Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Osborne: As I have not yet made a speech in the Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Griffiths, may I say what a pleasure it is to do so?

I absolutely agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire has said. He is making exactly the same point that all the police officers I have spoken to in the process of preparing for the Bill have said to me, from the chief constable to the divisional superintendent to the officers in the local police stations in my constituency. The point that we return to is a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) earlier: we are not asking CSOs to get involved in low-level policing. It is often the most difficult kind of policing because it is dealing with people who are almost by definition antisocial. They may be drunk, or aggressive.

We know from our own lives that dealing with such people is quite difficult, but it will be doubly so for CSOs on the street. When a police officer deals with such people, he or she does not know what to expect. Anything can happen; often it is fairly routine, but matters can get out of control. Police officers have three things going for them when dealing with such people. First, they have extensive training and experience, which have taught them how to deal with such situations. Secondly, they have a panoply of powers, so that if the person giving trouble wants to escalate the situation, the police officer can deal with that.

Thirdly—and this point was made well by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire—police officers have the power to remove someone from the street. Many hon. Members have been out on patrol with the police on a Friday or Saturday night.

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The thing that struck me most about dealing with antisocial people outside a pub was the importance of taking them off the streets by getting them into the police van and taking them to the police station.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): When my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and I visited other countries, such as Belgium and Holland, we saw that community policing works when there are highly trained people in the community who are seen as an elite force. The very fact that such countries have made the fully trained police officers, with the experience described by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, an elite force—so that they are not taken away from the streets for other incidents—has led to success. Unless the Government are prepared to have a few pilot schemes to see whether that works, they are probably going in the wrong direction.

Mr. Osborne: I agree with my hon. Friend. There are many other options that we should consider, such as paying special constables, and perhaps we will come on to them later. The point is that CSOs will not have any of the things that police officers have. They will have limited powers, limited training and crucially will not have the power to grab someone and put them in the back of a police van to remove them from a confrontational situation on the street.

This is not to reduce the argument ad absurdum, but there will be situations on our streets, day in and day out, in which police officers do not turn up for 30 minutes. Regardless of the best intentions of the police to respond quickly, they do not always respond as quickly as they should. There will be situations on our streets in which CSOs find themselves in the extremely tricky position of detaining people in public. Perhaps a crowd of people will gather and perhaps the colleagues, associates or fellow thugs of the person being detained will hang around and cause trouble. Such people may even count down the minutes, which means that a poor CSO will stand there while someone counts, ''28 minutes, 29 minutes . . .''. [Interruption.] That is counting up—a very good point. As the Minister said earlier, a CSO will be unable to detain a person for a second time and will have to let them go after 30 minutes.

I am seriously concerned about the power of detention, which does not show an appreciation of what day-to-day policing is like in many of our town and city centres. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire charitably put it, it may be appropriate for the Metropolitan police in central London dealing with tourists in Trafalgar square and Covent garden, but it may not be appropriate for people in Manchester or towns in my constituency.

Cleveland police made this point to my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and my chief constable in Cheshire made it to me: what is the philosophical difference between arrest and detention? Detaining someone for 30 minutes and depriving them of their liberty is, in effect, arresting them. However,

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we are in a ridiculous situation in which someone can be deprived of their liberty but not removed from a situation, even if removing them would protect both them and the CSO.

The origin of the CSO idea was a scheme dreamed up in the Association of Chief Police Officers to badge public officials to make health visitors, bus drivers and other such people working for a public authority more conscious of street safety. The original idea was that a bus driver who noticed that a bus shelter had been vandalised would report it rather than ignore it, and that a health visitor who met someone who said that they had been intimidated would also report it. That was the origin of the idea, but it has been turned into a pseudo-police force, and I am not sure why that has happened.

On Second Reading, many hon. Members talked about the neighbourhood warden schemes, but those are red herrings. The schemes are excellent, but we are not talking about them. We are talking about a wholly new idea that has nothing to do with neighbourhood warden schemes.

I do not know what the CSOs will be called, and I was reflecting on that earlier with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). Since policemen ended up being called bobbies or peelers, perhaps CSOs will become denhams or johnnies. They will certainly not be called CSOs when they get into the public domain. I urge the Minister to put in a bid for denhams to stop them becoming blunketts.

Mr. Paice: They will not be rookers now.

Mr. Osborne: A rooker sounds more appropriate for some reason, but I am not sure why.

Seriously, there are practical concerns about the powers that the Government propose to give to CSOs, and in particular about the power to detain for 30 minutes. The matter was raised in the House of Lords, which defeated this part of the Bill. I urge the Minister to address those practical points and explain how the power will be used in practice on the streets, day in and day out.

3.15 pm

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): I want to make a few brief points and put on the record the reasons that the Met are so enthusiastic about the proposal, but first I want to say to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire that in my earlier comment from a sedentary position I was congratulating him on his discernment in making it clear that he was not supporting everything that the Liberal Democrats said. I perfectly understand his taking that position.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that most people do not know the difference between detention and arrest. That is probably true. He went on to say that we all have the power of citizen's arrest, but most of us do not know the difference between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. Therefore, although citizens have that power, they do not always know whether the activity that is taking place is an arrestable offence. In that sense, there is a problem with the language.

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As I said, I want to put on record why the Met support the measure and why they are very much in favour of the detaining role for CSOs.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Does the hon. Lady know whether it is possible to be detained for a non-arrestable offence?

Ms Prentice: I am tempted to say, ''Ask me one on sport,'' which is my usual answer. To be honest, I will have to come back to the hon. Gentleman. I shall get on safer ground by discussing the Met's position.

The examples that Opposition Members gave suggest that enormous amounts of anti-social behaviour involving crowds of people take place in the middle of the night and that it will be impossible for a single CSO to cope with such incidents. In fact, in the view of the Met and those of us who represent London constituencies, much of the work that CSOs will do during the day will reduce much of the antisocial behaviour. Their visible, uniformed presence will make a significant difference.

A more likely scenario is that a CSO who stops someone will be able to identify the person, because they know who the most likely culprits are in their local community. Even if they do not, if a person will not give their name and address or appears to be giving a false name and address, the CSO's immediate reaction will be to call for back-up. The Met assure us that in London—I am sorry if it is not the case in other parts of the country—the back-up will be able to arrive well within 30 minutes. Therefore, the 30-minute limit is not nearly as important as the emphasis that Opposition Members put on it would suggest. It is highly unlikely that someone will wait 29 minutes 59 seconds.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Is not ''community'' the important word in the officers' title, whatever other name they end up getting? Not only will they know their community, they will probably be able to stay there longer and build more links than do currently serving police officers, who often get moved on to other roles.

Ms Prentice: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. That is exactly what their role will be, and of course they will be working under the management of the local community police officer.

Mr. Hawkins: Do we have any reassurance that they will be doing that? Is not the danger that CSOs will replace community police officers? Most local communities want a proper, elite force of community police officers with the full panoply of powers, not a second-class version.

 
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