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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Police Reform Act 2002 (Standard Powers and Duties of Community Support Officers) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Miss Anne Begg
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Carswell, Mr. Douglas (Harwich) (Con)
Challen, Colin (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Dorrell, Mr. Stephen (Charnwood) (Con)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
McNulty, Mr. Tony (Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing)
Oaten, Mr. Mark (Winchester) (LD)
Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Strang, Dr. Gavin (Edinburgh, East) (Lab)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Annette Toft, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 22 October 2007

[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]

Draft Police Reform Act 2002 (Standard Powers and Duties of Community Support Officers) Order 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Police Reform Act 2002 (Standard Powers and Duties of Community Support Officers) Order 2007.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. The draft order produces a list of standard powers for police community support officers, with effect from 1 December 2007. All chief officers of police forces in England and Wales will be required to ensure that PCSOs are suitably trained and competent in those areas. The final list was produced as a result of the parliamentary debates on the Police and Justice Bill, and of our consultation with a range of stakeholders.
The Police and Justice Act 2006 requires that we consult the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, both of which we have done. However, given the level of interest in this issue, we extended the consultation process to include all chief constables in England and Wales, the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents Association, Unison, the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. We included the latter three because they organise PCSOs in many respective areas.
Responses to the statutory consultation showed that there is broad consensus on the list of standard powers. That is not surprising, given that our annual audit of PCSO powers designated on a force-by-force basis, which was published on the Home Office PCSO web page in May, showed that 10 of the 20 proposed standard powers are already designated powers in more than 85 per cent. of forces, and that a further five are designated in more than 70 per cent. of forces.
We have listened to the concerns expressed in this House and elsewhere about maintaining the largely non-confrontational role of PCSOs, which is why we have not proposed any new powers to extend their ability to detain or search. Powers to deal with disorder and antisocial behaviour such as drinking in designated areas are rightly included, but we have not sought to include the range of licensing enforcement powers. PCSOs have a clear role in reassuring and supporting the work of police in the community. The introduction of the list of standard powers will avoid the blurring of boundaries between the roles of PCSOs and constables. It will also ensure not only that we have a national approach to designation, but that there are sufficiently robust powers in place to make sure that PCSOs can, and do, make a difference in our neighbourhoods and communities.
PCSOs are a successful part of the work force modernisation programme that the Government introduced in 2002. That programme has opened up policing to a broader range of people who want to serve our communities, but who do not wish to become fully attested police constables for whatever reason. The Government are committed to working with the police to ensure that there is a dedicated neighbourhood policing team in every area in England and Wales by April 2008, providing high profile, community-focused policing. As a result, we are seeing more uniformed officers on the street, deterring crime and reassuring communities. PCSOs clearly play an important role in the overall policing family.
In our debates on standard powers during the passage of the Police and Justice Bill, Members on both sides of the House voiced their support for PCSOs. Some of them were previously sceptical, but they had seen PCSOs at work in their constituencies and recognised the valuable role that they play. I take this opportunity to put on the record my thanks to all those PCSOs up and down the country who are working hard to make our communities safer, securer places to live.
It is against that background that we seek to introduce standard powers for PCSOs. That important step will strengthen and enhance their ability to play a constructive role in neighbourhood policing. PCSOs are meant to support and complement warranted officers and the regular police, and are not a substitute for them; we kept that strongly in mind when deciding what the standard and discretionary powers should be. It should be for each chief constable to determine what additional powers beyond the standard powers PCSOs in each area should have, within the limits laid out in the order, rather than their being imposed from the centre. That is why I have taken a three-pronged approach. First, there is the standard set of powers that we have said should be common to PCSOs up and down the country. Secondly and as the order outlines, there are various discretionary powers that it is for chief constables to pick from, if they are deemed appropriate for a particular area. By definition, the third prong is a series of police powers above and beyond the standard and discretionary, which we—I think consensually—have determined are not appropriate for PCSOs as standard or as discretionary powers. As ever, the order is very straightforward, transparent and clear, and I commend it to the Committee.
4.35 pm
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I echo the Minister in saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. This is my first piece of delegated legislation since becoming a shadow Home Affairs spokesman, and it is a pleasure to talk about this issue, because many of our constituents have first-hand experience of police community support officers. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and in particular on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), who unfortunately is unable to be present, I welcome the positive step that the Government seek to introduce through the order.
