HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc813-8

Amendment made: No. 50, in page 101, line 22, at beginning insert—

'Sections (Scottish sex offender orders)and (Sex offender orders made in England, Wales or Northern Ireland) and'—[Mr. Denham.]

Mr. Denham

I beg to move amendment No. 51, in page 101, line 40, leave out "96(3)" and insert "96".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 8—Continued deployment of traffic wardens'Police authorities shall continue to appoint persons to discharge, in aid of the police, functions normally undertaken by the police in connection with the control and regulation of, or enforcement of the law relating to, traffic or stationary vehicles unless—

  1. (a) notwithstanding regulations under Part VIII of the Road Traffic Regulations Act, the police authority passes a resolution by 1st January 2004 not to continue deploying traffic wardens; and
  2. (b) that police authority informs the chief officer of police for that police force and the Secretary of State of its decision.'.

Government amendments Nos. 35 and 58.

Amendment No. 100, in schedule 4, page 148, line 41, at end insert— 'Traffic warden powers

(14) Where a designation in this paragraph applies to any person that person shall have all the powers of traffic wardens under—

  1. (a) the Traffic Wardens Order 1970 (SI 1958);
  2. (b) the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984;
  3. (c) the Road Traffic Act 1991; and
  4. (d) the Traffic Wardens Amendment Order 1993 (SI 1334).'.
Government amendment No. 59.

Mr. Denham

I mentioned this group of amendments earlier. Under current legislation, only the police have a general power to stop vehicles and only the police and traffic wardens—in this sense, traffic wardens means those employed by police authorities—have a power to direct traffic. That means that police have to be employed for such purposes as stopping vehicles for emissions tests and escorting abnormal loads, even though their other powers are not required. That is not the best use of police time.

Traffic wardens already have a power to direct traffic. Clause 44 removes restrictions on their power to stop, which will enable them to undertake escorting duties. The amendments clarify the fact that their power to stop includes a power to stop vehicles for tests of their roadworthiness and compliance with construction and use regulations. We will also, by these amendments, give CSOs and accredited persons a limited power to stop vehicles and direct traffic. The power will be solely for the same escorting and testing purposes. The amendments will allow local authority traffic wardens to be given the power to stop traffic for those specific purposes. For the avoidance of doubt, I should emphasise that it will not be necessary to confer on any such local authority traffic wardens any of the other powers that may or may not be conferred on other accredited persons within the force area. They could be accredited and trained only in the use of the power to stop traffic.

The amendments will reduce the number of occasions on which the police have to be diverted from other important tasks to help other agencies and road hauliers, and to carry out work unrelated to crime and public order. That will also benefit the other agencies and hauliers, since they will no longer have to wait on the availability of police, who might then be withdrawn at short notice for more urgent operational duties. That is much less likely to happen with traffic wardens, CSOs and accredited persons. The accredited persons may in fact be the employees of another interested party—for example, the Vehicle Inspectorate—if they have been so accredited by a chief officer of police under the provisions of the Bill. The amendments will free up police time for crime reduction, facilitate the enforcement of other legislation and promote road safety.

Amendment No. 100 would extend all traffic wardens' powers to CSOs. The Government amendments will give certain, tightly defined traffic powers to CSOs such as the power to stop vehicles to help other agencies in particular circumstances. That is not the same as giving all traffic wardens' powers to CSOs. However, if it were desirable locally to ensure that CSOs exercised the full powers of traffic wardens, that could be achieved without amendment No. 100, either by designating someone who is already a traffic warden as a CSO, or appointing a CSO as a traffic warden. We have preferred to add some limited specific powers for traffic wardens to those available to CSOs.

Mr. Hawkins

We think that it is sensible for the Government to provide the opportunity for such tasks as the escorting of exceptional loads to be performed by people other than the police. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance about the level of extra training for those undertaking those tasks. We are conscious that those who perform the specialist role of traffic police, many of whom I have worked with in my previous career at the Bar, have particular experience. The issue has been raised on several occasions, especially in the other place by Earl Attlee, who has particular expertise on the matter, and 1 hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about the extra training that may be available.

With great respect to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and his colleagues, we agree with the Minister that the proposals in the Liberal Democrats' amendment can be achieved without amending the Bill. We would be slightly concerned by the suggestion that anybody who is appointed as a CSO will automatically have all the powers that are currently given to traffic wardens, because that might lead to a confusion of roles. We do not intend that the Bill should create a new category of traffic wardens, and while I understand the sensible motivation behind new clause 8 and amendment No. 100, it is not necessarily the right approach.

