Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the sort of offences that would involve CSO activity would necessarily be low grade, and that they therefore might not merit a quick police response under the normal grading process?

Mr. Denham: We are trying to ensure that the police service can offer a comprehensive service to our community. One of the strongest arguments for introducing CSOs with those powers is to ensure that a set of activities in the community that are not always given the highest priority—for reasons that we understand—are not left neglected. My fear about the approach taken by the hon. Gentleman is that the sum total of the impact of his amendments would be to

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deny the police service and local communities the opportunity to tackle those issues effectively. He needs to keep an eye on the big picture, and what we are trying to achieve.

Mr. Osborne: I have another clarifying question. If a police officer does not turn up before the 30 minutes have expired, could the CSO retain the offender for another 30 minutes, perhaps by again asking him his name and address, and then saying, ''Well, you haven't provided it''? Or does the parking space principle apply, whereby one cannot return?

Mr. Denham: That conjures up visions of the CSO marching someone round the block to see if they can get back into the same place before someone else takes it. It is not our intention to use a roll-over principle.

We could have not put anything about powers of detention in the Bill, and could have simply relied on the citizen's power of arrest. The Government chose not to do that, because there would have been a general feeling of discomfort at the idea of employing full-time professionals who were trained with the general citizen's power of arrest. We have tried to specify in the Bill as clearly as possible the extent of the powers that will be available to CSOs.

Norman Baker: To pursue the amusing but relevant point made by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), if a person is allowed to go after 30 minutes, what is the minimum period that must elapse before the CSO can re-detain him?

2.45 pm

Mr. Denham: That would be a matter of judgment in the circumstances. The CSO would have to be aware, as would the chief officer, that their conduct was subject to scrutiny, first through their accountability to the chief officer, and secondly through the IPCC. As with all aspects of policing in practice, a great deal of operational on-the-spot judgment is involved about the best way for someone to conduct themselves. Policing involves many aspects of judgment that cannot be codified to the nth degree. The officer's training would be important in ensuring that he can exercise his judgment correctly and properly. That is the only serious way to deal with such issues.

Further points may be made in the debate, possibly by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), to which I should respond. However, that is my initial response to the amendments and my introduction of the Government's amendments.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): During the Committee, there has been a lot of discussion about, and allusions to, Opposition policy. The Minister refers to Opposition amendments. I want to make it clear that some of them are not official Opposition amendments but are tabled only in the names of Liberal Democrat Members. I shall explain why we support some but not others. [Interruption.] I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Lewisham,

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East (Ms Prentice) is saying from a sedentary position, but I doubt that it is polite. I should be astonished and flattered if it were.

The official Opposition approach the debate from a point of principle that I readily accept cannot realistically be completely adhered to. However, the principle from which we start is that a police constable's powers are given to him as a result of his professionalism, training—which takes roughly two years—and responsibilities. Those powers should not be given to people who have not attained those levels of responsibility, training or, indeed, commitment and the level of professionalism associated with a fully trained and competent police officer.

In an ideal world, that would have been our stance. However, we recognise the need to be pragmatic, and that principle has long since been wounded—ever since the advent of traffic wardens, when some police powers were given to others. Other examples could be cited.

I shall concentrate on CSOs, rather than the other three categories of civilians. The debate is about the police employing civilians, not neighbourhood community wardens, for example. That is completely new. As far as I know, no civilians are employed by the police to do police duties that fall under the clause.

We are worried about CSOs, who will almost invariably operate outside the police station either alone or, perhaps, in pairs, but often not close to a policeman. Our examination of their powers involves those that might be described as confrontational and interventional as opposed to some of the others. We do not support the lead amendment, which relates to fixed penalty notices, because we do not consider that power to be significant, but we take a more robust view on other powers.

We are worried that if CSOs are given too many powers, there will be a temptation in some quarters to make CSOs a surrogate police force used in places where police officers should be used. I refer in particular to neighbourhood and community policing. Debates have been held in the House on that subject and there is much cross-party consensus that neighbourhood policing in its fullest sense—I do not mean just walking up and down the street but becoming part of the community—is a vital part, if not the most important part, of policing. I am worried that proponents of CSOs with the whole panoply of powers envisage a devaluation of the role of community neighbourhood policing resulting from the use of CSOs instead of a fully qualified and trained police officers. That is part of the basis for our worry about some of the powers.

