|Police Reform Bill [Lords]
Vera Baird: Amendment No. 149 would require that the powers conferred on a detention officer could be exercised only in the presence of and on the direction of a constable. That would mean that the constable would have to be in the same room when a detention officer searched a person, to tell them which pocket to search. The constable would have to be in the same room for intimate searches and fingerprinting, too, and as soon as the constable left the room, the detention officer would have no powers. Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the amendment is not an attempt to wreck entirely the powers of the detention officer?
Norman Baker: The hon. and learned Lady is right to draw attention to that implication. I agree that it exists, but I do not believe that it goes quite that far. Indeed, the powers given to the detention officers are far more intrusive to the individual and their civil liberties than the powers given to CSOs, for example, to deal with cordoned-off areas. That is why I am not unhappy with a tighter rein being held on detention officers in that context than on CSOs in the slightly less intrusive situation of dealing with a cordoned-off area. In reacting to the powers, I am considering at all points what is right in civil liberties terms and what is right realistically to allow the police to do their duty. That is where I draw the line; the hon. and learned Lady and others may draw it elsewhere.
Mr. Denham: Given that the hon. Gentleman has quoted the Police Federation a number of times in support of his argument, it would help if he would clarify whether he believes that his amendment accurately reflects the federation's views in the briefing submitted to members of the Committee.
Norman Baker: I am confident that I am fully aware of the Police Federation's views. They are not identical to the Liberal Democrats' views, but nor are they identical to those of the Government. Indeed, they are much closer to our views and to those of the Conservatives than they are to those of the Minister. As far as I can tell, the right hon. Gentleman appears to be keen to listen to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, but not to anyone else. I had lunch with representatives of the Police Federation yesterday, and they reiterated their opposition to CSOs and many other proposals that the Government have made, and their support for the
Column Number: 241amendments that my colleague and I are moving today.
Vera Baird: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Norman Baker: For the last time, I think.
Vera Baird: I am grateful. If, as the amendment said, a detention officer could exercise his duties only in the presence of a police officer—granted, everyone who is searched has the right to be searched on their own in a room—it would be pointless to have the detention officer there at all, because the policeman could do the search.
Norman Baker: No. That is a very picky point, but if the hon. and learned Lady wishes me to deal with it, I will. There is no reason why a member of the public should not be searched by a detention officer with a constable present. It is also perfectly possible for the detention officer to carry out the rest of the work related to the search, such as logging the possessions in the person's pocket and doing the necessary paperwork, that would otherwise be completed by the constable. Such an exercise could free up police time.
Again, there is a consistent division between the jobs that can realistically be freed up because they are non-confrontational, and those that involve intrusiveness and a potential erosion of civil liberties. As I said, that is where I have drawn the line, so the amendments are consistent. I am sorry that the Government take a different view. The amendment should be subject to a vote, and I ask that amendments Nos. 49 to 51 be subject to a vote when we reach schedule 4, so that we may express our opinions.
Ms Munn: I shall be brief. Selective quoting of the Police Federation has puzzled me, too. We have heard a great deal about issues relating to detention officers, and it seems clear from the briefing that the federation sent us that it supports most of the powers: non-intimate searches of detained persons, searches and examinations to ascertain identity, intimate searches of detained persons, fingerprinting without consent, warnings about intimate samples and non-intimate samples, photographing persons in police detention, and requiring a person arrested to account for certain matters. The federation supports CSOs' having a range of powers.
Ian Lucas: Having spent quite a lot of time in a police station as a solicitor advising defendants, I believe that one reason for the Police Federation's support in relation to taking photographs and fingerprints is that that is one of the biggest wastes of police time and one of the most tedious tasks that the police do. Any proposal that will free up the time that they spend on such tasks is excellent.
Ms Munn: I agree. I am also concerned that throughout the debate we have heard a lot about the powers being antagonistic. The reality is often that when a person is apprehended and taken to a police station, they may not like it, but they accept that they have to go through those procedures.
Column Number: 242
Mr. Osborne: The hon. Lady quoted the Police Federation, so she obviously has a high regard for its judgment on these matters and presumably agrees with its list of 10 reasons against CSOs having powers in general.
