Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Paice: I shall be brief. Conservative Members added their names to the two amendments for many of the reasons just given by the hon. Lady. As I made clear earlier, we seek to avoid CSOs being put into confrontational situations. I am not suggesting that someone under 18 is not confrontational. As we all know, they can be, but I seek to minimise risk to CSOs, which is why I believe that it is right to limit their power to confiscate alcohol to confiscating it from those whom they suspect are under 18. It is perfectly true that they have no mechanism for immediately knowing the truth of the situation. It is a matter for discretion.

In an earlier debate, the Minister lauded the discretion that CSOs will have, and this is an example of when they would have to use that discretion. We are discussing amendments Nos. 45 and 29. The latter inserts the same provision into schedule 5 for accredited community safety officers. I suspect that they will be much less well trained and not directly accountable to a police officer or chief constable because they will not be employed by the police, so it

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is even more important for them that they should not be put in the confrontational situation of trying to confiscate alcohol from an adult—who may be drinking alone, but is more likely to be drinking with a group of others—and precipitating the risk of serious disorder.

The hon. Lady was right to table those amendments and I share her concern about the distinction between pouring away alcohol from an open container and not pouring it away if it is in a closed container. I endorse what the hon. Lady said and the Minister may want to respond to that.

4.15 pm

Mr. Denham: This has been a useful debate and I am pleased at the acceptance, at least to a limited degree and concerning juveniles, of the role that CSOs and accredited community safety officers can play in dealing with such issues, which concern public order and health and are of concern to the wider community, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said. The consensus about the role of CSOs and accredited community safety officers is important.

I shall deal first with the question of pouring away or confiscating alcohol. The background is that around the time that designated areas were introduced under current legislation, it was felt that it would be logical to harmonise the treatment of closed containers of alcohol between adults and juveniles. Prior to that it was possible to confiscate closed containers of alcohol from juveniles, but not from adults in those designated areas. I suppose the problem was what to do with people on their way home from the off-licence.

A considerable case has been made by some police officers to whom I have spoken that while there is an impeccable legal logic in harmonisation of the treatment of closed containers held by juveniles and adults or those who are old enough to be in possession of alcohol, that logic does not apply so well when trying to police the situation on the street. I cannot give a firm indication today, although the tone of my comments may suggest that the issue has been raised before. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire has written to me—the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole may also have done so—and we are considering whether the logic may need to be a little less impeccable in the law so that the logic on the streets is a little more useful and flexible.

The hon. Lady was right in her amendment to recognise, as we all do, that some alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder will always require the attendance of police officers and a level of skill that we would not look to rely on in CSOs and certainly not in accredited community safety officers. The hon. Lady was right to make that point. However, I have a real difficulty in the dividing line in her amendment concerning age. Even if a judgment could be made, it is possible that a 20-year-old might be part of a group of younger juveniles who could be satisfactorily dealt with by CSOs if the behaviour was not particularly threatening. All sorts of anomalies and dilemmas

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would arise. I understand the hon. Lady's point, but in practice the difficulties in creating a dividing line based on age would be insuperable.

As in earlier debates, I am not saying in resisting the amendment that we would expect CSOs to be in the front line in all incidents of violence fuelled by alcohol, but the hon. Lady's proposal is not workable. My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell asked the right question at the beginning of our discussion. I make no criticism of the hon. Lady, but the question is very difficult to answer in practice, so I must resist the amendment.

Mrs. Brooke: I thank the Minister for his comments. I am pleased that he has taken up that issue, and I am glad that I risked straying there, because it was worth doing so. When I was considering this, I was reminded that that had been raised with me, and it is important to address it, particularly now that we are moving into this arena and focusing on reducing unnecessary paperwork.

I am still concerned about this. I agree with the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire that it is even more worrying for the accredited CSOs, who will have even less training, should they be put into that position and be expected to do something, which they could be. I want to place on the record that I have deep concerns about the level of confrontation that could come about if it becomes an obligation—which may well be the case—for these civilians to take action in incidents such as a severe brawl. However, as we have a lot more to debate this afternoon, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 179, in page 125, line 23, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 180, in page 125, line 35, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 181, in page 126, line 2, leave out 'under section 35'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 126, line 5, leave out from 'limb' to end of line.

