Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
BLUNKETT, MP AND
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
80. Thank you very much.
(Mr Blunkett) I was not entirely sure that the 20
per cent figure that you gave was accurate, however, but we can
debate that another time. There is an issue about how we ensure
that the system works very much more effectively, that those listing
cases, those calling the police as witnesses, are aware as to
whether the police are available at that time because of their
duty rosters or because of their absence on secondment. There
is an issue about whether the organisation at police level is
sufficiently effective to ensure that communication means they
turn up. There are broader issues here about video conferencing
facilities for giving evidence, about the way in which evidence
could be collated and provided in a much more effective form.
The whole of the criminal justice system is in need of radical
reform and improvement. We know it is and we require the help
of those engaged in it, not simply to engage in looking at where
someone else is falling down but how they can help construct a
system that works better.
81. Home Secretary, I just want to take you
briefly back to special constables because it all sounded good
but is there not a problem with the numbers? The figures were
18,000 in 1991 and just 12,000 at the moment. In my own area,
the Thames Valley, in 1996 there were a paltry 731 special constables,
and the number last year was just 463. Two quick questions. One,
are you going to give us some specific pledges on the numbers:
when the numbers of specials will go up? Two, is it going to be
paying them that is going to make the difference or advertising
campaigns that have been tried in the past and seem to have failed?
(Mr Blunkett) It is 12,738. I just thought I had better
put that on the record because I did not want to lose the 738
in the passing. You are right, there has been a fall, and a consistent
fall, over a longer period than 1997. I think there have been
a number of reasons for this, not least some of those who were
volunteering as specials but did not have a job have actually
joined the service, but primarily because the status, the credit
given to the awareness of the importance of specials, was not
sufficiently high profile. I accept what you say about campaigns
that have failed. That is why I want to link it to making this
part of the broader development of a jigsaw, so that the bits
of what we are putting together make sense to those who want to
play a part in it, that it is part of civic renewal, that people
will feel, and will feel even more over the last few weeks, they
want to be part of the protection and the promotion of the well-being
of their community and can be part of this endeavour. Yes, we
will need a very substantial promotion campaign. I think, just
to answer the final bit of your question, that if the allowances
are sufficient to ensure that their costs are covered, we will
have a substantial response. I would like to make this part of
the development of the experienced core that we are also funding
for older but notwell, go on, I am in my fiftiesdecrepit
individuals who have taken perhaps early retirement from other
activities and would like to be part of it.
82. What about a pledge on numbers?
(Mr Blunkett) No, I am not going to give a pledge
on numbers. I have given enough pledges or inherited enough pledges
to keep me going for a little while I think.
83. Home Secretary, just to go back to accountability.
Now that some of our towns and cities, apart from London, are
going down the road of the elected mayors, has any thought been
given to the role that the elected mayors might play in the police
and what say they might have in the policing of their towns and
(Mr Blunkett) I am not going to get engaged in making
remarks about the ex police standing as mayors, that is for sure.
I think that the relationship with local governance and local
government generally has improved enormously in relation to the
crime and disorder reduction partnerships and community safety
and the development of other strategies alongside the youth offending
teams. I would like to build on that rather than give a specific
role which took away the existing broad brush role of the police
authorities but I think there is a very positive agenda here.
It is being worked out very carefully and in a considered way
between the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Mayor of London.
84. Could I pick you up on a point about the
Met and the Mayor of London. Unfortunately, Home Secretary, you
probably did not have the joy of being the police authority for
London. I just wondered if you think the new system is working
well and what relationship that leaves you with the Met?
(Mr Blunkett) It certainly gives a higher profile
to the statements that are issued within the Met. I have never
read so much about the Metropolitan Police, its funding, its activities,
its successes and failures as I have since I took up office and
it is very interesting. So I think the Metropolitan Police Authority
has certainly given a platform for discussion about and comment
on the Met police and has probably filled in many a page of the
Evening Standard. So, that has, I think, brought a greater
salience and public visibility to the activities. I think that
on the whole things have been working very well, the Commissioner
assures me that they are. I have a very positive and good relationship
with him which remains in force. When I am able to I see him and
the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority and, where appropriate,
the Mayor on very regular occasions, in fact I thought it would
be a good idea if we set up house together at one stage over the
last six weeks.
85. Can I just move on now to talk about the
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. You have mentioned them yourself
a number of times in the course of this evening. Do you think
that they are effective given the relatively small number that
have actually been put in place? Can you give us any idea of how
many have actually been breached?
(Mr Blunkett) We think that the official statistics
understate the number of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders that have
been issued. The statistics are 280 so far. We think that the
need to review them was acknowledged already and that, therefore,
we should take a look and listen to those who have made comment
on the complexity of what is, after all, a civil order. I do not
promise that we can sweep all the administration away because
in order to be able to stand a case up and to provide justice
you have got to have procedures that are robust and you have to
be able to prove the case. But I think there is a good reason
for trying to see if we can make these easier to implement. Very
low levels, I have been working from memory all evening but I
am now struggling (I think as little as 4 per cent) someone very
bright with a pack of papers in front of them behind me will correct
me or correct the record in due course if I am wrongit
is a low level compared with other elements of the judicial and
criminal justice system and I am very pleased about that.
I happen to be an enthusiast for that and for the development
of behaviour contracts which is the earlier voluntary stage, attempting
to resolve the matter before those orders have to be brought into
(Mr Gieve) I think one in ten are refused,
I do not know the number which are breached.
