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The key roles that PCSOs play in all areas are: offering increased visibility to provide greater reassurance to the public, improving community engagement through getting to know communities and the issues that concern them, and gathering intelligence from local people about what is going on in their neighbourhoods. It is precisely because they are not quite police that they are more trusted by the sections of the community which react badly to the more authoritarian image of fully sworn police officers, yet standardising their powers in the way suggested by the Government will simply make them more like sworn officers. They risk losing these advantages and there is no clear distinction.

If we are to give PCSOs standard powers, this standard should represent a set of minimum powers, with flexibility for chief officers to increase them if it

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is appropriate to their area. This means drawing a line in the sand about the limit of standard powers, which should be set below detention level for a number of reasons. First, if community support officers are to take on the more confrontational roles which detention powers would imply, their training will be very much longer and consequently more expensive. Secondly, if their role is expanded to include additional tasks, PCSOs could quite reasonably expect to be paid more. Both of these could add a significant additional burden to police budgets, which we know will already be under great pressure over the next few years. Thirdly, the distinction between community support officers and police officers will become more blurred, potentially leading to a loss of the trust they currently enjoy among sections of the population which feel alienated from the mainstream. This would be extremely unhelpful in the troubled times in which we live. Fourthly, having detention powers would mean that they would have to start completing more paperwork, making court appearances and so on. Time spent on this would be time they would not be on the front line providing a greater level of reassurance to, and engagement with, the public. Fifthly, expanding their role is likely to give the impression that forces are trying to recruit police on the cheap. This could have unwelcome implications both for public perception generally and for relationships with sworn officers and the organisations that represent them. Finally, we must ask what kind of people will be attracted to becoming community support officers if it is seen not to be a community-based post, but one that carries rather more authoritarian powers.

Taken together, these represent a compelling set of arguments for ensuring that any standard powers are minimum powers, with the line drawn as I have described. Chief police officers will still have the ability to increase those powers if and when they feel it is necessary. For the reasons that I have outlined, it is unhelpful to prescribe greater powers for all areas. This is important for the confidence of the public in policing and deserves to be in primary legislation. I beg to move.

6.45 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the anxiety of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, but I do not accept that it is merited on this occasion. Perhaps I may explain to her why. The key question is the intention of the Bill in relation to the powers of the police community support officers and whether the amendment improves it.

The Bill’s intention is to bring clarity to the policing powers currently designated to community support officers. I welcomed the noble Baroness’s acceptance at the beginning of her speech that this was a reasonable aim, because if we are to have the benefit of using community support officers, we should know the ambit of what they are likely to do in any given area.

There is great variation among forces, a fact with which the noble Baroness is all too familiar. Clause 6 allows the Secretary of State to propose to both

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Houses which of the existing powers available in the legislation should be designated as standard for all community support officers. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, would preclude from the consideration of the Home Secretary, this House and another place one specific power. We cannot accept that this is how we should frame the legislation. If the principle that a standard set of powers may be drawn up is accepted, we would not at this stage interpose our personal views into primary legislation and prejudge or preclude the consultation which the Bill requires, or the debate and the vote on the draft order.

I reiterate that this Bill does not prescribe what the standard set of powers should be; it sets out a statutory process for determining the standard set—and it is a comprehensive process. If, after debate on a draft order, this House thinks that we have got it wrong, it may then reject the draft order, but we do not think that the Bill is the place to debate the individual existing powers or skewer the Bill’s intention.

I am reluctant to discuss the merit of exercising the power or the reasoning for including it in a standard set because the key point is to safeguard the integrity of the existing clause. All policing powers, whoever exercises them, are coercive—that is their nature. CSOs are appropriately trained and recruited to a task from a wider and more diverse background than are police officers. Some 15 per cent come from minority ethnic groups, for example. Their nature is that they are local, immediate and known by people. It is quite clear that we want to retain that distinct and valuable flavour. Not everyone welcomed CSOs initially, but we all welcome them now as being a thoroughly good thing. They are not only to engage and to reassure, but they solve problems about anti-social behaviour that people face, and we should dispel the myth that they are not up to the job of doing that—because we know that they are.

Noble Lords will be aware that we did a pilot study on the use of the power to require someone to remain for 30 minutes. The result was really favourable. It is an important sanction when a CSO is dissatisfied with the response given to a request for a name and address. Whether to exercise that power is at the discretion of the CSO and on the basis of local operational instructions. It is then for a constable to resolve the situation, not the CSO. The CSO may not restrain someone; that requires the designation of a separate power.

