TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001 __________ Members present: Mr Chris Mullin, in the Chair Mr David Cameron Mrs Janet Dean Bridget Prentice Mr Gwyn Prosser Bob Russell Mr Marsha Singh Angela Watkinson Mr Tom Watson David Winnick __________ THE RT HON DAVID BLUNKETT, a Member of the House, Home Secretary, and MR JOHN GIEVE, Permanent Secretary, the Home Office, examined. Chairman 1. Good afternoon, Home Secretary. I gather you want to say something to us about drugs policy, and I have moved that up more or less to the top of the agenda, but I thought I would just start off by asking you first about your priorities for this Parliament, leaving aside the proposed anti-terrorism measures. Can you give us a sort of overview of your priorities for this Parliament? (Mr Blunkett) Yes. The Proceeds of Crime Bill, which will have its Second Reading next week, of course links directly to many of the issues that we are dealing with post 11 September, but also to the issues that will be of concern to the Committee. It also links in with the fact that we are engaging heavily now with the police reform agenda, and the White Paper and subsequent legislation will actually enable us to put in place those reforms, I hope, as quickly as we can over the winter. The consultations have been taking place on that basis. We have, by dint of the events of 11 September, also got a space for nationality and asylum and for extradition. I am mentioning those because obviously they have wider implications, albeit that they are tied in with the tragic events of 11 September. So once we have got the Anti-Terrorism Bill out of the way towards the end of November, with the agreement of the two Houses, we will then be able to concentrate on other issues which are all relevant to us. We will also, of course, be dealing with the wider issues of concern that come under the remit of the Home Office. I am keen to link what we are doing on police and crime and anti-social behaviour with the agenda against Class A drug-taking and the way in which we develop that as part of the active citizenship and community agenda. I want to underpin the work of the Home Office, whether it is on crime reduction and community policing, or whether it is on nationality and asylum, or whether it is on our criminal justice system, probation, police and the wider criminal justice reforms on sentencing and others, with the issue of how we mobilise communities to be part of the solution. We have now the role both to co- ordinate voluntary action and volunteering across Government, as well as the Active Communities Unit, and it is our intention to make that real over the months ahead. 2. Assuming, as we all hope, that you remain Home Secretary for the duration of this Parliament, what would you like to look back on as your achievement at the end of that time? What would be your goals? (Mr Blunkett) I think the overall achievement that I would seek would be that the impact of the Home Office's remit generally had actually been seen in the communities we represent to have made a difference to their lives; in other words, not simply to fulfil public service agreement targets or even internal service targets, but actually literally to have made a difference in the way that people feel about the issues that we are relating together and that they have some sway, some say, over what is taking place. Hence the decision to have a broader consultation on sentencing, to broaden the debate and the consultation on the Auld Report, to open up issues around policing and the role of the community, and to do so within the context of the development capability, the capacity-building of communities to play a part. 3. Are you satisfied that, for example, police priorities are the same as those of the communities they serve? (Mr Blunkett) I think that the variation that we see, both in terms of the application of resources to those priorities and in terms of outcome, indicate that there would appear to be great inconsistency. One of the items of our formal agenda is to address that and to do so in ways which do not take away local operational responsibility or flexibility but actually use best practice, hence the setting up and establishment of the Standards Unit for the Police Service and the development of the agenda which is now being considered by the Police Negotiating Board amongst others. 4. You have two major pieces of legislation, apart from the terrorism one, in the pipeline: the Criminal Justice Bill and the Police Reform Bill. Without getting into the details of either, might you be able to let us see both of those Bills sufficiently far in advance for us to indulge in a little pre-leg. scrutiny? As you know, the quality of much of the legislation in the past is often substandard, it is inadequately scrutinised. Does the fact that those Bills are going to be delayed now because of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, give us an opportunity to have a look at the proposals? (Mr Blunkett) There will not be a delay, I hope, in the police reform measure, and therefore it would be difficult to go through a pre-scrutiny process in the way that I think you and, for that matter, I would find most favourable, but I think that if I can consult with the Lord Chancellor who has dual responsibility with me for the broader criminal justice measures, we might be able to find a way of ensuring that we can engage Parliament - in this case the Select Committee - in advance of the determination through Parliament. It is almost certain that because of the massive increased pressure on the legislative timetable that you just mentioned, the criminal justice legislation most certainly for this Session will be delayed. 5. Thank you for that, that is very helpful. Turning now to drugs, shortly after your appointment as Home Secretary you did indicate a willingness to review the assumptions on which our drugs policy was based. Have you come to any conclusions? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to clarify this for the purposes of your own deliberations as a Committee and the mature debate that I indicated in the early summer was necessary, actually to have a much clearer picture of what government policy will be towards some of the more controversial areas. I want to make it absolutely clear that the message from Government will be "Don't take drugs of any kind, they are dangerous and they will damage you." It is also absolutely clear and necessary to have credibility, consistency and clarity in relation to those policies, therefore I want to combine with colleagues across Government programmes in relation to education, geared to an aid to young people, that are both credible to young people and are targeted and focussed on the main risk that they face, namely the use of Class A drugs. I want to link that with harm minimisation programmes that again recognise that a quarter of a million people in the country are currently at risk because of their drug-taking policies using Class A drugs, and that we need to be able to link the development of policies for testing with the policies and the development, for instance, with heroin of the methadone programmes, with the reality of what happens on the ground. The Department of Health and the Home Office will be developing an expert group to advise us on an action plan which will include harm minimisation programmes and that will also include whether we should engage in highly structured heroin prescribing. We also wish to look at the way in which the middle-market programme of attacking drug distribution can be stepped up. In four Midland counties - the West Midlands, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Warwickshire - we are putting up œ1 million for a pilot programme in terms of tackling those middle markets with the dealers who link into the international traffickers. Should this be successful, the Proceeds of Crime Bill will assist us in being able to use the proceeds of trafficking, and of the harm that that causes, actually to invest in tackling those crimes. We also intend to step up the pilot programme now beginning in Nottingham, Stafford and Hackney, on testing at the point of custody suites and the way in which that will work to identify drug use as part, as you know, of the major contribution to petty crime and to robbery, burglary in particular. To do this, to have a credible policy on education, on treatment, on harm minimisation, and above all consistently on law enforcement and policing, we believe it is right to look at the re-categorisation of cannabis. I shall therefore be putting to the Advisory Council on Drug Misuse a proposal that we should re-categorise cannabis to C rather than B, thereby allowing the police to concentrate their resources on Class A drugs - crack cocaine and heroin in particular - and to ensure that whilst they are able to deal with those who are pushing and dealing in drugs in exactly the same way as they can at the moment, it will both lighten their load and make more sense on the streets than it does at the moment. We have the support of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and many of those engaged in law enforcement across the country, and the experiment in Lambeth is already proving both successful in terms of concentrating and prioritising resources, but also with the police on the streets themselves who are now able to make more sense of policy finally. The public policy and practice will now be brought in line and will be coherent. If the Advisory Council see fit to do so, I think that will make sense to many people. There is one other factor, and that is the issue of the medical use of cannabis derivative. We are now in the third phase of the testing, assessment and evaluation programme. Should - as I believe it will - this programme be proved to be successful, I will recommend to the Medical Control Agency that they should go ahead with authorising the medical use of this for medical purposes. We therefore will have a coherence, given the derivatives of other more dangerous drugs that are currently available for prescribing. 6. So on the re-classification of cannabis you are in fact accepting the recommendation that Dame Ruth Runciman made in her Police Foundation report, is that right? (Mr Blunkett) I am accepting that part of it that relates to re-classification. My predecessor indicated that this should be kept under review. I have reviewed it, and I believe that is the right way forward. 7. I think she also mentions LSD and Ecstasy as possible candidates for re-classification. Do you have any thoughts on that? