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20 Nov 2002 : Column 662—continued

Mr. Bercow : What consideration has the Home Secretary given to the applicability to the debate on the European arrest warrant of the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol of the treaty of Amsterdam?

Mr. Blunkett: I think of nothing else. I have had difficulty sleeping recently, and now I know why. I am a great believer in subsidiarity in all its guises, which is why I want to refer briefly to the issue of neighbourhood policing, which was raised by the right hon. Member for West Dorset.

This is an interesting point. When I asked Bill Bratton to come across in January this year—he is the former New York police commissioner, who is now doing his bit in Los Angeles—I asked the chief constables to come along. I did so because I recognised that we would all want to embrace the kind of community policing that was successful in New York, and I said so when, a month after that, I had an interesting meeting with former Mayor Giuliani in this House. I was very pleased to be joined by the official Opposition, who shortly afterwards embraced the principles behind New York policing. I was pleased that we all agreed.

However, I cannot understand how I am supposed to dictate to chief constables the precise nature of their policing operations and the balance between intelligence-led policing and community neighbourhood policing while doing what the Opposition suggest. For example, the Police Reform Act 2002 was bitterly opposed some of, if not all, the time, although things sometimes changed from beginning to end. That legislation contained proposals about the links between community support officers and the people on the street and street wardens and about the need to reward those at the sharp end more through the new prioritisation and reward system. I sometimes ask myself a question, but let me ask everyone else; otherwise I shall lose them and they will fall asleep, and I will be left thinking of the question of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) about subsidiarity.

Mr. George Howarth: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I will give way to my hon. Friend in a second. I just want to ask the House how I am supposed to order chief constables to introduce universal neighbourhood community policing and, at the same time, lay my hands off them so that they have operational responsibility.

Mr. Howarth rose—

Mr. Letwin rose—

Mr. Blunkett: Ah. With the forbearance of my hon. Friend, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, because I am fascinated to hear his answer.

Mr. Letwin: What is most interesting about the Home Secretary's remarks is how much they tell us about the

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way in which his mind works. He assumes automatically that, if we call for neighbourhood policing, we believe that the only way that it can be imposed is from on top. Has he considered the possibility that one might construct arrangements that would enable local populations to have an effect on whether they were properly policed?

Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with that, and I said so to the police authorities conference this morning. However, the amendment that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have tabled blames the Government for not acting. It does not blame the chief constables, the police authorities or the failure to set up sufficient pressure groups at neighbourhood level. Incidentally, we agree on the need to fund neighbourhood watch and to vitalise communities. We agree on the civil agenda, but the amendment blames the Government. If I am to take the blame, I want to know what mechanisms to avoid the blame the right hon. Gentleman would give me. Then I will do my best, because I am sensitive to these matters to the point of bleeding when I am cut.

Mr. Letwin rose—

Mr. Blunkett: Don't make me bleed any more.

Mr. Letwin: I would not dream of asking the Home Secretary to bleed. However, has he considered it possible that it is the Government's responsibility to create structures that enable local communities in this country effectively to influence how they are policed as they can in the United States? The Government have not come forward with any such measures.

Mr. Blunkett: The national policing plan aims to do just that. It aims to ensure that, within the overall framework, the objectives are laid down at local level and that there is proper accountability as well as responsibility for operational policing at local level. We would welcome any suggestions that would strengthen the plan, because I am strongly in favour of that. I want to ensure that we in South Yorkshire do as well on street crime as the West Midlands or the Met. I look forward to South Yorkshire doing that.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) rose—

Mr. George Howarth rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) because he has shown incredible forbearance.

Mr. Howarth: Absolutely. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the truly surreal experience is to listen to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who manages in the course of one speech to disagree with himself on at least three occasions? When my right hon. Friend reflects on the specific contents of his Bills, will he take note of the remarks of the chief constable of Merseyside, Mr. Norman Bettison, who, in welcoming

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the extension of the fixed-penalties scheme, has suggested that it might be beneficial to my constituents if it could be extended to cover juveniles as well?

Mr. Blunkett: The chief constable has a good point. We should consider doing that. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), to produce proposals on that basis. That chief constable has won that argument.

In publishing the national policing plan with my right hon. Friend today, I realise that it can be attacked in two ways. One line of attack is to argue that the plan says too much and asks too much of people—in other words, that it has too many priorities. The other line of attack is to argue that it leaves things out. Given that people from similar organisations and, indeed, from the same organisations have made both criticisms, I am somewhat heartened by what we have achieved.

Kali Mountford: My right hon. Friend will recall that he visited my constituency recently. I am interested to discover what he learned from that visit because I observed the appropriateness of policing to particular communities. Policing works best when communities are supported by the chief constable and the divisional commander and when the police are supported by the community so that they work together to find the right partnership to make policing work. The police and the community in that area are as one in tackling crime, which is why there has been only one robbery in it in the past five years.