We are having discussions with the police service on the shape of a list of standard powers and debating with it the merits and the composition of such a list. We are seeking to reach an agreement with the service on this and we will pursue this aim, if necessary, through formal consultation required by the Bill. For transparency’s sake, we published the previous Home Secretary’s proposal for a standard list in the annexe of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, but it was never intended to be the final word. There is a lot of debate about what that core should be, where the dividing line should be and what should be left for local determination. That is a debate that we

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need to have. All the Bill proposes to do is to enable us to have a standard; it does not determine what that standard will be. The standard will depend on the consultation and on the iterative process through which we have to try to craft something.

I hope that on that basis I can urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. There will be scope for us to have this debate in due course after those consultations have come to fruition.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, would the Minister explain whether, when the standard powers have been discussed and the police authorities and forces have been consulted, they will come before Parliament again?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the proposal is that they would then go into a list, which this House and another place would have an opportunity to debate and which we would review. All that we are doing at this stage is setting a framework to say that there should be a standard and that this is the process that we are going to use to develop that standard and the process through which the Houses will be able to review what the standard should be. We are in agreement that it would be a good thing to have a standard set of core things that CSOs can do, but at this stage it would be arbitrary to pick out one issue and say that it is outwith what CSOs should do. That would be precipitate. The one pilot that we have had so far indicates that allowing the CSOs to stay for half an hour is a good idea.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister and I am very grateful to her for—

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I think that by implication I made it clear that this would be done by the affirmative not the negative resolution procedure, but I shall put that on the record so that there is no ambiguity about it.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful. I listened carefully to what the Minister said. It is slightly cart-before-horse to bring in a standard at this stage if at a later stage we will be talking about it. However, as the Minister put some things on record, I shall also put on the record the concerns of Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who in writing to the Home Secretary said that he believed that the powers could be,

Sir Ian asked for a shorter list of standard powers, which he said would be preferable, and expressed concerns,

He believes that all those are unsuitable for PCSOs and, as set out in the attachment to the letter, has

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concerns as to their use by police officers in some circumstances. I hope that the Government take very seriously all the concerns expressed by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. If I can be assured that that will be the case—and the noble Baroness is nodding in assent—I would be happy to withdraw my amendment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am happy to confirm that. I have tried to indicate that we are in discussions with chief police officers to discuss with them what the standards should be, so we will have ample opportunity to review these issues and to talk with the police about how best to go forward.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 57:

“(a) the Association of Police Authorities; and (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Police bail]:

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 58:

(a) the time at which the person attends at a police station; and (b) seven days from the time at which the person was released on bail.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this was a revised version of the amendment that we discussed in Committee. It would restrict the maximum duration of conditions on street bail, specifying that the conditions would expire either seven days after the person was released or when he or she attended a police station, whichever was earlier. The amendment would not remove the power to impose a condition on street bail; that is not the purpose. It would merely impose generous limits on the duration of this condition.

Street bail can be beneficial for both police and suspect. We know of an example of street bail being used in the case of a mother who, while out with her three young children, was arrested for shoplifting. She was given street bail to attend a police station at a later date so that she could arrange care for her children. In such circumstances, unnecessary inconvenience was avoided. We do not wish to see people being taken to a police station at times that are inconvenient for them and the police. That is the purpose behind the amendment and I hope that the Minister can respond to it. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I should say straight away that I acknowledge the sentiment behind the amendment, which is to minimise the potential for a suspected person to be placed for an

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undue period of time on conditions that are disproportionate to the offence or the offender. The noble Lord gave a graphic example of where the provision works incredibly well and is a sensible way forward. That is a sentiment that we absolutely share, but the effect of the amendment, for three reasons, would be to achieve the opposite.

First, under the Bill, the person granted street bail has an immediate right to appeal to the custody officer and then to a magistrate. A person granted bail pre-charge at the police station can apply to the magistrate for those conditions to be changed.

Secondly, an officer setting conditions of bail will do so on the basis of a risk assessment, taking into account the condition of the victim, the circumstances of the offender, the nature of the offence and the needs of the investigation. Automatic expiry of conditions after seven days does not mean automatic expiry of the risk. If the noble Lord’s amendment was enacted, the almost certain outcome is that suspects would be required to return to the police station at the end of a completely arbitrary period of seven days. The officers could consider whether to issue a further period of bail with conditions attached if the investigation was still in progress.

Let us take the example that the noble Lord gave of a mother who has real difficulties with childcare because her mother is away and she has no one else. That mother can say, “I can come back—there is no urgency—if you give me 10 days”. If there was an obligation for that to happen in seven days, there would not be that flexibility; it would mean prescribing a strict timetable that would be disadvantageous to the mother, time-consuming and unnecessary, because it would prescribe an arbitrary time, which might not meet the needs or the risk assessment done by the police officer, who might think that it was not necessary. We believe that this would not only be disruptive to the suspect but create a bureaucratic and time-consuming process for the police. We cannot see the benefits of that and I do not believe that it is what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, wants either. The Bill currently provides the officer with the ability to determine the period of bail that best suits the needs of the investigation. That has to be the driver and not a bureaucratic and arbitrary process.

