Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: Amendment No. 28, in page 136, line 18, leave out paragraph 2.

Government amendment No. 216.

Mr. Denham: This group of amendments relates to powers that are both appropriate for accredited persons and necessary to maximise their effectiveness. They deal with the power to require a name and address.

Government amendment No. 215 introduces a power to require a name and address for some offences, but it does not, as was mentioned earlier, reintroduce the power of detention that was deleted in another place. Opposition amendment No. 28 would delete the power to require the name and address of someone acting in an antisocial manner.

I shall explain the value of having the power to require a name and address, which we now propose without the power of detention. Denying accredited persons the power to require a name and address will hinder their effectiveness. Most obviously, the ability to require a name and address will enable the fixed penalty notice to be enforced. The ability to ask for a name and address in such circumstances may be enough to enable them to handle a low-level instance of disorder. In circumstances in which the power is ignored, as the hon. Member for Lewes said, there is no back-up legal power of detention. None the less, the power can help provide evidence for a future action, including an antisocial behaviour order, through the refusal to comply with the request to give a name and address.

The Bill contains significant safeguards to ensure that all the powers conferred on accredited persons are exercised appropriately. It is because we believe that the name and address provision is a key part of enforcement for accredited officers that we reintroduced it.

We listened to and took account of the mood in another place and discussions in Committee on powers of detention, and we have not introduced them. Without the back-up of the power of detention, in some circumstances the name and address will be refused. As I said, evidence of such refusal may help wardens and others to introduce further measures against offenders, including the use of antisocial behaviour orders. Amendment No. 216 is a consequential Government amendment.

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Mr. Osborne: Will the Minister explain why, given the Government's decision not to give powers of detention to accredited safety schemes, he believes that CSOs should have a power to detain, as we debated, but that these people should not? What is the Government's logic?

Mr. Denham: In the Government's view, CSOs should have the power to detain with reasonable force. We believe that that power should be exercised only by someone who is directly employed by the police service—hence the full package for CSOs. For accredited community safety officers who are employed not by the police service but by local authorities or others, which we discussed earlier, a more limited range of powers was always appropriate, as they are not directly employed by the police service. That matter was discussed in another place. We have taken a realistic view of the situation, and we have secured by far the largest part of what we wanted, because there will be a legal right to require a name and address, and possible consequences if someone refuses to do supply that information. That is why we have introduced the amendments in this way.

Norman Baker: It would be churlish not to welcome the Government's change of policy; they have deleted their proposal to give accredited officers the power of detention. Their previous position was wrong, and I give them credit for changing it.

However, there is an inconsistency in the present situation. We are giving the power to require someone to supply their name and address, but we are not giving any means to achieve that. Therefore, it is a power which cannot be enforced, which might lead to the system—and the officers concerned—being brought into disrepute. If someone were to say ''No'' to an officer and then walk away, that person could not be compelled to do anything. That would be an invidious position to put an accredited officers into.

Mr. Denham: I wish to ensure that there is no confusion. As I said earlier, there are two possible consequences. If someone who refuses to give their name and address is subsequently identified, they could be prosecuted for committing an offence under clause 45(2). Also, if someone is subsequently identified—which will frequently be the case—it will be possible for their refusal to give their name and address to be a part of the portfolio of evidence that is presented in seeking an antisocial behaviour order. Therefore, the idea that nothing can happen as a consequence is wrong.

Norman Baker: I take on board the Minister's qualification of my point. However, there is no immediate consequence, and evidence will be required from a third person that the person who was required to give their name and address was present at the time and refused to supply that information. Otherwise, that person could simply deny that they were present when the incident occurred, and there would be no way around that—it would be a matter of one person's word against another's.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): The use of CCTV cameras, which are extensively employed in Bridgend, might lead to such third-party evidence being provided.

Norman Baker: That is true. However, CCTV is not omnipresent—for which we should, perhaps, be thankful—and I do not think that the Government intend to make it so. Therefore, it will not cover all areas, but it might make an impact in certain circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman said.

I do not wish to detain the Committee unduly, but I should refer the Minister to the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), whom I am glad has been restored to ministerial office as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He made the point that to give powers without means of enforcement would neither work, nor be very sensible. He made an eloquent speech about that, and he convinced me of his argument. Therefore, notwithstanding the Minister's qualifications, it is inappropriate for accredited officers to be put in the position of requiring something that they cannot ensure will be delivered.

I also have objections about someone from a private company being able to require a name and address. Those are the reasons why I oppose the Government's amendment, and support my amendment, which is also supported by Conservative Committee members.

Mr. Hawkins: That amendment has been tabled in the names of the hon. Members for Lewes and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, and I.

As the hon. Member for Lewes has pointed out, the amendment reflects that there is a straightforward conflict between the two sides of the Committee. While I like the hon. Gentleman, I am pleased that the Government have moved some way in our direction by not seeking to reimpose the power to detain for accredited persons. That was a worry to many police officers and the Police Federation. We give credit to the Minister for taking account of the strong views that were expressed in another place when the Bill was debated there. The Government have not gone far enough, however, so we oppose Government amendment No. 215, which wants to put back in part what their Lordships wisely removed. Moreover, paragraph 2 of the schedule should be removed.

12.45 pm

The hon. Member for Lewes rightly expressed some worries. I debated the Private Security Industry Bill in the previous Parliament. You will have particular memories of the work undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and I on that Bill, Miss Widdecombe, because we were part of your team at the time. I am much inclined to accept the worries that have been expressed by not only the hon. Member for Lewes today, but many of their Lordships and many Labour Members in those debates on the Private Security Industry Bill about giving extra powers to those who might turn out to be from the less reputable side of the private security industry.

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It is a shame that the Government's business managers did not think it fit to make the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the acknowledged parliamentary expert after a lifetime in politics on the private security industry, a member of this Committee. Had he been here, he may have had considerable reservations about the Government's actions.

Mr. Paice: That is exactly why.

Mr. Hawkins: As my hon. Friend said, that is why the right hon. Member for Walsall, South is not a member of the Committee. When the Bill is discussed on Report, it will be interesting to see whether that senior and distinguished right hon. Gentleman, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, has an opportunity to speak on such issues. If he does, I suspect that he may not agree with what the Minister is putting forward.

If the Government have their way and we end up with accredited persons having the right to require people to give their name and address, I foresee more confrontations on the street. I have defended and prosecuted at the Bar for several years. I was involved in many cases in both the Crown court and the magistrates court that arose from confrontations between private sector security guards in shopping centres with their limited powers to summon police officers and gangs of hooligans and shoplifters. Something that had started off as a legitimate attempt by a security guard to arrest teenage shoplifters could degenerate quickly into a serious affray, criminal damage and serious violence. Entirely innocent and law-abiding people could become drawn into such mob activities and be victims of violence and confrontation.

However careful the protection and safeguards, human nature being what it is, if mistakes are made, some people may be accredited who are not the best people to exert powers. If they insisted that they had the power to demand a person's name and address, that could be a recipe for serious confrontation. That is only one of the worries that organisations such as the Police Federation have expressed. I do not want to detain the Committee but, at this stage, I cannot think of any way of bridging the difference of principle between the two sides of the Committee. The Government are trying to take account of only part of what was said in another place. They are trying to reintroduce into the Bill something that the other place was wise to take out in its entirety. We think that the Government have still got the matter wrong, although we are pleased that they have listened to some extent.

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Prepared 25 June 2002