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9.40 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I would like to use this opportunity to put on record my thanks and those of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Yeoman, the parents of a young nurse, Charis Yeoman, who was killed by a drunk driver while driving her car. On 6 June 2000, I secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, and the then Minister of State at the Home Office, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said that he recognised that there was a loophole in the law, and pledged to close it. The Bill does just that.

I thank all Home Office Ministers and officials for bringing about the very difficult negotiations between the police force and those in the medical profession. Having met the BMA ethics committee before I brought the matter to the attention of the House, I know how difficult it has been for those two bodies to reach a compromise. However, that has been achieved, and it would be remiss of me not to say thank you. I believe that this will enable the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring to justice people who, through their wanton behaviour of drink-driving, kill innocent people such as Charis Yeoman. So, on my constituents' behalf, I thank the Minister that this provision is in the Bill.

Finally, I hope that when the Bill receives Royal Assent there will not be a long delay in implementing this part of it. Quite a long time can pass before certain parts of a Bill are implemented, and I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): David Cameron. [Interruption.] I am sorry—George Osborne.

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9.42 pm

Mr. George Osborne: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and I are often confused for each other. Indeed, he has taken an active part in these debates.

I should like to take part in this mutual round of self-congratulation. It has been a great pleasure taking part in these debates. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for the way in which he has achieved exactly what he set out to achieve. He is expert at filleting Home Office Bills and proves that opposition is sometimes more effective with a scalpel than a blunderbuss. Indeed, he is teaching that to the rest of my party.

I also pay tribute to the Minister for the intelligent and gracious way in which he has steered the Bill through its stages. He dealt with some tricky interventions—usually from the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). She raised some tricky legal questions, which he dealt with pretty well.

I pay special tribute to my Front-Bench team. Being a junior Front-Bench spokesman in any Parliament, whoever is in government, is a pretty difficult and miserable job, and my hon. Friends the Members for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), as well as the Whip, who is not here at present, did it extremely well. Without them, there would be no proper parliamentary process.

I have enjoyed sparring with the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). I will now throw away my copy of the Second Reading debate of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 and the various quotes from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) before he was Prime Minister. I note in passing that it was the right hon. Gentleman who came up with the innovation of the Opposition not voting against major criminal justice legislation, for which he got a lot of credit at the time. So we remember that Act.

As many hon. Members have said, the Bill is better than when it was first published. The best bits, such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, have remained largely unaltered, although it is a shame that the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee could not do a bit of empire-building earlier this evening.

Some new good bits have been added during the debates on the Bill, particularly the provisions that will give social landlords the power to issue antisocial behaviour orders, which will make a difference in my constituency and, I imagine, most others. The worst bits of the Bill have been considerably improved, particularly clause 5 and the powers for CSOs.

All in all, good things have come from this process, which has been a pleasure to watch. The Bill is still more prescriptive and centralising than I would like, but there we go. I remain sceptical about CSOs, but as the hon. Member for North Durham said, the proof of the pudding will come later—on the streets of our country and we will all watch to see what happens.

9.45 pm

Lady Hermon: It is indeed a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne).

On Second Reading, I warned the Minister that police reform is notoriously difficult to manage. I pay tribute to him for heeding the warning, as did the Home Secretary.

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Our experience in Northern Ireland has been most unfortunate. When the Patten report was published, the issue was handled with great insensitivity. Reforms were necessary, but they were handled very badly, which resulted in widespread disillusionment among the police force.

Patten recommended that our regular police force should stand at 7,500 over 10 years, but it has dropped dramatically to below 6,900 in less than two and a half years. I urge the Minister and the Home Secretary to continue their consultations with the rank and file members and the Police Federation throughout the land. It is important to maintain the morale of rank and file members.

I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have done, to the Minister and his ministerial colleagues. They were very courteous, patient and efficient throughout the progress of the Bill, and I mean that most sincerely. In Committee on 20 June, I asked the Minister a question regarding the human rights training of community support officers. I should like to place on record the fact that he sent me a very full reply within days in which he explained:

He continued:

I commend him on the speed with which he was able to follow up undertakings to write to hon. Members on that and subsequent occasions, and I am sure that I speak for other hon. Members who served on the Committee.

