HC Deb 07 May 2002 vol 385 cc49-122

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Home Affairs Session Committee, 2001–02, on the Police Reform Bill, HC 612; Thirteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, HC 646, and Fifteenth Report from the Committee, HC 706, Session 2001–02, on the Police Reform Bill.]

Order for Second Reading read.

5.19 pm
The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill has been considered in some detail in the other place, and today we have had the welcome and valuable report from the Home Affairs Committee. Nothing is more important to local communities than the ability to live free from crime and antisocial behaviour, and to live without the fear of being a victim of crime. The effectiveness of the police service is critical to achieving that aim. Up and down the country, dedicated and professional police officers do a difficult, and sometimes dangerous, job well, as we have seen in the past week with disturbances at a football match, the local elections and the May day demonstrations.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so early, but it is usual for the Home Secretary to introduce a Bill of this magnitude. The Minister has not said where the Home Secretary is or whether he is ill. If so, we all send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery, but if not, his place is here.

Mr. Denham

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked me to introduce the Bill this afternoon, having worked on it in great detail. Of course, it is not unusual for Home Office legislation to be introduced by Ministers other than the Home Secretary.

The Bill reflects the Government's commitment to ensuring that the police service—

Sir Patrick Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It really is extraordinary for the Home Secretary not to be present in the Chamber. As I said earlier, if he is ill we all wish him a speedy recovery, but if he is not ill he should be here as the Cabinet Minister in charge of this major legislation. I do not disparage the Minister, for whom I have a high regard. but the Home Secretary's place is in the Chamber when a major Bill is being introduced.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

That is not a matter directly for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is for the Government to decide who should introduce a Bill.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that I have dealt adequately with that point of order.

Mr. Denham

The House will have noted that the Opposition prefer not to concentrate on the issues of effectiveness in fighting crime.

The Bill reflects the Government's commitment to ensuring that the police service is able to do its job as well as it can be done. It underpins the police reform that we have already developed with the police service. Our aim is to continue the reduction in crime; to reduce the fear of crime itself; to improve conviction rates and to target persistent offenders; to tackle antisocial behaviour; and to ensure public confidence in the police service.

Ahead of the legislation, we have already begun to put in place changes that do not require primary legislation. As part of our commitment to reform, we are providing the extra investment the police service needs—an extra £1.6 billion in the three years to 2003–04. In addition, as part of the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced last week that a further £87 million would be made available to the police this year for counter-terrorism and an additional £67 million to fight street crime.

Police numbers are at their highest level ever, with an increase of more than 3,000 in the nine months since March 2001. We are well on track for the Government's target of 130,000 police officers by spring 2003. The police standards unit was established in July 2001 and has already played a key role in co-ordinating between the police service, the Home Office and other agencies in developing the current campaign against street crime. We are making the best of the new technology available to the police service. The DNA database now contains more than 1.6 million profiles and the number of matches to scenes of crime was nearly 60,000 in the year to March 2002. We are rolling out Airwave and have overhauled the police information technology organization—PITO—to ensure effective delivery of police information technology.

We are cutting the bureaucracy that ties up police time, making it possible for the first time to carry out identity parades by video, and introducing the pilot video recording of interviews, which will begin tomorrow in four police forces.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

The Minister referred to rolling out Airwave. When does he intend to reply to the written questions that I tabled on 26 March about the delays to the roll-out of Airwave? Is it not the case that many forces, including my own in Cambridgeshire, will suffer many months' delay because the contracts are not being fulfilled by MmO2 and the roll-out is way behind schedule?

Mr. Denham

I was not aware that there were outstanding parliamentary questions from the hon. Gentleman, but as soon as this part of the debate is concluded I will make inquiries as to where the replies are. I know that I have signed off some, and I will pursue that point.

As with all major contracts, there have been teething problems at the outset of Airwave. However, forces such as North Yorkshire, which have been at the cutting edge, have reported its tremendous effectiveness. I believe that the development of Airwave across the police service will be a significant contribution to modern communications.

We have made clear our determination to tackle the decline in the number of specials, giving them a clearer role in the police service, improving the way in which they are recruited and deployed and giving them greater recognition for the work that they do. In April, we launched Centrex, the new training authority that will also be the focus for the development of best policing practice and the home of the new national centre for policing excellence.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Bearing in mind the very useful work undertaken by special constables, who will, I believe, be known as auxiliary officers from now on, would it not be better to extend their use and perhaps even remunerate them to meet the Government's goals?

Mr. Denham

I do not believe that there are any proposals to rename specials as auxiliaries. Auxiliaries is a term that the Metropolitan police force has used in the context of community support officers, which I am sure we will come to in due course. I do not believe that the House or, more importantly, the police service is faced with a choice between the development of the special constabulary and of community support officers. They are different roles—specials are, at the core, a volunteer service, whereas community support officers would be paid officials. Specials have the responsibilities of sworn constables but CSOs would not. I believe that we can look to a future in which both can play an effective role in carrying out policing and public order duties.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), how far have the Government got in considering having part-time posts for fully qualified and trained police officers who may be past 50 or whose family commitments do not allow them to work full-time? I understand that many people would be interested. Is that likely to be possible within the next year?

Mr. Denham

I was just about to say that I hope that we are close to concluding a new agreement on police pay and conditions through the police negotiating body which will reward officers better and more fairly and give police managers the flexibility required to deliver an efficient and effective policing service that is responsive to changing operational needs. The agreement should also provide greater flexibility in the hours that police officers work, which I think would go some way towards what the hon. Gentleman wants.

We have made it a statutory duty of local authorities to work with the police service to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. We are also putting in place a comprehensive package to tackle street crime in the 10 forces with the worst problems.

These and other measures have had an impact. Crime has fallen overall—according to the British crime survey, it has fallen by 21 per cent. since 1997. However, we are not complacent—there are still more than 5 million recorded crimes. Figures for some types of crime, particularly street robbery, rose over the past year, although in the first eight weeks of the Metropolitan police's safer streets campaign, there has been a reduction in the number of street crime allegations compared with 2001 levels. Only one crime in 10 results in a conviction, and the fear of crime remains high.

The challenge is to work with the police service to ensure that the rising number of police officers, the record resources available and the best of science and technology are used to the best effect. We must ensure that forces co-operate effectively together, make certain that the police receive the support that they need from the wider criminal justice system, make sure that best practice is identified quickly and spread and implemented appropriately across the police service, and raise the standards of forces' performance to the level of the best. That is the purpose of the Bill.

I want to outline the main elements of the Bill and, in doing so, highlight the areas where the Government intend to bring forward amendments to introduce new elements into the Bill or deal with amendments made in another place.

Part 1 is about driving up standards across the police service to the level of the best. There is, of course, already much good practice throughout the country, but the police service has not been as effective as it might be in capturing excellence and ensuring that forces learn from the successes of others. The Audit Commission has identified variations in performance that cannot be explained simply by differences in work load or by the varying circumstances faced by forces.

Part 1 is about raising standards to the performance of the best. It does three things. Through the national policing plan, it will create a coherent national framework designed to ensure that all forces are working effectively together in pursuit of excellence. It will create a framework for the promotion of best practice and ensure that some basic essential elements of policing are approached consistently. It will enable action to be taken in the rare cases where performance is shown to be persistently poor. It will do that by building on the existing tripartite structure of the police service. Throughout, it makes clear the importance of consultation with key organisations, including the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Nothing in the Bill creates a national police force; nothing destroys the tripartite structure; and nothing can lead to the micro-management of forces from Whitehall. Those who want to make such claims would do better to concentrate on the issue about which the public are concerned: how we can ensure high-quality policing in every community.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

One of the organisations that has made precisely those points is my police authority, which states that the provisions of the Bill would radically shift the current balance of responsibility for policing away from local people and local accountability towards greater central direction". Has the authority got that wrong?

Mr. Denham

Yes, I believe that the hon. Gentleman's police authority has got that wrong, although I recognise the concerns about the Bill that were expressed by a number of police authorities. In part, that was a wrong reading of the intents and effect of the Bill. In part, some of those concerns were addressed in another place by making it explicit in the Bill that there would be consultation with police authorities. We had always intended to do that and had made it clear in all previous speeches on the matter. At present, the Home Secretary sets policing priorities; he determines the performance indicators under best value, but there is no single place where all the Government's strategic priorities for the service come together. The national policing plan will set out national priorities for policing: the Home Secretary's policing objectives, best value performance indicators, proposals for issuing guidance, codes of practice and regulations. It will look forward to other priorities, such as the development and roll-out of new IT systems or new targets for police numbers.

The plan will be developed after wide consultation with the national policing forum. The forum will include the APA, ACPO, other police staff associations and representatives of the voluntary sector and victim support groups. We hope that the national policing plan will be debated annually in Parliament.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Is it the intention of Ministers to make the Mayor of London one of the people who has to be statutorily consulted, and to include such a provision in the Bill?

Mr. Denham

It had not been the intention to include provision for consultation with the Mayor of London in the Bill. Part of the measure provides for consultation with appropriate local authorities— where that is the Mayor of London, he would be included in the process. No doubt the matter can be discussed further in Committee if Members choose to raise it.

The national policing plan will identify priorities for the issuing of guidance, codes of practice and regulations and will help to deliver consistently high standards across all 43 forces in England and Wales. I shall deal with the three types of measure in turn.

Regulations, which will be binding in law, will be made when, and only when, it is in the national interest that all forces adopt common practices or procedures to facilitate effective cross-border co-operation. Part 1 also extends the existing power to make regulations in respect of equipment. Regulations could determine a particular type of equipment, where it is the best available, and could also prohibit the use of certain equipment—for example, where there are concerns about its suitability on health and safety grounds.

Codes of practice will bring together established best practice and will be produced after full consultation with the police service, often using the new national centre for policing excellence. Chief officers will have to have regard to those codes, but will retain the professional discretion to decide on their application to local circumstances. Finally, guidance will continue to be issued, as at present, on a purely advisory basis. Much of it will be issued on a non-statutory basis, not only by the Home Office, but by the inspectorate, ACPO and others.

In another place, the original clause 5 was removed from the Bill. We believe that that was a wrong move. It cannot be right that a Government, or Home Secretary, who are rightly held accountable, in the public eye, on issues of law and order, have no means of taking action in support of a community suffering unacceptable levels of crime and unacceptably poor policing performance. No one would suggest that such a power is routinely needed, nor that, in the vast majority of cases, the existing means of tackling poor performance, together with the other measures taken in the Bill, will not work. However, we believe that, properly constrained, the Home Secretary needs the power to act. We will, therefore, in Committee bring back the power to direct chief officers. With that power, we will again bring forward the safeguards, welcomed by the Home Affairs Committee but implicitly rejected by the other place, to address the legitimate concerns that have been expressed about clause 5.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The right hon. Gentleman is most courteous to give way again. Is the Home Secretary proposing to delegate his powers under the Bill to the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Denham

I think that I shall move on.

Part 2 of the Bill establishes the independent police complaints system and a new system for the investigation of complaints—

Simon Hughes

Do the Government not yet understand the principle that was behind the Lords removing clause 5 of the Bill? Law and order is not the responsibility only of the Home Secretary; that responsibility is shared with police authorities. When things go wrong, therefore, people do not—and should not—look only to the Home Secretary to put it right. We do not have a national law and order policy; we have a national framework within which law and order is delivered locally. That is the basis of policing, and it has been for many decades.

Mr. Denham

Indeed. I am not sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman understands the nature of the debates that took place in another place. It was never suggested, and has not been suggested today, that the Home Secretary should be in the front line of addressing every problem that arises in a local police force. The issue is this: what happens in a situation in which the chief constable has clearly failed to respond and in which a police authority has failed to respond effectively? Under those circumstances, should nothing be done, or should the Home Secretary, within the constraints of the Bill in terms of giving people the ability to respond to representations and the chance to put their house in order, be able to act? The Government's view is that, at the end of the day, we should be able to act. The view of the Opposition parties, as I understand it, is that it would be better to leave people with a high crime level and a poor policing service than to do something about it. That is not acceptable.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)


Mr. Denham

The hon. Gentleman says that that is silly, but that is precisely the logic of the Opposition parties on this matter. They have been so desperate to whip this up into a mythological story about centralisation, national police forces and central direction that they have failed to grasp the central issue: if chief constables and police authorities are not able to deliver, who can act on behalf of local communities? None of us expects the power to be used regularly. Clearly, it is a reserve power, as we made clear to the Select Committee, but that power should exist.

Mr. Paice

If the Minister's hysterics mean anything, will he explain why clause 4 remains in the Bill and there has been no effort to remove it? Under that clause, the Home Secretary will still be able to give directions to police authorities. In addition, clauses 28 and 29 deal with resignation when chief constables are not efficient. The Opposition have no problem with the Government taking a role when there is a serious breakdown in local areas. The clause that was removed, however, would clearly abolish the tripartite arrangement. That is why the clause was removed in the other place. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we are opposed to the Home Secretary having any involvement whatever is massively excessive.

Mr. Denham

We will no doubt discuss this issue at greater length in Committee, but the hon. Gentleman's analysis is wrong. I do not believe that the powers available to police authorities under the current legislation—the Opposition parties have made no proposals to change it—give police authorities the ability to tackle some of the issues relating to how chief constables respond not, of course, to individual crimes and individual criminals, but to particular types of crime. Nor do I believe that it is appropriate to see the proposals in the Bill for retirement and suspension as necessarily the best way of dealing with problems of poor performance and policing practice. I believe that the powers in the original clause 5 are necessary to complete the picture.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

One of the points repeatedly made to us was that many chief constables feel that the bureaucratic burden is still increasing rather than diminishing. The creation of a standards unit separate from the inspectorate is part of that problem. Does my right hon. Friend envisage a day when the standards unit and the inspectorate will merge?

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend's question raises two issues. On the burden of information, I accept that a challenge for the police service is to rationalise the number of types of information—often similar but not identical information—that it is required to provide. That would create one set of information that would be useful for the police service in managing its affairs and in responding to various inspectorates, including the Audit Commission and others. We have some way to go, but that is the way in which we want to go.

Bob Russell (Colchester)


Mr. Denham

I do not anticipate the merger of the inspectorate and the police standards unit, as they have different roles. The inspectorate essentially inspects all the police service all the time while the police standards unit will concentrate on particular areas of police activity and police performance. Trying to combine the two in one organisation is more difficult than maintaining them as two separate organisations. I note the prediction in the Select Committee's report, but it does not reflect the Government's view at the moment.

I should now like to make progress. Part 2 establishes the independent police complaints system and a new system for the investigation of complaints against the police and police support staff. These provisions also provide for the investigation of serious conduct matters in cases where no complaint has been made.

I wish to acknowledge the important contribution that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has made to the development of the new complaints system. Its report in the 1997–98 Session was, in many ways, the genesis of these reforms, and today's report broadly endorses the approach that we have taken in the Bill. As there has been extensive consultation with all stakeholders, there is strong support in the service for the new arrangements.

The new system will deliver better accessibility for complainants, greater openness and greater independence—particularly in relation to the investigation of more serious complaints. Improved access will be facilitated by allowing a representative of an aggrieved person or an independent body to submit a complaint on his or her behalf. Greater openness will be secured by a presumption in favour of maximum disclosure of information to a complaint, subject to a sensitivity test. Greater independence will be achieved by conferring on the Independent Police Complaints Commission powers to call in any case.

In the case of the more serious complaints—for example, those involving allegations of serious corruption or racist conduct—the commission will either manage or supervise the police investigation. In the most serious cases, the commission will itself undertake the investigation using its independent body of investigators.

I should like to mention a couple of issues on which we are considering tabling amendments to part 2 to respond to points made in Committee in another place. First, as it stands, part 2 excludes complaints that are about not the conduct of an individual, but operational decisions relating to the direction and control of a force. The Government accept that, in principle, there should be some mechanism whereby public concerns about the policing of major events can be addressed. In the most high-profile cases where serious concerns have been aired about the policing of a major event, we consider that there should be provision for the matter to be independently investigated. We are considering how that might best be done.

Secondly, we will table an amendment to part 2 to strengthen the protection afforded to police officers who report misconduct or criminal wrongdoing by other officers. It is right that in such cases the whistleblower should have the full protection afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, and we will therefore seek to bring police officers within the ambit of that Act. I welcome the support of the Home Affairs Committee for that step.

We intend to make a further change to part 2. In a small number of cases, a person has not been able satisfactorily to pursue his complaint against the police because of the inability of the force to identity the officer responsible for the alleged misconduct. A gentleman—I will not mention his name without his permission—who was allegedly injured by police officers in the disturbances following the England v. Germany game in 1996 is a case in point. To allow for such cases, we will table amendments to make it explicit that complaints against the police can be fully investigated when no officer can be identified. If the investigation does not reveal the identity of the officers responsible, no criminal or disciplinary proceedings against individual officers can follow, but if there is evidence of misconduct we would expect the chief officer to take responsibility and make an apology or ex gratia payment as appropriate.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

We welcome the creation of the independent commission and the Government's proposed amendments. However, we are concerned that the new commission will be swamped by cases because of the availability of manpower and finance. Liberty and others estimate that the commission will deal with only 3 per cent. of complaints. What system will be in place to ensure that it is not swamped? Will it be possible to refer a genuine complaint to a higher level if the complainant so wishes once a case has been through the internal procedures, which is what happens with the local government ombudsman and councils?

Mr. Denham

We will discuss that in detail in Committee. The broad answer is that all complaints will, in the widest sense, come within the ambit of the IPCC. For example, an individual who is dissatisfied with the action taken in a substantial number of cases that would usually be resolved at force level, as at present, will be able to complain to the commission about the handling of his case. That facility is not available at the moment. Clearly, the commission's staff will carry out the investigation in only a minority of cases and the IPCC will directly manage, as opposed to supervising, a further minority of those investigations.

The critical consideration is that the rights of the complainant are built into the system so that someone who is dissatisfied with the handling of the case at a lower level is able to raise that within the commission. It was never the intention that the commission would investigate every complaint, including the malicious cases that inevitably come into the system,. The protection is afforded, however. The IPCC acts as an umbrella over the whole system and is able to issue guidance to ensure that its responsibilities are carried out effectively.

Part 3 relates to the removal, suspension and disciplining of police officers. By their very nature, the powers, especially in respect of chief officers, will be used only as a last resort. This point was reinforced by the Home Affairs Committee in its report and I am happy to reiterate and agree with its view that we are concerned with removal in what will be exceptional circumstances.

Of course, a key part of the wider reform process is to strengthen the leadership of the service through better selection, better training and improved arrangements for professional performance appraisal. The question of the early departure of a chief officer should arise only in the most exceptional circumstances. The Police Act 1996 already provides for the retirement of a chief officer in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. So powers exist for the Home Secretary to call on a police authority to exercise its powers to require the chief officer to retire.

It is against that background that the Bill makes three main changes. First, it provides for the option of resignation rather than retirement. With more chief officers being appointed in their early to mid-40s, when retirement would not be appropriate, that is a sensible change. Secondly, the Bill makes existing procedures less cumbersome. Thirdly, it enables the police authority, either on its own initiative or at the instigation of the Home Secretary, to suspend the chief officer when that is necessary for the maintenance of public confidence in the force. In another place, the Government included in the Bill procedural safeguards in response to understandable concerns raised by chief officers.

Part 4 is divided into two chapters. Chapter 1 will enable the police service to employ and make more effective use of civilian support staff in a variety of new roles. By doing so, the service will be able to free up for front-line operational duties the time of the record number of police officers that we now have and to harness the work of the extended police family in supporting the police in tackling low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. It will also enable the police service to make effective use of specialist skills in tackling crime. Chapter 1 will also allow close working between the police service and other organisations providing part of the extended police family.

Chief officers will be able to designate support staff as investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers. The police reform White Paper stressed the need to improve the skills and strength of police investigating officers. In part, we will do that by enabling officers to develop careers as investigating officers, but we also need to bring in specialist skills-in IT and finance, for example-to strengthen investigating teams. Chapter 1 will enable such people to exercise appropriate police powers.

Our recent study, "The Diary of a Police Officer", found that 43 per cent. of an officer's time was spent in the police station. We can cut that by giving appropriate police powers to support staff to carry out custody and escort duties. Chapter 1 makes that possible.

Martin Linton (Battersea)

Would my right hon. Friend consider extending the power of detention and the power to demand a name and address not only to community support officers but to neighbourhood wardens and street patrols, such as the one that, I am glad to say, started in Clapham Junction this morning? The power to demand a name and address is essential for work against disorder offences.

