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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Home Secretary might not have realised that that situation would arise, but if he reads the Hansard report of the Committee stage of that Bill, he will see that I did gently point this out to the Government at the time.
Mr. Blunkett: I would not for a moment want to take away the hon. Gentleman's success in this regard. At about 11 o'clock tonight, I shall browse through Hansard and check the exact wording, just to make sure that that happened. I congratulate him on spotting that.
We must also deal with the issue of receivers, and with the fact that, in order to be able to get at someone's assets and to dispose of them, we need to be able to use some of the existing assets being held by the Assets Recovery Agency to pay them, rather than having to pay them from the agency and then trying to recover the
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cost afterwards. We shall make considerable use of these new powers, including those relating to low-value activity being dealt with through the magistrates courts and to dealing with other issues such as freezing orders, which are also contained in these clauses.
I shall touch on only the key elements of part 3clauses 101 to 115. They include the extension of the police powers that clarify the powers of arrest. There was a very odd situation, in that certain people had to be facing a sentence of at least five years for the constable to be able to work outthrough the police and criminal evidence codewhether they could engage in an arrest. In clarifying that issue, we have made the powers explicit and built in the necessary safeguards in terms of exercising them, including revisions of the PACE code and the clarification of the term "necessity" in relation to arrests. We will publish the revised PACE code on these practical issues shortly.
The Bill will also deal with the interesting issue of a criminal who moves from place to place, or who moves assets or documents from place to place, necessitating a warrant to be taken out for every single premise owned or used by that person. These measures will overcome that problem because the authorisation will relate to the purpose of the warrant, rather than to the premises.
Mr. Grieve: The Home Secretary intends, in proposed new section 24(a), to give powers of arrest without warrant to other persons. According to my reading of that, if I see my neighbour parking his car with a defective rear light and I know that he is about to fly off to Spain on holiday, I will have the power to arrest and detain him until I can summon a constable to the scene. Is that really what the Government intend to achieve?
Mr. Blunkett: After the hon. Gentleman's earlier demonstration of expertise, I shall be very careful about how I answer his question. If the provision could be interpreted in that way, we shall make sure that the wording rules out such an interpretation. There will be an interesting debate in Committee about citizen's arrest more broadly, whether the person involved is going to Spain or elsewhere[Interruption.] I am just waiting for my learned Friends behind me to help me out on this issue. Perhaps the Committee would be a more appropriate place for that discussion, however.
We then come to the issue of police staff and civilianisation. We are introducing the sensible measure to allow civilian support staff to have a role in custody suites, freeing uniformed staff to perform their tasks more sensibly out in the community.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I am hugely enthusiastic about the use of civilian staff in custody suites, but will my right hon. Friend tell us what safeguards he will put in place if he extends that measure to cover the role of the custody sergeant? One of the huge gains of the past 10 years has been the fall in the number of deaths in custody suites. While we shall make many economic gains by using civilian staff in a general role in custody suites, is my right hon. Friend absolutely certain that now is the time to extend that role to cover the duties of the custody sergeant?
I am happy for us to explore this question. The issue here is the nature of the oversight involved, either by a uniformed sergeant or by the inspector based in the substantive station.
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Obviously, there will not be a custody suite unless the place involved is a substantive police station, as opposed to one of the many outposts that have been developed in shopping centres, civic centres and elsewhere to oversee what is happening. My right hon. Friend, who has great knowledge of these matters, not least as a former police Minister, will be welcome in informing us about the safeguards that might be built in under such circumstances. It is true that there has been a fall in deaths and dangerous activity and in appeals in terms of how people are treated. We would want to retain that at all costs.
That brings me to police community support officers and the powers to be designated by a chief constable. These are about traffic offences and traffic direction, as well as the enforcement of licensing offences relating to antisocial behaviour driven by drink, and include being able to take details and the power of entry to off-licences. Where we are talking about pubs and clubs rather than off-licences, they would have to do this in conjunction with, and when accompanied by, a uniformed officer. Obviously, the issues involve what needs to be done to amend the law in other areas.
The Committee will want to deal with and introduce measures on the seizure of alcohol and tobacco. These relate to how we need to deal with the aftermath of Customs investigations. Furthermore, when drugs are found, we must empower police community support officers to do something about it, rather than merely note that fact, so that that can be incorporated as well.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I welcome the measures in the Bill, particularly those that will stop the chilling impact on ordinary communities of the activities of local drug dealers and kingpins. Will the Home Secretary, not least in Committee, be cautious as we advance down the welcome road of PCSOs and neighbourhood wardens so that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwaterthe beat officer should be the central pillar of neighbourhood policing in a constituency such as mine, where beat officers are not being replaced and vacancies are not being filledand PCSOs and neighbourhood wardens are complementary to, not a substitute for, effective deployment of police officers on the beat?
Mr. Blunkett: It is absolutely crucial that PCSOs complement and work to support the neighbourhood beat teams. They are part of those teams. Where this has been shown to work best is precisely where we have a number of constablesoften led by a sergeantwith the PCSOs as part of the team, undertaking the roles most appropriate to them. We can give that absolute reassurance.
Part 4clauses 116 to 128is about the critical area of getting the balance right. If I have learned anything over the past three and a half yearsI like to think I have, although I hope I still have quite a lot to learnit is that we must get the balance right. We must recognise that, where there are new threats, we need new
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forms of acceptable input to get acceptable behaviour. However, there also needs to be a balance in securing those powers.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend, in considering whether he has the balance right, look at the concerns of some of us about legislating on religious belief? Most organised religions claim that they have an exclusive truth that has been given to them. They usually say some pretty harsh things about other religions and there is a genuine danger that if one reads religious tracts one will find many reasons in the Bill to prosecute people for their religious beliefs.
Mr. Blunkett: I will return in a moment to clauses 116 to 118 on animal rights, which I was about to deal with, so that I can answer properly my hon. Friend and others who have intervened on this issue. It is absolutely not our intention to engage in preventing people from exercising free speech. On 19 November 2001, when we were debating a measure similar to clause 119, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), then shadow Home Secretary, said, quite rightly:
part 5 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. It is not often that such wonderful terms as "noble motive" are used about me, so I savoured it at the time and I thought I would take the opportunity to repeat it. The right hon. Gentleman continued:
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