Clause 32 - Powers of community support officers

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:15 am ar 13 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:15, 13 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 173, in

clause 32, page 26, line 4, leave out subsection (2).

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 174, in

clause 32, page 26, line 7, leave out subsection (3).

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall probably be entirely consistent in moving the amendment, because I shall doubtless use some of the phrases that I used during consideration of the Police Reform Bill.

I am concerned about community support officers being put in exceedingly difficult situations as a result of the amount of training that they are given. This is a probing amendment, and I am sure that the Minister will give me many examples to show how useful community support officers will be. Indeed, I am in the process of requesting community support officers in my constituency to deal with certain situations.

My concern, which was shared by Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen, is that a large, rowdy group of young people with lots of alcohol can present a difficult situation to deal with. We have had to deal with such situations in my constituency, and on one occasion in my leafy green constituency—it is not a city centre—young people were swinging from trees, yelling abuse at police officers and consuming vast quantities of vodka. Community support officers would not have been the right people to deal with that situation.

I seek assurances from the Minister about appropriate deployment depending on the situation. I hope that other Members will share my concern that people with limited training should not be put into difficult situations.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As the hon. Lady said, the official Opposition opposed the concept of community support officers in the Police Reform Act 2002, and we remain extremely dubious about the wisdom of going down that road. However, CSOs are in place and have settled in remarkably well in some parts of the country. As we said clearly on Second Reading, we do not like the idea that, even though they have been in place for only weeks or months, the Bill will extend their powers.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole is right to ask questions about CSOs' training and ability to deal with difficult situations, but that debate took place during the passage of the 2002 Act. The Government decided to override our concerns, which were shared by the vast majority of police officers, and have gone on to establish CSOs. We have not opposed the clause because we believe that we need a little time for the system to settle down to see whether our concerns prove to be justified. I do not believe that the additional powers will make a dramatic difference to how CSOs work, so I shall not oppose the clause.

However, the Government should not take that to mean that we agree with the principle of community support officers. We believe that it would be better at least to allow chief officers to use the money to employ full-time police officers rather than CSOs if they want, but we must face reality. I leave the marker that it is unwise for the Government, particularly in view of the assurances given during the passage of the 2002 Act, to continue to add to the powers of CSOs when they are still in their infancy and the jury is out on their efficacy.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is important for community support officers to have the same powers as their

police officer colleagues to disperse groups and take home children who are under 16. A main role of CSOs is to provide visible community patrols, and they will often be the first to the scene of antisocial behaviour. Where they are assigned to local estates, villages or other residential areas, they will have the opportunity to get to know local youths, understand the problems that effect them and identify any that they cause to others.

We have already given CSOs several powers to deal with antisocial behaviour, and given their role in our communities, it makes sense for them to be able to deal with this form of antisocial behaviour, too. The alternative is for CSOs to have to stand aside and wait for police officers to arrive at the scene while a group of young people causes local people intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress.

CSOs are integrated with their police officer colleagues and will be able to call for their assistance at short notice if required. Where a larger group of people needs to be dispersed and the younger members have to be returned to their homes, CSOs and police officers will be able to work together, increasing the resources available to achieve the task. As with police officers, CSOs will not be able to use the powers unless an authorisation is given by a superintendent, and individual chief officers will have to decide in each case whether to designate CSOs with the power.

The power, necessary training and operational control remain—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.