The Chairman: With this we may consider amendment No. 34, in schedule 5, page 137, line 23, at end insert—

'Entry to save life or limb

6D An accredited person whose accreditation specifies that this paragraph applies to him shall have the powers of a constable under section 17 of the 1984 Act to enter and search any premises in the relevant police area for the purpose of saving life or limb.'.

Norman Baker: I will not delay the Committee unduly over this, as it is not a matter to go to the wall over. This is a probing amendment that is intended to seek clarification from the Minister about the circumstances that he envisages might lead CSOs to conclude that serious damage to property might ensue. I also wish to know if he is satisfied that sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent misuse of that power.

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As the Minister knows, the power to gain entry to a person's property, and to search it, is potentially draconian. We have traditionally resisted that in this country—we hold to the view that an Englishman's home is his castle. Therefore, before we give another group of people that power, it is right to raise the issue, and to check what safeguards will be in place.

Nobody would dispute the exercise of this power if we were dealing with a case of saving life or limb, but there is a question as to what extent the intrusion on a person's property can be justified. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. Hawkins: I understand that it is helpful to probe what the Government have in mind, but we do not support the amendment of the hon. Member for Lewes. I was relieved to hear him say that it was a probing amendment because, in its present form, my party could not support it.

However, it does no harm to explore the whole area that it addresses and, like the hon. Gentleman, we will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say because we share a common interest—even if we do not agree about the precise form of words here—which is to uphold the importance of our tradition that an Englishman's home is his castle.

That is especially the case at present, because there have been concerns in other areas of the criminal law in the past few days. I understand that the Government have now accepted that it was a blunder to try to give all sorts of draconian powers, in relation to snooping on people's e-mails, in other legislative proposals.

It is always wise to probe what the Government are up to, so that we can ensure that our traditions, and the constitutional safeguards for our citizens, are maintained.

Mr. Denham: This debate is about extending another power to CSOs. When property is threatened with serious flooding, or possibly fire, I would not be surprised if a police officer entered the property and attempted to deal with the problem. Indeed, most of us would not be surprised if a member of the public took similar action, but we must decide whether it is more fair and straightforward to give the CSO such power.

Given that the CSO would be in uniform and working for the police service, he would be less likely to be challenged and asked, ''What power do you have to do that?'' than a milkman or passing tradesman if they responded to a situation during their normal working life. It is more that we want to ensure that the CSO, acting as we may expect an ordinary citizen to act, is properly protected by having such a power in the Bill, than that we want to extend the power. That is a key part of accountability. As we said during the more controversial discussion that we had earlier, it is useful to have the power in the Bill.

Norman Baker: I am perfectly satisfied with the Minister's answer. I hope that, when CSOs are in training and powers are conferred on them, it will be drawn to their attention that they must not feel obliged to take chances with their own safety. I hope that they

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understand that, on some occasions, it will not be appropriate to enter a burning building, but to call the fire brigade instead. Having said that, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 182, in page 126, line 7, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 183, in page 126, line 18, leave out 'under section 35'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Amendment proposed: No. 49, in page 126, line 22, at end insert—

    '(2) A person to whom this paragraph applies shall not exercise any powers conferred by this paragraph except in the company, and under the supervision, of a constable.'.—[Norman Baker.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 11.

Division No. 9]

AYES
Baker, Norman
Brooke, Annette
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Osborne, Mr. George
Paice, Mr. James

NOES
Baird, Vera
Borrow, Mr. David
Challen, Mr. Collin
Denham, Mr. John
Follett, Barbara
Heppell, Mr. John
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Lucas, Ian
Prentice, Bridget
Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 184, in page 126, line 24, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 185, in page 126, line 33, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 186, in page 126, line 39, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 187, in page 127, line 21, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 188, in page 128, line 18, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 189, in page 129, line 13, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 190, in page 130, line 2, leave out 'under section 35'.

No. 191, in page 130, line 32, leave out 'under section 35'.—[Mr. Denham.]

4.30 pm

 
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