Mr. Blunkett: I was pleased to see that when I visited my hon. Friend's constituency at the end of September. In particular, I was struck by the mobilisation of the community. I think that the community constable had recruited 18 specials. I was most impressed by a young woman—I think she was called Donna—who gave about 20 hours a week of voluntary commitment, and she made a hell of a difference. We are all agreed on that type of policing.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the national policing plan objectives do not displace local policing objectives? We thought that we had won the argument on rural policing a couple of years ago, only to find that by emphasising street crime in cities, the national policing plan countermanded the previous emphasis on rural crime. Notwithstanding today's good news on the continuation of funding, is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that his plans do not tie chief constables' hands?

Mr. Blunkett: There are differences within force areas. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is aggrieved because we have given his force substantial resources to take cognisance of street crime and all that goes with it, which means concentrating on Bristol. Within the overall resource allocation for street crime, and the requirement of 10 forces to give priority to tackling that scourge, force areas will need to reprioritise other activities. The national policing plan at a local level expects the force

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to do that. Forces are asked to draw up their own plans, including clear objectives and priorities, and I hope that they will do that. But make no mistake about it: when we lay out in the plan that antisocial behaviour and disorder should be taken a great deal more seriously by forces than they have been, whose hands are going up in disagreement? Who will go back to their constituents and say that the drive by the Government across Departments and agencies, pulling together in a new Bill measures that all of us would sign up to, is wrong?

Before I touch on the wider measures in the Queen's Speech, let me explain why the Opposition are wrong to suggest that individual measures introduced over the past five and a half years do not make a difference. Yes, antisocial behaviour orders did not work as envisaged. That is why we have changed them, and I will change them again if I have to. However, more than 650 have been made.

Let us consider other initiatives that have been disparaged. There have been more than 9,000 drug treatment and testing orders, more than 2,100 intensive supervision and surveillance orders, more than 12,000 reparation orders and more than 14,000 action plan orders. There have also been more than 7,000 detention and training orders, almost 2,000 electronically monitored curfew orders, more than 6,500 referral orders and more than 1,770 parenting orders. Those measures were disparaged, but they have made a difference to people's lives and to communities.

The measures that will we introduce on antisocial behaviour and on local co-ordination and partnership working will be made to work. They will alleviate the scourge of antisocial behaviour, which causes problems not only because of its immediate impact but because, as most people now agree, when young people in particular get the idea that they can cock a snook at the police and get away with anything, they will not only carry on with what they are doing but grow into more serious crime.

Of course we need preventive measures. By 2005, the end of the spending review period, we will be spending #450 million on the activities of the Youth Justice Board alone, which is a massive increase, 100 per cent., since its establishment in 2000. By the end of the review we will also be spending 50 per cent. more on prison places, and there are already 13,000 more places. By the end of that period we will also be spending 80 per cent. more on the probation service. We have recruited 2,000 extra probation officers since the inception of the national probation service.

We have a tremendous way to go, but the real obstacle is the end-to-end review of the criminal justice system. Yes, the system is failing. Some #80 million is wasted on failed, cracked or postponed trials and 40 per cent. of witnesses are unable to give evidence the first time they attend court. There is a failure in my Department to get prisoners to court on time, which delays or postpones cases. The collation and presentation of evidence from the police and the Crown Prosecution Service does not work. The management of court listings, with its overbookings, does not work. The way in which some lawyers play the system makes XBleak House" read like a fairy tale. We should and must slim down the wasted cost orders arising from the 30,000 cases that are postponed each year so that we can ensure that those

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orders are imposed and that the Legal Services Commission backs them up. We have to tackle the way in which people defend vested interests.

When I spoke at the Law Society's annual conference, I asked it to join us in finding a way forward. It has responded and is prepared to take up the challenge. I now challenge the Bar Council to do the same. It is no good people dragging themselves out of mediaeval England only to find that they have reached Tudor England. We need to be in the 21st century, where DNA, technical devices, electronic activity and all the methodology of a modern policing system are at our disposal. The criminal justice system and the judiciary must respond to that.

I do not attack the judiciary; I merely ask it to respond to the will of the people. We will shortly get a House of Lords judgment in the Anderson case. No one has to fear a democratically elected Parliament that exercises the will of the people in ensuring that the punishment not only fits the crime but sends signals to those who would commit the crime and allows us the space to have a correctional service that responds in a way that avoids reoffending.

Everyone fears that Parliament's failure to intervene, to be accountable and to exercise the authority to respond to the public will discredit democracy and will encourage those who want to turn against the system of government and the process that the judiciary undertakes independently on behalf of the people. We speak, and we are responsible and accountable to the people; it speaks, and is independent of the political process. In doing so, it needs to take account of the fact that in a democracy the two balancing factors have to go hand in hand. The balances and checks in our constitution must not be shifted to the point where the discrediting and the undermining of the legitimacy of our country's democratic Parliament leads others to hold it in disdain.

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