Mr. Denham

I agree with my hon. Friend, but the Opposition parties in another place disagreed, so we will have to consider that issue in Committee.

Since the Bill was introduced, we have received representations from police forces planning to arrange the provision of detention and escort services by private sector organisations. They want employees of companies involved in that work to have access to relevant powers. Although there is no question of compulsion in that respect, we will be tabling amendments to allow that to take place. As will be the case for designated police authority support staff, powers will be granted to contracted-out staff only where the chief officer is satisfied that the individual concerned is suitable, capable and adequately trained.

Bob Russell

Does the Minister agree with me, and the Home Affairs Committee, that the Government should refrain from including in the Bill measures to allow the employment of civilians to conduct intimate body searches of people who have not even been charged?

Mr. Denham

The Select Committee's arguments on this point were thin, albeit sincere. The power to conduct an intimate search is only rarely used by police officers on detention duty, and the norm, as the PACE code indicates, is for qualified medical practitioners or custody nurses to carry out such searches. Indeed, I understand that last year the power was exercised on only four occasions by police officers in that role, so it would be wrong to have the idea that it is extensively used.

The Government's view is that if we are to allow civilian detention staff to carry out the duties of a police officer in the custody suite, it would be sensible to give them the full range of powers, particularly given that it is not a matter, as the hon. Gentleman said, of employing them for the purpose of conducting intimate searches, and such searches occur very rarely. I am sure that we will return to the matter in Committee, but at the moment we are not persuaded by the Select Committee's conclusions.

Mr. Mullin

If such searches are so rare, it would not cost the Government very much to concede the point, would it?

Mr. Denham

The operational issue, which will need to be considered in Committee, is whether the provision of extra police officers that might be needed to cover the remote possibility would remove the advantage of having civilian detention staff. We must consider that difficulty. The issue is not as straightforward as my hon. Friend suggests, and it would not be worth undermining the potential benefits of having civilian detention officers to cover such a rare circumstance.

Chapter 1 also introduces community support officers, which are another important way of making sure that we use the record and rising number of police officers to best effect. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis see the introduction of CSOs as vital to the policing of London. Following the events of 11 September, the Met diverted considerable resources from the boroughs to guard against terrorist attacks in central London, with an inevitable impact on crime away from Westminster and Docklands. The introduction of CSOs will enable the Met to return officers to fighting street crime and other crime across London.

The Met also intends to use CSOs in what we see as their primary role of providing an increased visible policing presence on the high street, in town centres and on housing estates. Fifteen other forces outside London have also expressed varying degrees of interest in CSOs. It will be a matter for chief officers, in consultation with their police authority, to decide whether community support officers are appropriate for their force area.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

May I tell the Minister how successful and popular the existing community warden scheme has been in my constituency? May I tell him also what reservations police officers in Greater Manchester have expressed to me about the CSO proposals? Does he agree that it is crucial that there is a clear explanation of the distinct legal responsibilities of conventional police officers and CSOs, particularly in respect of powers of detention? Will he be tabling amendments to clarify those powers?

Mr. Denham

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for CSOs. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend talked about the welcome for such measures in his constituency. At least I am listening to the interventions, unlike Opposition Front Benchers. My hon. Friend raised important issues. People will need to understand the powers that CSOs are exercising, and chief constables in particular will need to take account of that in deciding to employ and deploy CSOs.

It is worth remembering that many of the objections to CSOs are almost identical to those made against the introduction of traffic wardens in the early 1960s. It was argued that traffic wardens would be confused with police officers and would divert attention from proper policing. No one would seriously argue that today. In the 1960s, it was radical to have people working for the police service as traffic wardens. In many parts of the country, traffic warden responsibilities are now carried out by people working for the local authority. While I would not suggest for one moment that it is the most popular service in the world, everybody recognises it as necessary for the proper implementation of the law.

It is a good thing that we are not using the time of professional police officers for duties that demonstrably can be carried out, properly according to the powers laid down by Parliament, by people who are not police officers. Those who oppose this change, and therefore oppose the leadership of the largest single police force in this country who want to use these powers, should think a little more carefully about the matter because, in a few years, people will look back on this debate and wonder what the argument was about.

Mr. Cameron

The Minister will have noted what the Select Committee said about welcoming CSOs in those areas that want them, such as London, but can he guarantee that he will not use ring-fenced funding to browbeat all police forces into accepting CSOs?

Mr. Denham

It is perfectly clear in the Bill that the chief constable will have a legal duty to be satisfied about the introduction of CSOs, and there is no power in the Bill to force chief constables to make a decision that they do not believe is in the best interests of their force. However, I see nothing wrong with funds being made available for the development of CSOs. This is a new area of policy and we want to kick-start it. We want to free up police officers' time for fighting street crime and other serious crime, and I see nothing wrong with making funds available to develop CSOs.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, certainly in my area, the issue is not so much the creation of CSOs but their long-term deployment? Will he confirm that it will be the responsibility of each individual chief constable to decide how and in what circumstances those officers are deployed?

Mr. Denham

The Bill is clear; the chief constable is rightly responsible for making decisions about those officers, as well as their training and deployment.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)


Mr. Denham

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Letwin

I am grateful to the Minister and do not want to detain him for long. Will he guarantee never to compel a police force to adopt an action plan that includes the forced deployment of CSOs?

Mr. Denham

To say that there could never be a point in future—[H0N. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Let us be clear; at some point in future it may be clear to everybody, including the community which is suffering, that policing is not being approached in the most effective way, so it would be ridiculous to go through the whole range of measures today and say, "We will never do this or that." The intention behind the Bill is not to use clause 5, when reintroduced, or any other clause to impose CSOs. However, if we are looking at established best practice, I do not want today to say that any particular measure must always be ruled out because that would be wrong and dishonest of me. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts my assurance that the intention is not, and never has been, to use the Bill or clause 5 as a back-door route to impose CSOs.

In another place, amendments were made with the intention of wrecking the development of CSOs. We believe, as do the Metropolitan police, that the power to require a person's name and address in certain clearly defined circumstances and the power to detain someone for a limited period of time using reasonable force are important to the work of CSOs. We shall introduce amendments to restore those powers to the Bill, which also provides for chief officers, in partnership with local authorities and others, to establish community safety accreditation schemes. Such schemes will enable the work of neighbourhood and street wardens and the like to be more effectively co-ordinated with the police. Accreditation will be subject to a dual-key procedure. Both the chief officer and the local authority or other employer need to agree before any powers are conferred on wardens or security staff. The Bill specifies a more limited range of powers which may be conferred on them, compared with community support officers.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Denham

I am sorry, but I must make progress.

During debate on those provisions in the other place, there was broad support for the proposal that the chief constable of the British Transport police should be able to establish community safety accreditation schemes. Accreditation of such security personnel would bring immediate benefits in tackling antisocial behaviour on the railways, so I propose to introduce amendments to bring the British Transport police within the ambit of the accreditation arrangements.

The other place saw fit to overturn the conclusions of its own Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee by rejecting the power to amend chapter 1 of part 4 by order. The Home Affairs Committee acknowledged that the powers of CSOs may need to be amended in the light of experience, so we shall need to look at how best to ensure that the Bill confers the necessary flexibility.

Chapter 2 of part 4 includes provisions to modify and supplement police powers. There is not time to mention all of them, so I will confine my remarks to two areas. As the law stands, an unconscious driver can avoid prosecution for a drink-driving offence because he is unable to consent to the taking of a blood sample. The Bill therefore enables a blood sample to be taken from an unconscious driver for subsequent analysis once he has regained consciousness and consents to the analysis. As now, a refusal to agree to the analysis will be a criminal offence. The Bill provides for nurses to take blood samples in routine road traffic cases, but since its introduction we have received representations from chief officers that that does not go far enough. It is important that the person taking the blood or other intimate sample is appropriately qualified and trained; their job title is irrelevant. We will therefore introduce amendments to enable qualified paramedics to take samples both under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The Bill includes measures further to enhance the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders. I shall not go into them in detail, but I know that they will be welcomed on both sides of the House, given our previous debates on ASBOs.

Part 6 removes the anachronistic bar on foreign nationals other than Commonwealth nationals and citizens of the Irish Republic joining the police service. As in other walks of life, recruitment to the police service should be assessed on merit and determined according to relevant objective criteria. A person's place of birth does not provide evidence of whether he or she would make a good police officer.

Finally, I shall deal with sex offender orders and give notice to the House of two more amendments that we will introduce in Committee. Sex offender orders are an important tool in the management of the most dangerous offenders living in the community. If someone previously convicted of a sex offence starts to act in such a way that the police believe that he may soon reoffend, they can apply for a sex offender order, which includes a list of prohibitions designed to prevent him reoffending. If he breaches any of those prohibitions he can be sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment. For the majority of offenders subject to an order the existing system works well, but it has become apparent that there are real problems when the police have to deal with offenders who move from one area to another part of the country or between the separate jurisdictions of the United Kingdom.

We would therefore like to amend the law in two interrelated ways. First, we propose giving police throughout the UK greater flexibility in the way in which they apply for orders and, secondly, because the original provisions applied separately to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we propose to make them apply across the UK as a whole. In addition, we would like to provide for interim sex offender orders in England and Wales, which would allow us to deal more effectively with the most urgent cases, and follows the success of interim orders in Scotland.

The Police Reform Bill will help the police service to deliver a better and more consistent service to the public. It will build on successes over the past five years in reducing crime and tackling antisocial behaviour, while recognising that much more still needs to be done. Reform is essential if the police are to meet public expectations of improved public services; I believe that the police service recognises the need for reform, and is up to the challenge. The Bill will give it the means to get on with the job, and I commend it to the House.

6.6 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

The Minister will be congratulated by the Home Office; he was clearly given a brief to speak fast and say little, and he has succeeded admirably. This is a major Bill; it is one of the most significant Bills introduced by the Government this Session and we agree with or acquiesce in roughly 98 per cent. of it. However, we disagree almost wholly with 2 per cent. of it., as the Home Secretary knows. He knows that the House of Lords took the same position after mature reflection, because the Bill includes major issues of principle that will change entirely the relationship between the Government in Whitehall and the country's police forces. He knows those things, because he has spoken about them. However, he has chosen to make a speech in Cardiff about a Bill that he removed from this Session's legislative timetable. It is possible that he lacks influence over the business managers of the House, but that is doubtful.

It is also unlikely that the Home Secretary was entirely unaware that our debate was rescheduled for a later hour as a result of the concoction of several other parliamentary events this afternoon. We are led to believe by the evidence before us that the Home Secretary wishes the Bill, as far as possible, to disappear. I have news for him: we will not allow it to do so. We are debating a major issue which deserves consideration because the Government are taking, for understandable and perfectly upright reasons, a wrong turn in British history. We must make sure that that wrong turn is not taken.

The primary issue concerns what used to be clause 5. The Minister and the Home Secretary have consistently maintained—the Minister did so today—that it does not fundamentally alter the relationship between Whitehall and police forces. The Minister maintained that it does not give the Home Secretary a new power of direction over police forces. A reading of the clause, after the Government's propositions were half-added to it, but before its removal by the Lords, does not bear out that interpretation.

The clause is headed "Power to give directions to chief officers". It tells us that the Home Secretary, who is mentioned 21 times in the first four pages of a Bill that he does not choose to defend in the House, will have the power to ensure that whenever he, and not somebody else, judges that any police force, or any part of any police force, is not efficient—efficiency to be determined and defined by him—he may direct the chief officer of police of the force to prepare and submit…'an action plan'".

Now, if there were merely those two subsections, we could have thought that the Home Secretary intended the initiative to lie with the chief constable, but that is not the case. In subsection (4) we are told that if the Home Secretary does not like the action plan, he has the power to revise that plan in accordance with the directions of the Secretary of State". If the chief constable does not choose to revise the plan, he may then be forced to resubmit the plan … with the required revisions". The fact is—this cannot be denied by anyone who reads the plain text of the Bill that was before us and which the Minister tells us he intends to reinstate—that the Bill, for the first time in our history, consciously gives to the Home Secretary the power to determine the way in which each of the police forces of this country goes about policing the district or districts for which that force is responsible.

It is open to argument whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, and I would have had considerable respect for the Minister's position, and in particular for the Home Secretary's position, if the Home Secretary had come to the House today and argued openly for that proposition. He believes, and I can understand that belief, that he is sitting there in Whitehall—he has said as much repeatedly in the media—holding levers which, when he pulls them, have no visible effect on policing in this country. I sympathise with that feeling of frustration.

The Home Secretary and I share many desires to see, for example, the police back on the streets of our country. I understand that he would like the power to direct chief constables how to deploy their forces, but if he wishes to have that power he ought to come and defend the proposition. There are two arguments that the Home Secretary would have needed to meet and which the Minister would have needed to address in order to carry any conviction on that point.

The first argument is one of principle. However the process starts in practice, it could all too easily end by a politician in Whitehall exercising such influence over the day-to-day activities of chief constables and of those in command of the basic command units in their territories that, in effect, he begins to be the chief of police. There is a great danger to our democracy lurking in that proposition.

I do not say that the current Government would wish to abuse that power; they would not. I do not say that an immediately future Government would be likely to abuse it; they would not. But some day, people would look back at that clause and identify it as the moment when we had begun to slip into tyranny. That is too great a danger. [Interruption.] No, it is not hyperbole. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We are sent to the House to be vigilant. We are sent here to look forward to possibilities with which legislation is pregnant, and the Bill is pregnant with that possibility.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham)

It is a strange and novel concept that the Conservative party is the defender of freedom. We do not need to look forward. For a good example of national policing, should we not look back to 1984 and 1985, when many constituents in North Durham and other mining communities saw the effects of a police force under the direct control of Margaret Thatcher and a Conservative Government?

Mr. Letwin

I am genuinely astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that the only reason why the law-abiding citizens of this country were willing to tolerate the police action at that time was precisely because of the operational independence of the chief constables, and because it was understood that the Home Secretary of the day did not have the power to direct their actions. If the hon. Gentleman believes that that is a principle of the rule of law which is worth defending, he cannot possibly subscribe to the reinsertion of the clause.

Mr. Jones

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that at that time police forces throughout the country were being directed centrally by Government—yes or no?

Mr. Letwin

No, they were not, in practice or in theory. The duty of the police forces of this country is and has been for decades and, indeed, centuries to maintain the rule of law, not the rule of a politician. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues do not understand that distinction, they do not understand the foundations of our democracy.

There is a second argument that the Minister would have had to address. I accept that one might be willing to tolerate even such an attack on the foundations of the rule of law if there were an overwhelming practical advantage in the prevention of crime to be gained by so doing. Crime is so dreadful and so prevalent, and street crime is such a problem, that if we could be persuaded that by that means the Government would bring about a vast reduction in it, there would be a serious argument to counterpoise against the argument from the rule of law.

We must ask ourselves the question—I urge the Minister to ask himself the question, and if the Home Secretary can be contacted, I urge him to ask himself the question—whether there is the slightest shred of evidence that, of all the bodies in Britain, the Home Office is the one most able to bring about the efficient deployment of anything. This is the Home Office that has created an asylum system which, by the Home Secretary's own admission, is in chaos. [Interruption.] Labour Members may not like the recitation, but the truth remains visible to the population, the media and hon. Members.

This is a Home Office that has not been able to run an effective asylum system. It is a Home Office that cannot run an effective Passport Agency. It is a Home Office that has prisons with recidivism rates among the highest in the world. This is a Home Office that cannot pretend that it has vastly more efficient means at its disposal than our police forces have at theirs.

In the whole of rather a long speech delivered at a great rate, the Minister did not give us the slightest argument for supposing that there will be greater efficiency. He hardly mentioned the clause. The Select Committee on Home Affairs examined it seriously. It entertained reservations and supported the clause with great reluctance and modification, but the Home Secretary and his Minister have not chosen to take on the argument. That is extraordinary. There are two arguments against a signal clause—the clause that causes all the fuss: an argument from the rule of law and an argument from practice, and what do we hear? Nothing. A blank. A vacuum.

Sir Patrick Cormack

My hon. Friend is making an extremely good case, as he always does, and making it powerfully. Has he had any indication that the Home Secretary will play some part in the passage of the Bill? Will he be a member of the Committee? Will he at some stage stand at the Dispatch Box and defend and explain the Bill? If not, not only is the House being subjected to an insult of monumental proportions, but Henry VIII powers are being taken in absentia.

Mr. Letwin

I have not had such an indication. My hon. Friend knows, I know and the entire House knows that the reason why the Home Secretary is seeking by every means at his disposal to play down the Bill is that he does not want to enter into those two arguments. I do not know why he thinks he will lose them, but I suspect that the reason is that they are very difficult to win.

I hope that before we have ended, the Home Secretary will, in response to my hon. Friend, have played a role in the Bill. By the time the Bill is sent back to the Lords, and the Lords, as I profoundly hope, with the assistance of our allies on the Liberal Democrat Benches and the Cross Benches there, have sent it back to this House, I hope that the Home Secretary and others and I will have the chance to negotiate the clause out of existence.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he concede that some communities in the UK are exasperated by the performance of their local police authorities? After the authorities' failure to engage with them in improving performance, they must look elsewhere and seek the Home Secretary's intervention. If people cannot count on such intervention, must they be satisfied with the appallingly dismal service that they receive in relation to the elements of crime that are not effectively tackled in their community?

Mr. Letwin

We often hear that structure of argument, and it leads to perdition. What the hon. Lady is actually saying is that we should give up on local democracy and local accountability, and that whenever and wherever they do not happen to work at a given moment, we should seek to centralise to solve the problem. That is the structure of her argument and that of the Home Secretary. It suffers from twin deficiencies, as by centralising we threaten the foundations or our democracy and do not achieve the efficiency that she rightly seeks. There is no evidence to show that the Home Office is efficient. The real way of solving the problem in some areas to which she alludes is to increase and not reduce local accountability and the effectiveness of local communities in ensuring that they are policed in the way they want. The Government have not made any proposals in that regard. Had they done so, we would have considered them constructively and worked with the Government to try to implement them.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), does the hon. Gentleman recognise the problem that communities face when they cannot get the services that they desire? The existing system of accountability for police forces, which operates through the police authority, is not the same as local accountability to locally and democratically elected politicians. That failure of the democratic process in the police accountability system is one of the factors that causes many of us great frustration in seeking to exercise some degree of control or influence over our local police authorities.

Mr. Letwin

I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. In the United States, there are 18,000 police forces and local communities feel that they have the ability to influence the way in which they are policed. In Britain, there are 43 police forces and most people do not currently feel that they have the ability at local level—or at what passes for it in Britain—to affect the way in which they are policed. I repeat that if the Government had brought forward what they should have brought forward—proposals to try to restore and increase the degree of effective local accountability—we would have been working with them and not against them. However, they have moved in the opposite direction, which will further distance people from the feeling that they can affect how they are policed.

Mr. Denham

It would probably be helpful for our further discussion if the hon. Gentleman were to expand a little on the ideas that he is advancing and has aired previously on the "Today" programme. Is he suggesting the direct election of police chiefs at local level? Is he saying that the police force should come under the control of the local county council—or what? It would be very helpful to the House to hear exactly what he is proposing.

Mr. Letwin

We will, in due course—[Laughter.] In due course and in our own time, we will make our own proposals to achieve an aim that the Government should share. They have 600,000 civil servants at their disposal and they are the current Government of the United Kingdom. It was up to the Government to make proposals. As they have not done so, we will do so before the next election, and our proposals will be in tune with the general propositions that we set out at our Harrogate conference: there should be more, not less, localism and less, not more, centralisation. When we make those proposals, the Minister will have to explain why they are wrong. I suspect that he will find it a good deal more difficult to do so than we find it to show what is wrong with his proposals for centralisation.

Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman knows that his party and mine are at one on this issue. Does he agree that there is an inconsistency between the arguments that are being advanced? On the one hand it is argued that to make people feel that local government is more important and to encourage them to vote more, they should be given more power, not less. Yet on the other hand, to make people have more confidence in the police and more desire to become engaged in the local police authorities' activities and to be involved in local decisions, the Bill seeks to ensure that they have less power, not more. Surely that position is entirely inconsistent, and works against engaging the public with the police and in working alongside them and in their democratic management.

Mr. Letwin

I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman. We did not hear an argument from the Minister, so I do not know whether he is saying that centralisation will by some miracle achieve localisation, but I doubt it. I imagine that he would admit—although he did not do so—that the measures will diminish and not increase local participation and a sense in local communities that they can influence the criminal justice system. As he did not mention that position, however, he did not defend it, so we do not know what his argument is. All I know is that that argument would be difficult to mount effectively, and I suspect that that is the reason why we have not heard it.

