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Mr. Blunkett: I think that I can welcome the welcome of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for the White Paper. In any event, I will, in the hope that he did welcome it. The hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions, and I will answer them all.
Yes, we are tackling bureaucracy head on. We are tackling a legacy of decades of build up of codes of practice, paperwork that has been demanded and a failure to invest in technology that would allow people, from the moment they make their first notes, to be able to translate them all the way through the system.
Yes, we will carry forward the case and custody programme. I make no bones about the fact that the history of technology for Government as a whole, and for my Department in particular, has not been good. Between the Lord Chancellor's Office and my Department, we are
Working practices and the development of a taskforce to carry forward the anti-bureaucracy drive under Sir David O'Dowd, who is stepping down as the chief inspector of constabulary, will ensure that the intention turns into reality. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not our intention to burden the police with any more unnecessary regulation.
Hiring people to pose as constables is not something that we intend to do. We are responding to the cry from the community and the police service across the country with full-time community support officersthe Metropolitan police call them auxiliarieswho can work alongside and under the direction of the police service. Secondly, the street wardens whom I saw this morning in north London are massively increasing the reassurance and confidence of a community that has seen a dramatic reduction in attempts to burgle and take away vehicles in just the two months that the wardens have been there.
Standards are of course at the heart of the matter and the hon. Gentleman is right to say so; we do not intend to take responsibility from chief constables, but rather to reinforce it. Chief constables will retain their operational freedom and I have made that clear this afternoon. To hold people to accountnot to micro-manageis no threat to anyone; someone has to hold chief constables to account and police authorities have a limited remit in relation to the budget and the developed plan. That is why we have experienced difficulties over the years. Simply to put the current rules on misconduct alongside a clarification of the rules on incapability or gross inefficiency poses no threat to anyonenor does it in any public service, as far as I am aware.
Chief constables will retain their operational freedom; they will not be set against superintendentsor commanders, in London. The operation on the groundthe police station that people relate to and refer tois important. Giving supers freedom to use resources more flexibly will enable them to get people back on the beat, rather than spending their time in the police stationlike the 43 per cent. average that we discovered.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the rule of law is paramount, and that we must uphold it and expect our judiciary to do so. Our policing services are at the front line of that. That is why we are giving them our backing. I think that I have answered all the hon. Gentleman's questions.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the police, to the specials and to the civilians in the police service. I also welcome without reservation many of the things that the Home Secretary said. He made a clear commitment to replace the officers lost under the previous Labour Government, and to increase them to a record number. He made a commitment to a more flexible working arrangement and career structure for the police, and to an independent police complaints commission. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my party has for a long time argued for a standing conference on policing, so we welcome the creation of the new national police forum where it can be debated in a more studied way in future. Evidently, all my colleagues welcome the fact that, next year, the police will receive the Queen's jubilee medal for their services.
May I push the Home Secretary a little further on police numbers? Does the Government's welcome commitment mean that there is a target and that by a certain date, "every community will have one"to put it crudelyand that there will be community police officers throughout the land in urban and rural communities?
Subject to questions and clarification, we also welcome the announcement about the extended police family. Will the Home Secretary confirm the important fact that they will all always be public servantspublic employeesaccountable either to police authorities or local authorities? Will he confirm that they will always be counted as additional to, and not instead of, the police establishment; and that their powersI am aware of the points made in the White Paperwill be subject to the most careful debate and consideration, so as to obtain the maximum agreement between the public, police authorities and the police in the months ahead?
I want to follow up the point made by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on police accountability. There were some troubling inconsistencies in the use of the words "interference" and "intervention"no interference but some intervention. Does the Home Secretary accept the old authoritative principle that no man can serve two masters, and will he confirm that he and the Government are absolutely committed to chief constables being answerable to their communities and their police authorities? Will he confirm that the Government have no intention of moving towards a national police force?
On priorities, we share the Home Secretary's view that average national clear-up rates are unacceptably low and that the divergencies are unacceptably wide. However, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the public look to the police to achieve three things: first, to deter and reduce crime; secondly, to detect crime and bring criminals to justice; and, thirdly, to respond quickly and effectively when the public call on them? Does he agree that all three must be our objectives, and that we must not concentrate only on clear-up rates to the detriment of the other two?
Mr. Blunkett: I accept the last point unequivocally, and it is one that would be shared across the parties. The target on numbers is reflected, of course, in the individual targets at force level, using as a lever the crime fighting fund, which my predecessor wisely introduced as a tool to ensure that good intentions were carried into practice. I cannot guarantee that there will be a police officer in every community for the reason that the word "community" is not precisely defined, but I take the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and all of us should seek to do so and to translate the targets that I have set for 2003 into further targets, following the review of expenditure in the 2002 spending review.
The hon. Gentleman and the shadow Home Secretary asked about chief constables. We do not intend to interfere with the role of chief constables. Their relationship with the police authority will be paramount. That must be the case, which is why I have not taken the power directly to deal with incapability or inefficiency but to direct the police authority to act.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): May I welcome the Home Secretary's proposals in the White Paper, which, I hope, will improve the efficiency and credibility of our police? In particular, I welcome the long-awaited independent police complaints commission. Does he accept that, although the quality of our policing has improved immeasurably in recent years, we still have a long way to go? Does he agree that it is hard to justify increased resources for the police unless we get value for the already considerable sums that we spend on policing? How confident is he that the measures that he has announced today will put an end to the overtime scams, the sickness scams and the early retirement scams that tarnish the reputation of British police?
On detection rates, I am sure that the Home Secretary is aware that figures can be massaged. Will he ensure that we are comparing like with like; otherwise we shall put the most honest and transparent forces at a disadvantage?
Finally, the Home Secretary referred to setting up a cadre of specialist detectives. May I offer a warning, by mentioning the west midlands serious crime squad? Many of the serious problems in the police over the years have developed from elite squads that have become a law unto themselves. I am sure that he will want to ensure that measures are in place so that, first, those squads are accountable and, secondly, that people do not stay in them for too long and develop bad habits.