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, the breach, of course,
is a different matter but 90 per cent of them going through is
a very good figure, he says, pulling the fat out of the fire.
86. I think the figure you have given of 280
(Mr Blunkett) Okay.
87. I am delighted they seem to be working so
well. You announced recently, or one of your Ministers announced
recently, that you were thinking of extending who could go for
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Can you give us a bit more detail
as to which organisations you think might be able to use them?
(Mr Blunkett) I think the partnersI have not
been as explicit as thatneed to feel confidence that they
are not being let down by one of the others in the process and
that we can avoid people saying "That's not our job, guv,
that's somebody else's". We are a bit bedevilled by that
all round, are we not? There is always someone who has got a reason
for saying that something cannot be done or it is too difficult
or it was somebody else's task and they did not do it. Iit is
that element that I want to try and sort out.
Chairman: Mrs Watkinson do you want to come
Angela Watkinson: We have rather moved on from
the point I wanted to raise.
Chairman: Make it anyway.
88. Thank you.
(Mr Blunkett) He is a generous Chair. We have been
going two hours, God bless him.
89. Is that a protest, Home Secretary.
(Mr Blunkett) No, it is just exhaustion. Would I ever
90. Home Secretary, could I ask you to comment
on a suggestion of giving powers of arrest to traffic and street
wardens? Would it be within their very limited parameters? They
would need an extensive knowledge of the law in order to carry
out that duty. Is there a police view on that yet?
(Mr Blunkett) Any extension of detaining would have
to be within very restricted circumstances. Of course, in theory
we all have the power of citizen's arrest but I do not advocate
that people should go about using it regularly. I think that in
any of the elements of strengthening the very specific and targeted
power of those working with, and accredited by the police, we
need to be absolutely clear as to how far that can go because
otherwise we would run into very severe civil liberties problems
and the police themselves would find that very difficult to live
with. We are looking to find a way through that is logical, common
sense and understandable to the public.
Mr Cameron: Chairman, we did not really go into
the incitement of religious hatred offence, I was just wondering
if we had time for that. It was a question you were planning.
91. We are somewhat past that I think.
(Mr Blunkett) We will certainly come back to it when
the Bill is going through the Commons.
Chairman: We will be doing a separate hearing
into terrorism so that will be your moment.
92. Criminal injuries compensation. I want to
ask you about how you think the Authority is working? I had better
point out that I was a special advisor in the Home Office when
this was introduced . We have all got form on this one. I think
everybody accepts a tariff based scheme is quicker and more effective
but is there not a difficulty when you see the few thousands of
pounds paid out to victims when often the police officer who arrives
at the scene of the crime may sue for stress and damages and get
a far greater pay out? Can the Criminal Injuries Compensation
Authority's tariff scheme keep up with what happens with the growing
compensation culture? Does it not seem desperately unfair?
(Mr Blunkett) It is always difficult catching up with
advisers who reappear in different guises and who were in at the
beginning. The Home Office answer
93. Let us start with that.
(Mr Blunkett) is of course the independence
and freedom granted to the board to be able to act without interference
from the dangerous individuals who are engaged in being ministers
in Government. That said, there is disquiet when people read about
the isolated incidents which show disproportionality in terms
of what is granted in particular circumstances. I am as concerned
about these as anyone else and, in particular, where those who
are carrying out their duties are awarded very large sums. This
goes back a very long way and I happen to be the MP with the Hillsborough
Football Stadium in my constituency, so you will understand that.
94. Absolutely. In terms of the Authority, are
you satisfied that it is working as an authority? Is it paying
out quickly enough?
(Mr Blunkett) I have got a superb asset and it is
called the Permanent Secretary and he is going to give you even
more of an official answer to that question.
(Mr Gieve) I was just going to add on the first point
that I think we would claim our compensation scheme is the most
generous in the world.
95. Less generous than the one that came before
(Mr Gieve) I do not think so. We changed the scheme
in April and that is expected to increase the amounts. In terms
of customer service, there has been a big backlog and it is coming
down. NAO have just done a survey which showed that 67 per cent,
two-thirds of all applicants, and 86 per cent of successful applicants
were very or fairly satisfied with the service, which is something
we hope to improve on but is not terrible really.
Chairman: Finally, Home Secretary, Mr Winnick
has a question about Freemasons.
96. I understand the Chairman does not intend
to keep you here much longer, Home Secretary, so I will make my
questions as brief as possible. Apparently 90 per cent of professional
judiciary and over 80 per cent of lay magistrates have responded
to these questions as to whether or not they are members of the
Freemasons. I understand, although I have no figures before me,
that the response from the police has been much lower. Are you
worried about that?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes. The response has been
97. Could you speak up?
(Mr Blunkett) I said yes.
98. I heard that.
(Mr Blunkett) Good. Would you like me to shout the
answer because I know the Chairman would like to hear it particularly?
99. You are doing fine, Home Secretary.
(Mr Blunkett) Good. The answer is that about a third
of police officers responded.
5 Note by witness: A sample of 40 cases undertaken
in the course of the ASBO review suggests a breach rate of some
36 per cent. Of the 85 incidents of breach brought before the
courts in 2000, 46 per cent resulted in a custodial sentence.
Over half of the individuals who had appeared on one or more occasions
for breach had received a custodial sentence. Back