I should like to turn now to the only other parts of the Bill with which we have major problems. Apart from a brief tour d'horizon, the Minister was again remarkably silent about them. Communication between the Home Office and the Prime Minister has also obviously been lacking. To judge from what the Prime Minister repeatedly says at Prime Minister's Question Time, it appears that he is under a misapprehension, which I shall correct. He repeatedly asserts that the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives oppose community support officers. I think—I have never quite been able to disentangle the matter, either at the time or by reading the text—that he may be under the misapprehension that community support officers and accredited schemes are the same. I do not know, but it is clear that he thinks—or says that he thinks—that we oppose those items. We do not, we never have done and we did not do so in the House of Lords. It would be as well if someone in the Home Office were to inform him of those facts.

What we have opposed and the House of Lords has rejected are two specific powers, which are in fact the same power in relation to two separate items: community support officers and accredited schemes. They are the powers of detention or semi-arrest. That is the issue that is before the House. The Minister did not address it in any detail, but it is important, and again, I understand the argument that he might have advanced for supposing that the limited power of detention is important.

The argument has been advanced by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Deputy Commissioner, who have a perfectly rational case. Their argument is that as they will not quickly obtain through the training schools and from the Chancellor sufficient numbers and funds to put proper numbers of policemen and women back on our streets, it would be better if they could quickly put on the streets as community support officers a group of people who do not require so much training and are rather cheaper. A rational case has also been made by local authorities, including Conservative groups, which have argued that in the absence of sufficient numbers of police officers, it would be good to put quasi-police officers on their streets through the accredited schemes.

We understand those arguments and have some genuine sympathy with them. Indeed, as we proceed with negotiations about the Bill, and as the two Houses undoubtedly find themselves in opposition to each other, we would be willing to concede that some form of experiment or restricted group of experiments should take place. There is much to be said for experimenting on this matter, but that is not what the Bill would have done or will do in the state in which the Government presented it to the House of Lords and wish to present it again.

When the Government have reinserted the missing clauses, including old clause 5, the Bill will do precisely what the Minster had to admit in response to a question that I asked him during his speech. He and his Home Secretary will be given power to use the action plans in clause 5 to force forces the length and breadth of this country to adopt community support officers in place of proper police officers. They will be able to use Treasury influence and ring fencing, and in the last resort they will be able to use clause 5. I doubt that they will ever have to do so; its existence will ensure that they do not have to use it. That is the way in which Whitehall works.

Under the Bill as it was presented to the House of Lords—and as it will go back to the Lords if the Government have their way, as they will in this House—the Government will have the ability to try to make up for policing deficiencies by introducing a wide range of community support officers who are much less trained and paid somewhat less than police officers, and who have powers that parallel, but do not quite match, those of police officers. We believe that that would be a wrong turning.

Mr. Denham

It will be important to look back at the Official Report to see the reply that I gave earlier. What I said about clause 5 powers was that I did not want to constrain in general the ways in which they might be used in future; I was not dealing specifically with CSOs. I want to make that clear. Nothing in clause 5 overrules the provision elsewhere in the Bill that it must be the chief constable's decision whether he or she wishes to appoint CSOs. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his interpretation of what clause 5 would do. It is very important that that is understood between us and that I leave him in no doubt about the fact that the chief constable decides whether CSOs are to be appointed, as the Bill makes clear. No doubt the matter can be further explored in Committee.

Mr. Letwin

Let us explore it more now. I invited the Minister to preclude the possibility of the clause being used under any circumstances to place in the action plans a requirement for CSOs. He refused to preclude that possibility. The structure of my argument is clear. I am not saying that the Home Secretary will seek overnight to use clause 5 to enforce action plans everywhere to bring about CSOs. That is not how Whitehall works. The process will start with ring fencing and Treasury pressure, beneath which lurks the threat of the use of clause 5. Which chief constable or chief superintendent in charge of a basic command unit will want to have to undertake the experiment of discovering what happens when he is forced into an action plan?

The only safeguard against that line of argument is for the Minister to say that use of the clause is absolutely precluded—in which case, let that be included in the Bill. The provision was never there, and it is not there now. We are not debating a measure that will be debated in a court of law, in which case Pepper v. Hart would be relevant and the Minister's assurances would be useful. We are dealing with administration, and that works through combining the massive power of the Treasury and the Home Office to enforce patterns of action on chief constables. That is what we fear. We are willing to countenance a restricted group of local experiments, but not portmanteau powers.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

The hon. Gentleman denies that he opposes the introduction of community service officers, so will he tell us what powers he would like them to have?

Mr. Letwin

They are called community support officers, but let us not worry about that.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman what powers I should like CSOs to have, because they are listed in schedule 4, which he may or may not have seen. There are vast numbers of them, and we support them all except those on detention. The powers are as follows: the power to issue fixed penalty notices; the power to require a name and address; the power to use reasonable force, which, oddly, survived, although it will not be necessary if the detention order is removed; powers relating to alcohol consumption and the confiscation of alcohol; powers relating to the confiscation of tobacco; powers relating to entry to save life or limb; powers relating to seizure of vehicles; powers relating to abandoned vehicles; powers relating to carrying out road checks; powers relating to cordoned areas; and powers to stop and search vehicles in authorised areas.

As we have said—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will mention this to the Prime Minister, as he may have been the source of the Prime Minister's confusion in the past— our subscribing to all those powers is not the same as opposing CSOs. It is important that political debate is conducted honestly, not on the basis of smears.

Lady Hermon (North Down)

Would the hon. Gentleman feel more comfortable with CSOs having the power to detain if the form of declaration in clause 68 was extended to them, so that they would have to declare that they would uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people? That would refer them to the power of detention in the Human Rights Act 1998. Would that clarify the matter and ease the hon. Gentleman's concerns?

Mr. Letwin

It might slightly, but we are dealing more with a practical problem than a question of the legal framework.

The signal moment when the state expresses its power over the citizen is the moment of arrest. That is the single most important thing that the state can do to a citizen. Ultimately, it underlies the rest of the panoply of the state's powers—for example, as regards taxation. One has to pay one's taxes because one might be arrested and put in prison if one does not. The moment of arrest is not a minor issue: it is the crux of the relationship between state and citizen. In this country, it has for many years been carried out exclusively by people who hold the office of constable or are otherwise very highly trained—for example, Customs and Excise officials. The whole purpose of these measures, if applied nationally, is to avoid the need for the individuals concerned to be so highly trained and to have such authorities, duties, obligations and constraints as police officers have. Were it not so, there would be no point in introducing CSOs. They would not be needed if they had the same level of training, expertise, authorities and obligations, because they would be police officers.

Methods are being devised to enable groups such as Transport for London to police, say, the buses—it could be a local area—at their own expense through a contract with the Metropolitan police. A similar method already obtains in another of our great cities. Those are perfectly acceptable means of carrying forward a programme for bringing more money into policing. If CSOs and accredited officers are given the power of detention, that is the signal moment at which the trained constable, with all that that term implies, ceases to be the principal person in England and Wales who can arrest people. We should not take that lightly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

What about a citizen's arrest?

Mr. Letwin

As the Under-Secretary says from a sedentary position, apart from the rare occurrence of a citizen's arrest.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham)

As the Under-Secretary said, in some circumstances individuals can exercise the power of arrest. The hon. Gentleman should accept that that is the current position in law, not—in error, I am sure—misrepresent the situation to the House.

Mr. Letwin

I do accept it, because it is true. That is why I said so. At least I try to be truthful. There is a point that may have eluded the hon. Gentleman. When one citizen arrests another, the power of the state is not being used to make the arrest, but the people we are discussing will be regarded by the general public—with good reason—as expressions of the power of the state. It is extraordinarily important that those individuals should be endowed with sufficient resources in their training, obligations and many other respects so that they do it in the best possible way. That is why we heartily subscribe to the independent complaints procedure in the Bill.

We are all trying to make the police better at arresting people, then along comes the Minister with what is in effect a framework for a national plan for less well trained community support officers and accredited officers who will effectively, if with some limitations, carry out the power of arrest without the necessary apparatus to protect the citizen. That is a dangerous way to go. It is a substitute for the way that we should be going, about which I thought that I was in agreement with the Home Secretary. We want to see our police forces back on our streets taking control, not other people.

Ian Lucas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. First, the law bestows on an individual the power to arrest another. We are discussing the rule of law and specific circumstances under which we will allow one person to arrest another. The Bill provides for accreditation and training schemes to deal with such circumstances. Community support officers will be trained within the limits that the Bill sets out. It is simply incorrect to say that the Bill does not deal with the fundamental right of one individual to arrest another.

Mr. Letwin

The difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's argument is that it ignores the facts. Some—I believe that it may be only one—of our police forces want to employ CSOs because they believe that the training period will last approximately three weeks, in huge contrast to training a constable. The police believe that they can get CSOs on to the streets quickly, without undergoing prolonged training.

The hon. Gentleman misses another point. The advantage to the Treasury is that CSOs will be cheaper; they will not be paid as much as constables. That is another reason for the Government's wish to proceed with them. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the Home Secretary has admitted it. He said that they were cheaper. [Interruption.] The Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs says that that is not a bad reason.

As long as CSOs are not arresting citizens, I say, "Hear, hear." All the other powers are fine; of course I back support for the police. We would agree to conducting an experiment, which I hope will ultimately happen, but introducing a measure on a national scale whereby people with three weeks' training and on lower pay wander around arresting people is a bad direction for our police forces to follow.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire)

The hon. Gentleman wills the end but not the means. He wants CSOs, but he will not give them the power to do the job. Indeed, his proposal would almost make fools of them.

He says that he supports giving them the power to impose fixed penalty notices and, therefore, to demand the name and address of the person involved. However, under his proposals a person who refused to provide the information could simply walk away and the CSO would have no power to detain until a police officer arrived. The hon. Gentleman would make fools of the CSOs.

Mr. Letwin

I find that argument extraordinary because earlier the Minister rightly defended traffic wardens. He defended them against nobody because no one opposes them. According to the hon. Gentleman's argument, traffic wardens would be useless, yet they are not. We perceive CSOs and accredited officers as useful. However, the system whereby traffic wardens impose fixed penalty notices works well. [Interruption.] The Minister knows that well, despite his sedentary chuntering. The number of people who pretend that they are not the person with whom the traffic warden is dealing is nugatory.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth

Number plates.

Mr. Letwin

It is true that the notice is attached to the number plate, but there are few instances of people trying to deny their identity or ownership of the car. That is not the pattern of action. When a fixed penalty notice is issued by somebody in a uniform, people in this country are willing to accept that on the whole.

If the Minister or the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) had in mind great crooks or a gang of violent youths, let us consider the power of detention that they believe will salvage the situation. The circumstances are utterly different from those with which traffic wardens deal. How will a 30-minute power of detention, until a policemen arrives, tackle the problem effectively? Why will everything be put right in that period?

Mr. O'Brien

A traffic warden is in an entirely different position from a CSO. The number plate is the issue for a traffic warden, whereas in the sort of circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes, a CSO would require a name and address. One of the main problems that police officers constantly experience when they nick someone is getting the correct information about identity. If CSOs do not believe that the person has provided the correct identity, they must have the power to detain the individual till a police officer arrives and decides whether to exercise his full powers of arrest. Without that power, the CSO has no real relevance. I repeat that the hon. Gentleman would make a fool of the office.

Mr. Letwin

I simply do not understand the hon. Gentleman's structural argument. I read out the list of powers, including, for example, the seizure of cars. I do not understand how lack of the ability to detain will affect that power. In Committee, we will go through case after case in which there is no such link. The hon. Gentleman said that the CSO could detain until the police officer arrived. That is not true; he can detain for 30 minutes. If no police officer arrives, he has to let the person go. The potential for practical problems in the scheme is enormous. The only rational means of deciding between us is conducting a few experiments, not a national scheme that is imposed by the mechanics of Treasury ring fencing, allied to the hidden effects of a reinstated clause 5.

I must not speak for much longer; I have been speaking for about 50 minutes.

Mr. Mullin

Forty minutes.

Mr. Letwin

I apologise.

The critical issues are whether the former clause 5 will be reinstated—I hope that I have at least pointed out the argument to which the Minister did not want attention drawn—and whether we give powers of detention to the CSOs and the accredited schemes. I hope that hereafter we can at least debate those crucial matters, not evade them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

I remind hon. Members that the Speaker has set a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

6.47 pm
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

In keeping with the spirit of the times, the Select Committee on Home Affairs has attempted a little pre-legislative scrutiny. The report of our inquiry, which was inevitably hastier than we would like, was published this morning. We took oral evidence from all the main interested parties and took into account the deliberations in another place.

Although the welcome for the Bill has not been universal, it is fair to say that there is widespread support for the Government's general aim of improving the quality of service that the police can offer the public, especially by freeing more officers for front-line duties and giving chief officers the tools that they need to manage effectively. Above all, there is a need for the public to perceive that they are getting value for the considerable sums of public money that we invest in our police. At the moment, there is a suspicion that they are not.

I shall deal mainly with the issues that have provoked controversy: first, the provisions in part 1 that would give the Home Secretary power to intervene in local forces, down to a basic command unit. Almost all our witnesses, except, of course, the Minister believed that that was a bridge too far. As the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said, the power could easily be abused by a Home Secretary who was less scrupulous than the current incumbent.

The Association of Police Authorities was especially offended that the Bill, as originally drafted, placed the Home Secretary under no obligation to consult a local police authority before intervening. Since then, the Bill has been amended in another place, and a clause allowing the Home Secretary to direct chief officers has been removed. As the Minister said, the Government want to reintroduce a similar provision in Committee. They tabled an amendment in the other place that takes account of the widespread objections to the original proposal.

The Select Committee believes that it would be acceptable for the original clause 5 on directions to chief officers to be reinstated, together with the inclusion of the additional safeguards in Lords amendment No. 42. However, we shall watch carefully the way in which the powers are exercised.

The hon. Member for West Dorset said that we needed a few experiments to ascertain what worked. I agree, but I emphasise that we shall get a few experiments because not every force will sign up to the scheme to which he referred. Those first in the queue are therefore likely to constitute the experiments and we shall gain a clear sign of the way in which they will work.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he would be happy with only a very limited number of experiments being allowed on the face of the Bill?

Mr. Mullin

I see no need to put them on the face of the Bill because I am confident that, initially, only a handful of forces will sign up to this. Let us see what happens. I do not have a problem with that.

It is fair to say that there is widespread scepticism about—not to say downright opposition to—the proposal for community support officers from most parts of the police, particularly in relation to the powers of detention. Strong support comes from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who is keen to make use of them. The Minister has been at pains to assure us that community support officers would be optional, and that if a force did not wish to use them, it need not do so. If that is the case, and given that forces such as the Met are keen to make use of them, my Committee sees no reason to object. If the experiment works, others will try. If it does not, they will not. There is nothing to be lost by trying, and, personally, I am optimistic.

On the powers of CSOs, it has been pointed out that it is unlikely that they would operate alone in potentially dangerous areas late at night. The odds are that they would be used in conjunction with fully trained police officers. A majority of the Committee took the view that the proposals should be left as they are for the time being. I also take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) that CSOs would be ineffective in most situations if they did not have the power of arrest.

On complaints, there was widespread welcome for the proposed Independent Police Complaints Commission. Although some witnesses were concerned that the proposal did not go far enough, we believe that it is a big step forward and that its independence would be enhanced if its chairman were to be appointed—like the Comptroller and Auditor General—with the advice and consent of the House of Commons and not simply by the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Government could give some thought to that.

I now turn to several matters which are not in the Bill, but which, in our opinion, should be. It has been put to us, and we agree, that police officers should be brought within the scope of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998—the so-called whistleblowers Act. I welcome the Minister's commitment on that point. Secondly, we believe that there is a good case—as recent events at Yarl's Wood have demonstrated—for repealing the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 which makes police authorities liable for damage caused during a riot. This Bill may or may not be the right place to do that, but it presents a window of opportunity and the Minister might wish to reflect on this point.

Thirdly, we remain concerned about the huge and inexplicable variation—ranging from 9 to 63 per cent.—in retirements on medical grounds. The Metropolitan police have suggested a number of improvements to the regulations surrounding medical retirements and injury awards. We appreciate that, as the Minister said, these do not require primary legislation, but we would like to hear, during the course of this Bill's passage, what plans he has for dealing with this issue.

Finally, in view of the tight time scale, it would be helpful if the Home Office could reply to the Select Committee's report in time for the House to take the Government's response into account on Report. I would appreciate the Minister's assurance on that point.

In conclusion, people are crying out for more effective, visible policing. This is especially true of people in the poorer areas of the country such as the one that I represent. The problem is not organised crime, but disorganised crime. The lives of many of the people I represent have been made miserable by out-of-control youths against whom the criminal justice system is all too often ineffective. This is not simply an issue of resources. It is a matter of priorities and proper management of existing resources. I have long taken the view that a hundred policemen on bicycles would be more effective than two in a helicopter, although those propositions are not mutually exclusive.

Police officers used to live in the communities that they served, but one effect of the big pay increases awarded in the early 1980s was that they all got mortgages and moved up to the posher end of town. I remember a police inspector's wife in my constituency telling me some years ago that there were 13 policemen living in the rather short street in which she lived. By contrast, there were none at all in the vast housing estates where most of the crime and disorder is to be found.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the poorer parts of my constituency—it was the same elsewhere—were virtually abandoned by the police. If they came at all, they came in large raiding parties and glared at the residents through reinforced windshields. Today, I am glad to say, all that has changed. Thanks to a succession of enlightened chief constables and other officers of all ranks, the quality of policing in Sunderland has improved immeasurably. I believe that that is true of many cities. We have dedicated police taskforces based in the communities they serve, working with local people and other agencies to overcome the mayhem that blights the lives of too many of my constituents. They have achieved some impressive results, but, with the best will in the world, we have a long way to go before the genie is back in the bottle. I hope that the measures in the Bill will make a small contribution.

6.55 pm
Norman Baker (Lewes)

This country has high standards of policing and we all wish to maintain and improve them. We support the Government's aim to drive up policing standards and to achieve a better-quality police service. Echoing the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), my colleagues and I support the vast majority of measures in the Bill; it is well-intentioned and sensible, and will go a long way towards achieving those ends. For that reason, my colleagues and I will support the Government in the Lobby tonight on Second Reading, while ensuring, as far as we can, that the Government understand the strong arguments that we shall put forward on the small minority of proposals on whose impact we disagree substantially.

One issue that is not in the Bill, but which ought to be, is police pensions. This is the great unspoken issue, the time bomb coming down the track—probably a terrible mixed metaphor, I confess. The estimate is that 13.63 per cent. of police funding nationally is now being spent on pensions, and that percentage is rising year on year. Of course, all retired police officers deserve a decent pension, but not at the expense of front-line policing. The Government have to address that issue.

In Sussex, the percentage is even higher, and my local paper, the Evening Argus, made the point today that, under the present system, the local authority in which a police officer is working when he or she retires picks up the entire pension requirement rather than its being spread across all the authorities in which that officer has served. I hope that the Government will consider that issue, because it discriminates disproportionately against police authorities such as Sussex.

I was pleased that the Minister acknowledged in a written parliamentary answer on 19 March that there was a need to bring "greater clarity" to pension obligations on police forces, and that the Treasury and the Home Office were reviewing their options. I hope that that process will be accelerated, and, if possible, brought forward as part of the Bill, even at this stage. My colleagues in the Lords tabled an amendment relating to pensions, and I also hope to do so as the Bill progresses in Committee.

Having identified an issue that is not in the Bill, I shall turn to those that are, and identify some which are the cause of disagreement among hon. Members and between the Opposition parties and the Government. I entirely agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for West Dorset to the effect that the original clause 5 represented dangerous centralisation. Labour Members did not like that suggestion, but I ask them to consider the clause headings in part 1 of the original Bill presented to the House of Lords: "National Policing Plan"; "Codes of practice for chief officers"; "Powers to require inspection and report"; "Directions to police authorities", a clause which contained the provision entitled, "Power to give directions to a police authority"; "Directions to chief officers", which contained the provision entitled "Power to give directions to chief officers"; "Regulation of equipment"; and "Regulation of operational procedures and practices". I accept that that last one was amended by the Government in the Lords.