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, my thoughts are that they should remain Class A drugs. 8. Can you tell us when you expect to reach a firm decision on that? When do you expect to hear back from the Advisory Committee? (Mr Blunkett) Professor Michael Rawlings assures me that will be within three months. They have a meeting in early November - one of the reasons, as well as your own investigation, that I wanted to clarify government proposals before the winter. They have a meeting in November. They believe that within three months they can come back to us. Those who are more versed in these matters than I am will go back to 1981 when the Advisory Council at that time did, not unanimously but by a majority, publish a report recommending re-categorisation, so there is nothing new about this debate. 9. Can I now turn to Keith Hellawell. Why was he removed as UK Anti-Drug Co-ordinator? (Mr Blunkett) Because he was on special adviser terms, his term in office ceased at the General Election, and I wished, having taken over responsibility for the co-ordination and development of policy for drugs across Government and having absorbed the Drugs Unit into the Home Office, to re-evaluate the most useful means of drawing on his expertise. We have now - and we published a press release yesterday - agreed that the use of his time on a part-time specialist basis will be to advise and assist us with issues around international drug issues, including trafficking, to work with me on the agenda in the European Union and in the Home Affairs Council and, specifically in the immediate short term, issues around precursors and the way in which we can develop common policies for protecting our boundaries and tackling drug trafficking. He has accepted that with great pleasure because his expertise had developed in the international drugs field. 10. Were you unhappy with his work? (Mr Blunkett) No, I think Keith Hellawell had done the job he was asked to do, which was to develop the structure around the ten-year strategy, to help Government to draw down on experience elsewhere and to be able to reinforce that in circumstances where responsibility for different elements of drug policy rested in different departments. Chairman: Thank you. Mr Cameron. Mr Cameron 11. Home Secretary, going back to your announcement about cannabis and re-classification, to what extent do you think cannabis leads on to harder drugs because cannabis and harder drugs are all in the black market, and someone wanting to buy cannabis has to go into the black market to buy it? In that case, what is your thinking on that argument? As a result, do you think your announcement today goes far enough, and is the government policy on decriminalisation set against that, or is it something on which you have an open mind? (Mr Blunkett) I am not in favour of either legislation or decriminalisation. I believe that the issues around whether cannabis is a gateway drug have been widely debated, but without conclusion. I have seen some of the evidence that has been adduced from other parts of the world on both sides. The Advisory Council undoubtedly will want to say something about this, but the evidence that we have at the moment, particularly with the increased use of crack and crack cocaine and heroin amongst young people, whilst there has been an overall general drop in terms of drug use, would indicate that there is a movement direct to the Class A drugs, which is why I want to get the educational and public policy measures right and make sure that people understand, particularly young people understand, that we know what we are talking about and that we have proportionality in the messages that we are sending out. 12. I have one last question on this. Given your very welcome announcement on the importance of treating heroin addiction and rehabilitation which many people have thought has been the Cinderella service that has not had much attention, do you think that the Home Office can lead the debate on drugs and the fight against drugs, if such an important area lies outside your ambit because most treatment and rehabilitation is with the Department of Health, although there are some voluntary bodies that report to you? Is that split going to make it possible that you really are - as I think you should - paying much more attention to drug treatment and rehabilitation? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I will be able to do that. I have, as you will expect, very good relations with the Secretary of State for Health, and we have discussed the development of the new National Treatment Agency which, of course, was only established from 1 April, to be able to link what is happening here with harm minimisation and work on a broader front of misuse. I think that if we can get that right we will have, for the first time in this country, a coherent and seamless policy that will help people, not just those who are facing imprisonment and charge where we have now policies, of course, that are able to pick up those cries for help, but actually people who have not yet come into touch with the criminal justice system and, I hope, to be able to support their families as well, because I think everyone round this table in their constituencies will have come across families who are heartbroken, whose very life is destroyed by what has happened to those in their family who have not only started to take drugs but have got involved in crime as a result, and the deterioration both in themselves and in their lifestyle is heartbreaking. David Winnick 13. The use of drugs, certainly some drugs, Home Secretary, is, as you indicate, extremely harmful, no one can possibly dispute that. What do you say, though, to the argument that the existing laws which successive governments have defended really help the drug dealers who would certainly be very much opposed to decriminalisation? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I have heard that. I believe that people, as they are in the Netherlands, have to answer the question as to how you deal with the dealers. I do not want to get into a situation where people are arrested in countries like the Netherlands for production, the equipment is then auctioned, as is their law, and people then buy the equipment at the lowest possible level and re-commence producing it. They are still liable. The people who are actually then the intermediaries are not, because it is very difficult actually to place a situation of decriminalisation on the user without ascertaining how they receive their supply. So being tough on the traffickers, tough on the dealers and sensibly sensitive to those who are users seems to me to be a logical outcome. 14. Some would say that smoking, there is no dispute, is extremely dangerous, and we know the cost to the National Health Service as well, it is costing lives, but no one, to my knowledge, has suggested decriminalising cigarette smoking, have they? (Mr Blunkett) No, they have not, for the very reason I am proposing to re-categorise cannabis, namely that public policy, the enforcement of the law and basic criminality, have to be in harmony with each other. 15. I have one final question. The Minister yesterday said - I believe I am quoting him correctly - that the Government wants an adult debate on drugs. Do we take it, Home Secretary, that the statement you made is not necessarily the conclusion of your thoughts over this Parliament, and that there is a possibility that the Government will review the position, other than what you have already stated? (Mr Blunkett) I would be a very foolish Home Secretary indeed if I believed that this would close down the debate, and you are going to have a very vigorous debate no doubt in taking evidence and reviewing where we are at the moment. I will listen very, very carefully to what the Select Committee have to say at the end of their deliberations as part of that mature debate, but I want to make it clear that this is our position, and we felt it would be helpful in your deliberations that you knew that, rather than our coming out halfway through with a change in categorisation. David Winnick: Undoubtedly. Thank you. Angela Watkinson 16. Home Secretary, I wonder if you could say a bit more about your plans for anti-drug education programmes, particularly for schoolchildren? We are hearing that larger numbers of schoolchildren are exposed to readily available drugs at a younger and younger age, and that despite the large amount of anti-drug education, larger numbers of schoolchildren disregard it. We clearly need a completely different style if we are going to tackle that, do we not? (Mr Blunkett) Yes. We are working very closely with the Department for Education and Skills on the way in which the inclusion of health along with personal and social education will enable that to take place. There are some extraordinarily good experiments in peer group education - bearing in mind that young people tend to take more notice of young people than they do of people of my age - and the way in which we can reinforce that. The Department for Education and Skills will be increasing from œ21 million to, I think, œ47« million the amount being devoted overall to these issues, to the wider personal, social and health education issues, and drugs are now a very substantial part of that agenda. We want also to engage the new Connection Service which will draw together the various youth service and support provision for teenagers so that they can be part of this process, along with the youth offending teams. We are putting resources ourselves directly into communities as part of the Cap Drugs Programme - œ50 million extra in this year - so that local communities themselves can work along with schools and youth services on these issues. 