Lords vote against police powers for community support officers

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Indy Politics

Peers inflicted three defeats on the Government yesterday as David Blunkett's plans to shake up the police ran into deeper trouble.

They struck a series of blows at the Home Secretary's proposals to create community support officers.

The defeats came as a Home Office minister, Lord Rooker, was forced to deny misleading Parliament over "secret" plans to privatise part of the police force.

Mr Blunkett was already on a collision course with the Lords after they rejected proposals to give the Home Office the authority to intervene in failing police forces.

His problems over his flagship Police Reform Bill worsened as peers backed, by 151 to 127 votes, a call for private security staff approved by the police also to have local-council accreditation. Lord Rooker warned the move would cut the number of security staff patrolling communities. He said: "I think it would be good as a comfort blanket for the public to know these uniformed people were actually okayed by the chief constable."

But the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Dholakia, argued: "A clear distinction has to be drawn between police officers and those who are designated under the community accreditation scheme.

"We believe this will avoid confusion in the minds of the public and also ensure that local authorities become part of the process of designation and accreditation."

Less than a hour later, Government plans to allow the Home Secretary to extend powers available to civilian staff and community support officers (CSOs) were defeated by 165 to 127 votes. The Opposition parties argued that such alterations to policing should be a matter for Parliament and that the proposal revealed the Government's desire to centralise control of the police.

Home Office moves to give CSOs the power to detain suspects for half an hour while awaiting the arrival of a regular police officer were then rejected by 168 to 121 votes.

Earlier Lord Rooker hit out at a newspaper report that the Home Office was secretly planning to contract out to the private sector the post of detention officer, with the authority to carry out body searches. It alleged a leaked briefing paper instructed him not to mention the plan during Lords debates on the Bill. He said: "No civil servant has instructed me to do anything. It doesn't work that way round. I instruct civil servants."