Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Johnson: Will the Minister clarify for a final time whether it would be within the powers of a CSO to detain somebody for a non-arrestable offence?

Mr. Denham: The CSO would effectively be able to detain somebody for a non-arrestable offence in the sense that offences relating to public order are not all arrestable. The CSO would be able to detain if it were impossible to satisfactorily establish the name and address of the individual, even though the root offence that had given rise to the situation was non-arrestable.

There are other examples in law in which an individual can be detained when no criminal offence has been committed. In a very different area of law, an individual may be detained for up to six hours while police apply for a banning order under the Football (Disorder) Act 2000. Detention powers of that sort are not without precedent. There are also powers to detain without criminal offences having been committed under immigration laws. Other examples draw a distinction between arrest and detention.

The Metropolitan police envisage CSOs being deployed in three different roles: enhancing security around this part of London and other sensitive areas, supporting law and order on transport routes, and in the community, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East referred. It is reasonable, especially in a large force, for CSOs to be deployed in more than one range. That does not detract from the potential role of CSOs working in the community. However, we must make it clear, and examination of speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or myself clearly state that it is no part of the Government's strategy for CSOs to be a replacement for professional community or neighbourhood-based policing. CSOs will complement policing. The hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire and for Surrey Heath said that fears have been expressed that the police will withdraw to elite serious crime work and will not be in the community. That is not our intention under the Bill. We recognise—as they do—that highly professional, committed professional police officers working in the community must be a core part of the model of policing that will be effective in the 21st century.

Mr. Johnson: My mind is working slowly this afternoon. If someone spits out chewing gum in the street—a non-arrestable offence, I imagine—could the CSO detain that person for 30 minutes?

Mr. Denham: Not directly for that offence. I shall need to consider the specific littering offence. If an offence were committed under the relevant offences that are designated for the purposes of CSOs, the CSO could detain the person directly for the commission of that offence. The powers of the CSO relate to the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for the offence. The fixed penalty notice depends on having the name and address of the person who committed the offence. The trigger for the power of detention is if the CSO

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were not satisfied that he was obtaining the name and address of the person who had committed the offence. That is how the process will work. It is important that members of the Committee understand that the power does not give the CSO the ability to grab somebody directly because of something that he has done. We want to deal with the inability of the CSO to follow up with a fixed penalty notice.

I hope that I have addressed all the issues that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East made a powerful speech in support of the clause and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar masterfully demolished the Liberal Democrat amendments, so I shall not repeat her arguments.

Norman Baker: Following that challenge, I want to pick up on one or two points. As she knows, I have tremendous respect for the hon. and learned Member for Redcar. I cannot think of anyone better to represent me in court were I on a charge—as long as she promised not to persecute Liberal Democrats in the process. However, for once, her logic is flawed. Her arguments were considered before the amendments were tabled. We have not sought to remove from escort officers the power to use reasonable force. It is still contained in part 4 of schedule 4, at line 15 on page 134 of the Bill, as are further powers to enable escort officers to carry out searches and to seize and retain items found on a search. With respect to the hon. and learned Lady, her argument was not correct.

As for detention officers, we want to restrict significantly what they can do without having a constable with them. I shall not rehearse the argument that we had this morning. We hold a different view about the breadth of their powers. We do not want detention officers to put their hands in people's pockets. The hon. and learned Member for Redcar thinks that that is all right. We do not. We think that investigation officers will play a useful role as civilians, but we are slightly worried that the minority of their time will be spent in consultation with members of the public. The hon. and learned Lady has been uncharacteristically unfair in her criticism of our amendments.

The Minister asked me to respond on the matter of fixed penalty offences. I did refer to it at length earlier because the key issue was that of detention. The test that we sought to apply is whether they are likely to be intrusive, cause problems and meet with resistance. We are concerned about the very issue that the hon. Member for Henley was discussing a moment ago. A very minor offence could then escalate, because someone refused to give their name and address, into a detention or an arrest, and what was a simple matter could become a very big one. That is why we want to limit the number of fixed penalty notices. However, the principle that CSOs should give out fixed penalty offence tickets is not one to which we are opposed. It all depends on the offence, and we have tried to be quite specific about that.

