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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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