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I shall remind the House of some of the issues that have gone through almost unnoticed: the plans for regulations on common use of equipment, the codes of practice, the principle of the independent commission, and the measures supplementing police powers, especially in connection with antisocial behaviour orders. We welcome the improvements to ASBOs; so far they have not been the raging success that the Government initially said they would be. We also welcome the changes to the legislation on sex offenders, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said when we discussed the matter last night, we look forward to the Government's further consideration of the whole panoply of issues relating to sex crime.
I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is here tonight, and we also strongly welcome the changes to the law on blood tests for people who are unconscious and unable to give consent.
As the Bill has progressed, the negotiations with the Police Federation on pay and conditions have been going on. The changes were all part of the great reform package that the Home Secretary announced last year, but then he had to go to the Police Federation conference and apologise for the tensions that he had caused with his proposals for alterations to pay and conditions.
The Opposition have consistently accepted the need for, and wanted to see, improvements in police performance in many areas. The introduction to the White Paper that the Minister quoted in his speech was uncontentious. We entirely agree with the gist of it, about the need to detect and drive down crime, and improve police performance. We can never achieve the ultimate perfection; there is always room for improvement.
Yes, we have had differences of opinion about how that can be done. We remain of the view that the independence of individual constabularies and chief officers is paramount, and we have sought to protect that throughout the debates on the Bill. We also believe that we need to consider further ways of increasing that independence and enhancing local accountabilitybut that is a debate for another time.
Like the Minister, I want to thank those who have been so helpful and constructive during the passage of the Bill. I shall identify the outside organisations without which, as the Minister, having been in opposition, well knows, opposition would be even more difficult than it is. I thank the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Chief Police Officers Staff Association, the Police Superintendents Association, the Police Federation, the Association of Police Authorities and many individual police officers of all ranks for all the advice and assistance that they have given to the Opposition throughout the passage of the Bill.
I also wish to recognise the constructive approach that the Minister has taken. Despite his occasional lapses into political rhetoricincluding the example of a few moments agohe has addressed the issue with considerable responsibility and command of his subject. I have immense respect for the Minister's command of his subject, and I congratulate him on it. I also recognise and respect the huge contributions made by the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker), for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who have driven the issue forward for the Liberal Democrats.
I also endorse the Minister's comments about the Committee. On our side, we had my hon. Friends the Members for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer), as well as the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). All of them made significant contributions. I recall at one stage the Minister conjuring up the vision of a CSO attempting to apprehend my hon. Friend the Member for Henley when he was in a condition of disrepute, shall we say, after a good night out. It was one of the lighter moments in Committee.
Most of the Bill is welcomed by the Opposition. Inevitably, we would prefer that some bits were not in it, and the vexed issue of clause 5 remains. I strongly welcome the Minister's remarks this evening and the amendments that he has proposed to clause 5. We are much closer to solving the outstanding problems and I look forward to a full resolution in the near future. The Minister will understand that, as that resolution has
Mr. Kevan Jones: I concur with the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary: the judge and jury on the success of the Bill will be the people in constituencies such as mine. One of the key issues is not the dry statisticsthe public are now bored with politicians from all parties talking about thosebut the effectiveness of the measures in local communities. Fear of crime is a major issue in my constituency, and many others. The CSOs will do much, judging by the experiment that has been carried out in my constituency, to allay that fear. The extension of powers and in the use of antisocial behaviour orders will make a real difference and will be very welcome.
I have enjoyed serving in Committee and contributing to debate. I will miss the interventions of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and his quotations from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which the hon. Gentleman appears to have catalogued assiduously over the past few weeks.
Mr. Jones: As the hon. Gentleman's remark shows, the debate has been good-natured. If my questioning of the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) has seemed tough at times, I apologise, but I see it as my role to try to pin the Liberal Democrats down to a policy occasionally. I know that that is difficult for them.
Mr. Paice: Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the Liberal Democrats have managed to have two policies on one issue during the consideration of the Bill? He will recall that on the last day in Committee they tabled an amendment to abolish the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. Last night, in the House of Lords, they voted against abolishing that Act.
Mr. Jones: I am grateful for that intervention. On one occasion, Liberal Democrat Members had three different policies on the same day. They argued that the Home Secretary should have more powers, and then that the local authority should have independence. However, we will not dwell on that.
This is a very good Bill, and it will make a difference in communities throughout the country. I hope that, when CSOs have proved to be electorally popular, they will be enthusiastically endorsed by Liberal Democrat Members.
Norman Baker: I do not think that the Third Reading debate should be used to pick on Liberal Democrats. That is very unfair, although I must confess that I did not know about the Riot (Damages) Act 1886.
The Minister can sit easy on his Bench, as we have no intention of dividing the House on Third Reading. The Government Whip will be pleased to know that, too. Those hon. Members enjoying the all-party parliamentary beer group dinner can continue to do so, while those of us assiduously carrying out our parliamentary duties here will miss it this year.
I thank the Minister for his contribution to our debates, which has usually been good humoured. He has certainly been in command of his subject, as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said. I thank Conservative Front Benchers for their constructive approach. It has been useful to work with them and the Government team during the Bill's progress through the House. That shows that hon. Members can behave in a mature way to find common ground where possible, and yet not sacrifice the principles that they hold dear.
I want to thank the Clerks and the other Officers of the House who have been so helpful throughout our deliberations, and the pressure groups outside the House. I must also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Poole and North DorsetI apologise, it is the other way around: she is my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke). There may be two policies on her constituency, but she has been of great assistance on the Bill.
The Bill has been improved by the parliamentary process. That is a cliché, but in this case it is true. The Bill is markedly better as a result of the process, partly because of the force of the arguments deployed, and partly because of the arithmetic involved. Whatever the reason, the result shows that parliamentary scrutiny works. The House can take pride in the fact that the Bill has been improved, and hon. Members collectively can congratulate themselves that a Bill will reach the statute book that we all think will improve matters for policing and for law and order.
I do not agree with 98 per cent. of the Bill, as the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) appears to, but I am pleased that the Government have introduced it. My approval rating for it is certainly in the 90s now, which is higher than it was originally.
As has been said, the Bill contains many good things. I shall not go into detail now, but there is no doubt that much of the Bill will improve matters, nor that it commands support among hon. Members of all three main parties. The sex offenders orders were completely uncontroversial, and they will go along way towards dealing with a matter about which many hon. Members have had grave reservations. In addition, I am pleased with the introduction of the independent police complaints commission. Even if it does not cover Tesco-type police, it will deal with all other officers. It is a welcome innovation that will be support by the public at large. In the long term, it will go a long way towards improving public confidence in the police, as all hon. Members want.
I thank all those hon. Members in the Select Committee on Home Affairs and in Standing Committee A who have helped with the Bill, and those people outside the House who also made a contribution. I am pleased to have played a small role, along with other hon. Members, in producing legislation that will benefit the country at large.
I have one small gripe with the ministerial team on this Bill, who were reasonably non-partisan in Committee and, to a lesser extent, on the Floor of the House. However, it is very rare that Opposition amendments are accepted, although those often tend to be produced by pressure groups that, equally, produce amendments that the Government are happy to accept. The Government would get more credit if they sometimes accepted Opposition amendments and showed more willingness to agree that the fount of all knowledge may not rest with them but that, occasionally, Opposition Members have good ideas that should be incorporated. If the Government say so, we should not exploit that by claiming massive victories but accept that we have gone forward in a spirit of compromise and good will.