There is undoubtedly a need to codify formally the basic duties and standard powers that are open to police community support officers, and the legislation is a welcome step in the right direction, although the role and powers of PCSOs are, as the Minister knows, a matter of much debate. PCSOs have been a helpful addition to the job of keeping crime and antisocial behaviour away from our communities, towns and villages, but much more must be done if they are to gain the respect and confidence of the public that policemen themselves have gained. I sincerely hope that the order will be at least a stepping stone in that direction.
I have a particular concern to raise with the Minister. I have with me a copy of a rather confusing matrix, published in May, that outlines PCSO powers as designated by the respective constabularies and police force areas. It is confusing because, at a first glance, of the 59 powers designated within the matrix and of the 44 constabularies and police force areas listed in England and Wales, no two forces appear to have exactly the same designated capabilities for PCSOs. Although I welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s efforts to set a minimum standard throughout the country, the distinct lack of continuity throughout the force is concerning and smacks of a rushed, initially ill-conceived and poorly thought-through system. The British public, the police force and PCSOs themselves deserve better. The PCSOs need more support and more powers to do an effective job for the local communities whom they serve. They also need more clarity from the Government about their role. I accept that the order goes some way toward providing that clarification, but perhaps it does not go as far as we need.
PCSOs must also be gradually upgraded, eventually to become fully fledged policemen. That is what many PCSOs have said to me, and it is certainly what members of the public want. The Government’s attempt to standardise the existing designated powers does not go far enough. There should be a clear goal, and efforts should continue to introduce powers that are common to all PCSOs in every force area across the board. PCSOs operating out of Bedfordshire, for example, do not have the power to search detained persons for dangerous items; in neighbouring Hertfordshire, however, they do. Knowledge of that fact among people committing offences could breed antipathy and disrespect toward PCSOs—something that none of us present wants to see. I fear that the unfortunate and offensive labels placed on them by some people, such as “lollipop men”, “plastic policemen” and “glorified traffic wardens”, have evolved from those inconsistencies.
PCSOs are of course much more than that, and I hope that this statutory instrument will go some way toward recognising their important position in the community in all our constituencies. The British public, the police authorities and, most of all, the PCSOs themselves deserve consistency and continuity in all their designated powers. That is an absolute necessity if we are to free them to operate effectively with authority, and without hindrance or confusion. The intention behind this statutory instrument—to set a minimum standard—is certainly welcome, but there remains far too much subjectivity and inconsistency across the force as a whole. I encourage the Minister to continue to review PCSOs’ designated powers in conjunction with all interested parties, with the eventual goal of bringing in a truly common set of PCSO powers and responsibilities throughout the country. I look forward to his response.
4.41 pm
Mr. McNulty: First, I apologise to the hon. Member for Romford—I should have recognised that this was his debut and congratulated him accordingly. I wish him well and hope that he will have a lengthy career as an Opposition spokesperson.
The points that the hon. Gentleman makes are broadly fair. However, I want to emphasise that although we must have a minimum set of standards—I welcome his welcome of that—it is appropriate at this stage, at any rate, to leave at least a degree of discretion to local forces. There will be specific local circumstances in which greater powers for PCSOs are required than those that are currently standard. I hope that we reach the stage where there is a common framework—the standard powers, plus a degree of the more commonly used discretionary powers—but I want that to evolve from below, rather than being imposed by diktat from Whitehall. However, it is appropriate that local forces have some degree of discretion.
The hon. Gentleman made an entirely fair point about the distinction between Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, but if that ultimately proves problematic, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire will resolve the situation between them. I am conscious that it might sound unusual for a Minister to resist centralised diktat, but it is appropriate that, as the neighbourhood policing model evolves, forces determine—in the first instance, at least—what is appropriate above and beyond the standard powers.
The hon. Gentleman made two other fair points: first, that the introduction of standard powers is to be welcomed, and secondly—a point that he made almost by omission—that the standard and discretionary powers are roughly where most people think PCSOs’ powers, at their broadest, should be. We are not rehearsing the argument commonly put forward about arrest, restraint and other such powers, which are rightly left to the police. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments about there being more clarity. By evolution, we will reach a broader range of standard powers than those on the standard powers list. That is right, appropriate and healthy, but it is not for the Government to set the standard at this stage. I fully accept that we should keep the matter under review some years on from next April, when the neighbourhood policing model will be put in place throughout the country. I do not say that, here and now, we have the balance absolutely right between standard and designated powers; we might well need to review that, based on experience.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about the value of the contribution made by PCSOs—a point that everyone will agree with. Apart from welcoming that welcome and welcoming him, I welcome his broad support for the order, and I repeat my commendation of it to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Five o’clock .

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Prepared 23 October 2007