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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 05:12 GMT 06:12 UK
Labour defiant over police reform defeat
Securicor van
Private guards already ferry prisoners to court
The government has sworn to reverse the four defeats it suffered in the House of Lords over its plans to reform the police service.


It would be good if the home secretary could deliver a little more consensus and a little less assertiveness

Simon Hughes

Home Secretary David Blunkett wants an increased role for the private sector in police stations.

But he was fought all the way by opposition peers, who had already savaged his flagship Police Reform bill at its report stage.

The Bill went into its third Lords reading the day after Mr Blunkett caused a storm by warning of asylum seekers "swamping" some schools and GP surgeries.

It also followed Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge to crackdown on surging street crime by September.

Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke said: "The decision of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to vote to reduce the detention powers of community support officers is absolutely staggering.

"It shows unequivocally that their commitment to reducing street crime is wafer thin.

He added: "The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats simply do not give street crime the vital priority it desperately needs."

But Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Lord Dholakia said the defeats signalled that the government should "stop reacting to newspaper headlines and concentrate instead on enabling police officers to get on with protecting our communities".

"Liberal Democrats believe that this Bill now goes to the House of Commons in much better shape than when it arrived," he said.

'Stupidity'

Peers objected to Mr Blunkett's plans to replace detention officers in police stations with private security guards.

The second Lords defeat came when peers backed an amendment to remove the power of the home secretary to change those police powers available to civilian staff or accredited security staff working on the controversial community warden scheme.

Two further defeats followed as an alliance of Lib Dem and Tory peers rejected plans to allow community support officers or civilian police staff the power to detain people for up to 30 minutes.

Home Office Minister Lord Rooker pledged that Mr Blunkett would seek to reverse most of the amendments when the Bill returned to the Commons.

Earlier the home secretary acknowledged he was considering replacing detention officers with private security guards in an effort to get more police officers patrolling the streets.

No decisions have yet been made on the issue, stressed Mr Blunkett, but the Liberal Democrats have condemned the idea as the "height of stupidity".

A leaked memo revealing the idea warned Lord Rooker not to mention the prospect of privatisation of this police role when discussing the bill in the Lords.

Ian Blair, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
Ian Blair: Police officers should supervise trained people
It said: "On no account read out the following paragraph.

"At the moment the bill does not allow for detention officers to be contracted out to the private sector but we are hoping to be able to put forward amendments in the Commons to enable that.

"Provided they are properly trained, there is no reason why such privately employed staff should not be able to conduct intimate searches."

Mr Blunkett said he was not supposed to criticise civil servants but said the warning was a "pretty silly thing to write down".

Bobbies on the beat

"We want to try and get uniformed trained police officers out on the beat in the community," Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Oliver Letwin, Conservative shadow home secretary
Oliver Letwin fears policing could get worse
"To do so, we are prepared to use detention officers who are trained or custody nurses to do the body search."

Those nurses could be employed by the National Health Service, said Mr Blunkett.

But Ian Blair, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said there was no reason why trained officers could not take on such powers under the supervision of a police officer.

Policing worries

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin underlined the Conservatives' continued opposition to the bill.

"By introducing a vast array of auxiliaries run by a whole host of disparate organisations with a disparate array of powers, there is a real risk that neighbourhood policing will be diminished, not enhanced," said Mr Letwin.

Those officers would be directly employed by the police, he said, so guarding against a host of other organisations taking up street patrols.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Minister defiant over police reform
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Ministers listen to police reform fears
28 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Tories prepare to fight police reform
25 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Police plan 'mass protest rally'
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