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POLICE REFORM BILL MEETS UNITED OPPOSITION IN COMMONS

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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government signalled its intention to overturn defeats inflicted by the lords on its Police Reform Bill, but - although it received an unopposed second reading in the commons - Conservative and Liberal Democrat front benches said they would remain united in opposition to aspects of the measure.

In dispute are government proposals voted down by the lords: new powers for the home secretary to intervene in local policing, by giving instructions to chief constables or police authorities; and powers, including that of detaining suspects, for new-style civilian community support officers.

Home office minister John Denham said the home secretary would intervene only rarely, but as the person held responsible by the public for law and order he needed the power to direct chief constables.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said law and order was not only the responsibility of the home secretary; that was shared with police authorities.

He added: 'When things go wrong, therefore, people do not - and should not - look only to the home secretary to put it right. We do not have a national law and order policy; we have a national framework within which law and order is delivered locally. That is the basis of policing and it has been for many decades'.

Mr Denham said many objections to the community support officers were almost identical to those made against the introduction of traffic wardens in the early 1960s: they would be confused with with police officers and would divert attention from proper policing. No one would argue that today.

The minister was considering how the Bill should be amended to enable public concerns about the policing of major events to be investigated. The government, he said, would also table an emendment to strenthen protection for police officers who reported misconduct or criminal wrongdoing by other officers.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin indicated opposition parties' determination to sustain opposition to Clause 5, giving the home secretary power to direct chief constable and police authorities.

'By the time the Bill is sent back to the lords and the lords, as I profoundly hope, with the assistance of our allies on the Liberal Democrat benches and cross benches there, have sent it back to this house, I hope that the home secretary and others and I will have the chance to negotiate this clause out of existence', said Mr Letwin.

Hansard 7 May 2002: Column 49-122

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