Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
MP, BEVERLEY HUGHES
MP AND MR
11 SEPTEMBER 2003
Q40 Mr Clappison: I think many people
would agree with that. It is very important that those who are
brought to justice receive a sentence which enables them to cease
offending in the future. The issues which you have mentioned are
long running issues in the criminal justice system and the fact
remains that, if only 10% are brought to justice and can therefore
have the sort of treatment which you refer to, that is a pretty
dismal statistic which the public find unacceptable.
Mr Blunkett: Yes, it is. I think
it is a good thing that gradually detection rates are starting
to come back up from a very low level. It is good that the procedures
of the police and the handling of the courts have improved. It
is good that the information technology has allowed for that to
be done in a much speedier fashion so that, for instance, the
number of juveniles being in a position of waiting undue lengths
of time, again witnesses falling out of the picture, people believing
they can get away with it, has been turned around largely so that
the 142 days was, on the last statistic, 63 days, which I think
is a very substantial improvement. These are all small parts of
a much bigger jigsaw. They do not in themselves transform the
system but if it is going in the right direction it is our job
to accelerate it.
Q41 Mr Clappison: The street crime
initiative did lead to a fall in street crime in the ten areas
concerned in the first six months. That was followed by a levelling
off. Can you tell us what the latest position is and has the situation
improved or worsened since December 2002?
Mr Blunkett: Over the year it
was a 17% reduction which is over 17,000 fewer offences. These
are real people who are no longer being mugged, thieved from,
and having their lives made a misery on the street. I think it
has changed the reaction. If you look back 18 months, there were
almost daily in our papers, certainly every other day on our televisions,
stories about street crime rising, about the fear of people on
the streets, some people feeling that they had to go and live
somewhere else. I am very proud that we have turned that round.
I am very pleased that the major forces have shown such a massive
improvement. I am also very encouraged by the fact that we use
this as a learning process. We learned about how to put the criminal
justice system together in a much more effective way at local
level and we are building on that with the local criminal justice
boards. Out of that has come an entirely different approach of
working together between those agencies. There is still some work
to be done on it and we cannot do it all. I draw attention to
the difficulty for us in terms of centralism versus localism.
It is right that the Government should not pretend that it can
do everything. It is right that government should provide the
investment, set the parameters, enable people to have the power,
but what does the Government do when, having put those things
in place, they take their foot off the accelerator and you then
have a reverse of the trend of improvement? That certainly was
something I was very mindful of when I was Education Secretary.
I want to try and do the same here, to learn the lesson that you
have to embed it at local level if it is to work.
Q42 Mr Clappison: In the light of
that can I put specifically part of the original question again?
Has the situation improved or worsened since December of last
Mr Blunkett: It has improved in
the major areas. It has also improved in those forces, like my
own in South Yorkshire, that were struggling in the first six
months and are now doing a great deal better. There are still
very major challenges. We have to rely on not just the force leaders
but the police authorities and the other partners in the criminal
justice system to be prepared to do their bit. If we can establish
the right level of accountability so that I and my ministers are
held to account for what is rightly ours and those at local level
are held to account for what is rightly theirs, we would have
a much better debate and we could then address the issue of whether
there is more we could do to spread this practice and how more
effectively to do that.
Q43 Mr Clappison: So that we can
look at all the various things you have described and whether
they are successful or not, can you tell us if you are going to
have a target to reduce street crime further?
Mr Blunkett: I have indicated
that we should have local level targets. We have asked in relation
to each authority, each force area, in terms of what they have
already achieved, for them to set those targets. They have been
very effective in responding to that and providing that back to
us. We hope to hold them to account for matching that.
