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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for what he has said in response to the amendment. Of course, noble Lords on these Benches always want the whole loaf, but I think that this time we have been offered a little more than half a loaf, so I consider myself more than satisfied. He can rest assured that I shall be an eager reader of the annual, spring and autumn reports of HMRC. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so, given the hour, I want to say simply that I repeat my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in the consideration of this Bill. I have enjoyed my limited excursion into these matters, although it was not what I had anticipated when I first set out to take on the Bill. However, I believe that we send it back to another place with a number of improvements. I thank all those who have enabled that to take place, including the Bill team which, as the noble Baroness and others have said, has worked extremely hard to meet the concerns in a way that satisfies operational requirements.
Since the introduction of community support officers there has been a worrying, yet entirely predictable, creep in their powers. The additional powers in the Bill will be the third extension of those given to CSOs since their introduction in July 2002. All these extensions have taken place in the absence of any empirical evidence as to the utility of the exercise of their existing powers or any evaluation of the effectiveness or efficiency of the service they are delivering.
We were in support of the appointment of community support officers when it was first discussed but we oppose the additional powers which would be conferred on CSOs by Clause 118. This view is derived from focus group research conducted by the Police Federation into the experiences of police officers working with CSOs. The Government have no empirical evidence of the utility of the powers the CSOs already have. The Home Office evaluation of the use of powers to detain signally failed to measure utility despite being directed by the terms of reference to do so.
We are very concerned about the power creep that is happening, with more and more powers for CSOs being tagged on to any convenient piece of legislation. While the Police Federation accepted that CSOs should be given the power to search following detention, the clause goes far further, effectively giving them the power to stop and search for alcohol and tobacco and, by extension, for drugs. CSOs should not get involved in potentially highly confrontational situations by warning people who may well carry weapons to protect themselves, their drugs or the money they are carrying. I beg to move.
Community support officers have been in place for a little over two years and in that time they have proved extremely successful as an additional resource in improving the visibility of the police and tackling the anti-social behaviour that blights communities. Precisely because of their more limited role, training and powers they are not subject to the degree of abstraction to other duties that their more highly trained constable colleagues must face.
Increasingly, the agenda on neighbourhood policing is shifting towards a team-based approach that deploys together police officers, CSOs and sometimes neighbourhood wardens. We believe that we have made the caseand I am happy to make it againfor some additional powers to be designated on CSOs at the discretion, I emphasise, of chief constables to deal with the routine situations that they face regularly on the streets.
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The interim report of the national evaluation of community support officers published in December of last year, alongside other evaluations, such as the University of Leeds' study Patrolling with a Purpose published in October 2004, all point to the success and popularity of CSOs. To quote just a few examples: in Northumbria, satisfaction with the police rose by 32 per cent in areas where CSOs patrol; in Westminster, 86 per cent of respondents to a public survey had seen a CSO; and in Leeds, personal robbery fell by 47 per cent in areas in which CSOs patrol.
So their introduction has been key to the introduction of neighbourhood policing currently gathering pace, allowing communities sustained contact with dedicated local policing teams. It has notas is often allegedthreatened the role of the constable. We have delivered 13,000 more police officers since 1997 and have introduced measures to tackle bureaucracy and get police officers on to the frontline.
We are seeking to make a few changes to the existing powers of CSOs to give chief constables the flexibility to choose from a wider menu of powers according to local need. The provisions are not designed to blur the distinctions between police officers and community support officers. Instead, the new powers make practical changes to allow CSOs to deal more effectively with the type of situations they routinely face as part of their high visibility patrolling role. For example, CSOs already have the power to deal with beggars who behave in an anti-social manner but have no specific power to deal with passive beggars. The Bill makes that change, allowing CSOs to deal with all types of begging.
The new powers are also carefully limited and designed to keep CSOs out of confrontational situations. For example, they will be enabled to enter off-licences to investigate licensing offences but in pubs, where the risks are higher, CSOs will be required to enter only in the company of a constable.
Similarly, the Bill gives CSOs the power to seize drugs in situations where they come across them. It would not make sense for a CSO to find some cannabis on a young person when searching for alcohol or tobacco but to be powerless to remove it. Specifically, the Bill does not enable CSOs to go searching for drugs proactively, as that is a power suitable only for sworn constables. The new powers for CSOs in the Bill are there to give them practical help in tackling anti-social behaviour but have been crafted in such a way as to recognise the boundaries of the CSO role. We understand absolutely why the noble Lord wishes to see a clear distinction between community support officers and constables, and we agree with him.
Striking Clause 118 from the Bill or removing paragraphs from Schedules 8 and 9 would deprive chief constables of the opportunity to designate CSOs, as well as other designated staff and accredited persons, with a useful range of powers. We believe that the new powers for CSOs will add considerably to their effectiveness in our communities. In these circumstances, I invite the
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noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. I know that this issue has taxed him and others on the Liberal Democrat Benches, which is why I have taken a little time to explain why we think that they need not be so concerned.
Lord Dholakia: I thank the Minister for her explanation. This is a matter of serious concern to the Police Federation, and I think that that is where the explanation is due. I hope that its members will be able to read the Minister's explanation in Hansard tomorrow. If they come back, the Home Office may have a tougher job than I have here. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: We think it is important that chief constables should be able to choose whether or not CSOs should have the power to detain for 30 minutes according to their policing strategy for the local area. Prior to the commencement of the power of detention in all forces, chief constables outside the six pilot areas designated their CSOs with the power to require name and address without the power to detain attached. A number of chief constables do not wish to designate their CSOs with the power to detain, but find the power to require name and address useful on its own.
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The amendments ensure that, following the commencement of the detention power, chief constables can continue to designate the power to require name and address without also designating the power of detention. This gives chief constables the flexibility to tailor the powers of CSOs to the needs of the local area and, as such, I hope that this will be welcomed by Members on all sides of the House. I beg to move.
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