We recognise that we have a political reality and that there is demand from some quarters of the Metropolitan police for the powers, especially the power of detention. We reluctantly accept that some powers will be given and when we consider schedule 4 properly, we shall debate their other aspects.

The power to detain will be used either if a person refuses to give their name and address or if the CSO suspects that the individual has given the wrong name and address and not complied properly. It is

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interesting that the Government wisely listened to the other place about provisions on accredited community safety schemes, which we shall address in clause 36 and schedule 5, because they are not reinserting provisions on powers of detention but they are retaining provisions on the power to demand name and address. Therefore, they have given in on the argument that was paraded on Second Reading that the power of detention is an essential back-up to the power to ask for a name and address. That cannot be the case because the Government have given in on introducing that for accredited community safety schemes.

We reach the question of what detention is, and I shall quote one or two outside bodies. The Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, which is an eminent body, says:

    ''It is our view that in law, and in the eyes of the general public there is no distinction''

between a detention and an arrest. Whatever the case might be in law—I am insufficiently competent to decide what that is—I have no doubt that there is no distinction between detention and arrest in the eyes of the general public. They are both highly interventionist actions.

The organised crime unit of Cleveland police contacted me, and it said:

    ''There is no difference between detaining somebody and arresting somebody. This is a play on words, to take a persons liberty is a serious issue and police powers should only be available to lawfully sworn police officers.''

The Association of Police Authorities said:

    ''The APA notes however that such a power''—

the power to ask for a name and address—

    ''may be associated by some with a power of stop, and that there is a significant lack of confidence in some sectors of the public about police use of powers of stop, and stop and search.''

The widespread cross-section of opinion within the police force is that the move is very worrying. The definition of detention and the clarity of the situation are unclear to the citizen.

That brings me to the offences involved and the citizen's arrest, to which the Minister referred. It is unclear what offences are involved. Under amendment No. 171, proposed new paragraph 1A(6)(b), a relevant offence is

    ''an offence the commission of which appears to that person to have caused—

    (i) injury, alarm or distress to any other person; or

    (ii) the loss of, or any damage to, any other person's property''.

That is an all-embracing description. The amendment goes on:

    ''but a designation applying this paragraph to any person may provide that an offence is not to be treated as a relevant offence by virtue of paragraph (b) unless it satisfies such other conditions as may be specified in the designation.''

In other words, we return to the issue that we discussed this morning, which was that it would be in the power of the chief officer to lay out the relevant offences in the designation. That would lead to even further confusion.

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Presumably, CSOs will continue to have the power of citizen's arrest, alongside the power of detention. Nothing in the Bill makes me believe that it has been removed from a CSO. As a citizen, a person can arrest anyone who is in the act of committing an arrestable offence or if he has reasonable grounds for believing that that person is committing such an offence, and anyone who is guilty of the offence or someone the person suspects is guilty of the offence. The powers of a fully qualified police constable go further than that, but it is not clear whether the powers of a CSO to detain go further. Will the Minister explain what offences will be considered to be relevant offences that would carry the power of detention? That is clearly not deemed necessary because someone refuses to give his name or address, otherwise the amendment would not contain proposed new paragraph 1A(6)(b)

That brings me to training, in which the Minister has much faith. He thinks that it will work out well. It takes about 35 weeks of training before a newly engaged police officer is allowed to patrol the streets on his own. It is expected that CSOs will receive two or three weeks' training. Some debate may take place about the precise length of training, but I suspect that it will remain a fraction of the time given to a police officer. How will the CSO have the background knowledge to apply any level of discretion that will be essential if he must decide when to use the power of detention and when to use the reasonable force that goes with it?

Health and safety is a concern of the Police Federation. It is considered that CSOs could be in personal danger. Yet they could not possibly have had the level of training in self-protection as that received by a full police officer. They will not carry some items of protection, such as batons or pepper sprays. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether they will carry handcuffs. There is a serious risk that they will be put in physical danger. The chief officer is liable for any injury that an undertrained CSO suffered when using his power.

