MPs begin inquiry into Blunkett's Police Bill

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Controversial plans by the Home Secretary to reform the police suffered a further potential setback yesterday when a powerful committee of MPs announced a formal inquiry into the proposals.

In an unusual move, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said that it would hold the inquiry next month and report back to Parliament before David Blunkett's Police Reform Bill was debated by MPs. The inquiry will take evidence from police chiefs and representatives of rank-and-file officers who have expressed concerns over Mr Blunkett's proposals, as well as the Home Office minister John Denham.

Among the issues the committee will examine will be plans to give police-style powers to civilian wardens, including the authority to use force to detain members of the public for up to 30 minutes. The committee hopes to complete its report before the Bill's Second Reading in the Commons, expected in the spring.

The Police Federation, which will give evidence to the inquiry, has voiced concerns at the introduction of civilian officers and over proposed changes to police pay and conditions. Federation members are due to vote next week on whether to accept the pay package being offered by the Home Secretary.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, which will also offer evidence, is unhappy with plans to give the Home Secretary new powers to sack under-performing chief constables.

Chris Mullin, the committee chairman and a prominent Labour MP, said: "This is an important Bill, encompassing reform of both the police complaints procedure and the police service.

"We will look at the provisions of the Bill while it is going through the Lords and hope to report by the time it reaches the Commons. If there are parts of the Bill which could be improved, we will put forward amendments to it."

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