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9.11 pm

Mr. Denham: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We are quite close to the end of a process that began for me about a year ago, just after the general election, when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I picked up the mantle of police reform. I thank all Members who contributed to debates during the Bill's passage through the House—in particular, the members of the Home Affairs Committee, whose report was extremely useful. The Committee carried out a valuable inquiry, which was perhaps not entirely pre-legislative scrutiny because the Committee did not have the full legislation to scrutinise in the way that it might have liked. None the less, it was very helpful in drawing out the major issues.

From the Opposition Front Benches, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) have contributed fully, particularly during discussions in the main Chamber. I especially want to acknowledge the work of the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), who carried the bulk of the debate in Committee—though not all of it, of course—for their respective parties. I am also grateful for the thoughtful and well-informed interventions from the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who made a valuable contribution in Committee and, indeed, throughout proceedings.

Several of my colleagues on the Government Benches took part, including, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) as well as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). I am particularly grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who ably took on part 2 of the Bill in Committee.

The Bill arrived in the House much amended from discussions in another place, and it has been further amended here. I have no embarrassment in saying—no Minister ever should—that the Bill is better today than when the Government published it. I am one of those who believes in the role of parliamentary scrutiny. While one or two things that have happened in the closing stages reflect other realities, much change results from careful scrutiny in the House and in another place.

As many Members have said, there is a great deal of agreement on the Bill. I shall outline briefly its main purposes and how we believe that it will work. It is worth acknowledging that, in addition to some initial aims, we have achieved significant changes that will help the police service and others to fight crime. In Committee there was a warm welcome for the provisions on sex offender orders, which will provide better protection for vulnerable people against convicted sex offenders. We have also brought police officers under the protection of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which was one of the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I feel that the Bill now has much to commend it.

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In his introduction to the police reform White Paper published before Christmas, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said of the police reform process in general:

My right hon. Friend concluded

I think the Home Secretary was right to be realistic and honest when identifying the "judge and jury" of the reforms, not all of which require legislation but some of which have been dealt with in the Bill.

We have set out to continue the reduction in crime, to tackle persistent offenders more effectively, to improve detection and conviction rates, to tackle antisocial behaviour, to reduce the fear of crime, to provide support for victims of crime, and to rebuild confidence in key aspects of the police service. The Bill contains a series of measures enabling us to do all that. It gives us a framework for the promotion of best practice through the introduction of a national policing plan setting out—after consultation—the Government's priorities for policing and how they are to be delivered. There is a three-tier approach to good practice with regulations, codes of practice and guidance to ensure that good operational and management policies for policing can be adopted throughout the service.

The Bill meets a long-standing demand from many quarters for an Independent Police Complaints Commission, not to harry the police but to ensure that there is public confidence in them, and to ensure that they themselves feel they are being fairly treated if complaints are made against them. That is another important piece of work.

We have modernised the system for the removal, suspension and disciplining of police officers. In a crucial part of the Bill that we have discussed at length, we have set a framework for the extended police family—not just through the creation of community support officers and accredited community safety officers, but by giving other civilians limited police powers so that police officers are free to perform wider duties. I think that in years to come the role of civilians properly designated to perform escort, detention and investigative work will be seen as an important innovation allowing much more flexibility in the deployment of police officers.

Mr. Allen: Those were wise words from the Home Secretary. The Bill, or the process, will indeed be judged on the basis of its impact on communities and neighbourhoods in terms of their experience of policing.

I hope my right hon. Friend will remember his political roots. I hope that not just the granting of more resources than ever before, and the presence of more police on duty

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than ever before, but the number of officers visible on the streets and estates of our communities will, at a general election, provide the judge and jury mentioned earlier.

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend raises a significant point. Visibility is enormously important, but so is visibility with a clear purpose. Through the wider police reform programme, we are anxious to encourage the deployment across all police forces of the national intelligence model. Through that model officers can, in addition to being deployed in visible roles, bring method and focus to their work. Combining those two policing elements—good intelligence, information and deployment of officers, together with high visibility—is very important indeed.

Of course, part of the background to the Bill is our substantial investment in police resources. We have reversed the long-term decline in police numbers that was initiated under the previous Conservative Government, and we now have record police numbers, which will rise to 130,000 next spring. Through local authorities, we have also invested substantially in crime and disorder reduction. The work of crime and disorder reduction partnerships—through which local authorities and other agencies work alongside the police—is also essential if we are to prove successful in the fight against crime, antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime.

Party political views have been expressed throughout this debate, but in a constructive way, so I shall mention only in passing that crime doubled under the previous Conservative Government, and that police officer numbers fell steadily at the end of their time in office. That is an important consideration. We have committed ourselves to fighting crime in every way necessary. I am convinced that, by underpinning reform of the police service and ensuring that police officers have the support necessary to do the job, we are taking that fight forward in an effective way through the passage of this Bill.

9.22 pm

Mr. Paice: I am sorry that the Minister had to resort to party politics at the end of his otherwise well-thought-out and well-presented Third Reading speech, which, until that point, had followed many of the traditional patterns. I cannot but note that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is sitting on the Bench behind me—unlike the Home Secretary, who is doubtless touring every media studio, defending his drugs policy against the onslaught that he has unleashed from all those who, like us, recognise it as nonsense.

As the Minister said, the Bill has had a very long passage, which is nearly—but not quite—over. It must go to the other place, and it remains to be seen what the Lords will make of the considerable number of amendments to it. Although virtually all of them are non-controversial, they will none the less have to be considered, and we will see what happens.

I am pleased to say that, with a few notable exceptions, the debates on the Bill—at least, those in which I have participated—have been a good example of parliamentary scrutiny, through which we have discussed many issues. That contrasts with other, fairly torrid Bill proceedings in which I have participated in my time, both in opposition and in government. The Police Reform Bill has been much more enjoyable and constructive than many others.

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It is certainly a very much better Bill now than the one that was introduced in the other place many months ago. It is much better because, to be fair, the Government have made several concessions in the light of arguments that we advanced in both Houses.

I was slightly let down by the Minister's admitting last night that, at least in respect of the Henry VIII clause, he was acknowledging the arithmetic—or mathematics, as he described it—of the other place. I am sorry that he resorted to that admission; we like to believe that he was influenced by our strength of argument on the issues. Nevertheless, in the spirit of good will, I recognise that the Government have made significant compromises on the Henry VIII clause in particular, and on clause 5, which we discussed earlier this evening.

Equally, as the Minister will accept, the Opposition have made significant concessions. It is no secret that had we started with a clean sheet of paper, we would not have invented community support officers. We would have preferred to adopt another route, using the special constabulary. However, we recognise the need for considerable assistance for the police through the civilian route, and we have supported CSOs throughout. The only issue has been what powers they should be given, and there, too, we accepted the inevitability that certain powers would be given. I again welcome the commitment that the Minister made on pilot schemes for detention.

Many of the measures in the Bill have gone through almost without debate. Some hon. Members, and some outsiders too, may say that that shows that Parliament is not working. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is not here today; otherwise he might have something to say on the subject. I contend, however, that the reason why so many issues went through almost, although not totally, undiscussed supports the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset that we agreed with 98 per cent. of the Bill from the outset. I am sorry, I should not have called him my hon. Friend, because one of the things that has happened during the passage of the Bill is that he has become my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset.

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