All those clauses may have some validity, and there may be some reason for their introduction. The Minister explained some of that is his presentation. Taken as a whole, however, they represent a change to the traditional tripartite system that has served this country well. It may not have been created deliberately as a tripartite system, but it has evolved into one that works and gives the people of this country confidence. It provides a fair balance between the local police authority, the chief constable and central Government. The Government meddle with that arrangement at their peril and at ours. I beg them to think again about their intention to try to reinsert the original clause 5 into the Bill. It is opposed by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and other parties in the House. I believe it is also opposed by most of the police, and by the public. It would be a shame to spoil a good Bill by including such a controversial, destructive and debilitating measure.

The Government could command unanimity, or at least overall support. They could present to the public a united House—a House united in its determination to drive up police standards and maintain the improvement in years to come. They could ensure that those on all three Front Benches said the same, and backed them. If they want all that, they must not reinsert clause 5.

The arrogance of the Home Office lies in its belief that it can do best—that if someone fails, a superman will arrive from somewhere and suddenly make it all better; that a magic formula, to be used sparingly, can be sprinkled over police authorities, and suddenly whatever was wrong with them will be cured. I do not think that that will work, because it is undemocratic and takes power away from local people and local police authorities. I accept that local police authorities could be more democratic than they are now. That is a legitimate point, which has been made from the Labour Back Benches. Nevertheless, the Government's proposal is undemocratic.

Moreover, there is no indication that what the Home Secretary of the day will do will solve whatever problem appears to exist. Indeed, there is no guarantee that a problem will exist. How can a Home Secretary with officials in Whitehall be better able than the people of Essex, Northampton or Derbyshire to say that a problem exists in one of those areas?

Mr. Kevan Jones

What does the hon. Gentleman suggest a Government do if a police force is letting its local community down by not fighting crime, or by engaging in maladministration, corruption or other practices that lead to there being something severely wrong with that force? Is he suggesting that the Home Secretary will stand by and let that happen? What should the Government do when the local community has clearly lost confidence in its police force, and there are issues of concern for that community and possibly for the nation?

Norman Baker

If the community feels there is a problem, it should have power to take control and rectify it. It is the community that will suffer. If there is a problem in Derbyshire, the people of Derbyshire will suffer. They should be able to remedy the problem, rather than relying on the Home Secretary in London.

Mr. Denham

The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) failed to answer this question; I wonder whether the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) will be able to do so.

What powers has the hon. Gentleman in mind to deal with the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), if not those of the existing police authorities? Police authorities may not always be relied on to take effective action, although we hope that will be possible in the vast majority of cases.

Norman Baker

The question is based on the false premise that if there is a problem, it can be solved by the Home Secretary of the day. That makes no sense. Powers are already in place; indeed, the Home Secretary has powers. There are arrangements for independent inspections, for example. I would like to see a modified police authority that was more democratically accountable to its local community. That is the answer.

When there is a problem, the power should not inevitably go to the next level in Government, which would mean that eventually—regardless of the nature of the problem and the sphere in which it occurred—the Prime Minister would deal with it. That is not the way in which we organise things in this country. We have to trust local communities and local democracy. I refer the Minister to a paper on regional government produced by his own Government. Clearly, those in other parts of Government believe in local democracy; it is a shame that the Home Office apparently does not.

Mr. Kevan Jones

I still have not received an answer to my question. May I draw an analogy that relates to what was said by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin)? Is the hon. Member for Lewes suggesting that local police chiefs and police authorities should be directly elected?

Norman Baker

I do not think it would be very sensible to elect local police chiefs, and as far as I know no one in the House or elsewhere has suggested that, but there is an argument about who should choose—or elect, if you like—police authorities, which is perfectly proper. The hon. Gentleman may recall that when his party was in opposition, it—along with the Liberal Democrats, if memory serves me—strongly opposed the Conservative Government's proposed measures to stitch up police authorities. There is a legitimate way in which police authorities can be more accountable, and can be seen to be more responsive to their communities. We should aim for that, rather than giving blanket powers to the Home Secretary.

Labour Members have failed to answer another question. Do they not recognise, in their hearts, the dangers of handing powers such as these—albeit reserve powers—to a Home Secretary? I do not necessarily refer to the present Home Secretary. I ask Labour Members to imagine the worst possible Conservative Home Secretary, the Conservative Home Secretary whom they see in their worst nightmares. What would he or she do with such powers?

We are legislating not just for tomorrow, but for a long time ahead. We must therefore ensure that there is a separation of powers relating to local accountability: that is what democracy relies on. The Home Secretary's proposals undermine a system of that kind, and create a potentially dangerous situation. I ask Labour Members to accept what I have said, and I think that in their hearts many will.

Simon Hughes

Does it not follow from some of what has been said so far that the country has relied on people who are not politicians to enforce and uphold the law—the courts, with independent judges or magistrates, and the police, who come with no party political manifesto or position? That is a fundamental principle, and that is why Home Secretaries, who are politicians, should be kept away from these levers of power while police chiefs, who are not politicians, should be given access to them.

Norman Baker

My hon. Friend makes a persuasive point, as always. My colleagues and I are determined to resist the reinsertion of clause 5. I believe that that applies to the Conservatives as well. The Minister will have to believe that we are united in this regard, and that we are not going to give way. Certainly I am not going to give way. There can be as much ping-pong as the Minister wants, but that is our position. We do not intend to give way on such an important principle.

The Bill proposes the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints Commission. As I said in an intervention on the Minister's speech, my colleagues and I welcome such a sensible step, which is long overdue and will do much to restore confidence in the police. I also welcome the suggested extensions of the commission's power. The Minister said he would table amendments relating to three issues in that context, and I think that sensible. I ask him, however, to reflect on my comment that the commission might be swamped by a huge number of complaints. People who have not thought it worthwhile to complain so far because, rightly or wrongly, they have assumed that they will not be given a fair hearing might want to complain to an independent body.

There may be a small secretariat, for want of a better word, dealing with relatively few cases—high-profile cases—and, in effect, relying on the police to investigate 98 per cent. of cases. That is welcome as far as it goes, but I think the public want to feel confident that if they are not satisfied with the police response, the case can be referred to the commission and examined independently. Many complaints to local authorities about their services are settled through an in-house council complaints procedure, but if complainants are still dissatisfied they have the right to go to the local government ombudsman. I think the same right should be given in this instance.

That right, however, will be worth nothing if there is no capacity for dealing with complaints that are referred—if the commission ends up picking and choosing, because it simply cannot cope with the river of complaints. The commission must be properly financed and properly staffed if it is to gain public confidence.

Let me say something about clause 19 of the original Bill, and the comments of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was concerned about what the Government had proposed in relation to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights said: Clause 19(2) would allow for the inclusion of the application of the relevant provision of the 2000 Act to Commission investigations, but does not require this. As a result, there is a risk that an Order made by the Secretary of State might fail to contain the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers 2000 Act designed to protect human rights. Such an Order might be invalid as breaching the 2000 Act, and would be in considerable danger of being invalid as violating the Convention right under article 8 of the ECHR. The Minister needs to deal with that matter in Standing Committee.

I turn now to part 3 of the Bill. Liberal Democrat Members retain concerns about clause 31, which used to be clause 30. It deals with the power of the Secretary of State to remove senior officers. That is a further example of the centralising tendency. The Home Secretary wants to take to himself powers that might best be left elsewhere.

Clause 31 is headed "Removal etc. of senior officers at the instance of the Secretary of State". To mix metaphors again, I believe that that should send shivers down spines and set alarm bells ringing at the same time. It is an extensive and draconian power.

What is wrong with allowing police authorities to deal with that matter, as has been the position so far? How many problems have arisen? As it happens, the Home Secretary was already able to get rid of a chief constable by the slightly back-door method of issuing a press release, as happened with Paul Whitehouse, the former chief constable of Sussex. The proposed power would mean that chief constables would always be looking over their shoulders, wondering what the Home Secretary of the day was expecting of them. They would worry about whether they were complying with a police plan, or whether they should have community support officers in their areas, given that the police authorities next door and down the road had them. If they did not have such officers, they would worry about being asked to explain why, and wonder whether they would get a black mark.

In addition, let us suppose that a chief constable undertook an experiment such as the one launched in Lambeth regarding the enforcement of the law relating to cannabis. What would happen if the Home Secretary of the day disliked such a plan? Many hon. Members would be violently opposed to such experiments, so where would that leave the chief constable? The power proposed in the Bill would make chief constables less willing to make such judgments and take such chances. It is the wrong power to take, and I hope that the Government will reconsider.

I turn now to part 4, the other controversial part of the Bill. The ideal structure for police in this country would involve more police officers. Every hon. Member would support that. To their credit, the Government have finally adopted a strategy of recruiting more police officers—albeit after a long lead-in period. We are just about back to above 1997 levels, although some police authority areas are still below them. We are approaching the Government's target of 130,000 officers, and that is welcome.

Another problem is retention, as I and other hon. Members have pointed out in previous debates on this matter. There is no point in pouring police in at one end of the colander, if they are only to come out of the other. One or two police authority areas have poor retention levels.

In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) referred to the proposal in the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto that part-time officers should be employed on a retained basis. I was pleased to hear the Minister suggest that they may have a role. Some people may be too old to want to be full-time officers, but they may not want to retire. Their great experience means that they may have a great deal to give the community. It would be folly to lose such people, who may be prepared to continue to work limited hours. We must find a way to retain them.

Mr. Kevan Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker

No. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way to him twice. People may not want to work as full-time officers for various reasons. For instance, a mother who has recently given birth may wish to ease her way back into the police force. I hope that the Government will consider seriously the proposal that properly trained officers could work part-time.

Another question concerns specials. They have not been mentioned much today, but their role in policing is very valuable, as I am sure hon. Members of all parties will accept. In December 1971, there were 29,992 specials, whereas on 30 December 2001, there were only 12,068. That is a fall of more than 50 per cent. in the numbers of specials over that period. In fact, there has been a fall of 7,000 since the Government came to power in 1997. I am not making a party point, as the figure was dropping under the previous Conservative Government. Nothing has been done to arrest the decline. [Interruption.] As far as I know, there was no fall in the number of specials under the last Liberal Government of 1906, so my party can claim to be immune from the problem.

Over the lifetime of this Government, there has been a fall in the number of specials in my area of Sussex. There were 465 specials in 1997, and there are 301 now. Specials are valuable. They are properly trained police officers, who do not have the side effects—if I may put it that way—that community support officers might have. However, it seems that little enough is being done to retain them.

I hope that the Government will consider establishing an annual bounty—some sort of fixed allowance—for specials, as that would give them some recognition. I accept that there would have to be some rostering if such a proposal were to go forward. I believe that the Government told the House of Lords that they would consider such a proposal, and I very much hope that they do. We have to arrest the decline in specials-no pun intended.

Community support officers present a more difficult problem. They represent yet another tier of policing, an idea that the Liberal Democrat party put forward first, in our manifesto. Like the hon. Member for West Dorset, therefore, I object to the Prime Minister saying that we have been totally opposed to CSOs. We have not: we have opposed the powers that the Government have been willing to give them, but that is not the same thing.

If the CSOs are to command support in post, they must first be recognisable, which means that they must have a common uniform. Secondly, they must have one set of powers that does not vary between areas. Thirdly, they must be properly trained, by the police. Fourthly, they must be either police or local authority employees. We are against accreditation by external bodies. We do not want accredited officers to be employed by anyone other than the police or local authorities, and the same goes for CSOs.

We want simplicity and accountability. The Government scheme is something of a hotch-potch. It will lead to misunderstanding among the public about exactly who is doing what in which area. People will not know who controls the CSOs; to whom complaints should be made; or what powers the officers may have. That is a dangerous road down which to go. For example, a citizen may genuinely believe that a CSO who wishes to detain him, or issue him with a fixed penalty ticket, does not have the power to do so as CSOs elsewhere in the country do not have that power. That is a recipe for disaster. We need clarity and accountability. I fear that the Bill does not provide them.

Another way to reduce the number of tiers would be to wrap up traffic wardens in one of the groups. There is no reason why traffic wardens should be a discrete group, nor why they should not have enhanced powers and act in a more effective manner. For example, traffic wardens can antagonise motorists by giving out parking tickets, but they are unable to deal with problems with which people locally—in the area or the street—want someone to deal. We need to look at the powers of traffic wardens.

Mr. Letwin

Has the hon. Gentleman had a moment to consider the point made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who wondered whether the power of detention was necessary to make the other powers operative? Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the power of detention is necessary in connection with powers such as giving notices for fixed penalties under road traffic legislation, or dealing with dog fouling, or in connection with environmental protection legislation, or in connection with the confiscation of alcohol or tobacco?

Norman Baker

The power of detention is very significant. which is one reason why my colleagues have opposed its being given to people who are not properly trained police officers. That significant power should rest only with the police. People associate the power of arrest with those who wear the police uniform, and they should know that they cannot be arrested by those who wear a different uniform. Allowing other people to have that power is a very dangerous road down which to go, and we intend to continue to oppose that right to detain. There is an argument about how many powers those officers should have. I make no secret of the fact that we are dubious of some of the powers in the schedule.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I suggested that fixed penalty notices in particular would require the identity of the person—the name and address—to be given. Indeed, if a person refused to give his or her name and address, a fixed penalty notice could not be issued and the community support officer would be faced with a very limited choice: he could either use his citizen's power of arrest or let the person go. In practice, would not the hon. Gentleman's suggestion put the CSO in the intolerable position of having to let the person go and not being able to detain him until a police officer arrived?

Norman Baker

First, depending on the offence, citizen's arrest would still apply. That point was made earlier by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). Secondly, people do abscond from police officers. They do so very effectively on occasion—the police officers are unable to catch them. However, I understand the serious point made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire.

Mr. Denham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker

In a second; I am answering the question that the Minister's colleague asked.

The serious point that the hon. Gentleman makes is one reason why we have to consider the powers given to CSOs. I would personally wish them to have powers that were not likely to put them in the situation to which he refers. I would wish them to have powers, for example, in relation to untaxed vehicles—a major problem—and powers similar to those exercised by traffic wardens. They could have a range of non-confrontational powers, such as acting as eyes and ears for the police and assisting constables in the exercise of their duties. Those powers would be straightforward and would not put CSOs in the position to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He raises a genuine issue, which is why we need carefully to consider the range of powers that CSOs are given.

Mr. Denham

I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would enlighten me as to whether he would have preferred the Bill if we had made no reference to the detention powers but had said that we wished those paid employees of the police service to rely on their citizen's powers of arrest? Surely it is better to make it clear in the Bill what Parliament intends.

Norman Baker

That intervention is not very fair; in response to the point made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, I have referred at some length to the sort of powers that my colleagues would wish CSOs to have. To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Wrexham, I have also recognised that a general power applies to all citizens of this country.

Several hon.

Members rose

Norman Baker

I ought to make some progress.

It would be rather odd to include in the Bill a power that already exists for all citizens of this country.

I want to deal with the pressure that will be applied to police authorities or chief constables to deploy CSOs. The Select Committee on Home Affairs picked up the issue of ring-fencing expenditure. I was extremely worried by the Minister's response, in which he failed to rule out—in fact, he encouraged the idea—that the Treasury and the Home Office would, in effect, get their own way by the back door. In other words, chief constables would be given the right to deploy CSOs. If they chose not to do so, they would be put under financial pressure to encourage them to do so, until there were CSOs throughout the land and the Government could say, "They have all done it voluntarily. We have not used clause 5; they have taken the decision themselves."

Mr. Denham

I rather suspected that my straightforward and honest answer would be the subject of the most massive distortion by this time in the evening. What I actually said was that I see no objection to providing funding to kick-start the CSO initiative. Indeed, I do not see anything wrong with that. I undoubtedly did not say the other things that it has been claimed that I said, and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well.

Norman Baker

I hear what the Minister says, and I shall be interested to read Hansard tomorrow to find out whether that is exactly what he said earlier. I am sure that it will be because he is a very honest fellow. Nevertheless, the fact is that he now envisages a situation where, even if it is a kick start, certain authorities will be given a bribe, a sweetener, a golden hello to introduce CSOs. Those authorities that do not do so will be left out and, no doubt, their budgets will be top-sliced to help those authorities that have chosen to deploy CSOs. I am grateful to the Minister for confirming tonight that there will be a financial incentive.

In conclusion, I want to raise an issue mentioned by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South—the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, the Yarl's Wood fire and the fact that Bedfordshire police are being sued for £40 million. That is nonsense, and we should take the opportunity provided by the Bill to deal with it. That could be done quite easily; otherwise we shall put the police in a difficult position. Neither is suing Millwall football club any way to recover money for the police.

By and large, this is a good Bill. It could be a very good Bill. There were one or two poisonous flies in the ointment but, by and large, they have been removed by the House of Lords, and I very much hope that the Minister will not seek to reinsert them. If he does, I assure him that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will not waver.

7.25 pm
Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire)

May I begin by declaring an interest? I am the parliamentary adviser to the Chief Police Officers Staff Association. I am also a member of the appeals committee of the Police Dependants Trust. Both those roles are unpaid. However, the views that I express today are my own, on behalf of my constituents, but I will let the House know the Chief Police Officers Staff Association's views on a certain issue.

Broadly, I welcome the Bill. It is a good Bill, which is designed to improve the performance of the police. On the whole, it will help police efficiency and effectiveness, and therefore reduce crime and the fear of crime and help to tackle antisocial behaviour. After all, police reform must be about giving the police the numbers, the tools and the management that they need to be more effective at catching criminals and reducing the fear of crime.

The taxpayer is putting unprecedented millions of pounds into Britain's police and expects results. To some extent, the taxpayer is getting results. The British crime survey shows a 21 per cent. fall in crime since 1997, but crime levels are still too high, especially for street crime.

The Bill aims to improve police morale and effectiveness. Police morale was undoubtedly damaged by the cut in police numbers in the mid-1990s and the failed Sheehy attempts at police reform.

I represent Warwickshire, which from 1993 to 1998, experienced one of the biggest cuts in police numbers. By 1998, Warwickshire had lost 11 per cent. of its officers—probably the largest number in the country. Police numbers are rising once again. The chairman of the police authority hopes shortly to restore record numbers of police officers in Warwickshire. As part of that process, the police authority has increased its council tax precept by 19 per cent.

Few voters in the recent elections complained about the cost of the police; they wanted to see more officers on the beat and were prepared to pay for it. Warwickshire police force has tremendous public support. It is an excellent, although small, constabulary. People are prepared to pay more for policing, but they demand value for the money that they pay. Taxpayers are not pleased when a police officer turns up at the scene of an offence or an incident and says, "Sorry I am late, but we did not have enough staff on duty", or "There is no point in arresting them; the courts will let them off." That rarely happens now in Warwickshire, but it did happen until all too recently.

Across Britain, questions need to be asked about why some forces perform better than others. What efforts are being made to improve delivery? The Bill will put each chief constable and each bobby on the beat to the challenge of delivering for the taxpayer. Most of them will rise to that challenge and raise their game, but it is also important that the Government, the police authorities and chief constables have the powers to deal with those who are not raising their game and not delivering for the taxpayer.

Most police officers everywhere are committed, but performance varies, even where local policing is similar. We need to ensure that policing everywhere is brought up to the standard of the best. We also need to deal with the problems of red tape and bureaucracy that all too often clog up police procedures. Police officers spend 43 per cent. of their time in the station, much of it on paperwork. I am pleased that the Government are addressing that with their taskforce, which is working alongside the reforms in the Bill. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is good news and will, no doubt, be welcomed by the Police Federation, which has long sought such change.

The Bill is therefore a move in the right direction, as part of a broad strategy to reduce crime and raise standards in public service. However, in our zeal to create organisational tools to improve standards, we need also to recognise that good policing requires a fair degree of local discretion and local decision making. That means that chief constables must have considerable discretion in operational matters in their locality.

Chief police officers welcome the Bill's broad thrust and want it to be enacted, but they do have concerns about individual aspects of the Government's proposals. Given that the Government have had one or two problems with the federated ranks, Ministers will need the support of chief police officers in implementing reform, and they will doubtless want to listen with care to their views. Individually, most reforms in the Bill cause few problems for chief police officers, but in combination they raise some concerns. The creation of plans, the setting up of national bodies that give guidelines, and the measuring of performance are all sensible provisions, but what worries some chief police officers is their conjunction with the Home Secretary's extended power to remove and to suspend chief police officers. However, they can be reassured through minor adjustments to those powers. The agreement to a protocol on their use is helpful, but a further concession would be even more helpful. Chief police officers would like a tribunal to review any decision by a Home Secretary to require a police authority to suspend or bring about the resignation of a chief police officer, and the tribunal would also need the power to reinstate such an officer.

