Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Will the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) clarify new clause 9(1), which states:

It does not say that the employee should be designated as an ACSO. Is that intentional, or is it a drafting error? Is it the intention that the person involved should continue to be employed by the local authority? The Bill makes it clear that CSOs will be employed by the police.

Norman Baker: I am happy to clarify that we want CSOs to be employed either by local authorities or by the police. We are not in favour of the accredited scheme for the private sector, which is quite different, but I had to deal with both issues in one new clause.

Angela Watkinson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. The reservations that I had before are even greater now.

My local authority is the London borough of Havering. It already employs community wardens, and the scheme is working well. The wardens have good relationships with the local police and with members of the community. Their red jackets make them instantly identifiable, and no one mistakes them for police officers. However, the introduction of another tier of officers employed by local authorities would cause a great deal of confusion.

Simon Hughes: I know, in general terms, the arrangements that exist in Havering, and other London boroughs have similar schemes. We do not want to undermine those arrangements. However, if a firm such as Sainsbury's wishes to have community support officers or neighbourhood wardens, for example, we propose that, instead of employing those officers itself, the firm should pay money to the police or the local authority. In that way, the police or the local authority would have a contract with the firm, but the officers would be police or local authority employees. We want to determine where

10 Jul 2002 : Column 964

the accountability lies, but we do not want to prevent bodies other than the local authority from helping with policing.

Angela Watkinson: That is several steps too far for me, and I regret that I will be unable to support the new clause.

Mrs. Brooke: I was rather hoping that more Members would share our vision, particularly as in the previous debate speakers on both sides of the House agreed with our basic premise about giving police authorities more accountability. This proposition is largely about accountability and effectiveness.

There is confusion over all the categories in the Bill. People frequently use the wrong terms—a CSO could mean community support officer in one context, with accreditation in another. Confusion is not the best way to support the police and give the public what they want. The different powers are very confusing. The Government's response to the report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs refers to the various uniforms and badges that might be worn and says:

One is tempted to ask whether that is because they need to remember their powers.

I recall a fictitious example in Committee, which was very amusing at the time. A member of the Committee suggested that how he was treated would depend on which side of the road he stood, which would be confusing. If he were on one side, he might feel reassured that he could simply ask the appropriate officer to empty his or her pockets.

The main thing about deterrence is certainty, but these people will not be easily recognised because different uniforms could be worn. I do not think that the different layers will be immediately understood by the public. The resulting uncertainty will mean that the important deterrent effect is lost. If everybody is clear about the role of the people walking around, that will deter people from committing antisocial behaviour.

My local authority has just taken over the powers of traffic wardens from the police. The council wanted to widen the jobs that they might do. If a traffic warden who sees broken glass on the road picks up the phone and tells someone about it, that is sensible. However, there were difficulties with the transfer of powers. I do not think that it will be as easy as the Minister suggested last night to re-engage with a different title. Our amendments would improve matters, giving genuine support to the police and, fundamentally, giving the public the support that they want.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I welcome the Bill and oppose new clause 9. In common with most Members who represent urban constituencies, I have, over the years, seen the balance of complaints and concerns expressed at my advice bureau change from those of housing to those of quality of life, including neighbour nuisance, vandalism committed by young people and harassment. It has become obvious to me that

10 Jul 2002 : Column 965

even with the scheduled increase in police numbers, we need a force out there to deal with the low-level nuisance that can have such an effect on people.

Norman Baker: I agree.

Mr. Bailey: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's agreement. It is a question of how we set up the organisations to deal with that, and I will come to that shortly.

It has also been obvious to me that whatever we spend on education and health will count for nothing if we cannot address these specific quality of life issues.

Mr. Llwyd: Would the hon. Gentleman be opposed to expanding the special constabulary? Would that not deal with the problems that he describes?

Mr. Bailey: I welcome that intervention. The short answer is no, but I should like to deal with it in a little more detail later.

All other improvements in public services are meaningless if people are frightened to leave their home in case they are harassed or mugged. That is particularly true of elderly people. The irony is that, statistically, elderly people are far less likely to be involved in a mugging or a burglary than young people, but the fear of crime among them is far greater and has a far greater impact on their quality of life.

I am sure that other Members agree that when we knock on doors and see people at our advice surgeries, the overwhelming demand is for more bobbies on the beat. We have all heard the slogan. However, a highly trained policeman walking around an area is probably the least effective way of combating crime. Professional hardened criminals are hardly likely to carry out their activities within sight of a policeman and they have the means of moving on rather more quickly than a bobby on the beat.

What people really want is a person with authority, in a uniform, to offer reassurance, which is the key. I remember, as a child, playing on a football pitch in the local park when I should not have been. When I saw the park keeper approach in his uniform, I was off, to engage in more licit activities, as it were. That is the sort of reaction that we want from young people who may be engaged in activities that impair quality of life, that are not illegal but need to be countered. The prospect of a person in uniform having a presence in areas where that sort of activity takes place is immensely reassuring and, conversely, acts as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour.

We are recruiting more police, but it is questionable whether in urban areas such as mine, even with a huge increase in police numbers, we would have sufficient numbers to carry out that role or even whether it would be an effective use of officers.

Norman Baker: I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has said so far. However, does he believe that the group of people whom we both want could be employed by local authorities as well as the police, as new clause 9 suggests? Secondly, does he believe that it is right for private sector companies to employ people with police powers?

Mr. Bailey: I will deal with those points very quickly. The various agencies involved in curbing the problem

10 Jul 2002 : Column 966

must work together. That involves local authorities, and I think that accreditation schemes are very worthy because they take partnership working, which has been built up at local level, another step forward. However, I cannot see why that should be confined to local authority employees. In different circumstances, it may be necessary to involve private sector employees. The example of a shopping mall has already been given. The more organisations that have an interest in social supervision, training people and working together with the police, the better it will be.

I shall briefly deal with the issue about the specials raised by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). Yes, I do believe in the specials—they do a grand job—but the hon. Gentleman missed the essential point that most of them already have a full-time occupation and do the job because of their commitment to the community and the ideals of the force that they wish to serve. They do not necessarily want to do that job full-time. To suggest that such problems could be dealt with simply by expanding the special constabulary is to believe a myth.

Mr. Llwyd: That is exactly why I said that special constables should be paid. There would then be more recruitment and, although part-time, they would be fully trained. They would also accrue employment rights, which is want the Government do not want.

Next Section

IndexHome Page