Ms Munn: The hon. Gentleman needs to follow the whole process. I am largely responding to the issues that the hon. Member for Lewes raised. I never said that I agreed with the Police Federation completely, and I hope that all hon. Members will use their judgment on the matter. The Government's argument, which I support, is that a range of powers can be given if the police force and their chief constable wish to do that. An amendment that provides that some actions can be taken only if a police constable is present clearly intends to wreck the role of CSOs, as the Minister said.
I shall not speak at great length, but I have spent time with people—often young people—who have been arrested, and they are happy to undergo the procedures, which are straightforward. There is therefore no reason for CSOs not to undertake them.
The Chairman: For clarification, does the hon. Member for Lewes wish to press amendment No. 149 to a Division?
Norman Baker: No. I shall beg leave to withdraw amendment No. 149, but I want to press amendments Nos. 49, 50 and 51, en bloc if necessary, when we reach schedule 4.
The Chairman: Yes, that is perfectly in order. There will be one vote on the three amendments.
Norman Baker: I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 143, in page 35, line 3, leave out subsection (8).
The Chairman: With this, we may take the following: Amendment No. 42, in schedule 4, page 123, line 40, leave out paragraph (a).
Government amendment No. 171.
Amendment No. 43, in page 124, line 22, leave out paragraph 2.
Government amendment No. 173.
Amendment No. 44, in page 124, line 32, leave out paragraph 3.
Government amendments Nos. 175 to 177.
Norman Baker: If the previous group of amendments was controversial, the next one will be even more so, in light of the Government's intention through amendment No. 171 to reinsert the power to detain, which was removed in the House of Lords. Members will be pleased to hear that I shall spare the Committee the philosophical argument, which is essentially the same as for the previous group of amendments. I shall therefore draw a line under that.
Column Number: 243
However, there is a practical argument about the position in which we put CSOs if they are given the right to detain, irrespective of possible antagonism and the impact on community support to which I referred earlier. They could be asked to bite off more than they can chew. For example, CSOs could require a person who acts antisocially to give a name and address. Amendment No. 43 would remove that power. People who are already acting antisocially, and therefore not being helpful or engaging in friendly conversation, and are asked for something that they do not want to give will presumably refuse to do that. The CSO's response may be to try to detain the person, using reasonable force. ''Reasonable force'' is the concept that the amendment challenges.
CSOs therefore have the power to try, using reasonable force, to detain for 20 minutes someone who is behaving antisocially, may well be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which may be the cause of the behaviour, and refuses to give a name and address. I presume that that is the culmination of attempts to calm the situation, as I cannot imagine a CSO using the power immediately. The CSO will ring for a police officer. We are told that CSOs will free police time, but if they all detain people for half an hour, many telephone calls will be made to police stations, requesting police officers' attendance. There will therefore be more calls on the police to attend incidents.
The police officer who has been called will ask what is happening. The CSO will reply, ''I've got someone who's a bit drunk and won't give a name and address, and I'm holding him.'' The police will grade the call. A grade one call means that a life is threatened, a grade two call is less serious and so on. They will conclude that it is not a particularly serious call and doubtless it would receive the same priority that would be given now to a call by a member of the public along those lines. All hon. Members can identify cases in which the police have failed to attend a similar incident within 30 minutes, or even an hour, because of lack of manpower. Such a case happened in my constituency recently. Vandals were attempting to smash up Glynde station, which is unstaffed. Local residents made a citizen's arrest, held the vandals and called the police. The police said that they were answering a grade one call somewhere else and that they had no spare manpower, and it took them an hour and 20 minutes to arrive. That problem will not go away; the same problems will occur.
It is quite possible that a CSO could be in a position in which he or she—the CSO could be a she, of course—might have to hold a person or persons for 30 minutes while those being held were antagonistic, refusing to give their name and address and, possibly, under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Attempting to hold such a person for 30 minutes would be a deeply unpleasant experience for a CSO. Of course, if the police did not turn up within half an hour, the CSO would have to let the person go. What would be said to the CSO? Would the person say, ''Thank you very much for the conversation. It was very nice to meet you. Cheerio. Same time next week?''? Alternatively, would the person be deeply unpleasant and use a
Column Number: 244stream of invective? Worse, could the situation lead to a fracas and violence because a person resisted detention by a person whom they did not consider to be a proper police officer? I suggest to the Minister that that situation is not fanciful, but quite likely.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 20 June 2002|