I accept that the Home Secretary's current powers under the Police Act 1996 are inadequate—a point illustrated by the recent experience of Warwickshire police, which found it difficult to remove a chief constable who was ill. Delay and difficulty occurred in that case, and although it was resolved, it is clear that better powers to take action are needed. It would help if the Home Secretary's powers were subject to review by a tribunal composed of, say, representatives of the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, and, perhaps, a judge. After all, the circumstances in which those powers will be used are expected to be quite exceptional. That would certainly reassure chief constables and police authorities that they will not be subject to operational interference from Whitehall, and perhaps to sacking in default of doing as they are told.

To some extent, operational decisions should be the prerogative of chief constables. No Home Secretary should try to micromanage from Whitehall, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary doubtless has no intention of doing so. However, on police numbers—a political issue whereby politicians carry the can if chief constables do not use their budgets to increase numbers—the Home Secretary should have a real say. I have said so before and I believe it to be true, but in deciding how many police officers operate in a particular area or how policing takes place, chief constables need flexibility, not straitjackets from Whitehall. I do not believe that Whitehall has any intention to micromanage, but such concerns do exist, so Ministers need constantly to reassure the police, and in doing so to put in place safeguards, where possible and appropriate.

The shadow Home Secretary's claim that he supports the concept of CSOs but opposes the power to detain is nonsense. He wills the end but not the means. He would give CSOs the power to issue fixed penalty notices for antisocial behaviour, which require giving a name and address, but if a person refuses to do so, he would leave CSOs with the power to do nothing except make a citizen's arrest. If we are to have CSOs, a power to detain for 30 minutes is necessary.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why detention is necessary to deal with alcohol consumption, confiscation of alcohol, confiscation of tobacco, seizure of vehicles, entry to save life and limb, abandoned vehicles, carrying out of road checks, cordons and so forth?

Mr. O'Brien

I could discuss each of those, but a gap in the hon. Gentleman's argument strikes me immediately. With an uncharacteristic lack of candour, he has omitted from his list fixed penalty notices, which he mentioned earlier. If he cannot fill that gap and must seek simply to divert attention, he ought to rethink his policy.

On abandoned vehicles—one of the hon. Gentleman's examples—let us say that some young kids are found in the vicinity of a burning vehicle. If a CSO discovers them and is unsure of the circumstances, he may want to detain them until a police officer arrives on the scene. Under the hon. Gentleman's proposal, however, he would have no power to do so. He would have only two choices. First, he could use his citizen's power of arrest, which might be going too far; after all, under such a power he cannot arrest on suspicion. Secondly, he could let them go. The hon. Gentleman looks confused, as indeed I suspect that he is.

Mr. Letwin

I cannot understand what that argument has to do with the removal of abandoned vehicles—the actual power in question. In what way do fixed penalty notices relating to dog fouling, or to litter and the Environmental Protection Act 1990, require the power of detention? I simply do not understand the argument.

Mr. O'Brien

The simple and straightforward point is that, if the hon. Gentleman is willing an end, he must also will a means to it. If he wants to be able to issue a fixed penalty notice to an individual, he needs that individual's name and address.

Martin Linton

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. O'Brien

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall deal with the point made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin).

If a person refused to give their name and address, the CSO would be in a difficult position. If the hon. Gentleman cannot work out how to resolve it, that is his problem. He is creating the difficulty, and through the Bill the Government have set out a way to resolve it. The CSO will have the power to detain for 30 minutes, if necessary. If a person refuses to give—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has had his time. I call Mr. Francis Maude.

7.36 pm
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

The last time that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) and I followed one another was 10 years ago, when he succeeded me as Member of Parliament for North Warwickshire. I join him in paying tribute to the Warwickshire police force, which is an excellent force, not despite being very small, but because of that fact—a point to which I shall return if I have time.

I am concerned about police accountability, and I agree that the current arrangements are inadequate. Although there is a deficiency in accountability, I differ from the Government in terms of how it should be dealt with. The deficit should be filled not by increasing centralisation, but by increasing local accountability, and the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made that case to devastating effect.

I want to use the case of a constituent of mine to illustrate the deficiencies of the current system and the way in which they need to be filled. Although the Bill fills them to an extent, it does not do so completely, as the Minister has acknowledged. The Minister referred obliquely in his opening remarks to the case of John Wilson. On 26 June 1996, then aged 16, having attended an international football match, John Wilson congregated with others in and around Trafalgar square. By common consent, he was a completely innocent bystander in a fracas that developed, during which the Metropolitan police—perfectly properly—deployed police in full riot gear.

As I said, John Wilson behaved peacefully. He is a responsible boy from a decent background. During the fracas, he was physically charged by a police officer in riot gear, fell backwards, smashed his skull on the pavement and sustained a double fracture. As a result, he suffers from epilepsy, and in the six years since he has been unable to study or to work. The High Court finally judged against the Metropolitan police in a civil action in July last year. The judge said: I am utterly convinced that the claimant was the victim of a deliberate unlawful assault. That judgment was subsequently upheld in the Court of Appeal, without John Wilson's lawyers being called upon to rebut the Metropolitan police's case.

During that case, the Metropolitan police behaved—I choose my words carefully—disgracefully. I say that in no spirit of hostility. As a part-time London resident, I depend on them, and in a previous career as a barrister many years ago, my mortgage depended on them as my best client. However, during that case they maintained that it was impossible to identify the police constable responsible for the incident. It is inconceivable that such a serious incident, in which a young boy was laid out cold on the pavement and taken to hospital as an emergency, was not reported or recorded. It certainly should have been, and obviously procedures require that it should.

It was even maintained subsequently by the Met that the serial of officers—some 25 officers—could not be identified, so that other officers could not be interviewed about the identity of the offending officer. That is literally incredible. I simply do not believe that the serial could not be identified, but that is what was maintained at the time and has subsequently been stuck to.

Civil litigation was brought by John Wilson's mother, on John's behalf. I pay tribute to Susan Wilson, a redoubtable lady who has stuck to the case with great tenacity for which she deserves great credit. However, the Metropolitan police pursued a campaign of what can be described only as low-level harassment against the case. For example, at one stage, they wrote directly to the legal aid authorities to seek to have John Wilson's legal aid discontinued. It was discontinued, on that unilateral application. However, it was subsequently reinstated, with some strong words of reproof, by the High Court judge.

The police also pursued an appeal against the High Court judge's ruling on the substantive issue of liability, despite having said immediately afterwards that they would not do so. That appeal was rejected out of hand by the Court of Appeal, as was always likely to happen. Even after that, the police have tried to postpone the hearing on the question of damages, again to the obvious irritation of the judge handling the case. I have numerous other examples of petty behaviour by the Metropolitan police solicitor—all, happily, in vain—trying to hinder the conduct of the case.

My point in relation to the Bill is that no effective way exists for the Metropolitan police to be held to account, either for what happened in relation to the initial incident and the failure to investigate it by the police themselves, or for the way in which they conducted their defence to the proper and justified civil action brought by John Wilson. The Police Complaints Authority could not investigate the case because there was no identified officer against whom to lodge a complaint. Some of the later wrongdoing by the police prevented investigation of the original wrongdoing by the police.

I welcome the setting up of the new Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, as drafted, it would not remedy the gap that I have exposed, as the Minister has admitted. I welcome the Minister's commitment to table amendments to fill the gap, because that is very important. Incidentally, I pay tribute to the time spent and courtesy shown by the Minister of State on this case. I know that he has taken it seriously.

It has also transpired that neither the Home Secretary, as the police authority at the time, nor the Metropolitan police authority as the successor authority have any power to investigate the case. That is a deficiency in accountability, and should be remedied. Much of the argument today has concerned where that accountability should lie. I simply raise the case of John Wilson to illustrate the deficiencies that exist.

In my opinion, accountability, and the probability that police forces will do what local residents want, will not be increased by giving a power to the Home Secretary to tell forces to do what local people want. He is much less likely than the local police authority to know what local residents want. Given the chance, the police will take decisions that respond to local needs. For example, in my constituency of Horsham and next door in Crawley, the local divisional commander—not even the chief constable—has introduced a terrific scheme that puts the police on mountain bikes so that they can pursue yobs who are being disruptive down the alleyways into the housing estates where police cars cannot go. That initiative is popular with the police and the local residents. It makes the police accessible and available. The only people who hate it are the hooligans who find that the police are silently and unexpectedly upon them. That is a local initiative that has not been imposed by the Home Secretary, although he probably thinks that it is a good idea—everyone else does.

We should consider ways of increasing local accountability and also ask whether police forces are now too big. Many are. The whole notion of economies of scale is a dubious proposition in any circumstances, but in the public sector the reverse is the case. There are inefficiencies because of the scale. We should consider having small authorities, perhaps with directly elected police authorities. That would provide a direct and focused responsiveness to what local people want. It was suggested earlier in the debate that chief constables should be elected. I foresee many difficulties with that, but we should not completely rule it out as a possibility. I cannot imagine anything that would provide greater emphasis on the requirements of local residents, so we should not close our minds to such suggestions.

There are hundreds of different ways in which the local accountability of the police could be improved. However, we definitely should not go in the opposite direction and push more and more power to the centre. I acknowledge that the Government whom I served in the 1980s achieved a certain amount of centralisation. I admit that that was wrong and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said that it was wrong. We should not continue to make that mistake—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


7.46 pm
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

I am pleased to contribute to today's debate. I wish to focus on the clauses relating to blood specimens taken from persons incapable of consenting, because those provisions have a particular significance for at least one of my constituents.

In November 1999, a young woman died in a road traffic accident in my constituency. Sarah Kettle was young, the owner of a dress shop in Truro and the much loved daughter of my constituent, Mary Kettle. There was another car involved in the accident and the injured driver was taken to hospital unconscious. At the point of impact, his car was travelling on the wrong side of the road at 60 mph in a 30 mph zone.

As the driver was unconscious on arrival at hospital, he was unable to give consent to a blood sample being taken. When the driver came round he promptly discharged himself from hospital. He later appeared before magistrates who banned him from driving for two years for reckless driving and fined him £250. There were eye-witness accounts of his drinking in a pub beforehand, but without medical proof there was insufficient evidence and the magistrates could do little.

In other words, because consent could not be given, the definitive piece of evidence could not be obtained. Mrs. Kettle, having endured the tragedy of her daughter's death, sat in court to witness a mockery being made of our legal system. I should make it clear that this is not a witch hunt. I was not there on the evening of the accident and it is not for me to judge. However, since hearing this story and speaking to Mrs. Kettle, I decided that the law was wrong and was not acting in anyone's best interests.

I believe in allowing the police appropriate powers to bring the guilty to justice. I also believe in giving people the power to prove their innocence. This driver and others like him are left with clouds of suspicion hanging over them for ever. The legal loophole serves only those who have committed an offence, and that is simply perverse. There are even reports of drivers attempting to feign unconsciousness to avoid an immediate roadside test.

That case is not the first of its kind, but the family involved were vociferous in their campaign for a change in the law. They did not want any other family to go through what they had, so they told their story to national newspapers, to local media and to me. I was pleased to arrange a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), then the Minister of State at the Home Office. I am grateful to him for meeting us so quickly—within a matter of days—and for taking the argument forward through consultation with the British Medical Association and others. He passed the issue to his successor, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety. Ministers recognised that the law as it stood was an obstacle to justice; justice had to be done and had to be seen to be done.

After the Bill had begun its passage through the other place, Mrs. Kettle came to London a second time and met my right hon. Friend. She related her story once again and heard what the Government were aiming to do. Clause 51 enables a police constable to obtain a sample, irrespective of consent, in the instances laid out in subsection (1). If requested, medical practitioners may take a sample, as they frequently do for medical purposes, from an unconscious patient, and that can be passed to the police. Crucially, when the person regains consciousness, they will be asked to give their consent to the sample being taken into account as evidence. They will still have the power to refuse, as they would at a roadside check, although that could also become a matter for the courts. The provisions establish parity, allowing evidence to be taken whether drivers are conscious or not. At present, the law has meant inconsistency.

I do not dismiss the arguments against the change lightly. Equally, necessary safeguards are attached. The person taking the sample would not be responsible for the immediate clinical care of the patient, which avoids a conflict of responsibilities. That very important point was made in discussions with representatives of the British Medical Association.

In most instances, as I understand it, the person taking the sample will be a police medical practitioner. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree with the BMA that the care and well-being of the patient must be the first priority of all medical staff. For that reason, blood samples will not be taken from unconscious patients if that would put them at any risk; medical staff would have the power to prevent a sample from being taken on those grounds.

Other concerns relate to the vexed question of consent. If a sample was obtained when a person had gained consciousness, was that person in a fit state to make the decision? That is a difficult question, but the validity of consent is a much broader issue.

Mrs. Kettle is expecting this House to deliver. She and her family have suffered a tragedy. The Bill offers a remedy, and I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will support it tonight.

7.52 pm
Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness)

The background to this debate is a police service that is demoralised, discontented and frustrated. The police are annoyed that they are not being given sufficient resources to provide the service to the community that they wish to provide and are fed up with being abused and assaulted not only by the criminal fraternity but by many of the comments emanating from the Home Secretary. I wish to place on the record my faith in the work that the police do in my constituency and across the country. We should all be giving them our full support and encouragement.

The police are aggrieved about increased paperwork and the lack of support from magistrates, many of whom are too lenient with persistent offenders. The police are co-opted into worthwhile specialist areas such as drug abuse, child abuse and domestic violence but without the necessary additional resources being allocated for such work, they are taken off the beat, which exacerbates the already poor perception of the police presence.

More administration staff are required, as is greater administrative streamlining. That would allow others, such as wardens, to take over basic information-gathering tasks such as taking and co-ordinating statements, allowing fully trained officers to go back on to the streets. More cases need to be prepared using computerised techniques to cut down on the massive amount of paperwork that our policemen and women have to endure. Several provisions in the Bill make some attempt to make adjustments to the existing situation, and I warmly welcome them.

The Home Secretary's plans to take powers to dismiss chief constables and to exert control over police forces by circumventing the chief constable and imposing demands on heads of basic command units is unacceptable. The proposition shows a fundamental lack of historical understanding that British policing is policing by local consent; it developed not from the state's desire to control its citizens, as in many continental European countries, but from the desire of local communities to professionalise and improve their volunteer constables. That, ironically and paradoxically, is also proposed in other sections of the Bill.

The Bill unbalances the tripartite relationship between chief constables, police authorities and the Home Secretary. It introduces excessive centralised control. The solution is to decentralise and increase democratic accountability, not to withdraw to a more centrally controlled structure.

The Bill intervenes directly in police forces, bypassing police authorities and thereby local democratic accountability. As has been said, the Government were defeated on the original clause 5 in another place and I hope that they will not seek to reintroduce its provisions. Clause 7 allows direct adoption of particular policing practices if the Secretary of State perceives that to be in the national interest. That is a very dangerous route to take.

Clause 30 allows the Secretary of State to direct a police authority to suspend its chief constable even when it does not judge that to be necessary to maintain local confidence in the force. I hope that the Secretary of State and his Ministers accept that following the logic of that argument to its conclusion would be very dangerous.

Clause 77 requires police authorities to submit their three-year plans to the Home Secretary. With this Government, I am surprised that the Bill does not specify a 10-year plan. The plans have to be checked, and if they do not fit in with the Home Secretary's desire, they will presumably have to be changed, irrespective of the local operational facets current at the time. I doubt whether anyone in the House would object to best practice and to forces learning from one another, but exerting political control and centralising power and decision making is not the way forward.

Both Lord Scarman and the Castle report highlighted the importance of local policing being responsive and sensitive to local circumstances. The formation of district-based crime and disorder reduction partnerships across Lincolnshire, including in my constituency, has started to improve the ability of local communities to share responsibility for community safety with police. To my mind, the Bill removes much of that local flexibility. It starts to create a national police force by the back door.

I wish to address the provisions that radically change the nature and style of local policing—namely, community support officers—and provide for a whole range of auxiliary non-police officers with arrest powers patrolling the streets in our urban and rural areas. In my constituency, Boston borough council has formulated an excellent and effective warden scheme. I have met those wardens and have a tremendous amount of time and respect for them, but both the police and the wardens believe it correct that wardens should have not full or partial police powers. Their role should be complementary, not a lesser, cheaper substitute and replacement for police officers.

Boston borough council and others are filling a vacuum that has been created, and the situation needs to be reversed. I wrote to all the parish councils in my constituency and they responded, in unison, and without prompting, that they would like to see policemen in their rural areas. They want effective policing. Surely the answer is not to create a confused and multi-layered structure of different auxiliaries, with different powers both within the same police authority and between police authorities. Nothing should be done that would deter the police from taking back the streets as either neighbourhood custodians or responsible citizens in a particular geographical area.

We must find a way of restoring confidence both in the rural villages and on the urban estates in my constituency and beyond. We must get more police on the streets and we must use our existing officers to greater and more visible effect. We must reduce centralisation and improve the local democratic accountability that this Bill will severely damage.

8 pm

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

I welcome the Bill and the Government's commitment to tackling crime in all its forms. I especially welcome the Home Secretary's response to the many points that the Select Committee on Home Affairs made when we scrutinised the measure. That pre-legislative scrutiny might not have been ideal, as part of it took place while the House of Lords was debating the Bill; none the less, we managed to see almost everyone who was interested in the progress of the Bill.

I shall concentrate especially on community support officers and on police costs, despite the fact that in the case of the latter the Committee declined to make specific recommendations.

Much has been said about community support officers since they were proposed in the Bill. Many vested interests have raised their voice in protest: such officers would water down policing; we should end up using more police resources than we would have done otherwise; we would be policing on the cheap, and so on. The Select Committee rightly noted that the only way to know for sure is to try out the proposal. After all, if the largest police force in the country—the Met—is enthusiastically in favour of such a scheme, surely we should have the courage and confidence to see whether it works.

As has already been said, no one will be forced to join in. However, I believe that other forces will want to use such officers when they see the results in London. Indeed, I understand that, after the initial flurry of negative responses, more and more chief officers and police authorities are beginning to see the merits of the proposal.

Perhaps London, as the capital city, is different. I do not know, but I find it difficult to believe that Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds do not have much the same policing needs as we do in London. However, if they do not—so be it.

I speak as a Member who represents an inner-London constituency where crime is at the top of everyone's agenda and where the added problems of higher security risks and terrorist attacks are at the forefront of everyone's mind, so when Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan commissioner, told us that, post-11 September, 300 plus officers had to act as eyes and ears for suspect packages in central London, we had to ask where they were to come from. They came from boroughs such as mine—from Lewisham, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Hounslow and so on.

When my borough commander said that street crime had soared in Lewisham post-11 September, no one was very surprised; but because Lewisham is the safest inner-London borough in which to live, it was also deeply disappointing. Of course, the reason was obvious: as long as highly skilled police officers were being taken off the streets of Lewisham and elsewhere to look after the security needs of Members of Parliament here in Westminster, the rise in street crime was inevitable.

Surely it would be better to use between 300 and 500 community support officers—or auxiliaries as the Met calls them—to do the job of being eyes and ears, like the superb security staff in this place, thus allowing police officers to go back to the boroughs and do the highly skilled job for which they were trained. I really wonder at the stance taken by some people on that issue when that solution is so obvious.

I turn to community safety accreditation schemes. The Select Committee heard evidence about neighbourhood warden schemes and I want to consider one in my own borough—sadly, we do not have one in my constituency, but I hope that we shall soon remedy that. The scheme is based on the Honor Oak estate, in the north of the borough, where residents consider that crime has a major impact on their quality of life.

Lewisham council is extremely proud of its partnership with the local police force and the community—rightly so. Furthermore, it is important to remember that with crime and disorder people do not react only to the most serious offences—the tip of the iceberg. As Martin Ryan, the council officer in charge of the scheme, said: They see the whole iceberg. So-called low level crime and disorder such as graffiti, abusive and loutish behaviour and vehicle crime all have a major impact on the fear of crime in our communities.

The wardens are helping to resolve those problems. Since the patrols commenced on that estate, there has been a 25 per cent. reduction in calls to the police; a 69 per cent. reduction in auto crime; an 80 per cent. reduction in racist crime; and a 75 per cent. reduction in burglary. That is against the background of a general increase in reported crime. Neither I nor anyone involved would suggest that the scheme is a panacea, but it is clearly having a positive impact, especially in reducing the fear of crime.

Accredited community safety organisations, of which local authority warden schemes would be an example, must surely be welcomed in the overall fight against crime, in the partnership between the police, the council and the local community.