Norman Baker

Confusion is the issue, and we have tabled new clause 8 and amendment No. 100 to try to avoid it. The reply to the letter from the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) can be found at paragraph 49 of the Government's response to the Select Committee report, which states: It is, of course, important that the public are not confused by the introduction of CSOs and community safety accreditation schemes. For this reason we want the public to be able to distinguish between police officers, CSOs and members of accredited community safety schemes. The uniform worn by CSOs will make it clear that they are members of the police service, whilst, as is the case with many neighbourhood or street warden schemes, accredited people will probably wear a more casual uniform. In any case, accredited people will be required to wear a badge…which identifies them as members of an accredited scheme. 7.30 pm

Confused? I am. The Government are going to put on our streets special constables who will look like police officers. There is no problem with that, but there will also be CSOs, whose powers will vary from area to area, and they might not even exist in some areas. There will also be accredited officers, who may wear a badge, in addition to their Tesco badges or whatever else they happen to wear. Their powers will also vary from area to area. There will also be local authority traffic wardens, with different powers in different areas.

I drew attention to that confusion on Second Reading, as that is what we want to avoid. Respect for this country's policing system requires that that system commands respect among the public. People must be clear about the powers of officers, and be able to recognise immediately what sort of officer a person is.

At the moment, there is a clear distinction between police officers and traffic wardens, but that clarity will be lost if many new categories of officer are introduced. That will lead to confusion, given that CSOs in different parts of the country will have different powers, if they have them at all. New clause 8 and amendment No. 100 would remove that uncertainty.

Furthermore, we must ensure that the people on our streets are deployed to maximum effect. The Government's intention is to ensure that police officers are not wasted, and that they are not called to deal with trivial matters that could be dealt with by others.

How could it be wrong for traffic wardens on the street to be able to deal with relatively low-grade matters that could be dealt with by a CSO? We suggest that traffic wardens ought to be able to deal with such matters as if they were CSOs. If they are not going to be able to deal with abandoned vehicles or youngsters with alcohol, for example, they will presumably have to call out a CSO. The Government have stated that they want to avoid that duplication of effort, which is a consequence of the proposals in the Bill.

New clause 8 and amendment No. 100 would allow police authorities to decide whether they wanted to rationalise the problem, or whether they wanted to make their employees more effective by giving them the same powers as CSOs. That would also ensure greater understanding of those powers among the public.

I suspect that the Minister will not accept new clause 8 and amendment No. 100. If so, he will be saying that he wants a plethora of people with different powers and that he wants duplication, with the result that people on the street will not be allowed to deal with offences with which they are capable of dealing. I hope that he will reflect on the matter.

I give you notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I should like, at the appropriate juncture, to have a vote on new clause 8, as Liberal Democrat Members consider the matter to be important.

The Government amendments seem eminently sensible. I have no problem with them. I am happy to support them.

Mr. Denham

I shall deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker). I am somewhat perplexed by his determination to divide the House on new clause 8, as it attempts to give to police authorities a discretion that they already enjoy. Perhaps the intention was different, but it seems the oddest thing to divide the House on. However, that is the hon. Gentleman's privilege, of course.

I turn now to the questions of training. It is the responsibility of the chief officer to ensure that people such as accredited officers and CSOs have had the necessary levels of training. As I explained in general terms to the Committee, the training authority Centrex will help to advise on the necessary levels of training, taking into account the competencies required for each of the CSO skills.

The Committee debated the question of standardisation. I have made it clear that the Government recognise that there is a choice to be made. It is undeniable that we are introducing a new element into the policing of our communities and streets. The question is this: do we attempt, before a single CSO has been employed or a single organisation accredited, to predict exactly which set of powers and responsibilities will be right, or do we allow the greater flexibility—what is essentially a menu approach—represented by schedules 4 and 5?

Both options can be argued, but I believe that we shall do better to allow that flexibility at the start. We should allow chief officers, after the necessary consultations, to design schemes that meet the problems of policing, antisocial behaviour and traffic management in their areas.

I believe that, over time, the tendency will be towards some consensus on how best to meet the needs of particular communities. I am sure that professional best practice will take us in that direction. The hon. Member for Lewes raises an important point, but he wants us to leap ahead to a time in the future when there is no doubt about the most appropriate menu of powers. I honestly do not think that we have reached that point yet, and I believe that we will have to live with a little variation between areas until we have been able to establish how best to deploy and use CSOs and accredited community safety officers.

Mrs. Brooke


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Lady is seeking to catch my eye, I advise her that perhaps it would have been more orderly for her to have done so earlier. I can of course call her, but the Minister has already replied to the debate.

Amendment agreed to.

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