Q44 Miss Widdecombe: I wanted to
ask a little more about the initiatives against drugs. Everybody
would welcome the crack house changes and the efforts which are
being made, but I put it to you that the real problem with the
supply of drugs is simply its sheer proliferation. Everybody knows
what is happening, for example, when you get a house on a council
estate and you have people coming and going all day long. Everybody
knows what is happening when a car drives up to a kerb and people
come out of doorways, gather round and it drives off. Similarly,
any taxi driver can point out places in London and say to you,
"That guy there is a regular drug dealer." They always
add that the police are not doing anything about it. That is the
area of supply which is extremely difficult to combat because
it involves, I am always assured by the police, surveillance in
order to get the necessary evidence. You cannot simply say, "We
know what is happening"; you have to supply evidence. It
is that area where there appears to be very little real grip being
taken. What is your view on that and what do you think the police
Mr Blunkett: We need to empower
the police to be more effective. We also need to spread the best
and most effective practice. I do not believe that I can or should
be able to order a Chief Constable to adopt a particular method
that I want, but I think it is my duty through the Standards Unit
and the Inspectorate to ensure that they follow the best practice
available, including the use of CCTV for surveillance, mobile
CCTV, including the use of professional witnesses, including the
way in which they can support, encourage and protect community
witnesses who are often intimidated when they come forward with
evidence in relation to this; and to change the law so that where
intimidation exists when the court case is taking place we can
protect people by ensuring that, where in appropriate circumstances
those threats exist, we can have judge only trials. By doing that
we can assist the police in doing their job. I do not dispute
for a moment the scenario that you have painted because it happens
day in, day out, in my own constituency.
Q45 Mr Clappison: Another very serious
criminal issue is gun crime, which is a great concern particularly
in some inner city parts of the country. What are your thoughts
on why this phenomenon has arisen? How are you tackling it?
Mr Blunkett: Again, this is linked
to drugs, to organised criminality. It has often been described,
on numerous occasions, as imported as part of the organised gangs.
We established a round table discussion with the partners last
January. It has met twice since and there will be another meeting
before Christmas. We set up the voluntary body with representatives
of those communities most affected. We funded that organisation
to be able to take forward what has to be a change in attitude
and culture so that the communities most affected become part
of the solution. I am very proud that many of those in the black
community in Britain, particularly in London where Operation Trident
has been reasonably successful, have embraced the idea that they
have to be part of this solution, because it is often their sons
and daughters who are the victims. I think we need to work alongside
them, increasing the diversity within the police force itself.
I am addressing the National Black Police Association in two weeks'
time and their concern is that we have made progress in recruitment
but we need retention and promotion within the ranks so that people
feel confident to go to the police, to work with the police, to
be partners alongside the police. Of course we can do some things.
We had the gun amnesty which some people were quite sceptical
about. We had 43,000 weapons handed in, which is a greater number
than after Hungerford and after the tragedy at Dunblane. It was
a very substantial success. All these things begin to change the
climate and build confidence.
Q46 Mr Clappison: Amongst the factors
possibly driving this is the connection between gun crime and
violent lyrics in rap music. Have you any thoughts you wish to
share with us about that?
Mr Blunkett: I was entertained
by the debate following my ministerial colleague, Kim Howells,
in terms of whether this was a problem. I think that the nature
of communication is geared to the receptiveness of young people.
It is not the rap itself that is the problem; it is those who
are conveying dangerous messages through rap. That is why I welcome
people like Charles Bailey who are using rap, encouraging young
people and young musicians to use rap, as a force for good. I
have come to realise, having occasionally on a lonely evening
when I have run out of patience with doing the box switched into
Radio 1 for about 90 seconds at any one time, how powerful rap
Q47 Chairman: I wonder if you could
describe for us the ministerial responsibilities at present for
counter-terrorism work and for work in protection against chemical,
biological and radiological attack?
Mr Blunkett: I hold overall responsibility,
combining the necessary responsibilities and accountability for
the Security Service, which is unique in terms of developed democracies,
the police service, including the counter terror unit of the Met
Police and the Special Branch across the country, with the programme
of resilience. Beverley Hughes, who was appointed at the last
reshuffle as the Minister responsible for working directly to
me on this, takes specific responsibility with me for the resilience
areas. Between us, we work with other colleagues who have a specific
remit, as with the pilot we had last Sunday on the underground
where the Department of Transport were clearly intricately involved
and where responsibilities lay there and with the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister, where the Fire Brigade were involved and
of course the Department of Health in relation to the ambulance
and health services.
