Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Ms Prentice: I certainly do not think that local communities want an elite force. They want community police officers, people whom they know and can recognise, whom they can go up to and talk to in the street and who will turn up at their residents and tenants association meetings and so on. The community support officers will be working in

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conjunction with local people, which I think enhances their role in the local community rather than detracting from it.

Mr. Paice: When my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath and I refer to an elite force, we do not mean, er—

Ms Munn: The SAS.

Mr. Paice: An SAS-type force—indeed. I thank the hon. Lady—I was trying to think of the right descriptive terminology. What we mean is making people realise that these are the best police, because that is the most important part of the job.

What I really want to challenge the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) on is this: she mentioned CSOs operating in the community under the neighbourhood police officer, for want of a better phrase, but we are also told that the Met do not want them for that. They want them for security patrols in the city centre of London. Would we not be forgiven for being slightly confused about what the officers are actually to be used for?

Ms Prentice: I do not see that there is necessarily any confusion at all, and why both roles cannot be used. In Westminster, in the centre of London, CSOs may well be used for that security role. In Lewisham, on the Downham estate in my constituency, they will be dealing with the young tearaways, as I think they were described last week—toe-rags is another favourite description—who should not be out and about in the middle of the day but behind a desk in a classroom. It is perfectly possible for CSOs to fill both those roles.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): It may be of interest to my hon. Friend, and of assistance in some of the points that she raises, to note that since 1997 there have been more than 250 additional police officers on the beat in the South Wales constabulary. If community support officers were opted for there, they would be in addition to those police officers, not in place of them. Does she agree with Baroness Gardner, who said:

    ''I would rather have community support officers than no one''?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2002; Vol. 632, c. 431.]

Ms Prentice: I am sure that Baroness Gardner can be assured that she will have more than no one—she will indeed have the community support officers.

In conclusion, I simply say that I hope that other police authorities and chief constables, if they do not immediately take the opportunity to have community support officers, will look at the effect that they have in the Met. The idea is embraced both by the Met and by local authorities that have neighbourhood warden schemes and want to see both schemes working hand in hand. The suggestion, from the examples given in this debate, that the power of detention is too great, is wrong both for the community support officers in the street and for those working as detention officers and elsewhere. Those who represent them support the

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Government's position on giving them powers of detention and of use of reasonable force. That should be put on record.

The scheme will be welcomed by local communities, certainly in London, and I imagine that other major cities will also find their policing enhanced by having community support officers.

Vera Baird (Redcar): I want to raise the major difficulties that the amendment would give to all kinds of officers, even excluding CSOs. The issue of the 30 minutes' detention is a very interesting one and I shall await the Minister's response on it. Leaving aside CSOs for the time being, and considering the duties that will be given—as I had originally understood it, with the full support of both Opposition parties—to the other civilian officers that are to be created, unless those duties are backed up by the right to use reasonable force, they are a recipe for trouble.

Let us consider a situation in which an escort officer is escorting someone from A to B and that person tries to escape or refuses to be taken there. What is the officer to do if he does not have a power of reasonable force to restrain the person until further help arrives? An escort officer cannot do the job if he does not have the power to back it up. The straightforward point is that the amendment would cross escort officers from the list of new people who will help the police.

We considered detention officers quite carefully this morning in pursuit of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Lewes that such officers should have one-to-one supervision from police officers. Detention officers' duties will include searching people. A detention officer who has, and will therefore use, that power might ask someone to turn out their pockets, and that person might refuse. If the detention officer were to put his hand into the person's pocket to take out an item, he would technically be guilty of assault, and could be prosecuted. Surely we do not want to give civilian officers duties that they cannot carry out without risk of prosecution. We must face the fact that the amendment would cross detention officers, as civilians attached to police, off the list.