17. Will that include the tackling of the sale of drugs outside schools, which is very prolific? (Mr Blunkett) I would like the reinforcement of our broader policies to engage the police at command unit level, at working with the police on what is happening around schools generally in terms of those who are engaging young people in this and other similar activities. I think all of us would feel that this is precisely where the police at local level and the mobilisation of the community and parents can have the biggest effect; in other words, this is not just down to the police, it is actually something that we could support and engage communities in undertaking. In those areas - I am familiar, for example, in Balsall Heath with what is happening with the St Paul's area where the community itself became part of the solution - an enormous impact was visible in terms of being able to see off those dealers. We then need to pick up the fact that so many of them are pyramid selling, namely that they are users and in order to feed their usage they are persuaded to deal and they then catch other young people in that terrible cycle. That is why I think we need to engage this holistic approach in making sure that we are not simply seeing them off to another area, but we are actually engaging them and being able to start treating them. Mrs Dean 18. Home Secretary, I was particularly interested to hear you mention Staffordshire as one of the authorities where you wanted to tackle middle markets. I wonder if you could expand on what you had in mind? (Mr Blunkett) Yes. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible, who was certainly here earlier this afternoon, the Member for Coventry North East, last week engaged in developing the concept of the four pilot programmes linked to the publication of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, because, as I said earlier, the two will be able to go hand in hand, they will be able to pilot the programme in terms of targeting what are called the middle-market dealers. There has been a lot of concern by the police that whilst picking up the pushers, the people I was just answering Angela Watkinson on, is taking place at local level, there is this line from traffickers through to that level, which has not received the attention it deserves. We need the National Criminal Intelligence and NCS to be able to link with the local police at BCU level to be able to have an impact, and this experiment with this pilot will be able to engage those crime reduction and intelligence services, along with the local police as well. It is a considerable theme of mine, once we have been able to put in place security for ourselves following 11 September, that the security services generally should be able to play a much bigger part in disrupting the trafficking flows, and that will include the middle market. 19. Thank you. Would that include extra resources for the police authorities? (Mr Blunkett) It will be targeted at the specific pilot area; it will be a ring-fenced approach. Initially we are putting up œ1 million in order to kick-start it, but obviously as the proceeds of crime are recouped we will then be able to reinvest in a much bigger way. Chairman 20. Thank you. Before we turn to the anti-terrorism legislation, it was remiss of me not to welcome John Gieve, the relatively new Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. I apologise for that. No doubt this is the first of many appearances before our Committee. (Mr Gieve) Indeed. Chairman: We now turn to anti-terrorism legislation. Mrs Watkinson. Angela Watkinson 21. Home Secretary, the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force on 19 February this year and included a range of new powers. Why are the provisions of this Act insufficient to deal with the present situation? (Mr Blunkett) I think the previous Home Secretary would say what a tremendous effort he had to make to persuade people that the provisions of the Terrorism Act were not too draconian. No one, bearing in mind the circumstances of 11 September, would have foreseen quite what was to face us - not a traditional threat, but suicide attacks co-ordinated on a terrorist basis across the world from inaccessible parts of the world, in circumstances where there is no one to negotiate with - and therefore protecting ourselves in new ways makes sense. I do not make any apology - I talked at great length to the now Foreign Secretary about this, and neither does he - for needing to move on from the experience we had in terms of the earlier implementation of the Terrorism Act, although I have to say that because that Act is in existence, unlike in certain parts of the world, the anti-terrorism message we are introducing in November does not have to go anywhere near as far as would otherwise be necessary. 22. The United Nations Convention on Asylum and the European Convention on Human Rights both prevent deportation of terrorists and internment without trial, on the grounds that they might suffer inhuman or degrading treatment. How do we overcome this? (Mr Blunkett) I think we need to separate the two. I think there is often a misunderstanding, which certainly I have clarified in my own mind over the last 4« months. Clearly, where we have extradition treaties and extradition arrangements, we are able, as we have with the United States since 1974, to reach agreement that does not interfere with their judicial processes but allows us to be able to agree on what might be the final outcome. That is not the same with questions of securing those who pose a terrorist threat, where extradition is not possible, nor is immediate removal to a third safe country - "third country" in the sense of not providing access to the Convention and Article 3, on grounds of degrading, dehumanising treatment or the fear of death. We therefore believe it is right to be able to hold people, with rights of appeal through the Immigration Appeals Commission, and to be able to do so in a way which both prevents risk to ourselves and allows judicial process. To do that we need, as I spelt out in the statement a week yesterday, to be able to use Article 15 of the ECHR to derogate from Article 5, and I will obviously have to make that clear in the legislation at the time of the legislation so that no one is in any doubt about the relationship and the circumstances in which we are engaging on this. 23. I wonder if you could comment on the protection of the individual human rights of one person compared with the human rights of the wider community which may be at risk? (Mr Blunkett) I think this is the balance that we are seeking to attain. It is a balance always in terms of public policy versus individual rights and freedoms. I think it is a debate that the Daily Telegraph are having with themselves almost weekly at the moment. On this particular scale, we are talking about very different circumstances to the normal application of acceptable laws within which we all accept the norms of civilised behaviour, and therefore the balance has to be in favour of protecting the majority, of doing so in circumstances where risk is at our door at any time and in any circumstances, and where it is indiscriminate. Having said that, I think it is absolutely vital that it does not deteriorate our democracy and our civil liberties to the point where the very thing that we are defending has been eroded successfully by the people who are intent on undermining it. That is why we have been very careful indeed to ensure that people have rights that they can exercise at each stage, but not rights which flout common sense and which make a monkey of judicial process. John Gieve would like to say something on that. (Mr Gieve) I was just going to say that there are two conventions here. One is the Human Rights Convention which you referred to. You also referred to the Refugee Convention. I was going to say that that does explicitly exclude from the provisions of the Convention people for whom there are serious reasons for considering that they have committed a crime against peace or a serious non- political crime outside the country in which they have sought refuge. (Mr Blunkett) This is Article 1(f), I think it is. (Mr Gieve) Yes. So in that respect what we are talking about is entirely within the terms of that provision. David Winnick 24. Home Secretary, following the massacre of 58 tourists in which there were six British citizens involved in Egypt ----- (Mr Blunkett) This is Luxor one? 25. In Luxor, yes. Following that, the President of Egypt made accusations against this country. He said, "Why is Britain protecting terrorists, because they're operating in Britain and Afghanistan?" That goes back, as we know, four years. Do you feel, on reflection, that before the horrors of 11 September, the horrors which I have just mentioned, which took place in Egypt, could have been dealt with as far as Britain is concerned? (Mr Blunkett) Let me take two separate parts to this question. I believe that the law that we have been implementing in terms of extradition has not been sufficiently robust, nor has it been sufficiently speedy. The recognition of this resulted in the Government undertaking a review which we now have done and which will lead us to be able to bring forward the review of our extradition procedures. I have no knowledge of an extradition request for the individual concerned in relation to the Luxor massacre being made to the British Government. 26. Home Secretary, the accusation, accurate or otherwise, made by the Egyptian authorities and particularly by the President of Egypt, was such that he said that London was a haven for what he described as "Islamic extremists". I take the point you have made that no extradition application was made, and I am just wondering how far the British Government and previous British Governments took on board the accusation that Britain was a haven for extremists? (Mr Blunkett) I stand corrected, but I think the FBI have issued a statement today indicating their position in terms of their view, following their enormous review over the last six weeks since 11 September and its aftermath, that that is not the case. We believe that where there is evidence on an individual, past and future, we will take action against them and will do so in relation to the evidence being provided. On each occasion where individual cases have been drawn to our attention, I and other relevant Ministers have insisted, quite rightly, that they are followed through and that they are investigated. I hope that with the new legislation we will be able to act more swiftly than we have been able to do in the past. 27. I am wondering if you are also aware, Home Secretary, of how some of these extremists have undoubtedly caused a tremendous amount of difficulty on campuses where they have been trying to recruit Muslims who have been intimidated. In some instances such Muslim students have been told that their families could be "told" - and we know what that means - hence the action taken by the National Union of Students in banning a particular type of extremist organisation. My question to you is, Home Secretary, does it not give rise to a feeling that perhaps we should be doing more to protect people, students, certainly Muslims, from these extremists? (Mr Blunkett) I firstly welcome the actions