Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: I congratulate the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) on his contribution, with which I entirely agree. When the Labour party was in opposition, as the Minister knows—in fact, he had the decency to concede as much himself—there was always stiff opposition to any attempt to introduce so-called Henry VIII clauses, which are essentially undemocratic in that they remove parliamentary scrutiny by the House. Statutory instruments are a substitute for that, whether they are subject to affirmative resolution or otherwise. That is

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especially the case in relation to controversial measures. The Minister suggested that it would be laborious, although I do not think that he used that word, time-consuming and difficult to find a slot for the introduction of primary legislation, but that argument is insufficient to outweigh our serious concerns. As the hon. Gentleman said, if Ministers decide that powers must be added, there are numerous Home Office Bills to which such a measure could be tacked on. Equally, if certain powers are unnecessary or discredited, we could allow them to fall into disuse before repealing them when the appropriate moment arises, so there is no need to avoid the use of primary legislation.

The Minister put his case reasonably this afternoon. I am glad to see that he has regained his gentle urbane good humour after this morning. He mentioned the new direction that the Government want to pursue, quite rightly, but that suggests that the future is uncertain, which makes the case for introducing changes by primary legislation, rather than by affirmative resolution, even more important.

5.15 pm

The Minister was good enough to say that it was his best guess that the powers to be introduced by the Bill would work. I am sure that he and others have wrestled with the various options before introducing the Bill. It just so happens that his best guess is not my best guess, but I accept that that is his honest belief. I would be slightly more amenable to the proposal if Ministers had shown some willingness to accept amendments from Opposition Members or from the House of Lords, but we have not seen that. Ministers have fallen over themselves to suggest that Home Office draftsmen are the fount of all knowledge, but they have not said that others' ideas might worth considering in relation to this new step forward, which represents a radical change.

We have seen the typical resistance that we see from all Government Departments to amendments tabled by the Opposition or from outside the Government's closed ranks. Indeed, the Government are trying to reverse the amendments that were passed in the House of Lords against their wishes. I find it difficult to believe that the legislation is perfect, but that is the conclusion that we are supposed to reach. The Bill will emerge from Committee intact, except for the Government amendments, which suggests that it is based on a narrow focus of opinion. That is one reason why I am reluctant to agree to such wide-ranging powers.

I am also reluctant to agree to those powers because we have not yet seen how the powers will work. I tried to suggest that there should be a 12-month review of a proposal that we discussed earlier. Although the Minister saw the merit in having a review, he did not want to be tied to a particular time scale. I am sure that the powers will be reviewed by Government, but is it not appropriate that when they are reviewed for the first time—because the key issue is how well they will work—they should be the subject of a full discussion

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on the Floor of the House, followed by amendments to primary legislation where necessary? If the Minister turns out to be right and the legislation works well, I would have some sympathy with the idea that powers could be added to or deleted subsequently.

The Minister mentioned several safeguards that are included in the new clause. Affirmative resolution is worth while, so far as it goes, and better than negative resolution or nothing, but it is limited for the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. One of the problems is that we cannot amend statutory instruments. I wish that the Government would allow Committees to amend them. When one or two amendments would improve a proposal, the Government often accept them, but they must take back a statutory instrument and reintroduce it, because they cannot allow it to be amended. That is a matter for the Leader of the House, but it limits the effectiveness of the affirmative resolution, which the Minister proposes in relation to this legislation.

The fact that the new clause excludes the power of arrest or detention is obviously welcome. That is a very important point, which I shall not dismiss or minimise in any way. It is also important that the powers to enter premises should be limited, but that still leaves a huge range of police powers that could be conferred by the Minister on CSOs or ACSOs. That could allow a huge range of road traffic matters to be dealt with. Speed traps, pursuit of vehicles to measure speeds and so on could be handled by CSOs in the future; they do not require a power of arrest or detention unless alcohol is involved. A speeding offence does not involve arrest; that could be dealt with by a CSO. Therefore, a range of powers could be handed over. The public should be involved in the debate; it should not be discussed in a Room on the Committee Corridor on an obscure afternoon.

The Minister referred to consultation. That is a welcome development; it is a step forward from where we were when this matter was debated in the House of Lords, and I am grateful for that. However, I would have more faith in consultation if I believed that any Minister or his Department or even any Government paid attention to it. After all, the consultation on the Bill revealed that most police authorities and police forces are opposed to CSOs, yet a proposal for CSOs is being railroaded through in the Bill. The consultation exercise might have been listened to, but it has not informed the contents of the Bill. Therefore, we cannot conclude that if the Minister consults on, say, an extension of powers for CSOs and receives comments that are largely or wholly negative, that will necessary influence whether he proceeds. He might well do so despite the consultations. Therefore, my first reason for opposing the new clause is the extensive nature of the Henry VIII clause, which I am unhappy with in principle.

Notwithstanding the Minister's elegantly put and entirely reasonable-sounding case, secondary legislation is a dangerous road to go down. Even if it means more time spent discussing the legislation in the

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Commons and even if that slows things down a little, primary legislation is the proper way in which to proceed when considering measures of this magnitude.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Mr. O'Brien, I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship.

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire has said and agree with the hon. Member for Lewes. The Minister has presented the clause in apparent innocence, saying that it is important to be able to amend the powers in the light of experience and so on. He even accepts that the extension of police powers to non-police personnel is controversial. However, he does not seem to accept that enabling a Home Secretary to give more powers to such people is even more controversial. That prompted a lengthy debate in the House of Lords.

We should remember that the powers have been debated at length in this Committee and in the House of Lords. The minutiae of the powers has been examined through the parliamentary process. We have not always persuaded the Government of the force of our argument, although they have made serious concessions, particularly in relation to the power to detain people under accredited community safety schemes. There is a process of scrutiny, and it has engaged the interest of the Committee and of the House of Lords. Under this clause the current or a future Home Secretary could simply bypass all that and introduce new powers and clauses that would be subjected—as my hon. Friend says, with much greater experience than I do of this place—to little scrutiny under the SI procedures, even if that is by affirmative resolution. We are dealing with powers, even if they are not powers of arrest and detention as defined in the clause, that directly affect the liberty of the individual. My hon. Friend has reminded us of what Earl Russell said in the House of Lords. He also said that they were dealing with powers that

    ''led to the revival of impeachment in the Parliament of 1621.'' —[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 April 2002; Vol. 634, c. 385.]

That might have been a slight exaggeration on the part of the noble Lord, but as a history graduate who enjoyed his books, I know that he knows what he is talking about where history is concerned. These are serious powers. We tend to be very polite in this Committee, as the hon. Member for Lewes was, and stress that we are not talking about the present Home Secretary but a future one. After what we saw last week, I am worried about the current Home Secretary introducing powers that he has dreamed up, with little thought as to their implications, and changing his mind three days later.

There are no real safeguards in the clause to protect people from the schemes and gimmicks of this Home Secretary, let alone future ones. That is why I am cautious about giving the powers, and not happy with the clause. I hope that if we vote on it, we vote to defeat it.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. We are getting used to the Minister's approach to problems—his mailed fist clad

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in a glove of velvet presented with enormous felicitation and brought down with a clang once our backs are half turned.

I am grateful to the Minister for his points about consultation. I take them entirely into account, as my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Lewes have done. I understand that there will be no extension of the powers of detention or arrest under the clause. However—the Minister knows what is coming—I am not going to quote from another place or from history books; I am going to quote from the floor of the police station, where I have spent a little time, not on it, but listening.

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