I want to turn to an aspect that is not covered by the Bill but which was raised with the Committee by the Met and to which we refer in our recommendations: the cost of policing commercial events. The Met argues that it receives only 10 to 20 per cent. of its costs in policing some sporting and other events. It gave the example of a low-level Chelsea game where the force received £397 from the club for an exercise that cost £13,705.

When the Committee considered that point, we accepted the comment of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety that the matter was problematic in that smaller, less well-off football clubs and other organisations might not have pockets deep enough to cope with those costs. However, we ask the Government that guidance be reviewed in that area. That point is especially important in the light of the remarks I am about to make. When the Second Reading debate was scheduled for today, I did not know that we should have to refer to the dreadful and appalling events in Lewisham on Thursday night after the Millwall-Birmingham game. I emphasise the fact that Millwall football club, under the excellent chairmanship of Theo Paphitis, has done wonders in changing the behaviour at the ground of fans who, in the past, had a well-earned reputation for disruptive and violent behaviour. The work carried out by the club in the local community is excellent and deserves wider praise and support.

However, Thursday night's violence was not down to one or two hooligans. It was an orchestrated assault on the police. I asked Commander Humphrey, the borough commander, about it when he returned to the election count shortly after the events. He described how between 400 and 500 thugs directed each other on mobile phones about ways to attack and injure police officers and horses, innocent bystanders and fans. Thunder flashes were exploded; cars were set alight; 47 officers were injured; all 34 horses were injured; and so, too, were many fans. No doubt some of the cars that were set alight belonged to law-abiding Millwall fans. A children's playground was wrecked and equipment used as weaponry.

I know that Millwall football club will do everything possible to help to identify those thugs, but I have to point out to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), that that is a dark example of what the police have to put up with and we have to pay for in the general policing budget. That event may serve as a powerful and timely reason for giving more thought to how such occasions are paid for. I would make every hooligan found guilty of any crime in that attack pay directly to the police, the community and the fans for the shame that they have brought on the club and the devastation that they have wreaked on the local community.

The Bill goes a long way towards making the police more able to do well the job that we entrust to them. There are aspects that need further clarification, but I hope that the Home Secretary will not be diverted from the main thrust of the Bill by the concerns of vested interests when my constituents want policing at its best—catching criminals and reducing crime.

8.9 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

I am delighted to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), who, like me, sits on the Home Affairs Committee. I commend our report to the House: we did as good a job as we could in the limited time that we had, and, in many ways, we were chasing a moving target—the Bill kept being amended in the other place, the Government kept being defeated, and we kept having to comment on something that was changing. The current Bill is an improvement on the one that was published, and some parts of it are widely supported, particularly the independent complaints commission for the police, which is supported on both sides of the House.

I believe, however—this is where I differ from the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, although we were able to sign up to the report together—that the Bill was wrong in its conception and remains wrong in much of its execution. What was wrong with the conception is the point about centralisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) spoke clearly about that. This seems to be a default setting for the Government: they know, and they are right, that many things are wrong in the public services, and they rightly want to address them. Their answer, however, always seems to be to draw more power to the centre, which is profoundly the wrong way to go about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) pointed out that the Secretary of State is mentioned 21 times in the first four pages of the Bill. It is very much the Secretary of State who is being given the power. Remarkably, police authorities are barely mentioned in the Bill. If the Government think that police authorities are not good enough, they are not doing a good job, or they are not correctly constituted, they should come forward with proposals to change them. We could talk about that. What is not right, however, is taking all the power and handing it to the Home Secretary. It has been mentioned that clause 5 was removed in the other place, but the beginning of clause 6 states: The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision requiring all police forces in England and Wales … to adopt particular procedures or practices". That is drawing powers towards the centre, which is wrong. Clause 5 itself was called "Directions to chief officers". The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety is therefore wrong to say that the measure is not about centralisation.

Lady Hermon

May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that in Northern Ireland each local council has a district policing partnership made up of council representatives and independent members who are representative on the basis of sex, origin and various other characteristics? Would the hon. Gentleman like that—or a form of local accountability—to be extended to England and Wales?

Mr. Cameron

I certainly would. We often have things to learn from Northern Ireland. I served in the Home Office when the Police Act 1996 was drafted. That introduced independent members for police authorities, which the Association of Police Authorities now says were a thoroughly good thing.

Members on both sides of the House have spoken about the tripartite structure of the police service in this country—the Home Secretary, the chief constables and the police authorities. The tripartite structure is not just a good thing because it has a long name and it is there. It delivers something terribly important—police forces in this country have operational independence from the Home Secretary. 'That helps to give us policing by consent. The Home Affairs Committee referred to that at the beginning of our report: We believe that the tripartite structure and operational independence of police forces are essential safeguards against politicisation and centralisation of the police. I am worried that we are going in the wrong direction tonight. I do not want to live in a country that has an interior ministry to which the police forces report. I am not saying that the Bill will deliver that in one go, but I profoundly believe that we are going in the wrong direction. I asked a lot of questions on the Home Affairs Committee, particularly of the Association of Police Authorities. That is why I think that there is more to this than the removal of clause 5 by the House of Lords. Mr. Peel—great name—of the Association of Police Authorities said to me: Effectively what we are saying is 'Please take out Part 1". He referred not to clause 5 but to part 1, and added: Most of the rest of it is a matter of detail. We therefore have some problems.

The conception of this Bill should have started with what is wrong with the police service in this country. Let me give four headings for that: we cannot keep enough good officers; it is almost impossible to sack bad officers; the ones that we have are strangled with red tape and paperwork; and there are not enough of them in any event. My problem with the Bill is that it provides no real answer to the first three of those problems. The problems of police disciplinary procedures are largely ignored by the Bill. It is a great irony that, once the Bill has been passed, the Home Secretary will be able to sack every chief constable in the land, just by order from his office. What about the chief inspector in the Witney nick, or the chief inspector running a basic command unit—will they be able to get rid of a police officer who is not corrupt but who is not particularly good at the job? That is incredibly difficult. We should be devolving power to police forces down to the basic command unit so that that can happen. I asked Mr. Ian Blair—not Mr. Peel, but Mr. Blair—how many of these problems with disciplinary procedures are addressed by the Police Reform Bill. He replied: I do not think any of them are addressed by the Police Reform Bill. That is a missed opportunity.

The question that the Government do try to answer through the Bill is that of having more officers. Their answer is community support officers. There has been a lot of confusion about them, not least from the Prime Minister, who was asked about them at Question Time by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). The Prime Minister gave them four different titles, so even the Government are not clear what those officers are meant to do. I agree with the comment that we should be in favour of more officers and more elements in the police family, whether wardens, specials or CSOs. What we must not have is confusion about their powers. That is a recipe for problems.

Mr. Elliott of the Police Federation appeared before the Select Committee and was asked what issues his organisation had with the 30-minute power of detention that was in the Bill. He replied: The practical difficulty with that is that anybody who knows anything about street policing knows that the first thing that you do when you arrest somebody is to try to get them out of the public eye. It is the most ridiculous thing to have somebody stood trying to explain why he or she has been arrested to them and you gather a crowd, it is embarrassing for the person who has been arrested, it is difficult for the officer, it is a recipe for disaster. It was not just the Police Federation that said that. The superintendents had their concerns, and some of the chief officers had concerns. I am not saying that the CSOs should be scrapped. Let us have different elements in the police family as an experiment, as the Home Affairs Committee said, but please do not compel police forces and police authorities to go down this route.

I was a little disappointed by what the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety said in answer to the question that I asked him about using ring-fenced funding. The Bill has the ingredients to make sure that the Home Secretary has his or her way with every police force in the country with regard to CSOs. The Home Secretary can say, "Here is the ring-fenced funding; you only get it if you have CSOs." Compulsion to have CSOs can be included in policing plans. There is even concern that some of the powers on adopting procedures and practices could be used to insist on having CSOs.

Everyone who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee said, "Go for the local solution. Give us the money and let us get on with the job." The response from the Association of Police Authorities was, Why not more police officers? Sir David Phillips, the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: Do you think there will be more operational gain from four police officers or six community support officers? … the answer would be four police officers". That is the message that we want the Government to take home tonight: they should give the police authorities and the police forces the money, and leave them with more operational independence to respond with local solutions to local problems. The man in Whitehall—who is mentioned 21 times in the Bill but does not have the courtesy to turn up here this afternoon—does not always know best.

8.19 pm
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North)

First, I apologise to the shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I was flatfooted by the fact that proceedings on the Bill did not start until nearly 5.30 pm, so I was not able to hear all his remarks.

I want to deal with the proposition that the Bill is somehow a major attack on the tripartite structure of the Home Secretary, chief constables and local police authorities. I do not accept that point or that we have the foundations of an interior ministry as described by the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and other Conservative Members. The much more measured response of the Select Committee on Home Affairs is to be preferred.

Three fundamental principles are involved when we talk about the police. The first is that the police have to uphold the rule of law. They have to protect citizens' lives, liberties and property and they have to prevent public disorder and assuage citizens' fear of crime. Secondly, the police have to act in partnership. Traditionally in this country, that involves the notion of community policing. However, in more recent times, legislation has meant that the police have been called upon to act in partnership with local police authorities and, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, with other bodies, such as local authorities. That is a good thing.

The third principle is the important one of accountability. One aspect of that is the police's accountability for their performance, and one aspect of performance is efficiency. The powers in part 1 are perfectly proper in terms of ensuring better accountability for efficiency. In a way, the foundations of that were laid by the previous Government. The Police Act 1996 brought together and consolidated a number of provisions whereby the Home Secretary could set performance targets, require a policy authority to have a chief constable retire and so on. There is nothing new in the principle of accountability being designed to improve the performance and efficiency of the police. I therefore do not accept the notion that the sky will fall in as a result of part 1.

The performance of police forces around the country is variable, and it would be much better for our citizens if the performance of the best was emulated by all forces. One aspect of performance that varies enormously is the quality of files submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. If we can improve performance through the activities of the standards unit and other measures, so much the better.

My remarks will concentrate, however, on the Bill's provisions that deal with antisocial behaviour, which is a major concern. I shall consider two aspects of the issue: the use of community support officers and accredited community safety schemes, and the special provisions in the Bill for antisocial behaviour orders.

I want to make four points about community support officers and accredited community safety schemes. The first is that we already have an extended police family. We already have traffic wardens, security staff, street wardens, local trading standards officers and environmental health officers, and we even have citizens involved as part of the extended police family in as much as they are members of neighbourhood watch schemes. We are not dealing with a new principle.

The second point is that community support officers and accredited community safety schemes will be under police control. If a chief constable does not want community support officers, he or she does not have to have them. Of course, there is also control over the accreditation for community safety schemes. That is a second guarantee, which is contained in the Bill, that ensures that ancillary aspects of the police family will operate in accordance with the law.

The third aspect is that the powers of the community support officers, as set out in schedules 4 and 5, will be very limited. The extended police family already has certain powers. For example, trading standards officers and environmental health officers have the power of access to premises and they can seize property, but we shall entrust only limited powers to community support officers and members of accredited community safety schemes. My hon. Friends have mentioned the power of citizen's arrest. Although that power is not especially favoured by the courts, it is possible for store detectives to affect a citizen's arrest. Again, the Bill does not do anything new in terms of principle.

My fourth point is that there is always a bureaucratic imperative when agencies are established with a special responsibility. The police take antisocial behaviour seriously, but they have a whole range of other responsibilities. By entrusting to special units in the extended police family responsibility for dealing with antisocial behaviour, we will better address the problem.

The evidence already exists. The preliminary results that were published in 1999 in the Home Office paper "Neighbourhood Warden Schemes: an Overview" identified some of the emerging evidence. More recently, a casual perusal of the publication "Warden" shows the whole range of benefits that such schemes can bring. For example, the No. 4 bulletin, which is the most recent one, contains accounts of how east Manchester has recorded a 30 per cent. drop in crime following a community-driven package that includes the use of wardens. Wardens in Sheffield have fast-tracked the processing of abandoned vehicles, reducing the time from 30 to 10 days. There are also accounts about what has happened to deal with graffiti in Middlesbrough and to get rid of the needles used by drugs addicts in Hull. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) also mentioned the Honor Oak scheme in her constituency. There have been definite achievements.

When antisocial behaviour orders were introduced in 1998, they were a major advance. The recent Home Office report No. 236, which was published in April, suggests, however, that there have been problems and that we have not had as many antisocial behaviour orders as we want. In the borough of Dudley, 16 ASBOs have been issued. Seven of them have been breached and that has led to custody in every case. However, we need more ASBOs to deal with the issue.

The Home Office report identified several problems. One was witness intimidation, and that must be addressed. Others were delay and the patchy performance of local authorities. Clause 55 attempts to deal with those problems by extending jurisdiction and by giving registered social landlords the power to seek ASBOs and the county courts the power to issue them. I welcome that.

I also welcome the steps taken on the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the assurance by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety that provisions on whistleblowing will be introduced in the Bill in Committee. The Government promised such provisions when the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 was introduced, and I look forward to the way in which such provisions can deal with the problem of malpractice in the police, in as much as it occurs.

8.29 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

It is a contempt of Parliament that the Home Secretary is not here to take through what on the Government's own admission—not that of the Opposition—is an extremely important Bill. It is no disrespect to the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to say that he has been put up as the monkey when the organ grinder should have been present. It is, of course, in stark contrast to what the Prime Minister has said about his belief in the importance of Parliament and, therefore, to the proposals that he has suggested to demonstrate that, such as coming before the Liaison Committee. I am afraid that the Home Secretary has betrayed the Prime Minister's intentions in that respect. The Minister could have done himself and the House a favour by explaining why the Home Secretary is not in the Chamber.

The debate is being held not just against the background of the contentious issues that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) set out so graphically, but against a great deal of dissatisfaction in the police service. As my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) said, morale is extremely low. There was an overwhelming vote against the Government's proposals on pay and conditions, and the police service has been left thinking that it is not appreciated by the Government. Everything that the Government have said about their intentions to improve the lot of our police service, to make it more modern and to improve the detection of crime has to be set against the experience of police officers up and down the country in recent months.

I make no apologies, as a Hampshire Member, for bringing to the attention of the House and the Minister the concerns of the police in that county. The chief constable, Mr. Paul Kernaghan, wrote to me on 25 February this year. Against the background of the dissatisfaction of the federated ranks, he said: My personal view and I stress it is a personal view, is that the federated ranks did not primarily look at the agreement in terms of whether or not they would personally gain from its implementation. I feel that given its conditional nature, many officers utilised the ballot as a means of expressing their anger at what they perceive as a sustained denigration of the police service in recent months. It is not appropriate for me to speculate as to how that climate in the media arose. However, you should be aware that many officers feel angry and resentful as a result. That speaks volumes. Mr. Kernaghan is chief constable of a force that serves a county for which the Minister is a Member of Parliament and he is reporting the dissatisfaction of police officers in our county.

On 18 January this year, a number of right hon. and hon. Members met members of the Police Federation at Netley where we listened to their concerns about what was happening. Something like 78 police officers were present, all of whom had come in their own time. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), my hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Mr. Willetts), for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) were present. It was one and three quarter hours into our discussion before the issue of pay arose, so it was not a bleating operation by police officers in Hampshire, but the expression of real concerns, three of which I shall highlight.

The first relates to the new scheme to create community support officers. First and foremost, officers were worried about the experience of CSOs and what knowledge they would bring to the policing of our locality. They wanted to know who would train them and how long that would last. The particular point was made that cases might not proceed to court because those acting in a quasi-police role who do not have the full training and do not understand the ins and outs of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and other Acts that regulate the conduct by which police officers bring evidence to court would be unlikely to follow the rules of evidence.

Mr. Kevan Jones

The hon. Gentleman sets out why we should not have CSOs. Is he therefore at odds with his Front-Bench spokesmen who favour them, except for their powers of arrest?

Mr. Howarth

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who is very intelligent, failed to grasp that I am highlighting the concerns of police officers in Hampshire and some of the practical questions that they posed. That is not the same as opposing the idea of introducing CSOs; I am merely posing questions that have not been answered by the Government on how the CSOs will operate.

The police officers made it clear that they do not want to fill in forms or write out verbatim reports. Instead, they want to be on the streets doing precisely the job that the CSOs are supposed to do. As one of them said, that role used to be played by park keepers, bus conductors and others in a uniform. It is because those people are not so much in evidence and, indeed, because of the fear that some people might take the law into their own hands that the Government have come up with the proposals. The overwhelming message was that existing officers want to get on to the streets. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) made that point. He also referred to the special constabulary. We need to increase the number of specials rather than creating CSOs in the first instance.

The second point made by the police officers relates to bureaucracy. Police officers spend a great deal of time sitting around in court. Sometimes that is because the courts are not well organised and police officers spend time waiting for cases to be heard that are not running on schedule. That is a complete waste of their time. The Government should do something to address that problem because that will help to ensure that police officers do the job that they are supposed to be doing.

Vera Baird (Redcar)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

If the hon. and learned Lady will forgive me, I will not because many other hon. Members wish to speak.

One of the members of the constabulary, who is based at Aldershot police station, wrote to me explaining how difficult it is to do the job that he is charged with doing. He said: Mr. Blunkett obviously does not appreciate the complexities of criminal investigation … I compile files for some of the most serious and complex of cases that occur in Hampshire. I can assure you that the Police receive little co-operation from other Government Agencies, telephone companies and Banking institutes with the investigation of crime. Many Agencies are so confused and frightened by the European convention on human rights,

such as Article 8, and they are no longer willing to make inquiries on behalf of the Police even with a written report explaining the full justifications for doing so … The amount of reports covering Data Protection and ECHR issues that I have to write on a weekly basis are one of the major reasons that our investigations take so long to complete. The Bill does little, if anything, to address the concerns of police officers about the amount of time that it takes to bring cases to court. What police officers want is a reduction in bureaucracy, but there is very little sign of that in the Bill. That is a practical example for the Minister of how the Bill fails to address the concerns of the policemen out there on our streets.

Finally, the independence of police authorities has been mentioned several times. I simply want to reinforce the arguments that the Minister has now heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House. His own police chief, Mr. Kernaghan, asks: Why have additional powers been sought and what are the implications of the proposed changes in legislation? He continues: I respectfully suggest that the lack of safeguards and the effective bypassing of police authorities will result in a cadre of Chief Constables obsessed with pleasing the Home Office, regardless of their own professional judgement. Chief Constables cannot be above account but the current proposals will result in increased central control at the expense of local representatives. There in a nutshell is the case against what the Government are doing, and I hope that they will have the sense and the wit to recognise the validity of the changes made in another place, and to accept them here.

8.39 pm
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East)

I welcome the Bill for its radical police reform. Time is of the essence, and I shall concentrate on parts 2 and 3, and particularly clauses 8 to 34 on complaints and misconduct.

It is no secret that in Teesside our local community has been sorely riven by one of the most high-profile police disciplinary cases that has arisen in this country. I refer, of course, to Operation Lancet, of which I am sure some hon. Members are aware. There have been debates about it in the Chamber and publicity in the national papers. Serious allegations were made against eight serving Cleveland police officers, most notably Detective Superintendent Ray Mallon, all of whom were suspended. Subsequently, a further 400 allegations that could be construed as criminal were made against 60 officers.

The case became a huge operation that took on a life of its own: 571 disciplinary notices were served; 6,701 inquiries were launched; 3,162 statements were taken and 8,311 other documents were taken into consideration. After a period of intense scrutiny and the referral of the allegations to the Crown Prosecution Service, none of those allegations was found to have any criminal content. Lancet has lasted for over four and a half years, and I estimate that it has cost over £7 million.

I do not intend to enter into a debate on the rights and wrongs of Operation Lancet—that is not the purpose of this debate. However, its subject is a fresh look at how police misconduct matters could be handled in future, and what lessons we can learn from the problems highlighted by the present system. My concerns are that it is bureaucratic and cumbersome, and gives a licence for investigations to grow like Topsy.

The present system dates from 1984 and is itself the child of previous legislation. The Home Office has always made it clear that the aim of legislation governing police complaints is to investigate complaints about individual policemen or women and not about the direction and control of a police force". However, in cases such as Lancet and similar investigations elsewhere in the UK, it is difficult to discuss the substance of allegations against a police officer and the defence of that officer without looking at the central direction of a police force and whether that direction serves the public interest.

Allegations have been made against individual serving and suspended police officers which have been publicly rebutted by those very officers. Allegations and counter-allegations have been made not in a committee room at force headquarters but in the columns of the national press and on television. They have been part of a controversy that has rocked and destabilised the Cleveland police—a controversy that arose solely from serious jealousies and rivalries within the ranks of the senior management of the Cleveland force.