of the NUS in what they did. We made available considerable cost support and advice from the security services and the police to all those who feel in any way threatened or intimidated, either by those seeking to recruit or engage them in terrorism or pseudo terrorist action and in protecting people within the community who feel at risk. We will continue to do so. When my predecessor proscribed the 21 organisations following the Terrorism Act we were mindful that the fragmentation of those groups and their reemergence would want vigilance on our part and the security services are certainly doing that. I repeat what I said, not just out of the fact that it is some sort of cover, but we do need evidence from people of precisely what happened to them and then with the Crown Prosecution Service we can pursue those issues more vigorously and clearly than is sometimes the case. Mr Winnick 28. What about the extremists, who in no way represent the mainstream of Muslim opinion, who have no permanent resident as such in this country and who use their religious position as such to defend and justify the horrors of September 11th, is there not a justified reaction from so many British people asking, why on earth are such people here in the first place? (Mr Blunkett) They do ask questions like that, I would not say, wholly, I would not be too embarrassed to say so, it is pretty much the same instincts that most other people have on these matters. When I discovered that one individual, who has been very prominent over the last six years, but not so much over the last fortnight thanks to the media not giving him so much of a platform as they were, in 1991 he had been picked up and had been interrogated in relation to his threat to the kill the then Prime Minister. The Crown Prosecution Service at the time did not find there was sufficient evidence to follow through with charging. I want to make sure that if people are picked up that we learn the lessons that have had to be learned from the past, including at the time of the Gulf War, not to pick people up unless, a) they are chargeable and b) those charges will stick because it undermines the credibility of what we are doing, and to distinguish those who are simply mouthing off for gaining publicity and those who are either engaged in conspiracy or incitement or other activity, which both existing and the new law will help us to deal with. Mr Cameron 29. Did you contemplate, Home Secretary, derogating from Article 3 of the ECHR rather than Article 5 so you could give more weight to deportation and less to internment? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I did consider it. The question I have to answer in my own mind, and I think we all have to answer, is precisely where we would send people back to in circumstances where there is not an extradition treaty but where there is suspicion of their activities outside this country or the danger of their activities taking place inside this country short of being able to deal with them under extradition and therefore whether we would send them back to certain death or torture. Unless you can answer the question yes there would be no point in what would amount to deratifying, pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights, with all of the implications that would have, not merely in terms of Britain as an open country with civil liberties that we seek to protect, but also our international relations. I cannot say more strongly that having examined that and come to the conclusions that I would not send people back to their certain death without knowing that the judicial process was acceptable, because that is the real test, that the alternative was to be able to hold people until a safe third country was attainable. It is different where we have extradition treaties. 30. Is this not the problem, Home Secretary, that instead of being able to work out what the best response is in each case, internment or deportation, because of the ECHR we are stuck with deciding to derogate from Article 5 and going for internment. In many cases people are not being sent home to certain death, the courts are just deciding they do not like that particular country. Are we not being artificially constrained in terms of making policy? (Mr Blunkett) There are two issues here, one is the interpretation and its hand down, jurisprudence, in terms of practice and, of course, the Shayler case in terms of the Strasbourg Court is the famous one and the question of how we frame our laws and how we implement them and I am open to persuasion, and have been, in terms of whether Parliament expresses itself sufficiently clearly. I come back again to the fact that if a country has an acceptable judicial process and they wish to reach an extradition treaty we are able to do so. We are trying to deal with circumstances where if we were to deratify, to disengage with the ECHR would there actually in practice be a point. Having examined this carefully I have concluded there would not. (Mr Gieve) On that, there is no provision to derogate from the Article. 31. I slightly suspected that. That is why one does not have the choice. (Mr Gieve) As the Home Secretary said it would be a question of deratifying, obviously you can argue about the interpretation but there is no provision to derogate from that Article. 32. It seems to me that the problem is people coming to this country who we know have been involved in terrorism and what is our response. The response is going to be, as I understand it, to intern them, with all of the costs that involves, and possibly making, who knows, this country more of a target. We can go for the deportation option because we are stuck with the ECHR. In some cases it would be better to have the choice of deportation or your plans for internment. (Mr Blunkett) I hope we will be able to reach more constructive extradition treaties with agreements that actually ensure that the country who are seeking to put people on trial can adduce the evidence and can carry that through. I think that if we can get that then we would have made a big step forward. Mr Cameron: Thank you. Chairman 33. Is it intended that the proposed Extradition Bill will be retrospective, Home Secretary? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, it is. 34. One small point about embarkation controls, it has been alleged that the scraping some years ago of routine embarkation controls has made it easier for terrorists to move in and out of Britain, are you going to reconsider or consider reintroducing such controls to British ports? (Mr Blunkett) I have two stages for the broader policies here, one in the next fortnight will be a statement to the Commons on the broad asylum policy and the second will be a White Paper, which will be on and nationality and immigration asylum policy more broadly. I hope to be able to deal with the questions that have been raised round embarkation in both. I am aware of the debate which, incidentally, I do not think rested purely on the saving of costs but the logistics of being able to handle this in a way which provides credibility. I have not yet been convinced that we can do that but I am very keen to be convinced because it seems to me that knowing who is coming and going is very helpful. Of course that opens up all sorts of other questions. 35. Non identity cards? (Mr Blunkett) I thought you might mention that. 36. You said you are persuadable, what would it take to persuade you? (Mr Blunkett) It would take to persuade me that we could implement a policy that is not simply engaged with policing but was engaged with providing entitlements that related to developing a common citizenship, that provided measures against fraud and mis-identification, that enabled convenience to be gained from reducing the multiplicity of evidence that has to be adduced in terms of our identity at one time or another, each week of our lives, and that the administration and cost could be ^ borne in different ways. On 14th September I was asked a question about this on the ^ Today Programme and I had two choices, one was to rule it out and the other was to tell the truth, which is that this is an issue that is worthy of review. I indicated then that I did not wish it to be done purely on the back of the attack on the World Trade ^ Center and The Pentagon, that it was a much broader issue than that, and we would consider it carefully. The Government as a whole is considering it carefully, we have not ruled it out nor have we made a decision. 37. Thank you. Presumably nothing much is likely to happen in the near future on that issue, given all of the other things on your plate? (Mr Blunkett) Not this side of the statement to the House, no, or at the statement to the House. I thought I just better correct that in case the whole of the weekend papers were speculating I was about to make an announcement on it. 38. Can you just clarify that again? (Mr Blunkett) Yes. 39. Not this side of which statement? (Mr Blunkett) Not this side of the statement to the House on nationality and asylum or immediately after it. Chairman: Mr Russell, we are turning now to civil contingencies. Mr Russell 40. Home Secretary, earlier on you referred to mobilising communities, what exactly do you have in mind with that? (Mr Blunkett) I have a particular interest and commitment to a set of values about what I call civil society, the development of individuals and communities being able to support themselves to develop a contribution to resolving solutions within their own life and that of the community around them and that the Government should be enabling, it should be supportive, it should be on their side providing the resources, the framework and the necessary backing to make that possible so that people do not simply say, what will the government do for us but what will government do with us and alongside us. I would like us to develop that agenda, it used to be called community development in the 1970s, when I was a lad, but it is now called capacity building. I am very keen that we engage with that across central and local government and perceive this as a way of devolving both responibility and empowerment to those communities? 41. Is this an expansion of things like Neighbourhood Watch and Crimestoppers? (Mr Blunkett) It would be in the areas I have responsibility for but it would also be the engagement of more special, the development of communities being part of the Crime and Disorder Reduction Programmes and safer communities. It would be, as I was describing earlier, communities engaging in the anti-drugs and dealing policies, sweeping those and other anti-social behaviour from the streets. It is a long-term policy of building the confidence and the capacity for communities not to be handed the problem but to be part of that solution. 