Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as always, is making an enormously powerful contribution to the debate. He might be interested to learn that his point about the concerns of miscreants has been supported by one of the high temples of new Labour thinking, in the form of a submission to the Home Affairs Committee by the chief executive of the London borough of Islington—which is perhaps not usually a spiritual friend of his. The chief executive says:

    ''It is almost certain that CSOs will not have the support and trust, as do the current wardens, especially amongst young people who will see them as a threat.''

Even in Islington, there is support for my hon. Friend's argument.

Mr. Johnson: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention.

It is vital that all of us in this Room, and other potential miscreants, should be able to know exactly where we stand with these people, and what authority they have over us.

Vera Baird: My guess is that the officer would tell a person what power he had. If he had a book of fixed penalty notices in his hand, it would be a fairly reasonable guess that he had the power to give the person one for whatever was being done.

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Mr. Johnson: That is very interesting. I am pleased that the hon. and learned Lady is so convinced of that, because our earlier discussion suggested that it was unclear whether CSOs would have the same powers in different areas. I was not sure whether they would have the same uniforms. It would be a grave disservice to set up CSOs without a clear understanding among the public about their powers. Do we expect miscreants to obey automatically the authority of some chap who appears wearing a peaked cap and a purple sweater—or whatever the curious uniform might be—and announces that he proposes to detain them for 30 minutes?

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Does the hon. Gentleman therefore oppose the establishment of pilot projects for community support officers?

Mr. Johnson: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening earlier, because he would have heard it said from the Opposition Front Bench that we do not object to such pilot schemes. The burden of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire was that we should have pilot schemes but that the system should not be rolled out higgledy-piggledy throughout the country with different CSO schemes doing different things. Confusion might be fatal to the respect in which the CSOs should be held. That I why I oppose amendment No. 171.

Lady Hermon (North Down): It might ease the hon. Gentleman's concern if he looks at the definition of a relevant offence in the amendment, although far be it from me to defend a Government amendment. The powers to detain that a CSO will have are contained within that definition. He need not have sleepless nights about the issue.

Mr. Johnson: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her kindly intervention—[Interruption.]—although I am informed by my wise hon. Friends on the Front Bench that she misread the amendment.

Mr. Denham: This has been a useful discussion. I shall try to be brief yet reply to as many points as possible.

The hon. Member for Henley asked what would happen if he was discovered in a recumbent position in the town centre of Henley after a good Friday night out and what his interaction with the CSO would be. It is difficult to imagine that the CSO would do anything other than approach him and say, ''Good evening, Mr. Johnson. We've been enjoying ourselves, haven't we?'' Given that the CSO would undoubtedly recognise the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Osborne: Not in his constituency.

Mr. Denham: The CSO would certainly be aware of the hon. Gentleman's place of work and might well conclude that he had been satisfactorily able to identify the hon. Gentleman for the purpose of issuing a fixed penalty notice. The other subjects of this afternoon's discussion would not apply.

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It is important to recognise—this point was rightly made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire—that the starting point of the process is the identification of the individual to get a name and address for the purpose of exercising the powers in the Bill. The issues that we have discussed this afternoon come into play only when a person refuses to give his name and address or the CSO has reasonable grounds to believe that the name and address given is false. Our intention is not to introduce a wide-ranging power for CSOs to scour the streets searching for individuals to detain—that thought might have inadvertently crept into the debate. The power derives from the ability of a CSO to identify a name and address to allow action to be taken under the relevant legislation.

Hon. Members reflecting on points made in the debate might conclude that—this is not my argument—police officers in, for example, rural areas, should not have the power of arrest. We are told that, if it is not possible immediately to remove someone from the scene and take them to a police station or guarantee that the police will arrive in less than 30 minutes, the attempt to detain someone physically is doomed to failure. Where does that leave the substantial number of much-respected rural police officers who patrol small towns on their own, not by car, who cannot guarantee backup within a particular time by a police car? That is clearly part of the reality of policing in rural areas, but no one suggests that those police officers should not have wide-ranging powers of arrest and the ability to use reasonable force. Some of the dilemmas about when it is prudent to exercise those powers, to which my hon. Friends referred, obviously arise for serving police officers, but no one would seriously suggest that they should not have those powers. A key part of the Government's approach is that it is reasonable to expect that the powers that will be made available to CSOs under Government amendment No. 171 will be used after proper training, with discretion and full awareness of the circumstances in which it would be appropriate to use them, including the time in which support might be available.

Mr. Paice: The Minister again refers to proper training. The mind boggles about how much training will be crammed into a short period. If people are going to be trained for 35 weeks, they might as well be full-blown police officers.

The Minister made a point about rural areas. No one was suggesting what he implies. My constituency contains some remote areas, as do those of some of my hon. Friends and, indeed, of some Labour Members. No police officer in a rural area will willingly arrest someone with a view to holding them in that place for the next 30 minutes. They will use their discretion about whether to arrest the person, and if they decide to do so, they will take into account how quickly they can move them to the local police station. Every rural police officer I know uses a car. If they are on a bicycle, they are close to a police station. Whatever happens, they have a means of getting the person off the street fairly quickly.

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Mr. Denham: I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find that having two on a bicycle is an offence, although whether a person can be arrested for it, I am not sure.

The hon. Gentleman concedes the point. I did not suggest that anyone was proposing that rural police officers should not have powers of arrest. I was merely making the point that in many circumstances police officers must exercise their powers with discretion, using their judgment about whether they would be in a worse position by doing so. Similar issues arise in the exercise of the much more limited powers of detention available to CSOs, and the same discretion will need to be used. The debate has been characterised by the assumption that no discretion would ever be used, rather than that it would be reasonable to assume that it would be.

Lady Hermon: Will the Minister clarify two points? Under the amendment, CSOs, where they exist, may have the power to detain. Article 5 of the European convention on human rights, which is incorporated into our law in the Human Rights Act 1998, governs freedom from detention and arrest. Will he guarantee that CSOs will have training in human rights legislation as part of their so-called proper training, and not just in PACE? Secondly, will a person who is unlawfully detained by a CSO have an enforceable right to compensation?

3.45 pm

Mr. Denham: We have taken advice on the drafting of the Bill to satisfy ourselves that it is ECHR compatible. I undertake to write to the hon. Lady to confirm this, but I understand that human rights training as well as specific PACE powers will be included in the basic training of CSOs. Working from memory, basic training for the Metropolitan police CSOs—which does not include any of the powers that we are discussing because the Bill has not been passed—will include basic training in ECHR requirements. Clearly, should Parliament accede to the powers in the Bill, additional training will be needed to take account of specific requirements.

Compensation for wrongful detention should be possible, but I will write to members of the Committee to confirm whether there is an automatic right and what the procedures would be. I need to take advice on that. I hope that I can clarify that matter later.

To return to Henley town centre, if the hon. Member for Henley had not been recognised by a CSO—unlikely though that it is—and a police officer then arrived, in detaining the hon. Gentleman the CSO would have exercised a power of enforcement not a power of arrest. A police officer arriving at the scene would be able to arrest the hon. Gentleman under the general power of arrest, subject to his or her judgment.

A constable can arrest for a non-arrestable offence if general conditions for arrest in section 25 of PACE are met, one of which is that a summons is not appropriate because the name and address of the individual is not known. A safeguard may be

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involved—the police officer may recognise the hon. Gentleman and decide that there is no need for arrest because he can enforce the power.

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