There are big issues here too about the seeming independence and openness of the complaints procedure. I want to make it clear that I am not criticising the officers from external forces who were drafted in to consider Lancet issues; they have conducted themselves in the great spirit of impartiality and independence which should characterise this country's police. However, the procedure has led the public of Teesside to conclude that Lancet is a case of the police investigating the police.

When questions arise about the suitability of the actions of the employing force and about the central direction and management of that force, it would be better to have an independent structure in place. That has been called for several times in relation to matters other than Lancet, most notably in the Macpherson report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. From my own local perspective, it is welcome that the Bill addresses the need for an independent complaints commission.

Norman Baker

I share the hon. Gentleman's view that the police should not investigate the police. However, does he agree that if that is to be achieved it is important that the independent commission is properly staffed and financed, otherwise the inquiries it looks at will go on for any length of time, as has Operation Lancet?

Dr. Kumar

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister heard that. Doubtless the commission will receive strong support; the Minister addressed that earlier.

The independent complaints commission will have its own powers of investigation: it can call in a case for investigation or supervision and decide what level of investigation is fitting or justifiable in the light of the seriousness of a case; it can call for papers relevant to the investigation to be made available to it; it will have the power to enter any police premises without let or hindrance; and it can allow third parties access to the investigation. If an Independent Police Complaints Commission had existed, Lancet would not have become a debacle and public moneys would not have been needlessly spent on an investigation that went nowhere.

I wholeheartedly support the spirit of clause 8, which allows for the appointment to the commission of members who are not past or present members of a police force, thus allowing for greater public confidence and greater freedom to look laterally at the case under investigation, the way in which it has been handled by the force concerned, and the burden of the complaint laid against a serving officer or officers.

The Government were elected on a promise of openness and transparency in public life.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

And they fulfilled it.

Dr. Kumar

I agree wholeheartedly.

The Bill is a testament to that great promise—[Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh, but their Government never delivered that. Nowhere is the Bill more open and radical than in its clauses on police discipline and complaints; the only pity is that it was not introduced sooner. Had that been the case, the public of Teesside would have been saved many years of doubt, concern and anger and honest police officers would have been allowed to get on with the job that they know best—policing effectively the streets of the towns, estates and villages of Middlesbrough.

8.47 pm
Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

The genuine desire for reform, across the political spectrum and among relevant organisations, is welcome; clearly everyone shares the vital objective of curbing antisocial behaviour. Division in opinion largely concerns the details.

I should like to look at three areas: the extension of the Home Secretary's powers; the responsibility and scope of powers given to community support officers and accredited community safety officers; and the use of antisocial behaviour orders. Excellent cross-party work was undertaken in the other place and I commend colleagues on their work to change the more illiberal aspects of the original Bill. The Government introduced some welcome amendments, but there were also strong messages for them about various aspects of the Bill. I welcome the removal of clause 5 from part 1 of the original Bill, as it would have granted the Secretary of State powers to give directions to chief officers. I feel, as do many people—many hon. Members have expressed such views tonight—that it is inappropriate for a Home Secretary both to give orders to chief officers on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and to scrutinise action plans. The clause would diminish local influence, accountability and control, leading to a diminished role for chief officers and police authorities, whether actual or perceived, in the system.

As a local councillor, I know only too well the problems of lack of powers and authority locally. The level of centralisation and lack of true devolution in England are significant contributors to many problems in our local communities. They also lead to a blame culture. All the time in the local authority we have a sort of ping-pong game: "It's the local authority's fault", then, "It's the Government's fault". With the centralisation of power, we bring in the blame culture with no true accountability.

By concentrating powers over the police in the hands of the Home Secretary and, in consequence, taking powers away from chief officers and police authorities in clauses throughout the Bill, we are reinforcing the view on the ground that under the present Government power rests only with central Government in London. Although London may be important, there are those of us from the shire counties who see life differently. Life is very different in different parts of the country.

I agree with one of my colleagues in the other place who argued that during all stages of the passage of the Bill through the Lords, the Government provided little or no hard evidence to show why such powers in the hands of the Home Secretary are necessary, or in what circumstances they would be used. That colleague also pointed out that many new initiatives to tackle crime have been launched by the Government and draw on the experience and knowledge of numerous organisations, including the Association of Police Authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the courts. With such initiatives, why are additional powers for the Home Secretary necessary?

I am not convinced that the Government's own amendments—clause 42—are enough to address fully the concerns of members of both Opposition parties, although I welcome the Government's efforts to improve the Bill.

As hon. Members have said, the tripartite system should remain just that. The Home Secretary should not be in a position to override local control. Such political power—that is the crunch—should not hang over the police force. It contradicts the rationale underlying the tripartite system, which we all value.

On the use of civilian support, I shall begin by examining the proposed powers. I am concerned that the issues that caused so much debate in the other place and clauses that were so opposed by my colleagues there will simply be reintroduced. Many of those clauses infringe the liberty of our citizens. I do not deny that something must be done to prevent antisocial and criminal behaviour, but I am not sure that a non-police officer with limited training and powers should be able to detain someone for up to 30 minutes. We had a debate on that tonight, but I should like to add another point. What if a constable or a police officer does not appear within the allocated 30 minutes? In my part of the country, one cannot guarantee that the police will turn up in 30 minutes. That could lead to a very odd situation.

I welcomed the removal of clause 40, which would have enabled the Home Secretary to amend and supplement the list of police powers that civilians might possess. I am worried about the provision being reinstated.

With regard to the various forms of civilian support proposed in the Bill, I acknowledge that the Government do not intend to impose community support officers on police authorities where they are not required or wanted. Perhaps I am being generous; various hon. Members have mentioned the issue of ring-fencing. However, I am still rather naive, so I shall accept that assumption for the moment. I am concerned that in the absence of enough funding for police officers, police authorities can easily be seduced by the prospect of three for the price of two. I am frequently seduced in that manner when shopping in the supermarket; one does not always make the best decision. It is the seductive nature of the proposal that is inherently taking us down the wrong line.

Mr. Denham

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Brooke

I should like to carry on, as I am worried about the time.

I am very concerned about the authorities' proposed powers, and I think that variations in powers between neighbouring authorities could create great confusion. In all these matters, clarity and ease of understanding are vital. Will the public really be clear about all the different categories proposed in the Bill? Neighbourhood wardens are being introduced in one part of my constituency. I am very pleased about that; I would like them to be introduced throughout the whole constituency. They will have a distinctive uniform. The important thing is that they are employed by the police and have arisen from a partnership between the police and local authorities. I feel that we should have not accredited community safety officers but one type of community safety warden whose role is clearly defined and must be recognised only by local authorities and the police. I want briefly to mention antisocial behaviour orders. When we discuss those orders in Committee, we must consider not only the evaluation of their effectiveness, but what guidance is being given to local and other authorities on rehabilitative measures. I do not think that ASBOs work effectively by themselves. They need to be used with other measures as well; indeed, there are lots of measures that we can use besides ASBOs, which should be a last resort. I cannot agree with the simplistic suggestion that a large number of ASBOs is a good thing and that a small number is a bad thing. That argument is far too simplistic.

In conclusion, I should like to highlight the fact that the police need and deserve support. Police morale is low, but we have to get the support right. I welcome in principle the use of available civilians to undertake some of the tasks that are currently carried out by police officers and to allow the police to concentrate on police work rather than incessant form filling. However, the dividing line between civilian and police work should be very clear. We need more police officers in the most demanding areas and support for preventive measures at local community level. Surely, we should focus on crime prevention and nipping crime in the bud. The costs to society are too great for us to begrudge spending in this area, and the possible benefits are too great to ignore.

8.57 pm
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important debate.

Hon. Members may be aware that I am chairman of the all-party group on abuse investigations. During the past four years, I have received a considerable amount of correspondence from the family and friends of individuals who believe that they have been convicted of crimes that they did not commit about the validity and integrity of police and criminal justice procedures. The members of the all-party group have not considered individual cases, but have examined the processes used by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other criminal justice structures. Along with numerous professionals working in the criminal justice system, the group's members have grave concerns about the processes currently employed in the system.

It is in that context that I welcome the Bill. I wish to contain my remarks to the following areas: the failure of existing policing arrangements and my concerns about the proposals before the House. To date, I believe that there has been a demonstrable failure by police authorities to share good practice with other authorities. I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that the Attorney-General has referred the Damilola Taylor case for review. I am concerned about the absence of any structure that requires, rather than requests, that police authorities implement the recommendations that will be made following the Attorney-General's review.

I believe that there is a manifest failure among police authorities to review their performance and procedures to ensure that they are effective. Indeed, I note that unless authorities are directed by some catastrophic disaster such as the Stephen Lawrence or Damilola Taylor cases to make recommendations to improve internal practices and procedures, very few of them will do so.

Police authorities have been unable to develop local information databases that reflect significant local circumstances or to produce statistics that could be used to justify local policing plans instead of reflecting national priorities. That is a serious problem.

I am deeply concerned about the failure of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary—HMIC—to improve the effectiveness of police authorities. I have read all the HMIC's reports from 1995, and it seems to spend a great deal of time reviewing how police authorities achieve targets, rather than examining the procedures and practices that the police use to achieve those targets. The reports suggest that the HMIC is more interested in the number of cases coming off the end of the production line than in the quality of those cases.

The failure of the police authority and the HMIC structures to employ and utilise the services of experts who could be instrumental in improving the effectiveness of police authorities leads to a great deal of inefficiency and wasted time. The police must be masters of a particular trade, not try to be jack of all the trades in which a modern, effective organisation must be engaged.

I have great concern about the technical competence of officers. That arises from the number of cases that are repeatedly rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service, which then need to be reworked. I am equally concerned about the number of cases that are subsequently discontinued in court. The current processes are manifestly inefficient, and some authorities seem to be unable to tackle the inefficiencies. I suspect that that is because they do not adequately train staff or retain appropriately qualified staff.

On the failure of the complaints system, I recently asked a series of parliamentary questions on the number of complaints received by the police, the CPS, the Attorney-General, the HMIC and Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. In some cases, no statistics on complaints are collected; in others, the statistics that are collected are not subject-focused. How can people involved in the criminal justice system know what concerns the public if they do not collect the statistics that flow from complaints?

I turn to the Bill. I have grave reservations about the proposal to establish a separate standards unit. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, with all its faults, should be expanded and required to undertake the activity ascribed to the standards unit—although I recognise that it was the HMIC's inability to seize the initiative on improving standards that led to the proposal. I seek reassurances that the two units will eventually merge. I am normally fundamentally opposed to command from the centre. Can the Minister confirm that the new police standards unit will, in the longer term, be an enabling authority that encourages police authorities to develop more efficient practices and procedures, to share good practices and to work together to resolve cross-border crimes? The unit must encourage authorities to review their own practices and procedures instead of being remotely managed, which breeds managerial ambivalence.

The proposed complaints system addresses some of the concerns that have been expressed and will at least minimise the confusion that arises among the public. Many people are not even aware that they can complain about the police or, if they do so, worry that the police may subsequently take punitive action against them for raising a complaint. Currently, following a complaint, the Police Complaints Authority refers its recommendations to each police authority, and chief constables can decide whether to accept them. It is regrettable that the Home Secretary needs to avail himself of powers to address that unacceptable situation. Legitimate complaints must lead to changes in practices and procedures. The system discourages many people from complaining, because they believe that nothing will change. We live in a democracy, and the police, as part and parcel of the democratic process, must engage and work with the people whom they are employed to protect. The lack of Home Office intervention so far has allowed police authorities to believe that they are essentially a law unto themselves.

My primary worry about community support officers is their employment terms and conditions. Will the Minister reassure me that they will be not only directed by the chief constable but paid directly by him, not through the local authority?

The White Paper refers to extending the role of the port police. I am sure that the proposal is sensible, but we must ensure that all those engaged in police work are protected under the same terms and conditions as those who are employed by police authorities. That does not currently apply to officers who work in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.

I wish that the Bill was unnecessary. However, the great variation in police performance cannot go unchecked. The police authorities have not tried to manage themselves; regrettably, they must therefore be managed.

9.5 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in a high-quality debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who gave a bravura performance without notes. As a former speech writer, I am always suspicious of that because it puts us out of a job. Nevertheless, his speech was impressive. I also draw attention to the powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron).

We are all trying to tackle the same problem, which I encountered at my surgery on Friday. A gang of local youths are making life a misery for a family who live on a housing estate in Knutsford. The case was serious; the daughter, who was pregnant, had been attacked. The police have arrested six people, but they are out on bail on the same small housing estate. People in estates throughout the country cry out for politicians to respond to their anxieties, put police on their streets, deal with the criminal justice system and tackle the growing problem of disorder in their communities.

I have every sympathy with a Home Secretary who says that he will listen to people, who wants to make policing more visible and says that he will take on some of the ingrained practices of the police. When he announced his great crusade to reform the police within weeks of becoming Home Secretary, many people believed that he would do it because he had the political capital and clout to do what previous Home Secretaries, including Conservative Home Secretaries, had failed to achieve: take on the police, reform their practices and radically change the way in which law and order works in this country.

The political capital has been dissipated and the good will has gone. The Home Secretary, who knows when to take the limelight and when it is important to turn up, is absent. That speaks volumes about the Bill. It is a great shame and a missed opportunity.

I want to concentrate on community support officers. Various Members have got the name wrong; even the Prime Minister occasionally gets it wrong. Hon. Members have spoken about the value of community support wardens in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) spoke about their value on an estate in Lewisham. The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) spoke about the value of street wardens.

There are street wardens in my community, and they do a fantastic job in Cheshire. They have transformed the life on some estates. Why not simply extend the activities of wardens? We should not create a new category, called community support officers. Wardens should not be removed from the job that they currently do. It is low level and involves picking up litter, reporting vandalism and keeping an eye on the estate. We should not take away that role and replace it with a pseudo-police role.

The Stockport community warden scheme is one of the best in the country and Home Office Ministers often cite it as an example. It is close to my constituency, and the people who run it are suspicious of the proposals for CSOs. They say that there is a risk of turning wardens into pseudo-policemen that might break down the bond of trust that has developed between the local community and the wardens. That may say something about the esteem in which police are held, but there is a danger. The Home Office seems to be trying to get policing on the cheap.

When Cheshire Members of Parliament went to see our chief constable a couple of months ago, and spoke to him about the proposals in the White Paper, he was very concerned that he would not have the flexibility to deploy these community support officers in the way that he wanted to. He would not, for example, be able to send them to riots in Burnley, as he had had to do with his regular police officers last year, or send them to a football match to deal with some of the really tricky problems such as those we saw at Millwall recently. He felt that he would not have that kind of flexibility, and that that would be a great weakness of community support officers. After all, once we start paying them a decent salary and giving them all the perks and pensions, they are going to be almost as expensive as new police officer recruits, but without the flexibility.

I urge the Government to reconsider this proposal. By all means, let us extend the warden schemes and develop the neighbourhood watch schemes. Let us use these examples and build on them. Let us have a broader police family, but let us not try to get policing on the cheap.

Mr. Challen

You just said they were going to be expensive.

Mr. Osborne

Well, they are. There is only one reason that the Government want to introduce these officers: they think that it will save money and put more people in uniform on the streets.

Mr. Challen

Is it not the case that we have promised to have 130,000 uniformed police on the streets by next March? Is that expensive or is it cheap?

Mr. Osborne

Policing is expensive, but the answer is not to have a load of people in uniform on the streets who have sort-of police powers, and who are unable to deal with antisocial behaviour, for example, in the way that the police can. Going into a town centre on a Friday or Saturday night and confronting a group of drunk youths who are causing all sorts of problems might constitute low-level policing in the Home Office's book, but any police officer will say that dealing with unpredictable, violent people is one of the most difficult parts of their job.

The Home Office wants to put community support officers into that role, and to give them one power—the power to detain people for half an hour. In most town centres on a Friday night, giving someone in a uniform that is not a police uniform the power to detain people for 30 minutes until the police arrive is not going to work. The Government think that they are getting policing on the cheap, but I do not think that it will not turn out that way. That is why I reject these proposals, and I hope that the House of Lords continues its resistance to them.

9.12 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I am very pleased to be able to speak in favour of this bold Bill, not least because it is not an isolated initiative, but part of a pattern of legislative and executive action by the Government to combat crime. It links with other initiatives such as the street crime initiative—which is going to deliver £67 million to 10 police forces across the country, including my own in Blackpool—and the safer cities initiative, which will have important implications for tackling antisocial behaviour through interventions such as pub watch schemes, approved tenancy schemes and antisocial behaviour orders.

The Bill also links with action on victims' rights and the determination to link the Crown Prosecution Service with the police to improve follow-through in the justice system. This represents a sustained, intensive and pragmatic attack on crime, but also a responsive one. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team at the Home Office deserve the highest praise for this, and for pursuing this Bill.

I want to speak first about the police standards unit. It is absolutely right that we should pursue this. In his previous incarnation in the last Parliament, my right hon. Friend showed courage, vigour and balance when this principle of inspection was applied in education. I find it bizarre that Conservative Members, whose Government introduced an inspection unit in education in the early 1990s, should now apparently be so opposed to the extension of the concept to the police service today.

Clause 3, which establishes Powers to require inspection and report is absolutely right. Hon. Members have said today that there is too much variation in the figures. This is not just a question of value for money; it is also a question of performance and accountability. We need to be able to share best practice and joint partnership, as is the case in education. Occasionally, police officers need that little extra push, in the same way that local education authorities do. It is needed if there is to be public confidence, and a feeling that external inspections are being carried out.

We heard a lot of puffed-up rhetoric and false antithesis from the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). Why did he not note the eminent good sense displayed by his former colleague as Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, Lord Mayhew, who said when speaking about the Bill in the House of Lords: The Home Secretary cannot be expected to carry the can unless he is in a position ultimately to influence how policing is carried out by chief officers. So a balance has to be established"?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 2002; Vol. 631, c. 558.] I entirely agree with that.

We all know that the police work hard locally and nationally, and that applies not least to the initiative on antisocial behaviour orders; but a further push is needed. The process needs to be streamlined. The new forms of ASBO that the Bill will permit will give police, courts and councils more flexible tools with which to do their bit. ASBOs can constitute a key element in dealing with the destructive swathe of juvenile offenders in local communities.

I have seen how people in Blackpool are made vulnerable by problems such as transience, a relatively skewed demography causing more young and elderly persons to feel at risk, the effect of vandalism on small businesses, and aggressive street behaviour—which, sadly, can be both locally and visitor-generated. I think that that applies to all coastal towns. In that context, ASBOs are not just a response to public concern; they enable time to be "freed up".

I welcome the proposals to increase civilian input, which will, I hope, enable the police to be more sensitive and responsive to home calls. A lady in my constituency was asked, when a crowd of youths were jumping up and down on her elderly husband's car outside, whether it was "a life-threatening situation". The police felt that if it was not, they could not go and deal with it. I do not want to see more examples of that.

In the intervals between not being able to decide whether policing, or the provision of community support officers, was cheap or dear, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) spoke of the impact on town centres. He missed the point. The point is that the presence of community support officers as part of a network will, in many cases, enable police to be there in the town centres. What people in my community in Blackpool who are not in the tourist area want is a dedicated presence of police, or police support, to provide the necessary reassurance. At present, inevitably, many of those who are present must be taken away to deal with town-centre problems at weekends.

I welcome the extra police numbers we have been given in Blackpool—45 last year and another 10 this year, five of whom have gone on dedicated patrols on a major estate in the constituency. I also welcome the impetus given to ward beat managers and response teams, and the initiative launched by Blackpool police and my local newspaper for the printing of ward beat managers' details. Nevertheless, however well we do in surpassing the targets of 1997, the police will always be stretched. We need community support officers to provide that intensive day-by-day reassurance—to provide that local input.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) mentioned the important things that had been done in a Lancashire pilot. I welcome the Home Affairs Select Committee's support for the proposals, with safeguards, but we must give practical support to the community support officers. We cannot be left with the toothless CSOs with whom the hon. Member for West Dorset and his hon. Friends would be satisfied. For instance, how would they cope with the problem described by a constituent who wrote to me earlier in the year? The letter states that between 6.45 pm and 8.15 pm on most Fridays about thirty youths plus girls met drinking, fighting … urinating on the fences, this now seems to be every Friday … two youths kicked the door of the electric department at the back".

Conservative Members may say that that is a job for the police. However, without regular policing in communities to get rid of that low-level violence and antisocial behaviour, difficulties will build up into the sort of problems that I have described.

Community support officers will help to build up communities and people's quality of life. They are part of a process that involves area forums, neighbourhood watch schemes, neighbourhood renewal, home zone schemes such as those that operate in the wards of Talbot and Brunswick in my constituency, and even the gating initiatives that are being introduced.