42. I welcome those comments, Home Secretary, how do you square that with the fact that this year Crimestoppers have not been given any funding by the Home Office but last year they did? (Mr Blunkett) We have a very, very tiny, I have only discovered, budget for these activities. I am looking forward, albeit modestly, of course, having read a couple of papers this morning, to the Spending Review and discussions with my right honourable friend, the Chancellor, who is also deeply committed to these values and this philosophy. I hope we will be able to do more both in invigorating what is already on the stocks and expanding new schemes and new programmes that relate directly to people in their communities. Chairman: Mr Russell, I am not clear how you led us down this path, I thought you were going to ask about emergency planning? Mr Russell: Chairman, I am leading into that. Chairman: Are you? Mr Russell: I thought the Home Secretary's comments earlier on were very encouraging and indeed emergency planning arrangements, I understand, are going to be reported at the end of this month. The civil contingency secretariate is government, I am trying to link in how the volunteers fit in with the blueprint of central government. Chairman: Thank you for that. Would you now address emergency planning? I know we all have to take our chances where we can. Mr Russell 43. Has the recent view of emergency planning highlighted any weaknesses? You said earlier you wanted to mobilise --- (Mr Blunkett) Now I have heard the question I am very happy to give you the answer, that is that we have undertaken an assessment, a capability management, a communications and a national resilience policy over the last six weeks, building on the programme of coordination, which was begun immediately after this general election, when the civil contingency secretariate unit was drawn together in the Cabinet Office. We have done so with a view to ensuring that the existing programmes were firstly, as I described, resilient and properly coordinated, and secondly where there was felt to be a need for review they are welcome to take it. That is why both the Department of Health and ourselves and the Cabinet Office have put out advice to the experts in the field about what resources exist, about the update, for instance, for emergency planning offices at local level. I intend, Chairman, to put round to all members of the House of Commons as quickly as possible an update paper on that so that people can see what we have done. Mr Russell: Chairman, notwithstanding your determination to restrain my line of question I would like to come back to, how does that then fit in with --- Chairman 44. My determination is that you should stick to the green line question? Mr Blunkett: How does it fit with the communities, it fits with the communities because at a time of need mobilising people at a local level is better undertaken if they have the skills, they have the capacity to build, they have the communications at local level to be able to get in touch with each other. As we saw in New York there is great will, a capacity of people to be able to respond at those times. I had not heard the question in those terms, Chairman. Mr Russell: Thank you, Chairman, for helping me. Bridget Prentice 45. Home Secretary, you talk about the capacity of the people of New York, if the dreadful events of September 11th had happened in London who would have been in charge? (Mr Blunkett) The immediate action on the ground would have sprung into place, as it did on a lesser scale in terms of death and destruction at the beginning of August when the Ealing bombing took place, where all branches of the emergency and civil contingencies procedures came into being and acted. The new Committee that has been established under the chairmanship of the Local Government minister Nick Raynsford with the mayor and the Association of London will ensure, just as we have done with the devolved administrations, that there is total coordination. It is understood by all of us that the voice of the mayor will be heard. It is also understood that civil contingency arrangements and the emergency planning arrangements will immediately come into play, coordinated from central government. Bridget Prentice: Thank you. Chairman: We are going to the turn, if we may, to the disturbances in Bradford and else where and then on to immigration and asylum. Mr Singh 46. Home Secretary, after the riots, you may prefer the word disturbances, in some northern towns over the summer an interdepartmental ministerial group was set up to look at the issues in place in those services, has that interdepartmental group come to any conclusions or recommendations so far? (Mr Blunkett) It has produced for its own purposes an interim position and we hope that by Christmas we should have a full report from them. We are very keen indeed that the various reports, because there is a separate one initiated in relation to what happened in Oldham, and what we might call the Cantel(?) Working Group under John Denham, the Minister for State, should be pulled together so that we have a coherence about what is taking place, plus an evaluation of the measures that were put in place over the summer with the resources that were drawn together across government, the Neighbourhood Renewal Union, the Department of Transport, local government and ourselves pulling that resource together. I would like to do it in a way that both informed future policy but also the Spending Review because I do not want to be in a position, not necessarily next summer, but maybe in two or three years time where events erupt and people say, what happened to the last investigation and report, why was it not acted on? I am very keen, indeed, that we take the reports, that we discuss them and present them publicly and that we try and make sure we learn the lessons from them. 47. I certainly take that point on board, Home Secretary, because after the 1995 disturbance in Bradford that is exactly what people said, what happened after those disturbances? People feel that nothing happened. Just to move on slightly, you are aware that Sir Herman Ouseley came out with a report which was Commissioned before the disturbances and made some very, very serious points about the segregation of school, self segregated communities, has the working group looked at any of the issues that Sir Herman Ouseley has raised? (Mr Blunkett) There was one issue on the whole range of support for the developments of communities themselves, which was referred to central government, the working party would take that on board automatically but they have also looked, because they could not avoid it, at these issues of how physical separation and the workings of parental preference and admissions policies and geography combine together to separate very substantially in areas like your own in Bradford and else where children of different ethnic origin. I am looking forward to not only hearing what they see, because we are fairly clear about the evidence on the separation, but also long-term measures as to how we address them. We are all very painfully aware of the experience in North America and historically also in Bradford of busing policies, in terms of bringing children to schools, of the socioeconomic reasons for geographic separation, not purely on race or background but also on economic status, on class, in old-fashioned terms, in relation to housing. We see it, perhaps, in communities across the country. How do we deal with those issues in a way that does not reinforce that separation and the dangers that go with it. 48. Have these disturbances, Home Secretary, anything to do with your plans to introduce or to make it an offence to incite religious hatred? Why are you focussing on religious hatred when religious discrimination may be much more of a problem? (Mr Blunkett) It became clear to me, and it was clear to my predecessor in 1998 when he indicated that he was sympathetic and he would be prepared to return to this issue, that whilst certain international religious groups were covered by the law in relation to race hate others were not by, primarily Islam and Christianity, and therefore it would make sense for us to bring that in line. We are, of course, talking about incitement to hate and the action that people take, the aggravated offences that are generated from it. I ought to say this, whilst there is a certain amount of amusement by many people at the writings of comedians, and some of the writers who earn their living by being comedians, it is not too funny for people who actually experience it. Taking the mickey out of the law is perfectly free and open to us all but may they do so in a way that does not distort what we are trying to do. I just want to put on record that I enjoyed the ^ Life of Brian, I thought it was political satire, not a religious one. 49. Home Secretary, on Friday my colleagues Gerry Sutcliffe and Terry Ronney and I met with the Bangladeshi community as they came out of Friday prayers and they were very, very concerned about threats, about intimidation, about protecting their mosque, about the harassment women were facing and about the lack of support they were receiving from the police. I feel this complaint may be reciprocated up and down the country where we have ethnic minority groups, what are you doing to ensure that the police do respond to these concerns and these needs? (Mr Blunkett) Within the parameters of the operational independence of the Chief Constable, which I understand and respect, we have given very clear advice, it could not have been clearer, that we wanted the protection of those most at risk to be secured and additional policing time and resource has been, over the last six week, substantially devoted to that end. What I feel we are not yet cracking is people feeling comfortable with, and able to communicate, that fear to those who can do something immediately to redress it. That actually is a much more profound issue about the nature of the relationship with the community as a whole and how we reinforce trust and confidence so they feel able to do so. 50. Thank you, Home Secretary. If we can now move on to some issues involving asylum and immigration, particularly the dispersal and voucher system. I understand a review of the voucher system was announced in October 2000, we are now in October 2001 and as far as I am aware nothing has yet been published in connection with that review. Where is that review, have any conclusions been reached and what is your view on the continuation of the voucher system? (Mr Blunkett) I inherited the stage of the voucher review reached by the general election, and I have taken that up, along with my ministers, and taken a look at its implications in the broader context. As you are aware, I announced we were undertaking a similar review of dispersal, which actually I had initiated in June, which I announced in August. It seemed to me it was right to take the issue of support to asylum seekers, and vouchers is just one part of that, and their dispersal and the procedures around what happens when people seek to come into the country, how they are treated, when they are in the country, the messages we are sending to our own community and internationally in one package, in one programme. I shall seek to do that in the next fortnight to the House and then follow it with a White Paper on broader nationality, citizenship and immigration policy. 