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13 Jan 2003 : Column 426—continued

Mr. Allen rose—

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) rose—

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), as I have yet to do so.

Mr. Llwyd: I am much obliged to the Home Secretary, and I am listening carefully to what he has to say. A moment ago, he said that good rehabilitation is vital and he is absolutely right, but what would be his advice to sentencers in Wales, where there are fewer than 40 rehabilitation beds throughout the country?

Mr. Blunkett: We should join together in the variety of funding streams and constitutional responsibilities that lie between Westminster and the Assembly in Wales, not merely in terms of those directly engaged in rehabilitation, but—as the shadow Home Secretary correctly said—in terms of investment in drug treatment and rehabilitation. Common ground would exist there, as it would on a number of the issues that we debated on 4 December, on which we were at one.

Mr. Allen: I thank my right hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way again. Normally the House does what the Government of the day decide. If the Floor makes the decision, it will in effect be the Home Secretary who has the power to make changes to sentencing. He talks about mulling this over; I hope that he will also Xmullin" it over with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. There are ways of involving the House other than the Floor, which is often in the pocket of the Executive. Involving the Select Committee might be a way for Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary to decide on a sentencing policy that will command public support and consensus.

Mr. Blunkett: I reaffirm that I am certainly in nobody's pocket, and will remain that way for as long as possible. I remember responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) on this point. I am very sympathetic to the idea of the Select Committee taking a powerful role in this area, and I think that we are moving towards a consensus.

To give the rest of the House the chance to debate this, let me deal quickly with the two central issues raised by the right hon. Member for West Dorset, the first of

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which concerned community policing. It was a year ago, almost to the day, that I asked Bill Braddon, the former commissioner for police in New York, now in Los Angeles, to speak to the second of the major meetings of all chief constables and police authorities that I had called in London. Bill Braddon spelled out his view of community policing and how we need to tackle antisocial behaviour so that we send the right signals to those who would otherwise grow into organised crime and therefore violent and, eventually, gun crime. In his view, we needed to ensure that the police were on the street, that they used the variation of the comstat system being developed in a number of police authorities in Britain, and that not only should we increase police numbers, we should consider, as the New York police did, integrating different elements of policing. That is why we were in favour of community support officers.

All those things we have done. The 5,000 extra police officers whom I expect to have, over and above those we inherited, by later this year, the commitment that I have made for another 2,500 on top of the commitment for another 130,000 police officers for this time next year are not only articles of good faith but represent the reality of increased police officers available on the beat. The O'Dowd report on slimming down bureaucracy, the massive cut that we have already made in the amount of paperwork, the XDiary of a Police Officer" and the 400 examples drawn from it, which led to the O'Dowd report, are all examples of removing unnecessary paperwork and data collection. However, data collection still needs to exist. Understanding how we operate intelligence policing and the Comstat system depends on having the information in the first place. New technology, our investment in the new airwave system, people's ability to communicate adequately and quickly and forensic science all make a difference if—and this is the real issue—the chief constable and the immediate command are prepared to take on the challenge.

There is a second difficulty with people saying that they want to be independent of Government in one breath and the tools of Government in the next. The difficulty that we have with the judiciary is mirrored by the police. Everyone, it appears, wants the police to be independent of Government, particularly the Home Office. Opposition Members speak about it all the time—they reiterated it this afternoon. They want the Home Office to be hands-off. They criticise the development of a standards unit. They criticise the direction that we give in the national policing plan. They criticise prioritisation, which includes everything that has been spoken about both today and at Home Office questions and over and over in debate. They cheer when chief constables have a go, as they did when the right hon. Member for West Dorset mentioned Chris Fox, incoming chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Let me quote what Chris Fox said so that we may all understand just what the position is and so that we are not total hypocrites. He said that new laws allow me to send in Xhit squads", and that I have set a growing list of priorities for chiefs to concentrate on. He added:

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I have read that out only because I want to reassure the Labour party in the weeks ahead that it at last has a Xrevolutionary state" at its disposal.