We cannot expect everything to be done by policing. We must accept that parents also have a responsibility in the matter, and that we need to use all the relevant associations and voluntary groups. That is why I welcome the accreditation schemes proposed in the Bill.

However, we must also make sure that we fulfil the debt to people of the older generation on our estates and in our constituencies. They feel most pressured by this low-level activity. Some of the chatterati outside the House who have complained about the provisions in the Bill, or the reborn liberals among Conservative Members, ought to look at the practical implications of what they are suggesting—or, rather, what they are not suggesting—should happen on the estates in our constituencies.

Community support officers will be able to show juveniles the errors of their ways at an early stage, just as the effective enforcement of ASBOs does. The "broken window" effect, which so often leads to the creation of no-go areas and the misery that all hon. Members have seen in their constituencies, can be stopped by that sort of application.

Problems such as I have described are of concern to all of us, but especially to those who are core voters, and those who feel that they are most affected by such problems. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at an early stage in the Bill's introduction, tackling crime is part of our social renewal agenda. That is why the proposals regarding ASBOs and CSOs are so important, and why I am very pleased to support the Bill tonight.

9.22 pm
Lady Hermon (North Down)

I should begin by declaring an interest: 15 years ago, I wrote a critical article about the then Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I married him 13 months later, and five months later he retired, although the two things are riot connected.

I am delighted to speak in this debate, as we in Northern Ireland are streets ahead of the rest of the UK. Police reform went ahead in Northern Ireland two years ago, with the introduction of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. I hope that it will be useful and constructive for Ministers and the House to draw on our experience of police reform.

My first point concerns the retention of officers. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said that we must ensure that we retain police officers. It is essential that the Home Secretary somehow builds up the support of the rank and file members of the police service in England and Wales. The Police Federation of England and Wales and the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales must support the reforms.

I say that passionately. The House will hear the passion in my voice, but I feel passionate because of what happened in Northern Ireland. The Patten report recommended that the number of regular police officers should be reduced over 10 years to 7,500. The report came out on 9 September 1999. Two and a half years on—nowhere near the 10 years recommended by Patten—we in Northern Ireland are down to 6,900 police officers.

I am sorry to have to say this, but nothing has done more damage to the credibility of the Belfast agreement, and to the support for it, than police reform. I hope that the damage can be repaired, but that will require more resources. It is essential that rank and file members support police reform.

When we gave the Minister a break earlier on and stopped intervening on him, he actually managed to tell us that the target for spring 2003 was 130,000 police officers. That may be the target, but the difficulty is that, without the support of rank and file officers, experienced police officers will drain away and morale will go down, as it has in Northern Ireland. The Government must retain police officers by persuading them that the reforms are worth introducing.

Secondly, I was absolutely delighted when fundamental human rights were put at the core of policing in Northern Ireland. That is where they should be because that enhances people's respect for the police. I am delighted that the United Kingdom has rightly made the European convention on human rights part and parcel of its domestic law. We in Northern Ireland have a new oath for police officers, who now swear to uphold fundamental human rights. I am very pleased that that is mirrored in clause 64. It is essential that the other people to whom the Government intend to give policing or detention powers have human rights training; otherwise the Government will face many legal actions. The respectability of police officers is increased when they have a basic operational understanding of human rights legislation.

Thirdly, it is the responsibility of all hon. Members, not just Ministers, to increase public awareness of police reform. That is key. I am very sorry to say that we politicians in Northern Ireland must bear a lot of the responsibility for not preparing the general public for the reforms, especially the speed of reform, introduced under the Patten report. I do not want that mistake to be repeated in England and Wales. The Government must, please, increase public awareness of the reforms, which depend on public support.

I shall rest my case on my fourth and final point, as other hon. Members wish to contribute. I made this point in an intervention in the hope that it would be taken on board. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has limited powers over policing; we have a Chief Constable and a policing board, which includes 10 elected Assembly Members. That arrangement is working very well, but it is not just tripartite—we will have district policing partnerships for every local council in Northern Ireland. I know that our system is easier to manage; we have 26 district councils, and the number may decrease as local government reform is due.

Every district policing partnership will meet the local chief superintendent every month to discuss, advise and consult on local policing issues. Whether considering parades—we are approaching the season for them—or other issues, district policing partnerships represent a real vehicle to enable local councillors, who form the majority of each partnership, to be accountable to the electorate. Those partnerships also represent the means through which ordinary people can have a voice.

I urge the Government to consider those four points and to try to learn from the good lessons of police reform in Northern Ireland.

9.28 pm
Vera Baird (Redcar)

I welcome the Bill. It is very timely that the House is considering part 1 in the immediate aftermath of the thematic report, published on 10 April by the inspectorate of constabulary, about the way in which the crime of rape is policed.

The inspectorate examined the way in which rape is dealt with in nine police areas, which represent a cross-section. The disparities that it found among those forces in the operational and investigative standards at almost every stage of dealing with that offence make much of the case for the police standards unit and for the Home Secretary's extended powers under part 1 to direct chief officers to remedy shortcomings and to regulate procedures and practices.

If this were a different debate, I would be arguing that the overall picture concerning rape is very poor indeed. However, what is germane to this debate is that inspectors have found specific examples of good practice in some police forces—not necessarily in the same force—that, if combined, could produce a radical improvement in the current 7.3 per cent. conviction rate. That rate is the lowest ever, and far lower than for any other kind of assault. To be fair to women, such good practices must be disseminated to all 43 forces, and especially to those that are performing poorly. The inspectorate of constabulary is influential, but its role is only advisory, and although the Association of Chief Police Officers has frequently mediated to spread good practice, it cannot ensure its adoption. In that regard, the Home Secretary's powers are also insufficient.

In response to the report on rape, a cross-departmental working group has been set up to try to implement its 80 recommendations. The police standards unit that the White Paper announced is now working, and its core task is the identification and dissemination of best practice. Had it been operating earlier, it would have continuously identified and spread good practice to drive up standards to the best levels of operational performance, and rape convictions would not have fallen so far behind. It would have identified a host of best practices scattered around the country, which I do not have time to itemise.

The PSU will be particularly important for those such as rape victims, whose criminal victimisation is not naturally at the top of the police's hit list. For rape, read domestic violence as well, for which the standards are equally variable. However, centres of excellence do exist that involve officers with special interests. The PSU is operating and does not need legislation, but to implement its recommendations it plainly needs all the powers that part 1 of the Bill gives to the Home Secretary. In particular, it needs enhanced powers to direct police authorities, and to direct chief officers in cases where the Home Secretary is satisfied that a particular force, or part of it, was ineffective or inefficient. That would assist rape complainants. Clause 7 will allow the Home Secretary to issue directions requiring all forces to follow particular operational procedures—in other words, to follow best practices.

Huge variations in performance between forces, and therefore between postcodes, are unacceptable. If women in a given area knew that their rape complaints would be investigated poorly, but a few miles away they would be offered support, assistance and best practice, they would be inflamed with anger to discover that no mechanism exists to enable the Home Secretary to compel such practice in their area. They would not regard the power to drive up standards as interference in the independence of operational command, and nor do I.

I also welcome the advent of community support officers. The beauty of the proposal is that the question whether an area will have such officers, and the powers granted to them, will be determined according to local need by the chief police officer and the local police authority. That is a clear devolution of policing power: what it is not is policing on the cheap. CSOs will do exactly as has been described: support the police—and surely the community, as well—by handling a specific range of antisocial behaviour, including noisiness, litter, dog-fouling and rowdiness. Only recently have we come to realise that such conduct affects people's day-to-day peaceful enjoyment rather more than does armed robbery, for example. It has always been extremely difficult for police to provide a local, targeted response to such conduct, which calls for a much more street-based, mediation-oriented regime. It is an inappropriate task for highly skilled, but differently skilled, officers, who as police are better suited to different duties. CSOs offer a real opportunity for a modern way forward.

Redcar and Cleveland borough council—my constituency is located in that borough—has the largest community support warden scheme in England. Some 45 wardens provide coverage until 10 o'clock each night, and soon there will be 49 of them. Each ward has a pair of wardens, so they are never far away. They have a radio link and mobile phones. They also have vans, but the rules require them to be on the beat 85 per cent. of the time in the evening. They were established as the council devolved its services down to neighbourhood level, so they are the first port of call for anybody who sees a hole in the road or some item of disrepair. The wardens call out the repair team from the local office, and the matter is dealt with swiftly. That helps to alleviate what is called the broken window syndrome—if a minor problem such as a broken window is not fixed, it is followed by others in a spiral of decline.

I am told by Councillor David McCluckie, the lead councillor for community safety, that the wardens also play a very important role in gathering information, some of it very sensitive, about crime. People feel much freer to give the wardens the information than the police, probably because members of the public could have all sorts of reasons for talking to the wardens. A member of the public might say, "There's a hole in the road over there, and No. 26 is dealing drugs". but as long as the hole in the road is mended no one can take revenge if the other information is acted on as well.

The wardens have byelaw powers to give tickets for dog-fouling and other minor offences. If they observe the stuff of antisocial behaviour, they can make statements and they have given evidence. They do not live in the ward where they work, so they do not face retribution.

A notable aspect of antisocial behaviour is that it involves the young more than any other group in the community. Sometimes the behaviour is deliberate and highly offensive, but sometimes the young people are not aware of or concerned by the effect that their behaviour has on the rest of society. Often they do not have anything else to do, or that is what they think. In a ward called Grangetown, the council has decided to build a youth shelter because two wardens made an informal approach to a group of young lads and found that the nuisance of kicking a ball against the walls of pensioners' bungalows was for want of another surface to kick the ball against that was anywhere near the shops.

Young people know who the wardens are and they do not approach the young people aggressively or judgmentally. The wardens' uniform makes them look like paramedics, and everybody trusts them. The wardens are trained by the police in PACE—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—so they know what they are doing. They are also trained in anger management and mediation and how to develop an exit strategy. If they want a name and address and are refused, they are so local that they can ask people nearby for a name, or they follow the person home and deliver the ticket. If they have to withdraw from a confrontation, they can identify the offender through other locals and can go to the home later with a police constable.

Antisocial behaviour has been cut by between 20 and 30 per cent. in the year that the wardens have been working, and the fire brigade locally reckons that the number of hoaxes and fire-raising incidents has fallen by 70 per cent. The wardens are seen as the community's champions. They are proud of that role and they want to retain it. They take pride in their communities.

The picture that I have painted does not show something that is inferior to policing. It is not policing on the cheap. It is a new approach, based in and regenerating the community and with its own virtues. A poll has been taken about whether the wardens would benefit from having powers of detention, and they do not want them. They fear that they would not be safe while exercising such powers and that they would be distanced from the community. However, there is no doubt—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)


9.39 pm
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Unsurprisingly, the debate has concentrated on two issues—standards and the level of policing. A clear division of views on what to do has evolved. We have heard some very good speeches from both sides of the House, although I detected in some of the Government Back Benchers' speeches a little whiff of the old traditional Labour left-wing antagonism towards the police. That is a pity. Nevertheless, a number of speeches welcomed the present situation, and I will come back to that in a moment.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) spoke about a constituency case that supports the Government's proposed amendment on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and we welcome that. My hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) all spoke about centralising powers and the use of civilians as community support officers and community safety accreditation organisations, yet those two issues represent considerably less than half the Bill. It is remarkable that most of the debate has concentrated on a small part of the Bill, with one or two exceptions. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) spoke about another issue, which I shall mention shortly. However, almost all the speeches focused on two issues that represent a relatively small part of the Bill.

As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney said that the Bill failed to address three of the most crucial issues. He said that the police cannot attract and hold good officers and cannot get rid of bad ones, while those in the service are strangled by paperwork.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) brought the wisdom of experience to the debate, for which I am grateful. She stressed the need for the support of police officers when we embark upon change. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary does not seem to have learned that lesson yet.

Much of the debate has been about centralisation. The Select Committee said that the former clause 5 was unacceptable. Even with the proposed safeguards that the Government had planned to introduce, the Select Committee was, at best, lukewarm about it.

In response to an intervention from me, the Minister of State said that there are no existing powers with which police authorities can deal with problems. He is quite right. However, the answer is not to take powers to the Home Secretary but to give them to the police authorities. The whole of part 1 is about taking powers to the centre. Some provisions, such as the regulation of equipment, are perfectly acceptable. However, no one who studies the whole of part 1 can argue that the removal of the original clause 5 has taken away every opportunity for the Home Secretary to intervene when he thinks that things are going wrong.

Clause 2 deals with codes of practice, clause 4 with directions to police authorities, and clause 6 with the regulation of procedures and practices. Clause 77 gives the Home Secretary immense powers over three-year strategy plans. The Bill provides plenty of opportunities for the Home Secretary to take action. My right hon. and hon. Friends all spoke of the need to decentralise.

The issue of community support officers also occupied much of the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) brought home to us the fact that a large number of very successful schemes operate under present legislation, using neighbourhood wardens, local guardians and even ambassadors. I have seen a number of such schemes in operation and several other hon. Members described their success in their constituencies. The point is that such schemes are operating, but those civilians do not have a range of police powers. What is more important, they do not have the power of detention.

I have spoken to many support organisations and, without exception, not one has said that it wants detention powers. Indeed, a number say that having such powers would do them a disservice and get in the way of their fulfilling such a role. There would be an obligation to comply more with PACE provisions on training.

What happens after 30 minutes remains unanswered. One or two hon. Members made the point that in their constituencies, the likelihood of an officer being able to reach someone within 30 minutes of detention was remote, and that certainly applies to part of my constituency.

In relation to other powers introduced under schedules 4 and 5, there is the likelihood of a huge variety of provision and immense confusion throughout the country. At present, the schedules do not provide for a fixed system; they offer a pick-and-mix menu. Every chief constable will be able to decide which powers to give to his community support officers or accredited safety organisation. It is possible that where CSOs exist, they will have different levels of power in different forces: in London, the powers may differ between boroughs and, in the case of people employed by an accredited safety organisation, from employer to employer. That is a recipe for considerable confusion. It will give rise to public concern, and there will be a failure to appreciate the role of civilians.

There are some issues that have not been covered by the Bill, including the standards unit. Listening to some of the Labour Back Benchers who were talking about the standards unit, one would have thought that the inspectorate did not exist. However, there is a perfectly competent inspectorate, which, we understand, the Home Secretary has no plans to alter or disband. Like the Select Committee, we cannot understand the necessity for a distinct and separate organisation called the standards unit. That is not to say that we are against raising the standards of all to those of the best or against spreading best practice, but we are asking whether we need two separate organisations. The distinction between their roles is unclear.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne referred to the provisions that would allow blood samples to be taken from people who could not give their consent. I do not detract from her support for that change, but I also know that, for more than a year, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) has worked hard for a change in the law. I welcome it, although we must obviously consider the finer detail in Committee.

Several Members referred to ASBOs. The orders are not the raging success predicted by the former Home Secretary: the most recent statistics showed that just under 500 had been granted. Police officers and other people involved are extremely concerned about the amount of bureaucracy and time required to generate an ASBO. We welcome changes to the system and we welcome the extension of the orders, but there is little in the Bill to address the fundamental reason for their lack of success—the problem of bureaucracy in the criminal justice system.

The Bill includes a provision to remove the obligation for police officers to be British citizens, or citizens of the Commonwealth or Ireland. We can be persuaded of the need to end that rule, but before the Bill completes its passage the Government should publish the exact criteria to be required of would-be recruits, as regards language ability, residence qualifications and so on.

Several hon. Members referred to another absence in the Bill—provision for special constables. In the White Paper, the Government stated that they wanted a revival of the special constabulary. We all agree with that. However, the Bill contains nothing that would achieve that. The Government have a policy vacuum in that regard: they seem to have no idea how to revitalise the specials.

The official Opposition welcome a large part of the Bill, but we object to two points of principle. The first is the extension to civilian officers or officials of police powers of detention. As several hon. Members pointed out, that will put civilians in the front line in the community. We believe that community or neighbourhood policing should be recognised as having the most important role in the police force. That is where problems can be resolved before they get out of hand. We want neighbourhood police to be seen as an elite force, not as a second division.

The other point of principle is the issue of powers being taken by the Home Secretary. I have some sympathy with the Under-Secretary. Anybody who has been privileged to stand at that Dispatch Box knows the temptation to command and control, but that temptation must be resisted, not just because it is wrong but because it cannot work. It is a downward spiral of ever-closer scrutiny and involvement in day-to-day decisions. That is why we will resist moves to restore the original clause 5 to the Bill.

9.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

There is one thing about which I agree with the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice)—there has been a clear division in tonight's debate, which has concentrated on the main areas of disagreement. I would describe it differently, however. There has been a real contrast. On the one hand, there have been thoughtful contributions, mostly, but not exclusively, by Labour Members. Some of the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), for instance, were aimed at Members of Parliament generally and not just at Ministers. Such contributions showed, in the main, a depth of support for the proposals. Coupled with that were the Home Affairs Committee report and contributions by members of that Committee that gave an in-depth analysis of the Bill. There was a clear contrast between that and contributions by Members on both Opposition Front Benches who have been brought in to back up their new alliance in opposition to the Bill. That synthetic opposition was aimed at measures that are absolutely necessary if we are to tackle effectively some of the problems that my hon. Friends have exposed tonight.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), who was supported in large part by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), told the House that the police force in this country was demoralised, under-resourced and abused. Those comments were aimed at the Home Secretary. I was in the House when the Home Secretary challenged hon. Members to give a single item of evidence that he has made comments purporting to attack the police force. I heard not a shred of evidence coming back. Why do Opposition Members such as the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness and for Aldershot continue to peddle such nonsense without providing a shred of evidence for any of their allegations?

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I quoted from a letter from the chief constable of Hampshire, who is the chief constable for the constituency of the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety. The chief constable pointed out that his officers felt that they had been subject to a campaign of denigration. [Interruption.]

Mr. Ainsworth

My hon. Friend is right. There was not a single such quote in that letter, as the hon. Member for Aldershot knows jolly well.

With regard to under-resourcing, let me make the point—it needs to be made again and again—that we are not talking about policing on the cheap. Currently, we have an all-time record number of police officers—128,748, which is planned to rise to 130,000 by next year. Before Conservative Members start talking about policing on the cheap, they should be prepared to say why that resource was never provided when they were in power, as they had clear opportunities to do so.

In the time left to me, I shall be able to deal with the central issues but not with all the other points that have been made. However, I shall briefly refer to one or two of them. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and expressed the view that the proposals would not be adequate for the size of the task. About 1,000 cases will be taken on under the new system, and that is not 3 per cent. of all complaints. It is about 10 per cent. of all the cases that go forward currently and that are not dropped or dealt with at a local level.

The commission will be able to take on cases at its own instigation, so it will be able to investigate cases at its discretion when, as the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) clearly pointed out, it is not possible to name the individual police officer against whom the complaint has been made. We believe that the proposal will be adequate in providing the framework for the independence that will be necessary to deal with police complaints. However, we can discuss this issue with the hon. Member for Lewes in more detail in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) talked about the proposals for blood sampling. I congratulate her on the work that she has done to raise this issue.

One of the main issues of difference that has been exposed tonight is that both Opposition parties are effectively saying that, even with the safeguards that we are proposing in the Bill, the Home Secretary should not be allowed to act even in circumstances in which a chief police officer and a police authority have failed to address serious problems of under-performance. In return for that, they propose that there should be an increase in accountability. However, when those on both Opposition Front Benches were asked to provide details of what they suggest, they refused to answer the question. We can assume only that they are content with variations in performance and are happy to allow the existing situation to continue. It is no wonder that crime doubled when the Conservatives were in government.

The Opposition also claim that community support officers should not be given the powers to detain. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) reached the height of political hyperbole when he opposed the measure and said that such officers should not have the power of arrest. However, they will not have the power to arrest or to bring charges; all they will have is the power to detain for 30 minutes while waiting for a constable to turn up on the scene.

The hon. Member for Lewes opposed our proposals and said that we should listen to and trust local people. However, why will he not trust the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis who said that the police needed community support officers and that such officers needed—it has been specifically asked for—the power of detention? Why does the hon. Gentleman not listen to the Association of London Government, which said: If the power to detain is to be used effectively, then a longer period of detention is essential"?

Norman Baker


Mr. Ainsworth

I ask the House to give the Bill its Second Reading. I commend it to the House, because it is needed to deal with the issues that badly need addressing in our communities and to provide the clear standards and consistency of performance that are necessary.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.