51. In terms of the dispersal system and NASS, you will be aware of many of the complaints that currently are around about the operation of NASS, for example that NASS has failed to allocate 9,100 units of accommodation that it paid for at a cost of œ6.8 million. In Bradford I have people, landlords, who were given the go-ahead to refurbish their properties by local agencies contracted with NASS who were subsequently, having spent the money, told, "We do not need your accommodation." It seems to me they have a legitimate complaint there in the way they have been treated and certainly it is very difficult to explain how NASS is operating at the moment. (Mr Blunkett) One of the reasons I have broadened the reviews and taken not a lot of time, four months from the general election, to come to conclusions is precisely to try and develop systems which work. I just want to put on record that I think staff at Croydon, Liverpool, Leeds and at the ports have been doing a sterling job, have been working often against the odds until very recently with limited resources which have been substantially reinforced. I have been down to the Kent ports - and the Hon Member for Dover is aware of my visit recently - and spent a lot of time with people in Croydon, and I have been impressed with how they have been struggling to work with those systems. I want to try and make sure, whether it is in relation to fraud or commissioning or in relation to relationships with both local government and local communities, that we get this right for the future. I hope what I have to say in the very near future will achieve the beginnings of that process. 52. Finally, on a slightly different tack, I have from my experience in my surgeries many constituents, women especially, who have married men from overseas, the marriage has subsequently broken down before indefinite leave has been granted and yet, not matter how many times I write to the Home Office, though I am I accept a third party, there is no information, there seems to be no action taken to pick these people up, take the action necessary to deport them because they have no right to stay here. That is not just for broken marriages, that is also for visitors or other people staying here illegally. It is my impression, Home Secretary, that there is a lack of will there to take the action which needs to be taken in many of these cases. (Mr Blunkett) As you know, the previous Home Secretary did take action against fraudulent marriages, marriages entered into on deception and where people were then going to disappear into the system, having got into the country or having come under false pretences. I am a constituency MP as well and naturally over the last 14 years I have had similar cases. I remember actually having a personal meeting with a junior minister in the Conservative Government way back in 1989. Let's hope it will not take another 12 years to be able to resolve some of these issues. Chairman: Can we turn to Channel Tunnel security, an issue close to the heart of Mr Prosser. Mr Prosser 53. Home Secretary, when you visited my Dover constituency in September, you made a number of announcements about increasing security measures on both sides of the Channel Tunnel, and I would like to ask you about progress. For instance, can you tell us how many new x-ray scanners will be placed on the French side of the Tunnel in Coquelles and when we expect them to be in full operation? (Mr Blunkett) As you know, we both commenced dual use of the Customs & Excise scanners and ordered five additional mobile scanners for the Kent ports together with the other measures I announced in terms of acoustic equipment (perhaps the simple way to call it is the heart beat equipment) and the thermal equipment. We have not yet reached agreement with the French on the x-ray scanners because they are going through the process we went through in terms of evaluating and consulting on whether it posed a risk, which it does not. So at the moment we have not actually got into activation scanners in France. 54. We have heard there are some problems with the vulnerability of the heart beat machines, which you have just mentioned, because of wind noises and background noises. Is there any improvement on solving those problems? (Mr Blunkett) As you will be aware more than I will, they need wind protection, ie they need to be enclosed in order to be able to get the best results out of them, which is why a multiplicity of scanning and detection equipment is necessary. I would also like to say that we have not abolished using sniffer dogs. Someone produced a report from some think-tank suggesting we had, and we have not. We are running all these various elements alongside each other at different entry points. The CO2 detection, the acoustic and the x-ray together, formed at different points of entry, I think are already proving to be a great success, so much so that the French Government is concerned that people are not getting through. 55. We will leave that hanging in the air. Compared with the other transport operatives, the ferries, would you say that Eurotunnel has been fully co-operative with the Government and would you describe their present level of security, which as you know has increased enormously over the last months, as robust, or do you think there is still lots of room for improvement? (Mr Blunkett) I would like to pay tribute to the work they have done and the co-operation that is now being shown and the investment which is taking place. You will forgive me for being extremely careful as to how eulogistic I am, because they still have an outstanding judicial review I think in relation to a penalty. I can say, and everyone will have noticed, there is much improved co-operation, not least because we have agreed to step up the number of officers of immigration at Coquelles, but we are co- operating with the development of their holding centre at Coquelles. We reached agreement when I went to see Daniel Vaillant, the Interior Minister, on 12 September that they would take much more decisive action in relation to prosecution. That was taking place in terms of entry into the Coquelles centre, and of course the joint ventures on screening at the holding centre outside Coquelles is beginning to work as well, so there is a great deal of credit to be given, and I would not want to take that away. 56. Finally, in terms of your discussions with your opposite number whom you have just mentioned, are there any other practical outcomes which come from those meetings? Are we now in a position to have the appropriate number of British immigration officers at Gare du Nord and Coquelles that we plan to have? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, the French have co-operated very well at Gare du Nord, and their legislation is going through in relation to ticketing to the French coast, which of course is important for being able to screen people. I think that is a very positive measure. In order to understand more fully the way the French see things, I have tried to put myself in the position of having very large numbers of people at the Kent coast all trying to get into France, with all the arrangements which have to be made for policing and security for local people and the way in which we would feel in our Parliament if we were having to legislate at the request of the French in relation to ticketing and juxtaposed immigration controls. I have come to the conclusion that we would have considerable difficulty. I am therefore pleased that there was a much more positive reaction from the French Interior Minister, that we agreed that we needed to take joint and EU action, both bilateral and EU action, in relation to the broader EU and extended EU boundaries, those seeking accession, that we needed to work together in the Western Balkans, and we now have people out there working on avoiding people trafficking. We need to step this up as part of EU-wide action, and one of the things we combined on, including with the French and Spanish as well as the German ministers at the Home Affairs Council on 20 September, was to agree the Commission should bring forward proposals reflecting the danger of large movements of people consequent on what is happening in Afghanistan and across its borders. Mr Prosser: Thank you very much. Bridget Prentice 57. Home Secretary, it seems to me that one of the reasons that we still have cases running on years after an application has been made is because nothing very much has been done to remove people. Even though they have been through the whole system, through the appeals system and whatever, there are still a large number of people who have not been removed and they have become fairly complacent that, having gone through all the hoops, they can still remain here. You have a service delivery agreement which is very ambitious, it seems to me, because I have grave doubts whether you can actually reach your targets. What do you think? (Mr Blunkett) Our manifesto and my statement when I was speaking in the House on the Queen's Speech at the end of June indicated that I believed it would be possible to reach 2,500 removals a month by the spring and 30,000 a year by a year after. I believe that can only be done if we take additional measures on top of the ones we have already instituted, including the new protocol with the police. I believe it will take more than that to achieve the goal and I want to address that as part of my statement on asylum. 