The theme of human rights was mentioned by many hon. Members in Committee. After the Minister has had a good night's sleep—he has worked very hard this evening—I should like him to reflect on another example from Northern Ireland: the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The commission advises the Assembly on the adequacy and effectiveness of the laws and practice in relation to the protection of human rights. It staves off a lot of criticism and avoids problems before they end up in legislative form. I commend the good work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Although there are differences about the appointment of its members, it need not be dreaded. Indeed, it could be very helpful in future.

It would be most remiss of me to omit paying tribute to all hon. Members who served on the Committee. I very much regretted the fact that I had to absent myself on various occasions because of commitments in North Down.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) is not present. I did not agree with a word that he said on the vast majority of occasions, but we all found him exceedingly entertaining. I also pay tribute to the officials who were also involved in the Committee. They were exceedingly kind and helpful to me when I brought various drafting queries to their attention.

May I leave the Minister or his officials with a little query? I hope that he will answer a question, and I am sure that he will write to me by tomorrow. This evening,

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we voted through Government amendment No. 52, which amended paragraph 6(1) of schedule 1. I shall read, at this late hour, paragraph 6(1) as we have amended it:

I look forward to the Minister's response to and interpretation of that little amendment that we have voted through this evening.

I commend the Bill to the House. There is much to be said for the police reforms that have been introduced. I repeat my plea that the Government carry the rank and file with them through consultation.

9.50 pm

Angela Watkinson: I am pleased to add my support to the broad cross-party support that the Bill has received. In a way, it is a shame that I am going to concentrate on the detention powers of community support officers, which has been the most controversial element of the Bill. As the Minister has said, however, the matter has been well rehearsed in Standing Committee but not on the Floor of the House.

The Metropolitan police is one of the few forces to have supported this move. In a briefing note to the Home Affairs Committee, it described a hypothetical situation in which a community support officer has detained someone who refuses to give their personal details:

I venture to suggest that that would be a very good moment for the suspect to make his escape. It continues:

A miracle indeed. If there were enough police officers available to respond so quickly, CSOs would not be needed. It continues:

That is pure fantasy. It would be funny if it were not so serious. I wonder whether the author of the briefing document has ever been on the streets.

The detention of an unco-operative person is a difficult and possibly dangerous task. Will CSOs be required to inform the person that their powers of detention are limited to 30 minutes? What will happen on the 31st minute if a real constable has not attended the scene in time to make an arrest? Will it be necessary to let the suspect go? If so, the credibility of CSOs will be undermined in no time. What will happen if the CSO is assaulted or injured, as seems highly probable?

The number of applications to the Metropolitan police from people wanting to be CSOs has been unexpectedly high, but the main reason given for not wanting to be a police officer is very worrying—they think that the job is too dangerous, and they do not want the responsibility. How, I wonder, will they cope?

There is also a serious issue of recognition. The uniformed constable is easily recognised and impersonation of a police officer is an offence. CSOs would, therefore, need a uniform that is easily

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distinguishable from that of a proper police officer. The public would need to know exactly what powers were invested in whom. I understand that the original plan for the Metropolitan police was to give them a uniform that was almost the same as, or barely distinguishable from, a police officer's uniform. I was reassured this week that they will wear a light blue uniform, and that they will therefore be easily distinguishable.

In some areas, however, including Upminster in the London borough of Havering, community wardens are already employed by the council. They work in co-operation with the police, providing local intelligence and information. They are easily recognisable and nobody confuses them with the police. The introduction of yet another type of warden would cause confusion among members of the public.

In evidence to the Select Committee, the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities all raised their concerns about CSOs. I share those concerns. The potential for problems with CSOs in dangerous and difficult situations is obvious, and the operational gain from four fully trained constables compared to six CSOs is enormous.

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