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Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows that his announcement will be warmly welcomed by my constituents if it means more bobbies on the beat, believing as theyand Ido in the deterrent power of a uniform. Will he assure me, however, that whoever is responsible for the expansion in numbers, whether of special constables or neighbourhood wardens, will pay particular attention to encouraging women and some of our older citizens to present themselves for those posts? Will he pay equal attention to ensuring that what we get is neighbourhood wardens, not neighbourhood vigilantes?
Mr. Blunkett: The answer to my hon. Friend's last question is an unequivocal yes. Such people will have to be accredited, and the dual key will ensure that all partners involved are in agreement. Community support officers, the new civilian programme and wardens give us an opportunity to broaden the scope of those who are encouraged to take part in policing, for example, by
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): When the Secretary of State says that the number of special constables will be "greatly accelerated", what does he mean? Will he quantify it? Will he also give us the benefit of his latest thinking on the payment of special constables?
Mr. Blunkett: Recent research into why the number of special constables fell found that, apart from many of them joining the full-time service, there were issues relating to management, recognition and the status that they were accorded. We can swiftly do something about that. In January, there will a new recruitment campaign. I am having discussions with my right hon. Friend the ChancellorI always amon getting a package of measures that will provide greater incentives to those who give freely of their time and energy.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): My right hon. Friend should be aware that his keynote speech on police reform to the Police Superintendents Association, which signposted much of the contents of his statement and the White Paper, was warmly welcomed by every senior police officer to whom I spoke. However, does he agree that police performance standards will not rise as hoped unless the Spanish practices so beloved by the neanderthal wing of the Police Federation are ended? Senior police officers must be allowed to manage resources effectively. Never again do I want to hear of the Thames Valley police constable who presented a doctor's sick note claiming that the officer could not be expected to lift anything heavier than a kettle, or of his colleague, who was off work with a bad back but still had time to continue moonlighting as a fitness instructor.
Mr. Blunkett: Well, you only fire at an open goal when you discover that it is a hand grenade that you are kicking rather than the ball. I look forward to genuine co-operation from the Police Federation in getting rid of all the practices that give the police service a bad name, and that undermine the confidence, morale and motivation of colleagues. They have to fill the vacancies when others are not present at work. They have to do the job that somebody else should be there doing. They, like the rest of us, have to pay for those who retire early when that is inappropriate. We shall work together, including the occupational health service, to ensure that what my hon. Friend describes is never present again.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Having argued in the past from the Opposition Benches for an increase in the number of special constables, I warmly welcome the Home Secretary's proposals drastically to accelerate their numbers. However, I warn the right hon. Gentleman that he might find resistance among full-time police officers. How will he address that?
Will the independent police complaints commission have new members, or will it still use police officers to investigate police officers, as previously happened under the Police Complaints Board, and as still happens under the Police Complaints Authority? Will he examine the centralisation of policing, which has certainly been perceived as a problem in Leicestershire, where there are fewer but larger police stations? That is causing some concern.
Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman again revisit the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984PACEwhich requires the use of custody officers for charging? That involves many sergeants in police station work who otherwise could be out and about catching criminals.
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, we are looking at civilianisation. A great deal can be done to ensure that a police officer is not tied down by duties that could be carried out by a properly trained and supported civilian staff member.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): My right hon. Friend has presented a huge agenda for change. Given that there has been an all-round welcome, the proof of it will be in his ability to deliver the agenda for change. I congratulate him.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that many forces throughout the country, including mine in Staffordshire, want to be on the innovative end of changing work practices and working with local communities in areas of greatest need and in neighbourhood renewal areas. Is there any way in which he can give his seal of approval to the services that we want to deliver in Stoke-on-Trent?
Mr. Blunkett: We are extremely pleased that a number of areas have volunteered to be policing priority areas, which will not have rigid boundaries or be zones. In partnership with the police, and with investment through regeneration, areas of specific difficulty will be targeted. Policing priority areas will work with the police at a national and local level in bringing immediate and welcome relief to those who believed that nothing could be done and that nothing would be done. I am pleased that Stoke has volunteered to be part of that programme.
Norman Baker (Lewes): There has been a broad welcome for the Home Secretary's statement, but there is also genuine nervousness that the independence of local police authorities should not be undermined by anything that the right hon. Gentleman has promised us. Does he accept that the proposed standards unit, which has many merits, could represent the first step on the road to a national police force? Does he agree that that would be a disappointing and unfortunate conclusion, and should not happen?
May I also gently remind him that under existing powers he was able, in effect, to sack the chief constable of Sussex by press release? I hope that, in retrospect, he accepts that that was not a sensible move and that the police authority should be allowed to deal with those matters itself.
Mr. Blunkett: I thought that it was sensible that Mr. Whitehouse resigned; I have no regrets about that. I want a system that works effectively and in which police authorities can deal with problems effectively. There is no question of centralising and nationalising the police forces of England and Wales; we are not proposing to do that. I make it clear, as I have done before, that the powers of the police authority will be exercised through the police authority.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. In particular, I thank him for responding to representations that other hon. Members and I have made about having more special constables. However, in the west midlands, we face the problem of retention. Money and recruitment have gone up but, unfortunately, we lose disproportionate numbers to neighbouring forces such as Staffordshire, Shropshire and Warwickshire. What changes does my right hon. Friend propose to effect a solution to the problem of retention?
Mr. Blunkett: I understand that there has been a problem with what might be described as seepage to other force areas. We need to work on that nationally, but we must also engage the inspectorate and others to work with the force on internal practices and consider how recruitment programmes in neighbouring forces can reduce the pressure. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) have just reassured me that they are on the case.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I join others in welcoming much of the Home Secretary's statement, particularly the decision to award the Jubilee medal to members of the police force, which will be warmly welcomed in my constituency. A number of police officers from Carterton police station wrote to me about the issue, saying how disappointed they have been up to now. I therefore thank the Home Secretary for his announcement.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the test of his reforms will not be the standards unit, which may, or may not, clash with Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, or some of the things done at the top, but the extent to which power and responsibility is devolved to the station commanderoften a chief inspector or a superintendent? Does he agree that it is essential that they should be able to empower police officers, pay more to those who are doing a good job and, on the rare occasion when police officers are not up to the job or are not suited to it, encourage them to find another profession?