What people really want is a police force that responds precisely to the priorities seen and felt by every Member of the House, irrespective of political party. They want antisocial behaviour to be clamped down on. They want a feeling of respect and safety on the street. They want their homes to be safe. They want the police to tackle burglary and to investigate wherever there is any evidence that can be followed up.

As it happens, that is what the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis had in mind on 2 December when, independently from the Home Office and without interference from Ministers, he prioritised after an experiment in two boroughs. In one of those boroughs, the conviction rate for burglary increased by 21 per cent. Should I interfere? Should I tell him to reissue the guidance that he sent out on 2 December? The House cannot have it both ways. It cannot be that passing legislation is interference. It cannot be that issuing guidelines, creating a national policing plan and asking local police authorities to engage with chief constables on real prioritisation on behalf of the community are all considered to be interference, while Opposition Members demand in the next breath that I introduce community policing, order police on to the streets and change the policing priorities of chief constables. They cannot have it both ways.

Nor can the Opposition have it both ways on the second of the priorities set out by the right hon. Member for West Dorset. We cannot invest in getting young people back into work through the new deal and then condemn it and say that there would not have been the funding for it. We cannot have a Youth Justice Board and then say that we would pull the money out. We cannot say that we would cut public spending, then demand more and more public spending, including #500 million on top of what we have announced, which, before Christmas, the right hon. Gentleman said he would invest in drug treatment. I do not know where he is going to get that money.

Mr. Letwin: Not on top, but instead of.

Mr. Blunkett: Instead of what?

Mr. Letwin rose—

Mr. Blunkett: Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that we should go back to having fewer police, as was happening in 1997 when we came into office? There were no community support officers, street wardens had been condemned, there was lower investment in probation in the community and less investment in prisons. That is what was happening. We will have 3,500 more prison places on stream by the end of this year than we did last spring when it was announced in the Budget that we had

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extra money. All that has cost us, but it would cost the public dear if we did not do it. Let us stop the hypocrisy—

Mr. Letwin: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Blunkett: Well done. That was just like Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday afternoon in that the right hon. Gentleman almost got me offside.

Mr. Letwin: I am delighted. Before the right hon. Gentleman works himself up into too much of a lather, let me tell him that I shall argue in the next debate this evening that the Government's spending on getting people into contact with about 236,000 treatment agencies is heavily misconceived. That money should be used in the way that we have described. That would happen to cost less rather than more, and we would be able to spend even more than we want to without exceeding the right hon. Gentleman's budget for drugs.

Mr. Blunkett: I am just as cheered by that intervention as I was on Saturday afternoon when Sheffield Wednesday was losing 2-0 but won 3-2, with a brilliant goal to put us into the lead.

The right hon. Gentleman has not taken us any further forward so my diatribe will continue: more police; more community support officers; more street wardens; more prison places; more investment in probation; the Youth Justice Board doing the job we asked of it; and above all a changing culture and climate. That change involves parents and families and a different atmosphere in schools; it involves hope for young people, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, spelled out today with reference to the Xsplash" schemes that we introduced last summer and our investment in prevention and diversion.

We are ensuring that there is an understanding between the Government and the independent judiciary and that the messages are clear and that they really count: if people commit violent, dangerous sexual offences, are repeat offenders, cause havoc or fail to avoid reoffending, they will go to prison. First-time offenders will be given a chance, which will be backed up by support to repair the damage so that they can put themselves on the straight and narrow.

We want to get the message across: tough where we have to be and common sense where it is needed. We need a stop to the contradictions and, yes, the sneering coming from the Opposition. We need to get rid of hypocrisy and in its place send everyone the clear message that we are getting tough on crime, and that we will not get knocked off course by silly suggestions that thought-through policies are knee-jerk reactions because someone has not read about them in Hansard or has not checked their computer to find out what was said. The policies are sensible and address the needs of the British people so that there will be a reduction in crime and common sense will prevail.

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