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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): Alongside the Police Reform Bill, we were successful in reaching an historic agreement in May with the Police Negotiating Board, which has resulted in substantial proposals for reforms. Those include: competency-related pay; a deal to reduce police overtime and to switch 15 per cent. over the next three years into front-line services; the scrapping of the old roster system; changes to overtime notice periods; the introduction of extra rewards for jobs at the sharp end; a £400 uplift per increment and a shorter promotion scale; more flexible arrangements to enable officers to work part-time; and new measures to improve the management of ill-health, among other things.
Mr. Luke: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he will agree that the introduction of special priority posts in the package of reforms to which the Police Negotiating Board agreed on 9 May will do much to help police forces up and down this country to focus more on front-line services, and to concentrate on issues and areas of significance, importance and concern to the communities and constituencies that they serve.
Mr. Blunkett: I agree: people want to see the police on the streetsthey want that reassurancebut they also want police time to be targeted and the intelligence methodology to ensure that we can bear down heavily on what all of us accept is a major problem for modern society. Many of the issues that were targeted in the first five years of this Government have been successful, and we are now succeeding with street crime and robbery. We need to be equally successful in bearing down on violence. Targeting rewards and support for those at the sharp end is part of that process.
Mr. Colman: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on reaching an agreement with the Police Federationa long awaited and long overdue agreement. Does he agree, however, that more action needs to be taken to reduce bureaucracy in police working practices, so as to get more officers out on to the streets of Putney where my constituents value them mostthat is, at the sharp end?
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I do. Sir David O'Dowd's interim report has given us a lead in enabling us to take immediate action, but much more still needs to be done. We have slimmed down the performance indicators; we have put out for consultation slimmed-down proposals for the police and criminal evidence codes; we are introducing new technology that will be a major boon for the police on the beat and in the community; and we have introduced the back-up support necessary for forensic science. All that will enable the police to do their job more effectively.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Will the Home Secretary explain the change to police working practices that finds police officers in south Yorkshire reporting to a junior Education Minister who represents a north London seat and police officers in Nottinghamshire reporting to a junior Treasury Minister who represents a seat in Bolton? I know that the Home Secretary is keen on empire building, but is that not a bit ambitious?
Mr. Blunkett: Yesvery amusing. My only adviceI need to take it myself when I read the Sunday newspapersis not to believe a word one reads. The truth is that Ministers are not overseeing the policing of any area. They were asked if they would work with local partnersthe Crown Prosecution Service, the court service, the police and those working in education and youth offending teamsto see whether we could remove any obstacles to those organisations working together. I challenge Conservative Members and any reporter who cares to do so to give me the name of anyone working at local level who has found the work of those Ministers anything but helpful.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Does the Home Secretary agree that a fundamental feature of working practices is that they are based on the tripartite system of chief officers, the police authority and the Home Secretary working together? As we approach the Report stage of the Police Reform Bill, to which he and the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety have referred, will the Home Secretary accept that there remains a fundamental belief that, especially under clause 5, he is seriously damaging the tripartite arrangement? Does he understand that, contrary to the comments that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety just made, we are not seeking confrontation. The crux of our concern is who runs the police service. Its independence is derived from the tripartite system. Even at this late stage, may I invite the Home Secretary to come to the House with amendments to clarify that he will not seek further powers to direct or overrule chief officers or police authorities as they carry out their duties?
Mr. Blunkett: I am very happy to come to the House with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to ensure that we clarify exactly what is meant so that there is no mischievous misunderstanding. Let me get the position absolutely clear. Chief constables are operationally independent, and no one is challenging that. Police authorities have a role. I understand that Opposition Members wish to enhance that role, and I am happy to assist in that. As Home Secretary, I am responsible to the British people for the resources used and the statistics bandied about, and there have to be some levers to pull. That includes being able to ask for an action plan, to comment on an action plan and to expect the police authority to work with the chief constable on
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): May I remind my right hon. Friend that on Friday evening, Mr. Alan Musgrove, a constituent of mine, was gunned down on his doorstep in front of his family? It was the fourth such assassination in my part of east London, Forest Gate, but no one has been brought to justice for any of the incidents. The newspapers say that he was "shot by mistake", which gives rise to the question whether anyone can be correctly gunned down on their own doorstep.
