Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill
Mr. Mitchell: What the Minister says about the treatment of an off-licence as opposed to a pub is right. Conservative Members can understand the logic of
Ms Blears: Let me deal then with one of the matters that the hon. Gentleman did raise, which is the power to put up road signs. I genuinely do not understand why he takes exception to that. We are giving CSOs that power because often a CSO might be the first person at the site of a road traffic accident or incident. If they can put up signs, they could prevent further harm from being done as a result of people entering the site where the accident occurred. With proper training and supervision, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, there is no reason why CSOs should not put up road signs. Indeed, if they did not do so when they were the first on the scene of an accident, they might not be doing their duty as a citizen to try to ensure that they mitigated the danger before other emergency staff arrived.
I reject the charge that we are embarked on a wholesale expansion of CSO powers. We are not. They are extremely carefully targeted. I have dealt with evaluation, and I do not accept that we should delay things while it takes place.
I turn now to the Government amendments, which are important. They are new powers. Hon. Members have raised the issue of CSOs dealing with young people and the related powers that they have to deal with alcohol and tobacco. Again, in their day-to-day business, when they are out patrolling, they will find youngsters smoking and drinking on the street causing a nuisance to local residents. CSOs should have the power to search for alcohol and tobacco that the youngsters could have concealed about their person.
Often the CSO will approach youngsters who are drinking out of open containers. They may well be able to take the container off them and pour it away, but the youngsters could well have further alcohol concealed about their person, in their pockets, or under their coats. They could also have cigarettes. The provision with regard to controlled drugs is simply an incidental provision. If they are searching for alcohol and tobacco and come across some cannabis, it would be a pretty silly state of affairs if they were able to confiscate the alcohol and the tobacco but could not seize the cannabis and had to allow the person to go on their way with it. It is a question of what they might find incidentally while carrying out their duties in those circumstances.
Similarly, the powers that we have to search persons to see whether they have a dangerous item or whether they are carrying anything that could help them to escape are incidental powers. The Police Federation told us that it supports the power for a CSO to search someone for something that would be dangerous, because it recognises that that power is there to protect the CSO. If a CSO detains someone and believes that he is carrying something that could be used to injure him, but does not have the power to search the person for that item, his power is incredibly frustrated. It is a sensible, simple power for the protection of the CSO.
I am also not happy with the amendment that seeks to shorten the period of detention to 15 minutes. That is not realistic. We said 30 minutes. In our evaluation of the pilots of detention powers, in two thirds of detentions police officers arrived in about 15 minutes. There is a significant number in which it takes up to 30 minutes. The other amendment removes the period altogether. Some people might well take exception to CSOs having the right to detain people for an unlimited period. We think that we have it about right with the 30 minutes. Again, I reject both amendments.
I have covered most of the items that have been raised. The final items are powers for CSOs to enforce bye laws. That will be hugely welcomed by local authorities. Many of our present bye laws go unenforced at present. CSOs will be able to enforce bye laws for skateboarding in parks and other kinds of nuisance. Civilian enforcement officers in local authorities now have the power to enforce bye laws as well, so that is not a huge step for CSOs to take.
I reassure hon. Members that the powers that are set out in these provisions have been carefully considered. CSOs are not taking on the role of police officers. They are there to help, assist and complement the work of our attested police service. In that role they are more or less universally welcomed, not just by the public, because that is beyond contest, but by the vast majority of police officers whom I meet up and down the country who see them as an extremely helpful resource in their fight against crime and antisocial behaviour.
Mr. Mitchell: This is has been a helpful debate in a number of ways. I differ with the Minister on a number of points, but I agree with her on others. If she believes that the vast majority of police officers are relaxed about these extra powers being given to CSOs, she needs to get out more. The police officers to whom I have spoken, particularly in the Police Federation, are very concerned. One reason why we tabled this plethora of amendments today was to flush out some of these points.
We agree with some of the Minister's pointswe are a responsible Opposition and we tabled probing amendmentsbut fair is fair: there are issues on which she made her point, but others on which she did not. She has a brass neck to quote the British crime survey and attribute any of it to CSOs. I am tempted to get out the little list I keep in my diary of how crime has rocketed and detection rates have plummeted under this Government. However, in the spirit of good will that has pervaded the Committee almost from the first minute of our deliberations, I shall resist that temptation unless she provokes me further in that respect.
Secondly, we are concerned about training. We want to be satisfied that the training of PCSOs gives value for money. We hope that the evaluation that the Minister says will be done in the summer will help in that respect. Our third concern also relates to evaluation: the money should not be spent in advance of a full evaluation. That remains our position, and nothing that she said detracts from those concerns.
We may well support the proposition that there should be 23,000 more PCSOs, subject to the evaluation, but that is no substitute for the Conservative's costed pledge40,000 policemen and women, at the rate of 5,000 per year, starting from day one after an election. The PCSOs are no substitute for properly trained[Interruption.] I seem to have got the Committee's attention. They are no substitute for the extra 40,000 police who are at the heart of the Conservative party's appeal at the next election.
I listened carefully to the Minister, and we may wish to raise these matters on Report. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 113 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Powers of designated and accredited persons
Amendments made: No. 264, in schedule 8, page 169, line 11, leave out from 'all)' to end of line 13 and insert
No. 265, in schedule 8, page 169, line 14, after '(2)', insert
No. 266, in schedule 8, page 169, line 22, at end insert
No. 267, in schedule 8, page 169, line 35, at end insert
No. 268, in schedule 8, page 170, line 5, at end insert
Column Number: 316
No. 58, in schedule 8, page 171, line 13, at end insert
7A (1) Where a designation applies this paragraph to any person (''the CSO''), the CSO shall have the powers set out below.
Column Number: 317
7B (1) Where a designation applies this paragraph to any person (''the CSO''), the CSO shall, within the relevant police area, have the powers set out in sub-paragraphs (2) and (3).
Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.
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