Clause 62 - Community support officers etc

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 25th January 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Government are giving community support officers powers to issue notices. Those officers will receive special training or advice on the kind of offence that needs to be committed before a notice can be issued. I say that for one simple reason: I have been impressed by the briefings that all Committee members have received, from the Kennel Club and elsewhere, on the skill and care with which the dog warden community carries out its duties under the existing regime. It might be at the back of their mind that community support officers will be brought in to police a new regime, assuming that the Bill is passed in the form that the Ministers wish. Those CSOs may or may not be skilled in ways of interpreting dog behaviour, and in interpreting whether a dog is offending or not.

Working out whether an offence is being committed may seem to be common sense, but it is important to have the Minister's assurance that community support officers will receive the requisite degree of training and advice before they take on the new role of issuing notices.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that community support officers and other   accredited persons would, in issuing fixed-penalty dog control orders, have guidance from the Department on the procedures involved. I know that police forces welcome the role of community support officers. It is a good example of community support officers fulfilling an important role that releases police officers for other crime duties, and shows how those measures can be applied and how they can fit in with the organisation of law and order in individual areas.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I seek some assurances, because reading the explanatory notes, I understand that the chief police officer can authorise community support officers and accredit other persons. I agree with community support officers having that power, and clearly everybody knows how they dress, so there is no problem about their authority. However, we have heard that traffic wardens' powers will be widened, so the chief police officer may decide to confer authority on other people who do not quite have the same authority as community support officers or other police officers. Environmental health officers and other people out of uniform, just wearing normal lounge suits, could be authorised.

In areas where there is a neighbourhood watch the chief police officer may decide to get more people involved. As I understand it, if I see something going wrong, I have the power to make a citizen's arrest—I have never done so, although I tried to apprehend a shoplifter and got a black eye, which I nursed over Christmas three years ago. Something I saw was wrong, and I felt that I had the power to detain that person until the police arrived.

The chief police officer will authorise neighbourhood watch personnel, and they will have the authority. That is what it all comes down to: the police are officially conferring authority on people to enforce byelaws. It could mean issuing fixed penalty tickets, if that is what the chief police officer wants.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I am normally on the receiving end of those, but we are not dealing with motor cars in this Bill.

I am not saying that people other than community support officers will be authorised, but there is a line between the public and the person who has the authority to act. I assume that that person will have some identification that they can show to the person transgressing the byelaws to prove that the chief police officer has given them the powers to demand the name and address, so that a fixed penalty notice can be issued or the matter taken further. I seek assurance from the Minister that people authorised by the chief police officer will carry identification. 

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that no one would be allowed to issue fixed penalty notices unless they had proper authorisation, including identification and preferably a uniform. The hon. Gentleman must take a common sense approach, because such people will have to be made aware of the law, how it is applied and how people are dealt with. An element of training will have to be taken into account.

We were talking about community support officers. They are trained in how to deal with people, and they are given advice and support. If the power is extended, it is important that it is extended to the appropriate people. If it were extended to someone such as a dog warden, I do not know whether they would want the power or whether the extension would be appropriate. It would have to be authorised by the local authority. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that the provision would authorise anyone from down the road who would like some powers to issue on-the-spot fines because someone's dog has been annoying him. That is certainly not going to happen; they will need to have the proper authority and identification.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 63 to 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.