Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  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.

Mr Cameron

  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 not—well, go on, I am in my fifties—decrepit 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.

Mr Singh

  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 cities?
  (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.

Bridget Prentice

  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 wrong—it is a low level compared with other elements of the judicial and criminal justice system and I am very pleased about that.[5] 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 operation.

  (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 is under-representative.
  (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 partners—I have not been as explicit as that—need 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 in now?

  Angela Watkinson: We have rather moved on from the point I wanted to raise.

  Chairman: Make it anyway.

Angela Watkinson

  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 protest?

Angela Watkinson

  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.

Mr Cameron

  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 it.
  (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.

David Winnick

  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

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