May I inform my right hon. Friend that in certain parts of this country, including east London, guns have become almost a fashion accessory that people carry for fun? Is it not time that the Government considered the routine arming of all police officers throughout the country?
Mr. Blunkett: No, although I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. As a result of the growth in gun crime, it is necessary in London and elsewhere to reinforce Operation Trident. We need to work with the communities that are most affected by gun crime and those most likely to be the perpetrators of gun crime. We must ensure that we clamp down on the ownership of guns, but arming all our police force would not help us in that endeavour in any way.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Further to the baffling reply that the Home Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), if individual police forces are not reporting to individual Ministers, and if those Ministers do have a role in the street crime initiative, will he tell us, as someone who is keen on making announcements, when that was announced to the House, and how that novel form of accountability is meant to work?
Mr. Blunkett: Some people are more difficult to baffle than others. Ministers do not have to report to the House on a day-to-day basis to demonstrate how helpful they can be in ascertaining facts from a local levelafter all, that is what we are here for. They receive messages on how to unlock blockages and ensure that mistakes are overcome rather than repeated. Ministers ensure that legislation comes before the House to make the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or the court service work better.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn): We are investing, on average, some £60 million a year in education and offending behaviour programmes in prisons. We are working closely with Jobcentre Plus on increasing the number of prisoners who find work or training on release. We are also piloting support for short-term prisoners and
Mr. Clarke: Does my hon. Friend agree that as long ago as 1993 organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders became increasingly concerned about the dramatic increase in the number of women sent to prison? Although we know that the Government cannot intervene in the sentencing of individuals, will the Department continue to have an input into sentencing policy? Given that a fairly large number of young children are put in care because their mothers are sent to prison, does he accept that the problem calls for the utmost sensitivity, not ideological backlashes?
Hilary Benn: I very much agree with my right hon. Friend's point. One of the saddest features of the female prison population is that 37 per cent. of sentenced women prisoners have attempted suicide. Women prisoners have access to the full range of programmes available in prison and we are looking for ways to make those more appropriate to their particular needs.
My right hon. Friend rightly referred to the particular burden of caring responsibilities faced by women prisoners, and ideas such as intermittent custody, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about in his speech earlier this year, would be particularly appropriate for them given what we know about the importance, both for the prisoners and for their families, of maintaining family links wherever possible.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): Will the Minister do all that he can to recognise and support the work of Christian groups such as the Kainos community, which operate in prison with the support of prison authorities to ensure that the spirit and character of prisoners is not neglected in their preparation for successful release?
Hilary Benn: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's point. One really heartening development in the past few years has been in the links between the Prison Service and the voluntary sector, which works in many prisons providing a wide range of support. One of the pleasures that I had in this job recently was attending a conference organised by CLINKS at the Design Centre in Islington, where 500 people came together to talk about that work. They discussed how the Prison Service can learn from the contribution of the voluntary sector in maintaining precisely the qualities and sense of spirit that the hon. Gentleman talked about and also how the voluntary sector can learn from the Prison Service.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Are not existing rehabilitation programmes closed to many prisoners who are repeat offenders by virtue of the fact that they are usually in prison for a very short time? Another factor, particularly for women prisoners, is the fear that they may lose their home as well as their family. Does not the Home Office need to work closely with other Departments to ensure that such a situation does not arise?
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I am sure that the Minister will agree that no group requires resettlement and rehabilitation more than 18 to 20-year-olds, of whom some 72 per cent. commit further offences within two years of release. Does the Minister agree that structured programmes are needed and that they must be consistent? If early release is brought on by overcrowding rather than being planned and if we have "going straight" contracts that are not part of an integrated programme, we are going in the wrong direction because we are pushing young offenders back out into the community before they have been properly prepared for it.
Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if we do not have integrated programmes for young offenders, we will not make the progress that is required. That is precisely the point that was made in the social exclusion unit's report. That is why the community sentences developed by the national probation service can include intensive supervision, offending behaviour programmes, drug treatment and testing orders, work in the community and the use of tagging. The availability of those instruments enables us to construct a sentence in the community that is effective in working with young people.
We need to learn from the lessons of the youth justice programme, which in its first year, as hon. Members will be aware, has led to a reduction in reoffending of 14.6 per cent., whereas the target was for a 5 per cent. reduction over the first four years. All hon. Members will take pleasure in the fact that, on those initial indications, the approaches seem to be working, and we need to develop them elsewhere in the offending and prisoner population.