58. So that 2,500 per month is spring 2002? (Mr Blunkett) I hope we will be able to reach that by the spring 2002. I realised within a week of taking over the reins of Home Secretary it was impossible to get from where we were then to where we wish to be more quickly than that. 59. Do you think that the extension of detention centres will help you in that? (Mr Blunkett) That is something we are addressing. We have a programme which is raising from 1,800 to a total of 2,800 the number of places available at the moment, something I wish to fit into a much broader programme. 60. On detention centres, you won your appeal on the Oakington case, although it is possible it may go for further appeal so I will not ask you to make any detailed comment on the case, but have you taken up anything that has been said in the course of the judgment which was made there, any changes which are likely to be made as a result of that judgment? (Mr Blunkett) Of course this is a historic challenge rather than a present day usage. We were very keen and very pleased indeed that the Appeal Court judges ruled unanimously in our favour. You are right in saying I have to be circumspect in view of the leave to appeal to the House of Lords. I think it is very important we always take note of judgments. The judiciary may be surprised to hear me say this so positively, but I do think it is very important that we listen and that we reflect on that policy. Oakington is of course a one-off, in the sense it provides on a seven-day holding basis the most sophisticated provision anywhere in Europe. So much so that I gather that when some elderly people were flooded out nearby earlier this week, they were accommodated in Oakington - I hope we will let them out in due course. It is a very different centre from those which I was describing a moment ago. 61. When do you think you will stop using prisons to accommodate asylum seekers? (Mr Blunkett) We gave a specific pledge in relation to Cardiff, where particular concerns were raised earlier in the year, that we would have those who had not committed a crime or been charged with a crime out by Christmas. I am, I repeat, now committing our staff to ensure we achieve that across the prison service by February. Mr Cameron 62. A factual question: how many asylum seekers are currently held in prison? (Mr Blunkett) There are approximately 900 but only 400-plus of those are in the category I have just described, namely there is no legal reason for holding them in prison, as opposed to other detention or secure facilities. 63. Can I take you back to the 30,000. I want to be absolutely clear, it was a pledge to remove 30,000 asylum seekers in 2001-02, you are now saying you might hit that run-rate next spring, 2002, but you are not going to hit the 30,000 target until 2002-03 and only then with extra measures? (Mr Blunkett) No, the pledge was 2003. It was in our manifesto. There was not a public service agreement either on this issue but there was an internal service agreement which was unattainable, and I have therefore adhered to the manifesto and to my statement on 27 June. Chairman 64. One should not be under any illusions, Home Secretary, about the difficulty of achieving that kind of target, should one? There will be a lot of personal tragedies involved in that as well, will there not? (Mr Blunkett) The difficulties are enormous. I think I made the point actually in the House in June that there would be considerable tears in terms of trying to reach that target, were we to be addressing long-standing, domiciled families. I have no illusions about this at all, and we will try and address those issues in the development of policy in a way which is both sensitive to that and is robust in terms of the signals that if people are not accorded the right to remain or given leave for long-term asylum status, refugee status, they will have to leave the country. 65. Where children are involved - and some of them will be very young children - I hope we are going to deal with this matter sensitively, are we? (Mr Blunkett) We have got to. I have to combine, as with so many Home Office policies, the right robust signals that achieve policy objectives with a sensitivity to treat people as human beings. Chairman: Thank you. Can we turn now to police reform. Janet Dean? Mrs Dean 66. Home Secretary, turning to police recruitment and retention, how well has police recruitment across the country gone so far this year, and has every force been able to recruit the numbers for which the Crime Fighting Fund money was granted? (Mr Blunkett) The Crime Fighting Fund has been a tremendous success and has helped us enormously to get to the 125,519 officers on the latest statistical count, and leads us to believe that we will be able within the next year to reach an all time high in terms of police numbers and by 2004 at the latest to get over 130,000 police officers in place. It has to be accompanied, of course, by the ability to retain those officers, and therefore avoiding seepage is a crucial part of the policy. 67. Are you satisfied with the current rates of retention? (Mr Blunkett) We are satisfied that there has been some substantial progress. There are difficulties in some parts of the country. London has a particular problem - and it was raised in the House yesterday afternoon - in terms of the way in which housing and other costs make it attractive for people to spend time learning the trade and then to move out. We need to continue the progress that was made by the former Home Secretary and the schemes worked out with the Department for Transport and Local Government to assist them in that and make sure that the supplements and supports available to them on top of the London allowance support that fact. 68. Finally, can you tell us what progress has been made in adjusting pension arrangements to encourage experienced police officers to remain in the force? (Mr Blunkett) Part of the police reform measures in the White Paper will have to address the issue of enabling police officers to be encouraged to stay on. Forgive me, if I do not pre-empt the White Paper at this stage. Angela Watkinson 69. Home Secretary, I notice that one of the possible elements in the police reform package is to have CIDofficers in uniform. Bearing in mind that the nature of their investigations often means that they must not be identifiable, has there been any consultation as yet with police forces on this matter? (Mr Blunkett) Yes there has. The decision of Sussex Constabulary was their own in terms of the changes that triggered an interesting set of headlines across the country. I am bedeviled, as all Home Secretaries have been, by, one, consultation behind the scenes ending up with pronouncements by those who do not like it publicly, and, two, individual initiatives being paraded as Government policy. I can, however, confirm that we are very keen to look at the best proportion of those in the CID at any one time being in uniform or in civilian dress. In other words, people might actually be able to come in and out of civilian dress. There might be no great problem in them sometimes donning uniforms for one particular need and being able to go into civvies for other activities. It does not appear to me to be a great revolutionary move but it does appear to engage people's imagination. I hope, therefore, that the consultation and the experiments in Sussex will enable us to get it right, that we need people in civvies when they are undertaking operations where it would be a commonsense approach to do so, but we do need visibility of policing and reassurance in our neighbourhoods and communities because quite a lot of the detection, the intelligence work can be undertaken as part of community policing and not merely by those who are not identified quite so visibly as policemen. 70. Is it your impression, Home Secretary, that many policemen regard patrolling the beat as a punishment rather than one of the basics of their profession? (Mr Blunkett) I made the point at the Superintendants' Conference in early September that it would be tragic if people were disciplined by being switched from DC to PC and, therefore, we should be able to promote the status and the rewards and future prospects of those who do a damn good job as community police officers. We need to develop that and to see intelligence gathering, reinforcement, preventative policing and community safety programmes as being something that is very worthwhile and is critical to overcoming anti-social behaviour and disorder, which are the main gripes of most of our constituents. 71. Do you think there is anything in the suggestion that sometimes the police are a little too keen on state-of-the-art technology where perhaps, instead of a helicopter, we could have 100 policemen on bicycles and that would be greater value for money? (Mr Blunkett) So long as they do not all ring their bells in quite the way the helicopter that comes over my house regularly in Sheffield disturbing people's nights' sleep, then I would be interested in how to do it. I think the two need to go hand-in-hand. We are developing technology for the appropriate purpose. The Airwave programme, the technology that can be used in the future to allow speed and effectiveness and coherence and security of the criminal justice information system to work from the moment of arrest, through charge, to prosecution would be very helpful. I think using technology inappropriately, as in other areas of our lives, uses an enormous amount of resource for very little return. I was joking but I do live quite close to an area in my own home city which has a particular problem with criminality and it is sometimes, as I wake up in the night, a moot point as to whether they had better get on with it or wake me up. That was a joke by the way! I am in favour of them. The heat sensors and all the rest of it are very effective. Mr Singh 72. Home Secretary, we all recognise the need for our police forces to be more representative of the communities that they serve and I think we all welcome the targets that the previous Home Secretary set for the recruitment of ethnic minority officers into the service. One of the problems with targets is people will say when they miss them "we did not have the turnover" or "we did not have the expansion in numbers". It seems to me that you are committed to expanding our crime-fighting personnel, if I can put it that way, to encompass all of it quite substantially and this is now a chance that may never come again in terms of increasing our