7 pm

Thirdly, one of the aims of bail is to ensure that people spend as little time as possible in police detention. We are looking to encourage officers to make effective use of bail and to do so in an environment that recognises the needs and concerns of the victim. The application of conditions proportionate to the offence should both help to protect the victim and minimise the time that the person needs to spend in a police cell. I recognise the concern that a person might be subject to almost indefinite conditions or periods of bail. I am sure that the noble Lord has that anxiety about the provision. In Committee, I indicated that it was mentioned in Committee in the other place that we had anticipated

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that potential when we introduced the street bail provisions in 2003. The Home Office guidance that accompanied the provisions made it clear that a period of more than six weeks to respond to bail should be considered only in exceptional circumstances. We repeat the same guidance for both street and pre-charge bail, but we do not envisage placing such a time limit in the Bill. Instead, we wish to allow officers to retain the operational flexibility to best meet the needs of the investigation.

The 2003 circular requires the monitoring by supervisory management of the use of street bail, particularly regarding disproportionality—another issue about which the noble Lord and I are anxious. We would extend that requirement to the conditions attached to bail and to the periods to which those conditions are attached. Police officers are accountable for their actions but are also answerable to their communities regarding tackling and investigating crime. We believe that these proposals will help to achieve both objectives. We want police officers to behave safely but compassionately and sensitively, if the need arises. We believe that the measure enables them to do that. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured. He and I believe that the way in which these matters are tackled has worked well, and that we need to replicate that.

Government Amendment No. 142 corrects the reference in Section 142(3) of the 1988 Act. For some time—given the date of the legislation—it has incorrectly referred to conditions as set out in Section 142(1)(b). That provision does not contain any conditions; the relevant subsection is (1)(c). Accordingly, the amendment will require a justice of the peace to consider conditions that must be satisfied to authorise entry and search of premises for offensive weapons. A justice of the peace would already take those matters into account. In any event, the conditions reflect the framework set out in PACE in relation to authorising entry to the premises. I hope that I shall satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that he and I, as always, want the same thing, but that we have found a good way of doing it for him.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation. On future occasions we shall have plenty of opportunities to monitor how the provision affects individuals. I have no doubt that in the coming months we shall have a plethora of criminal justice legislation that will provide further opportunities to deal with the matter. I am grateful to the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 59:

(a) for that area to be sealed off; and (b) for the searching for firearms of any people or vehicles in that particular area, by whatever means he considers appropriate.”

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, this simple amendment would provide a clear power to help the police to get guns off the streets before they are used. The situation on gun crime has become considerably worse since we previously discussed it, which was on 4 July. The Library has kindly provided me with cuttings that cover the period since then. They tell a horrific story. I shall mention only two figures. In Manchester alone, there is an average of five firearm offences every two days, committed by boys and men aged 15 to 20. In London, shootings are almost one a day with more than two fatal shootings a month.

I should like briefly to quote Kevin Davis, who, as the head of Scotland Yard’s Operation Trident, is one of the most senior law enforcement officers in the United Kingdom. He has pointed out that a minority of young people think that it is,

He continues:

Two-thirds of the shootings investigated by Trident officers occurred in just six of the capital’s poorest boroughs. Three-quarters of the victims are black. Intimidation is rife and Davis admits that protecting the entire extended family of a witness is impossible.

After terrorism, firearms crime is perhaps the most serious challenge to law and order that we face. Luckily, I believe that we can do something about it. Unlike searching for drugs or collecting drugs, which is extremely difficult, finding a firearm with a hand-held metal detector is very simple. My amendment seeks to give the police powers to use that means when they wish to do so.

In previous debates, the Minister has said that there are already many powers in relation to firearms. She is absolutely right. I refer to Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I shall not go on, but suffice it to say that the Home Office’s firearms website emphasises that firearms law is very complicated. Complicated law is not good law. Simple law is needed, which is understood by both the public and the police.

Do the police want the measure? In July, I said that the part of ACPO responsible for gun crime was anxious to have it. Since that time, the Home Office has lent on ACPO and ACPO has suggested that its different sections—the police section and the section dealing with community relations—

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot let it stand that we have lent on ACPO. We asked for ACPO’s view because we were worried that it might have concerns about the matter. We wanted to hear from ACPO whether there was a gap and what the gap was so that we could assist. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to come back to the House and say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, “You’re right and there is something more that we can do”. I reassure the noble Lord that we asked ACPO about the matter, but it was certainly not lent on.

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