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Clause 111 - Staff custody officers: designation

Part of Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:30 pm, 18th January 2005

I do not wish to prolong the debate, because there is a clear division across the Committee on the matter we are discussing. We, too, will vote against the clause.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome put his case extremely well. I emphasise that Conservative Members have no problem with the concept of civilianising where possible. It was given tremendous impetus under the last Conservative Government, as the Minister will be happy to make clear. However, in promoting the concept, it is important not to civilianise too far and to know when a post cannot be civilianised. As the hon. Gentleman said, in his   judgment, which we share, the post in question is not one that can be civilianised, because it is an important, front-line policing post that needs experience to fulfil it. We are not persuaded by the Minister's argument.

The hon. Gentleman made another valuable point: there is too much dismissal of police experience. We spent our first sitting talking about the issue of police members of SOCA. The Government play fast and loose with the experience that police have, which enables them to fulfil these tasks as we would wish them to do. The role of custody sergeant is an important part of the criminal justice system. The Minister has not won the argument in Committee, although she may win the vote, given the Government's majority. We wish to return to the matter on Report, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, I have no doubt that it will attract the interest of those in another place.