recruitment of ethnic minority people into our crime fighting personnel. (Mr Blunkett) . Yes I think it is and some of the work that has been done in the Met and forces like Leicestershire to encourage recruitment of ethnic minorities in a wide range of the community is very encouraging. If the expansion of the civilian staff and support staff, the way in which we can develop the use of specials, and the way in which we can encourage people to come forward as full-time trained police officers can do that, I think we would all gain a great deal from it. It is back to the point you were raising with me earlier, if people have confidence and trust they are more likely to trust themselves to taking up the job. Mr Watson 73. Home Secretary, you mentioned special constables. What are you going to do with them? (Mr Blunkett) As you know, they are overseen, accredited and trained with the police so that they, unlike other members of the broader police family, the extended police family as we are now calling it, have the capacity to pick up some of the police powers because of that training and acreditation to be able to help both with reassurance and with tackling anti-social behaviour and disorder in our communities because if they are able to use those powers they have the authority and, what is more, the people committing those crimes and activities know they have got the authority to do so. I think if we can develop this as part of what I was describing earlier to my aggrieved Hon. Member for Colchester ---- Chairman 74. Who has now disappeared. (Mr Blunkett) Who has disappeared. Well, there we go. Thank you for clarifying his question, Chairman, it did help me a lot to answer it. That we would be able to make this part of the civic renewal agenda so that people would feel they were playing a part, getting the necessary credit as well as the professional training for it. I hope to be able to examine how we would provide them with the necessary expenses so they are not out of pocket in doing it. Mr Watson 75. You say you want to extend the powers that specials might yield. What reaction have you had from regular police about the proposals to extend the powers of special constables? (Mr Blunkett) The police service as a whole is very enthusiastic both about special constables and a third element, because there is the street or neighbourhood warden/traffic warden element, there is the specials and there is a third element which is being discussed in the Metropolitan Police Authority which is - I do not like the term - something like auxiliaries who have a very specific task. Unlike the specials they would be full-time paid workers but with a very specific and targeted role, accredited with that role. This means that instead of seeing the agenda as being full-time police officers or nothing, fearful that if we are recruiting others to the extended police family we are inevitably going to pull back on full-time police recruitment, we can recruit the numbers I described earlier and extend the different layers of the family in a way which will provide us with a presence on the streets, reassurance, key targeting, for instance where there are major problems and pressure on the police, perhaps on a Friday and Saturday evening where enormous numbers of police personnel are utilised displacing the time that they would be able to spend, not just then but at other times of the week, on policing and crime reduction programmes, and enable them to back up, so you can have a mixture of full-time police together with other members of this extended programme. That seems to me to be the best of both worlds. 76. Thank you. If I can take you on from what is broadly front line policing and perhaps look at the future management of the police. Under the current climate and circumstances do you think there could ever be a case for a national police service or at least a rationalisation of the current 43 police forces? (Mr Blunkett) There has been a continuing debate about rationalisation, whether there should be a regionalisation or something akin to it. My own concern at the moment about that is that it is likely to divert from, dislocate, reforms relating to uniformity and getting rid of the great disparity in performance, in standards on the ground, in detection and conviction rates, in areas of sickness absenteeism or sickness early retirement that I would rather concentrate on at the moment. This debate presumably is not going to go away. I think that the idea of having a national police force is not one that would be welcomed in many quarters, therefore ensuring that we have clarity of direction, that we have a standards unit that can work alongside the Inspectorate of Constabulary and do that job better in terms of achieving that comparable standard of delivery, is more important than getting involved in an esoteric argument which would lead us nowhere. 77. If I could just focus on that clarity of direction. Do you think that one of the problems is accountability of chief police officers? Do you think they are accountable enough to police authorities or perhaps that they should be accountable to a national police authority? (Mr Blunkett) There is a very specific remit for the police authority in relation to what the chief constable should be held to account about. What I would like to see is a much broader definition of accountability so that the very positive development of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and other community safety measures can be made accountable more broadly to the public so that people can feel what is happening and be part of it. The police authorities are submitting their own thoughts in relation to the White Paper and the Police Reform Agenda. I do honestly say that if there are things that the Select Committee collectively or as individuals would like to submit to us that would be very welcome because this is an issue for us all, not just for ministers to decide and others to criticise. 78. Perhaps one of the problems we see with the 43 police forces is that they all introduce 43 IT systems and 43 communication technologies. Do you see a role for you, or the Home Office, taking greater powers to ensure that there is a compatible technology and communication system across all forces? (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I do. I think both through the Police National Computer development, the airwave development piloted in Lancashire, the way in which we are now taking hold of, with the Lord Chancellor's office, direction of the information technology systems across the criminal justice system as a whole, we can make them workable, effective and coherent. 79. Just one final question, Home Secretary. The Lord Chancellor's Department have recently been monitoring why court cases in the magistrate's courts fail to take place on the day that they are planned and they found that literally thousands of cases in a year fail on that day because the police expert witness fails to turn up. Have you any plans to try to put pressure on chief constables to make sure that they turn up at the time that they are allotted? (Mr Blunkett) I am tickled by the fact that I am able to say that it is not just ministers who engage in spin. I read in the Sunday papers that you were going to ask me this question so I thought I had better do a bit of work on it. I am aware of the review, although of course it has not been published so I congratulate you on your sources of information. 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, that was last year just 463. Two quick questions. One, are you going to give us some specific pledges on the numbers and 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 four 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 very, very 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 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. Chairman 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 their 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. Chairman 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 in that way but is there not a difficulty there when you see the small few thousands of pounds pay outs 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. We have just done a survey which showed that 67 per cent, two-thirds of all applicants, were 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? Chairman 99. You are doing fine, Home Secretary. (Mr Blunkett) Good. The answer is that about a third of police officers responded. David Winnick 100. I see. Is anything being done to try to progress that to the extent that there will be a much larger response than one-third? (Mr Blunkett) Yes. I am reviewing it but I am not going to make decisions at the moment because of the workload that I have. 101. It is encouraging that you will be reviewing it, Home Secretary. Could you just clarify this point. I have asked about the existing members of the police force, however those who have successfully applied to join the police force in the first instance, is it a condition of their joining that they disclose whether or not they are a Freemason? (Mr Blunkett) No, it is not, but I am very happy to consider the issue within the review that you have just eked out of me. Chairman 102. Am I right in thinking that you have the lead across Government for the policy on openness as regards Freemasonry? (Mr Blunkett) If I have then it is news to me because I have got enough cross-Government policies to last me a lifetime. If I have I will come back to you on that and let you know because if I have I will suitably adopt my responsibilities. 103. The reason why I mention that is that during my brief visit to Government at the DETR we were told to delay our plans as regards, for example, planning inspectors because the Home Office had the lead and they would be in touch shortly. That was about a year ago. (Mr Blunkett) Well everyone seems to have their own definition of what "shortly" means, Chairman. As far as I am concerned, shortly does mean slightly less than a year but I am sure no-one intended to mislead. I will find out and let you know. I knew that at the end of a couple of hours there would be one or two googlies when you were feeling particularly low. God bless you. 104. Thank you, Home Secretary. God bless you too. If you would send us a note about that, that would resolve that. Can I thank you for answering questions across the full range of your enormous brief with your customary patience and good humour and say we look forward to seeing you again. (Mr Blunkett) Thank you very much, Chairman.