Although investigation officers are concerned with tasks such as obtaining special procedure material and searching premises once people who have been arrested are moved from them, they will also be involved, under the powers in the schedule, in searching premises while people are there. They are given the power to search. A person might not want an investigation officer to use that power. He might not want him to go into a particular room and could bar the way. How is the officer to do the duty imposed on him if he is not entitled to move the person away, or at least tell the person that he is entitled to move him, and could he please move? Investigation officers simply could not do the job that I thought everyone was keen to allocate to them.

We have to face the fact that if the amendment is agreed to, we will have to cross investigation officers off the list of the assistants that the Bill is fervently trying to provide for a thoroughly overworked police

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force. Such officers are welcomed in principle by the police officers to whom I have spoken. The submissions of pressure groups show that those groups welcome them, too.

Part of the foundation for the powers are the facts elicited by the study, ''The Diary of a Police Officer''. I believe that it was the Minister's idea that officers should keep a record of their day-to-day activities. The conclusions were that less than 50 per cent. of officers' time was spent outside the police station—I think that some 55 per cent. was spent in it. When they were in the police station, they were mostly carrying out jobs that would be done by detention, investigation and escort officers. Consequently, the amendment would, at a stroke, restore to the police all the duties that I thought we were anxious to take off them because they were too menial and trivial to occupy their time. The amendment makes it perfectly plain that the Liberal Democrats are against all support officers.

Mr. Osborne: Several members of the Committee—and police officers—have struggled with the distinction between arrest and detention. Could the hon. and learned Lady throw the light of her legal expertise on to the problem and illuminate the matter for the Committee?

Mr. Johnson: Can one be detained for a non-arrestable offence?

Vera Baird: I cannot say, ''Ask me one about sport,'' as I know nothing about it.

In response to the hon. Member for Henley, I suspect that none of the offences are arrestable, but I am only venturing on the matter, as others have considered the matter far more carefully than I have. Something akin to the general arrest condition power in section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is to be used. That gives a police officer, at any rate, a power to arrest someone he has seen committing an offence that would normally be summonsable if the person refuses to give a name and address. That is the analogy that can be drawn here, but I will leave distinguishing detention from arrest to the Minister.

Those points must be forcefully made, to show the complete lack of sense in the amendment, and in the Liberal Democrats' public stance that they are in favour of this kind of support officer—because they cannot be.

I also seek assistance from official Opposition Members, because I cannot understand why they are not supporting amendment No. 42. It is a Liberal Democrat amendment, and it would remove from schedule 4 the right to give a fixed penalty notice for offences of disorder. They are not supporting the attempt to remove that, so they are happy for CSOs to give fixed penalty notices in respect of offences of disorder—which, of course, requires that they take the offender's name and address—but they are supportive of amendment No. 43, which would remove paragraph 2 from schedule 4, which gives the power to ask for the name and address of someone who has been acting in an antisocial manner. They are happy for CSOs to have the power to ask for a name and address when

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somebody has been behaving in a disorderly way, but they are not happy for them to have that power when somebody has been behaving in an antisocial manner.

I am anxious to be intervened on by an official Opposition Member, so that they can clarify what I see as an utter absurdity.

3.30 pm

Mr. Johnson: I did not intend to speak, but the hon. and learned Lady's comments have inspired me to say something on behalf of the potential miscreant. Nobody has spoken for him. I wanted to put myself in his shoes, by imagining that I am rolling around the streets of Henley late at night and much the worse for wear when a figure with a helmet on looms out of the fog and says, '''Ello, 'ello, what's all this 'ere, then? You're nicked, chummy.''

In those circumstances, we know exactly where we stand: a police constable is exercising his authority under the law, because he has the right to arrest me for being drunk and disorderly—and I respect his right to do that, and understand what is going on. On the other hand, if I am in that condition and a CSO arrives and says the same thing to me, I would be in confusion, and nothing that Labour Members have said has enlightened me, or elucidated the position. I do not know what powers the CSO will have over me. I do not know how long he will be able to detain me for, as that seems to vary from area to area. I do not know what offences he will be able to detain me for. Even the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) could not explain whether someone could be detained for a non-arrestable offence.

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