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Mr. Paice: I respect the Minister for moving the amendment, but I feel sure that he would rather not have done so. He explained his move by saying that he recognised the parliamentary arithmetic. Obviously, I would have preferred it if he had recognised the power of oratory that some of us used in Committee. Whatever the reasons for the Government's decision to add their name to amendment No. 2 tabled by the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, we are grateful to them for doing so.
In accepting the situation and speaking to amendment No. 2, the Minister expressed concern about the problem of altering the position should experience in the next few months or few years show that there are too many powers or too few. Without wishing to pre-empt any future debate, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the official Opposition will not oppose the point that he made about traffic powers. I recognise the logic of that: indeed, some of it fits neatly with proposals presented by my noble Friend Lord Attlee in the other place.
On the question whether schedules 4 and 5 will in time prove to be defectiveproviding either too many or too few powersI remind the Minister that over the years we have discovered that the Home Office has a propensity for legislation. We know that there is a substantial amount of legislation in the Home Office pipeline. I feel sure that, should the Government at any stage discover that they need to amend the powers given to civilians, to civilian officers employed by the police or to accredited community safety officers, they will find a suitable vehicle within weeks, if not minutes, to which to append the changes that they need or wish to make. I cannot believe that it will be long before they find a suitable mechanism.
It is odd that the Government have come to this point so late in the proceedings. At some stageI have forgotten when exactlythe Minister said that this was not a Henry VIII clause, which is at odds with what his noble Friend Lord Rooker said in the other place. He stated categorically that it is a Henry VIII clause.
The House of Lords threw the clause out, and the Government reinserted it in Committee, against the advice of my hon. Friends and the Liberal Democrats. Then, at about 6 o'clock last night, the Government tabled an amendment that had the effect of adding Ministers' names to our amendment. We welcome the Government's conversion, and I congratulate the Minister on his wisdom in understanding the argument, notwithstanding the arithmetic of the other place. We shall of course support the Government if they seek to divide the House on the issue.
I recognise the Minister's admission that this measure would continue to be unpopular with the Opposition in this House and in the House of Lords. It is sensible for him to pull the plug now, rather than suffer a further defeat in the Lords on the matter. To give credit to the Minister, we started off by saying that there was agreement on a large proportion of the Bill and disagreement on only three or four key issues, one of which the Minister has now dealt with. He has lanced the boil on that issue. If he wishes to lance the boil on one or two other issues tomorrow, we can all leave early and I can go to the parliamentary beer group dinner to which I referred earlier. I should like the Minister to consider overnight whether there are further concessions that he might make tomorrow.
The Minister complained that we were removing flexibility from the Bill; indeed, that was the purpose of the amendment. The serious point is that there is a balance to be struck between what is the proper subject of primary legislation and what is the proper subject of subsequent regulations. It is our view that matters dealing with CSOs are controversial. The Government are bringing in a new concept, and we do not know how it will work. The Government think it will work well; others have more suspicions about how things will turn out.
It would be wrong to give the Government the power to add powers to CSOs when we do not even know how they will work in practice. It is right that if the Government want to come backat least for the first timeto add powers, we should be able to have a debate on how CSOs have worked in practice on our streets. That is what the amendment achieves, and I am grateful that the Government have signed up to it. It is useful and allows for a sort of review.
The Minister said in a letter to the hon. Member for SouthEast Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and me that another result would be that the Government could not remove powers from CSOs. Equally, that power has now been taken from the Government by the addition of Ministers' signatures to the amendment. That is not a worry for me. I suspect that if a particular power turned out to be hugely controversial or unworkable, chief constables would be reluctant to use it and it would wither on the vine. We are talking about adding powers to CSOs and, under the circumstances, it is right that that matter should be brought back before the House for discussion.
Incidentally, I have no objection to the proposal to help in the guiding of heavy loads and so on. That seems to be eminently sensible. I am grateful that we are reaching agreement on such a major matter. I am happy to welcome the Government's admission and I assume that there will not be a Division on this matter.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I rise to support the removal of clause 45 from the Bill. The clause seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to add to, amend or repeal the powers and duties specified in schedules 4
I hope to speak in more detail tomorrow on CSOs when part 1 of the Bill is debated. I have grave reservations about giving the powers of a constable in uniform to anyone other than a fully trained constable. For that reason alone, I support the omission of clause 45.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): It would be a shame to let this moment pass so quickly and not to dwell on the fact that we have persuaded the Government to climb down on this matter, which the Minister did with considerable eloquence and style. I have been trawling through the Committee reports and, unfortunately, there is no "killer quote"; that is unlike the "killer quotes" made by the Prime Minister while speaking on the Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994. I pay tribute to the Minister for that.
I also pay tribute to the House of Lords for raising the issue. The Lords had the power in the Division Lobby, but my hon. Friends the Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) had the power of oratory to persuade the Government. It would be tempting to divide the House and watch Labour Members who served on the Committee vote for something against which they all voted two weeks ago. Sadly, I am not sure whether there is a single person in the House who would provide a Teller for the other side in a Division.
The serious point made in Committee and in the House of Lords was that, after all the controversy about the powers that CSOs would haveand about CSOs themselvesit was wrong for the Home Secretary simply to add to those powers, despite the Government making certain concessions, including on the power of detention and arrest. However, it would have been wrong to give the Home Secretary that power.
There is a division of opinion both in the House and in the police force as to whether CSOs will work or not. We should wait and see, and the removal of the clause will at least give us a safeguard. If there is a feeling that the powers of CSOs need to be increased, the Government must come back to the House for a proper debate and not use the unsatisfactory statutory instrument procedure; they must use primary legislation.
The point has been made that the Home Office always has so many Bills going through at any one time that there will not be a problem in finding parliamentary time. It is not as if the Minister comes from one of those obscure Departments that are always desperately looking for a slot in the Queen's Speech. No doubt there will be many slots for the Minister and the Home Secretary.
Mr. Francois: I would like to spend a few moments dwelling on tonight's enjoyable occurrencethe withdrawal of clause 45. It is particularly appropriate to welcome a change of heart by the Government in a week when 13 statutory instruments are being rammed through the House. I am pleased to see that, in a week during which we see such evidence of government by statutory
Among rank-and-file officers, there was more concern about the new institution of CSOs than about almost any other element in the Bill. To put it at its bluntest, there was concern among regular police officers that they might have to spend a lot of their time protecting the CSOs as they attempted to carry out their duties, thus diverting regular police officers from carrying out other important tasks.
My personal view is that, rather than pushing the CSO agenda, it would have been better to have provisions in the Bill to boost the position of special constables, with whom the regular police are used to working. Special constables are volunteers whose hearts are fully in the job and who do a tremendous service to all members of the public. The numbers of special constables have declined considerably under this Government. There were about 20,000 special constables in 1993; there were some 19,000 in 1997, when Labour took office; now, there are fractionally over 12,000. That is a gigantic drop. Many are leaving because they are demoralised by the way in which their service is being run by a Labour Government. Surely it would have been better to reinforce the special constabulary in a proactive and helpful manner, and to let it work with the police, rather than bringing in an entirely new type of officer.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) ably pointed out, we will have to wait and see whether this experiment works. Like many other Opposition Members, I have reservations about itas, indeed, do many professional police officers. I am delighted that the Government have given way on this aspect of the Bill, at least, but would that they had not come up with this idea in the first place.