The Minister compared CSOs performing that function to traffic wardens. With respect to him, I do not think that that is a fair comparison. With traffic

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wardens, the ticket is given not to a person but to a vehicle. The person might not even be there—in most cases they are not. There is then a stringent system, using the registration number of the car, for identifying whether the person has paid. That is a very good system but it relies on the courts and the legal system for its enforcement, not on the person giving the ticket, except in the initial stages. I do not think that a comparison between a traffic warden giving a ticket to a stationary vehicle and a CSO giving a ticket for disorderly behaviour, under very different circumstances, is fair.

The main issue is detention. A number of arguments and concerns have been raised about that, both when I spoke and by Conservative Members. The Minister has tried his best to deal with some of them but I do not believe that he has convinced everyone in the Room. He has not convinced me, although I am sure he has convinced himself and perhaps some others. The period of training, to which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire referred, and the questions of how long that should be and whether it will be sufficient, are very important. If there is now to be human rights training as well, as there must be, that is something else to pack into a couple of weeks. Those people will have very much of a crash course before going out on to the streets fully ready to take action.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire also mentioned handcuffs, and I do not think that the Minister responded to that point when he replied. He must have forgotten it, but I thought that it was worth pursuing. Another issue that has been rightly raised is whether the offenders should be left on the street. Police officers want people who are causing trouble off the street so that they do not become public spectacles. With CSOs, they will be kept on the street and become street theatre—a very welcome diversion. People on their way home from the pub, or wherever it happens to be, will suddenly be entertained by someone in uniform trying to keep one of their mates busy for half and hour. That will draw a crowd and will become deeply unpleasant for the CSO involved, as I made clear in my initial comments.

Another question is what will happen if a CSO has overreacted and wrongly detained a person, and the police arrive and say, ''It's OK—off you go.'' I think that the hon. Member for Henley or the hon. Member for Tatton made that point. My understanding is that if that person can demonstrate that they have been falsely held, that will be a matter for compensation because it will in effect have been false arrest. On the other hand, if the police officer follows through and takes someone to the station, that creates more work for what was originally a pretty minor offence. The situation is not clear.

So far as the pilot scheme is concerned, I am having doubts about that. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said that he was being generous in offering it, and I think that he was being exceedingly generous. Perhaps the shadow Home Secretary has encouraged him to be generous. The scheme could

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work, but there is a danger that Labour Members might suggest that it would produce precisely the hotchpotch across the country that some of us are trying to avoid. However, if the Minister were pragmatic he might want to take that idea with both hands as a way of dealing with the issue. The Bill is constructed to allow a different solution for London from the rest of the country. The business managers might be able to conclude that to offer CSOs in London and not elsewhere could be a way forward, both to get the Bill through and to meet majority opinion in London and elsewhere. However, that is a matter for the Minister.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, East very interestingly said that the presence of officers in uniform, in itself, will make a significant difference. She is absolutely right. That is one reason why we believe that it is not necessary to give CSOs controversial powers. They will do the job very effectively, and make a big difference, simply by being there in uniform. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewisham, East for reinforcing the point that I made earlier. I thank her very much for that.

The point about backup is an important one, and it may well be that the Metropolitan police are confident that within 30 minutes there will be backup available. I believe that that would be easier in London, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, than it would be in mine. In my constituency, which is by no means unusual, there are four big towns that are some distance away from each other. It takes more than an hour to drive from one end of the constituency to the other, and it is in south-east England.

If there is a big event not far away—in Brighton, for example—that has drawn police officers out for the evening, at most one police car will be covering the three other towns on the coast. All that there is on some evenings is that one police car with two officers covering three towns. If those two officers in the car are expected to respond simultaneously to CSOs in Lewes, Seaford and Newhaven, it is just not going to happen. There is a genuine issue concerning the response of officers in rural areas.

4 pm

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