officers, detention officers, escort officers and community support officers to carry out effectively many of their designated functions. In

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reality, it would prevent the exercise of most of the powers by designated officers unless with the consent of the suspect.

One of the key purposes of the Bill is to free up highly qualified police officers from police station duties and duties elsewhere that could be done by properly trained civilians. The use of reasonable force is not a power that anyone takes lightly, but there will be situations in which designated individuals will need the same powers as a constable to use such force as is necessary to discharge their duties effectively without having to be shadowed by a police officer. Having to involve a police officer would undermine the whole point of the proposals.

For example, if a suspect refused to allow his fingerprints or a non-intimate sample to be taken, a designated detention officer would commit an assault if they carried out the procedure without having the power to use force if necessary. If they could not use reasonable force, they would be able to fingerprint or take a non-intimate sample only when a suspect consented and would have to rely on a police constable to carry out those procedures if the suspect refused to co-operate.

It is self-evident that reasonable force must be used carefully. To justify using force in any situation, a police constable and, in future, a designated officer, must first establish that the person who is being fingerprinted or searched is unwilling to co-operate sufficiently to enable the procedure to be carried out. As with police officers, designated persons will have to consider both whether force is justified and what degree of force is reasonable in the specific circumstances.

It is important to remind the Committee that appropriate safeguards will be in place. First, anyone who has been given the power to use reasonable force will be properly trained in its use and accountable to the chief officer and the new Independent Police Complaints Commission, when it is established, in the same way as police officers should they misuse that power. The standards will be as high for designated staff as they are for police officers. If the chief officer has doubts about the ability of designated officers to use reasonable force to high standards, they should be able to withdraw, modify or simply not grant that designation. Designated persons will also be obliged to have regard to any relevant codes of practice in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Removing paragraph 1(2)(a) of schedule 4, as proposed by amendment No. 42, would deny chief officers the opportunity to give CSOs the power to issue fixed penalty notices for a range of disorder offences. The principle of issuing fixed penalty notices in respect of such offences has already been extensively debated in the context of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill in the last Session. Relevant offences include throwing stones at railway lines, throwing fireworks in a thoroughfare, disorderly behaviour while drunk in a public place, wasting police time—to which the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) specifically

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referred and which I will discuss later—giving false report and other public nuisance and disorder offences.

The amendment is interesting. I gather that Opposition Members do not object to the principle of CSOs issuing fixed penalty notices, and I have heard no argument to persuade me that this set of offences is inherently different. Such notices can be issued by non-police officers—street wardens can have local authority fixed penalty notice powers in respect of offences such as littering, and dog wardens can issue them in respect of dog fouling. More analogous to CSOs is that traffic wardens can also issue such notices. We are used to those people using their powers appropriately. They are properly trained to exercise them and, in the case of traffic wardens, are generally trusted by the public. I believe that CSOs will be similarly professional and accepted by the public.

I do not accept that the types of offences listed in chapter 1, part 1 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 are inappropriate for CSOs to deal with. CSOs deployed in communities will play a key role in reducing the incidence of public nuisance and disorder and in making communities safer. The ability to issue fixed penalty notices for those offences that cause nuisance and disorder will provide CSOs with appropriate, proportionate and much-needed enforcement powers.

The hon. Gentleman raised an interesting point about wasting police time. He will be pleased to hear that I have taken advice during the lunchtime adjournment. The offence—designed to deal with hoax calls among other things—is not limited to wasting the time of a constable. A court is unlikely to have sympathy with hoax callers who claim that it is not an offence because they wasted only the time of a CSO.

The requirement to provide a name and address is included as a specific power in paragraph 2 of schedule 4 in respect of antisocial behaviour, and is challenged by amendment No. 43. It is also included as part of the wider power of detention for CSOs reintroduced in Government amendment No. 171. We believe that denying CSOs the power to require a name and address will hinder their effectiveness. What irresponsible dog owner will accept a penalty notice if he knows that failing to accept it will, in all likelihood, lead to no further action? The ability to require a name and address will enable the fixed penalty notice to be enforced. Similarly, it will be a useful support for CSOs in enabling them to deal with antisocial behaviour within the community. In more serious and persistent circumstances, it will help to provide evidence for an antisocial behaviour order should a particular individual clearly refuse to co-operate with a CSOs in such a way over a period of time.

I do not believe that granting the power to request a name and address breaches an important principle. It is a sensible power for officers to have. We are extending it to police officers who do not currently have it, although in practice they have a variety of

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methods available to them for dealing with such situations. As with all the powers under this part of the Bill, there are appropriate safeguards in relation to training and accountability.

What happens if an offender will not provide his or her name? In another place, Opposition peers believed that powers under this part of the Bill should be limited, and should not include the ability to enforce any of the powers. They removed the power of detention of both CSOs and accredited persons. We believe that the removal of the CSOs' power to detain was misjudged, and Government amendment No. 171 will reintroduce it. Government amendments Nos. 173 and 175 to 177 are consequential on the two main Government amendments.

It is worth noting that the Metropolitan police service shares the Government's view on the matter. It considers it appropriate for CSOs, as part of the police service, to be able to detain using reasonable force when necessary as a last resort. A convincing case can be made that including the power to detain will maximise the efficiency of CSOs and reduce the bureaucratic burden on police officers. I can return to those matters in greater detail if the Committee would find it helpful.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Will the Minister clarify what powers a CSO has to take someone to a police station, as opposed to detaining them on the spot? Will he confirm that he or she can take someone to a police station only if that person consents?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is right. If someone refuses to accompany the CSO to the police station, the option would be detention by the use of reasonable force.

It is worth noting that we have limited the power of detention to 30 minutes. There has been some debate about the 29 minutes and 59 seconds question. Thirty minutes was chosen not as a recommended or typical period of detention, but as a maximum. Clearly, the expectation is that a police response, when it is necessary, would usually be forthcoming well within that time. Although there might not be a police constable at everyone's elbow, ensuring that a reasonable response is achievable will be one of the factors taken into account by commanding officers when they are considering how to deploy both their regular officers and their CSOs.

 
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