Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Handcuffed.

Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

I shall explain what most worries people in forces that do not wholeheartedly embrace the idea of CSOs and ACSOs. I take the point of the hon. Member for Lewes that some forces are not keen on the idea. One of those forces is Nottinghamshire. I am surprised by the grasp that the average bobby and the average sergeant have of the exact extent to which CSOs would change their lives. That is not something that has just flashed across their consciousness. They have sat down and talked about it at length. The opinions that I have heard are essentially this: they understand that in semi-rural areas such as Newark and Retford there will be a need, perhaps more than in many other areas, for CSOs. They are, therefore, reasonably broad-minded about it. They understand that they can be relieved of many duties by CSOs. They pointed particularly to the detention officer who was in the nick with them that night, and said how much weight he had taken from their shoulders.

None the less, being essentially conservative, perhaps reactionary, they are worried about what the CSOs will do and what powers they will have. They are prepared to accept the imposition of CSOs so long as their chief constable has powers over them that they fully understand. The one thing that they do not agree with and cannot contemplate is the idea of those powers being inconsistent. Giving the idea to Joe Bobby that a Home Secretary could change the powers, apparently at the drop of a hat—I understand that that is deliberate hyperbole—and that what he sees as an up-gunned traffic warden could at short notice be turned into a constable of almost equal power to himself does not help the cause of CSOs.

Therefore, while I understand the need for powers and I think that police officers in rural constituencies understand the need for CSOs, any alteration to those powers should be a matter for primary legislation. The affirmative resolution procedure, followed by a statutory instrument, is all but rubber-stamping. It would—I think that I speak for the police officers in Newark—be a power too far and a clause too far. I hope that the Committee will have the sense to reject the clause.

Mr. Hawkins: I want, briefly, to support what my hon. Friends the Members for South-East Cambridgeshire, for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and for

Column Number: 355

Newark (Patrick Mercer) have said. Specifically, I would say that officers in Surrey have expressed the same views as those reported by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark—they are not restricted to Nottinghamshire. My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the fact that officers in many forces have looked at the matter extremely carefully. It is not something that flashed across their consciousness. One of the reasons why it has been thought about so carefully is because of the enormously helpful analysis of all the Government's proposals in the Police Federation's Police magazine. That publication is always interesting because of the thoroughness with which the federation's correspondents analyse the issues. Naturally, they will often express views that are at odds not only with this Government, but with any Government who are proposing changes. It is right, however, to pay tribute to the fact that the debates in police canteens between officers during pauses in their duties are much informed by the Police magazine.

5.30 pm

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said—with the support of my other hon. Friends—Henry VIII clauses are dangerous. I am sure that the Minister and the present Home Secretary would not misuse their powers in the ways that some of us may be worried about, but such powers will be on the statute book and a future Home Secretary may be tempted to misuse them. In principle, the Conservative Opposition should always be unhappy when a Government are proposing a Henry VIII clause because it leaves the way open for a future Home Secretary to extend the powers dramatically at the drop of a hat, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton said. I do not want to repeat the arguments that have already been advanced, but for the sake of fairness, it is important that the views put to me by officers in Surrey and elsewhere are on the record.

Mr. Denham: We have had a useful debate. I suppose at the heart of it was whether Parliament trusts Parliament to do the job that Parliament has been set up to do. Another place rejected two orders that were introduced under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 on mayoral elections. It is not the case that the affirmative resolution procedure is a purely rubber-stamping exercise. It is an important part of the new clause that the extension of powers is brought within the affirmative resolution procedure. I accept that the problem is whether a Home Secretary in the future brings forward proposals for change, but after consultation and given the limits set out under the new clause, we trust Parliament to do its job and say yea or nay to the extension of powers. Given the constraints and safeguards in the Bill, I believe that we should be willing to do that, but it may be something on which the Committee may wish to divide. No doubt, we shall return to it at a later stage.

As for the specific point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, the reason for the change in wording is that, on reflection, the first draft

Column Number: 356

was ambiguous about whether measures could be subtracted from the powers under schedules 4 and 5 by virtue of the new clause as well as be added to them. Clearly, for reasons that I set out earlier, it would to enable such activity to take place. That is why there has been a change in the drafting. Why it is so extensive, I do not know, but I am sure that that is the reason for the change. I shall not prolong the discussion. The arguments on all sides have been advanced clearly and fairly.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 7.

Division No. 13]

Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Challen, Mr. Colin
Denham, Mr. John
Follett, Barbara
Heppell, Mr. John
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jones, Mr. Kevan
MacDougall, Mr. John
Prentice, Bridget
Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard

Baker, Norman
Brooke, Annette
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Mercer, Patrick
Osborne, Mr. George
Paice, Mr. James

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 43

Offences for which a person may be arrested without a warrant

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: I have a brief query that I hope that the Minister can clear up. In the clause, the Government are proposing to amend a reference to the Theft Act 1968, which, as the Minister knows, is one of the principal foundations of modern criminal law. Like all lawyers, I am very familiar with it. Is there any particular significance in replacing

    ''an offence under section 12(1) of the Theft Act 1968''


    ''one which is a summary offence'',

as is proposed in subsection (4)? I want the Minister to shed some light on that, before we let it through on the nod.

Mr. Denham: One hates to deal with such matters when one is up against an hon. Member who has long experience as a criminal lawyer, and who knows these aspects of the law inside out.

The specific answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that subsection (4) makes a small amendment to section 24(3)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to make it clear that any

Column Number: 357

arrestable offence, which is triable summarily only, is excluded from the power to arrest for an attempt to commit such an offence.

I am unsure whether the Committee wishes me to speak at length on this clause, so I will not go into great detail. It addresses three measures that create difficulties for the police in sensibly enforcing the law; introducing the power of arrest will give them a significant advantage.

I should, perhaps, have known early on in my time as a Member of Parliament that assaulting a police officer is not, directly, an arrestable offence, but I learned that that is the case after I became a Home Office Minister, and I was surprised—as have been most other people with whom I have discussed this matter. We address a lacuna in the law by making this and other changes.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister has a lot of material that he might not want to detain the Committee with this afternoon but, in the light of what he has said, I would find it helpful—as, perhaps, would other Committee members, and in particular those who are also lawyers—if the Minister were to circulate in a letter to us the part of his brief that comes under the heading, ''If pressed'' because I wish to understand what is being done. The Bill does not make that clear.

I do not think that there is anything sinister here, but I would like some clarification. If the Minister is able to say that he will write to me and other Committee members setting out the matter in a little more detail, I am sure that that will suffice.

Mr. Denham: I would be happy to do that.

The key thing that we are trying to do is to enable the police to be in a position where they can arrest suspects after the event—after a suspect has left the crime scene. They are unable to do that at present.

I would be happy to help the hon. Gentleman by setting out that simple concept in as complicated legal language as possible, and to copy in other Committee members. The Committee knows the area where the police are currently unable to take action, and I am sure that it will support closing the gap, as is proposed here.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 June 2002