The Minister said that he did not choose the period of 30 minutes because it was the right time, but because a maximum time had to be set, and that such a power will be used only in circumstances in which a police officer can arrive within 30 minutes. That may be a noble intention but, as Ministers have said, legislation can last for generations, so we must think not only about what is the ideal, but what might happen in practice. As the hon. Member for Lewes said this morning, there is always the possibility that things do not work out in the way that is intended, and therefore one has to be able to address situations when they arise.

The response of my constituents—and, I suspect, of many other hon. Members' constituents—to the idea that a police officer would arrive in 30 minutes is, ''Chance would be a fine thing.'' In many parts of the country, the chance of getting a police officer within 30 minutes is remote. The Minister will probably reply to that by saying, ''Well, in those cases, the chief officers will not have CSOs,'' which may well be true, but I do not want him to belittle my argument by responding in

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such a way, because that does not deal with the sort of situation that the hon. Member for Lewes referred to this morning. A police officer may only be in the next street, but if there is suddenly a grade one call—a call about an emergency, such as a road accident—the police officer will be called away. Therefore, regardless of how good the intention is, the fact is that the police officer will not get there in 30 minutes.

3 pm

That raises the issue of what happens next. Does the CSO just let the individual walk away, which would do no good at all for the credibility of the CSO scheme, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton suggests, is some form of re-detention available? The Minister's response to that was vague, to say the least.

There is another issue. If police officers are asked about what is the first and most important thing for them to do when they apprehend someone—the word ''apprehend'' has not been used before, and I use it now to differentiate between detention and arrest—before subsequently, perhaps, arresting them, they will say that it is to get them off the street; get them out of sight of the public; get them away. They will say that, because as long as apprehended people remain in a public space they form a focus for bystanders, and more importantly, they can form a focus for more trouble from their friends and others who might seek to exploit the situation in that way.

This proposal does the opposite of that. The answer that was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton was that if the individual refuses to go to the police station, the CSO has no option but to ask them to stand there—and if necessary, to hold them there, using reasonable force. The mind boggles as to what could happen in the following 30 minutes—if that is how long it takes. The Government have failed to address that in all the discussions that have taken place on this subject since they first mooted the idea of a 30-minute period. We are guaranteeing the creation of a magnet for trouble on our streets: somebody being held for 30 minutes will attract more trouble. That is a certainty.

The Police Federation says, in its briefing to Committee members, that,

    ''the period of forcible detention could itself cause the detainee to become agitated being held in public and provoke further breaches of the peace by members of the public sympathetic to the detainee; without the minimal co-operation of the detainee, the power is inoperable.''

We must also ask ourselves, what happens when the police officer arrives? We can forget the 30-minute period, because the police officer has arrived. Is he obliged automatically to arrest the individual for refusing to give his name and address? What happens if he thinks that the CSO has blown the matter out of all proportion? Does he or she have to perform the arrest, even if it does not seem justified? will the evidence of the CSO alone be sufficient for an arrest, and if necessary, a prosecution? What are police officers to do if they feel that CSOs have overreacted? If an officer declines to carry out an arrest, he has completely blown the credibility of the CSO, but if he does carry out the arrest, he is compromising his own

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judgment and professional view and may provoke even more trouble that will involve other police officers.

There are very real practical problems, as well as the issues of principle, in the use of detention powers. That is why I strongly resist the Government's attempt to reinsert this provision into the Bill. Having said that, I recognise that the Metropolitan police have voiced a desire for this power. Throughout the Committee proceedings, and the whole progress of the Bill, we have been anxious to listen to the voice of the police, and it would be wrong to stand here and say categorically that the Met have got it wrong. I believe that they have misjudged the situation in believing that the provision is necessary, but I recognise that they have that strong view.

Although I wholly oppose the blanket power of detention, if the Minister were to set up a pilot scheme, we could judge whether it works, monitor it and see the ups and downs. We might be sympathetic to that. None of us can be sure how this element of the Bill will work out: it is brand new territory for all of us. I am trying to be reasonable about the matter. We do not believe in the principle, but we accept that it will happen, so we think that he should come up with an alternative to the blanket power. Until he does, I am afraid we must resist that power, and I strongly oppose amendment No. 171.

 
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