Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Before I call further Members, I should say that, having listened to the scope of the debate, I am now not minded to allow a debate on clause stand part. Members may want to take that into account in deciding whether to contribute to the debate on the amendments.

Mrs. Brooke: I endorse the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, which I shall not repeat. I agree with every word that he said.

I shall examine another aspect that is relevant to the amendments. I have spoken to representatives of housing associations, which also require careful consideration. We worry about the private sector, but what about housing associations, especially when there has been large-scale stock transfer? I know that some housing associations feel that local authorities have left them on their own to deal with all the issues on the streets. In that sense, they want community safety wardens, and I appreciate that.

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I return to a point that I made earlier, although I suspect that it is more relevant now. All the local bodies should be pulled together. If housing associations are given a power that is not tied into the local authority, they are being given policing powers without other strengths to tackle behaviour on the estates. Clearly, there is currently isolation. We should use the Bill to try to tie things together.

I am cheating a little because I have a few quotes from a report that monitored antisocial behaviour orders. We could translate them across to this issue; I am not trying to be devious, but to underline my point. The report refers to registered social landlords and, in the context of ASBOs, says:

    ''The 2000 guidance recommends that they are included in drawing up the local crime and disorder strategy''.

However, it also says that registered social landlords are often left out of the equation, and that one solution proposed by more by one person was to compel partners—

11.30 am

Mr. Denham: Does the hon. Lady accept that we shall deal with the part of the Bill that addresses registered social landlords and ASBOs during a later sitting? Registered social landlords might have been left out of the equation at the time of the review of ABSOs, but they are certainly not today.

Mrs. Brooke: I just need to clarify that I am referring to accredited safety officers. I suggest that the points made in the review translate over to that context if we are considering a holistic approach to policing on estates. I am aware that we shall pick up on those points and that they shall be relevant. I am being honest by saying that the quotes are out of context.

A local authority representative said:

    ''I think that something else needs to be put in place to facilitate a requirement on the crime and disorder partnerships...There needs to be something that actually directs the crime and disorder partnerships to include RSLs''.

If a problem of working together exists in that context, it is even more important to tie in all relevant bodies when we consider the broader agenda of community safety officers. Will the Minister address that—if he has followed my argument across contexts? Undoubtedly, we need community safety wardens on our large estates that are managed by housing associations. My personal preference would be to accept the amendments that would tie in local authorities firmly and ensure that everybody works together.

Mr. Osborne: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Widdecombe, after working with you closely over recent years. May I take advantage of the licence that you kindly gave us to explore more broadly the accredited community safety schemes?

I begin by joining the hon. Member for Lewes in noting the irony of the Labour party giving private companies policing powers. I can imagine the song and dance that you, Miss Widdecombe, would have heard

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from Labour Members in Committee—perhaps including several in the Room today—had you proposed such a scheme when you were a Home Office Minister. There we go; the world has moved on.

The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), who is not present, teased the hon. Member for Lewes about elected police authorities. Of course, elected police authorities formed part of the Labour party's policy for almost two decades, but the world has moved on from that as well.

I share some of the worries raised by the hon. Member for Lewes and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. I would like the Minister to explain the types of employers to whom the clauses refer more specifically than as outlined in the Bill. If the provisions address social landlords, I am happy that they have the option of using such schemes. For example, the schemes in place at the Longridge and Coleshaw Farm housing estates in my constituency work extremely well. Social landlords should certainly have powers to apply for accreditation. How far does that go? Who does the Minister have in mind? Is he talking about store detectives in supermarkets and shopping centres? Does he mean private security firms that may patrol private or industrial property? It would be interesting to know whether nightclub bouncers fall within the definition?

I realise that I am straying slightly into clause 37, but will the Minister say whether the onus is on the chief constable to accredit someone unless he is not happy that that person is fit and proper in line with various parts of the clause? Alternatively, will the chief constable be given complete freedom to say that he does not want private security companies in his area to have accredited schemes? Could a private security firm take a chief constable to court and say, ''We have met all the criteria under the Bill, but you are not accrediting us''? Will the Minister clear up my worries?

The Bill is taking many good neighbourhood warden schemes—a Burkean myriad of little platoons—and, in effect, nationalising them by forcing them under the umbrella of local police accreditation schemes. I have mentioned the Stockport town warden scheme before, but it was a pioneering schemes. It is close to my constituency and two people involved in it have expressed worries about the provisions. Dave Curtis, the manager of the scheme, said:

    ''The police have a different recruitment and training system. We are taking unemployed people and we receive applications from a different type of person to the police force.''

He said that he was worried about such people having police powers.

Stephen O'Hagan, the head of estate management at Stockport borough council, agreed with that and said:

    ''In the limited consultation we've done, we've found that people are wary of the powers of enforcement. There's a feeling it might create a barrier between the community and the wardens.''

That is an important point. One reason why the warden schemes have worked well in my constituency and elsewhere is that local people do not see the wardens as police officers. As a result, the wardens have built up a different bond of trust with local

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people. When most of the schemes are accredited, there is a danger that that bond of trust will be weakened because such officers will become part of the policing family and, in the process, will lose some of their informal relationship with the local community.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I share the pleasure of my hon. Friends at serving under your chairmanship, Miss Widdecombe. The hon. Member for Wellingborough said that the clause is widely drawn in allowing community safety schemes to be set up. Under the clause, any business can be given a community safety scheme. Let us suppose that a struggling magazine, albeit with a steeply rising circulation, came under attack from a powerful and determined Government in the form of a director of communications and strategy who was determined to assail the magazine. The editor of the magazine felt it necessary to recruit a community safety officer. He went to the chief officer and said, ''I have a man called Bruce Anderson. He is a fit and proper person. I undertake to give him the requisite training. He will command awe and respect from all who survey him.'' The chief officer would agree to that.

To return to the point that was made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, this part of the Bill is so widely framed that it will be susceptible to much confusion. That is the main problem.

Mr. Stinchcombe: Is it not right that, in any application for accreditation, we will vest in the chief constable the discretion to decide whether to approve? Therefore, is it not right that we should presume that that discretion, vested in appropriately appointed chief officers, will be sensibly and reasonably exercised?

Mr. Johnson: That is the point. I am sure that it would be sensibly and reasonably exercised, and I have no doubt that a chief officer would want to give this hypothetical magazine the protection that it deserved—and that, therefore, the scheme would be allowed to go ahead.

However, there would be several points of ambiguity that would be left entirely up to the employer. What nomenclature will be given to this warden? Will he be called a community safety officer—which is not a very catchy name—or will he be called a Denham? That will be left entirely to the discretion of those who are responsible for the schemes.

What uniform will he wear? [Hon. Members: ''Denim.''] Denim has been suggested; that is brilliant, and it is a joke with which the Minister may well be familiar.

The Chairman: Order. I hesitate to interrupt this entertainment, but the hon. Gentleman is addressing issues that will more properly be dealt with when we discuss clause 38. Therefore, I ask him to bring his interesting speech back within the scope of the present topic.

Mr. Johnson: Thank you, Miss Widdecombe. My intention is to point up the danger of confusion. The Minister has said that best practice will gradually roll

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out across the country, as one scheme learns from another. That is an interesting Darwinian view of how this might work. However, I fear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton has cogently said, there will be confusion between different schemes, and that very good existing warden schemes will be replaced—and that they will be crowded out by a nationalised variety of warden.

The most important thing is that CSOs—or whatever we are going to call them—should have respect, and that people should know what they are doing. Much as I approve of private involvement at all levels, I fear that the legislation is too widely drawn, and that it will lead to a dangerous incoherence in the public's image of CSOs.

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