Q48 Chairman: If things had gone
badly wrong with the exercise on Sunday and it was apparent that
preparations were inadequate which minister would clearly have
been responsible for that failure?
Mr Blunkett: I would have been.
Those elements that have been shown to have gone wrong would have
been held to account by me and through to the Prime Minister for
putting them right. The point of the exercise was to reveal not
only where there may have been weaknesses but also to actually
show how a more extensive exercise needed to be conducted and
what additional resources would be required.
Q49 Chairman: The Permanent Secretary
who is responsible for co-ordinating the areas of work you describe,
or many of them, is not in the Home Office, do you think given
the responsibilities that you have just accepted you have adequate
control over it? Is there adequate accountability to yourself?
Mr Blunkett: Let me put in to
two guises. First of all John Gieve has responsibility with me
for reporting to the Prime Minister on the Security Service, the
police and the Special Branch and it is important to emphasise
that because they are the first line in terms of intelligence
and security measures, which are the most critical part of protecting
us. At present we are in a Northern Ireland situation. Secondly,
they have to respond with me to the Cabinet committee dealing
with the funding and the prioritisation for counter-terrorism,
and as I Chair that, then obviously my Department is integrally
involved in that through the TPU, the Terrorism Protection Unit.
On the resilience side, yes, Sir David Omand has responsibility,
and this was established when there was a change of structure
in 2001 prior to 11 September attack. It was at that point on
11 September when people I think were brought up short we realised
that we were not talking about traditional civil contingencies,
which we presumed would be flood and fire and occasional acts
of God, but we were talking about counter-terror and the organisation
round it. Only at that point did we really begin to get our act
together and it did take quite a long time to develop the internal
structures that ensure David Ellman had the clear authority across
Government, the twelve strands that were developed in terms of
the Resilience Programme were in place and there was clear reporting
mechanisms, including today, as it happens, Sir David Omand reporting
to Beverley Hughes. Inevitably we took time, not as much time
as it took, it has to be said, to set up the Homeland Security
Department of which I am familiar because I have met Tom Ridge
many times, including in Washington in March, and I know of the
many difficulties they have experienced inevitably in setting
up something from scratch.
Q50 Chairman: Can I turn to border
control? This Committee have been interested in border control
and recommended that all of the border control agencies should
be combined into a single frontier force. You yourself told the
House on 3 July that there is a strong difference of opinion,
including that between the police and others, as to whether a
unified border control taking in Special Branch, Immigration Control,
Customs & Excise, et cetera would be more or less effective.
Can you say more about what those differences of opinion are or
have they now been resolved? Can you tell us clearly whether we
are going to have a unified border control system or whether the
balance and advantage, in your view, lies with the separate organisations
cooperating together, as they may or may not do at the moment?
Mr Blunkett: Before I do that
can I just say I do want to make an offer this afternoon to the
Home Affairs Select Committee that on the resilience and counter-terror
front, and obviously because it relates to this in its broadest
sense, the protection of borders, I am very happy for the Committee
to be briefed by officials in private. I am very keen that other
committees of the House should not believe they alone are able
to draw down on the expertise that exists, and I welcome you doing
that. We have already had two investigations, firstly in relation
to taking a look at the organisation of the Special Branch and
secondly in establishing a co-ordinator for border protection,
who started last January. Since then the Prime Minister has decided,
in my view very correctly, to establish a Cabinet committee which
will endeavour to pull together the various strands of border
control and of organised crime, because the two go hand-in-hand.
My own view is that there will have to be change. We have not
yet agreed that change. There will be further meetings before
the end of the month on this. We will have to square the circle
of those who believe that their activity is integral to their
wider work. The Kent Police believe that their Special Branch
activity on the issues of border control and immigration are crucial
to their wider role and should be integrated. We want to ensure
that we do not lose that. We want a more cohesive structure so
that the objective is matched by the structure rather than the
other way round, we do not want to set up something which works
on paper but does not actually work in practice. I am very sympathetic
in trying to ensure that where there are glitches we iron them
out and make sure that people not only feel but know that people
are working in tandem.
Q51 Chairman: Can I take it from
your answer that this is now being approached with some urgency?
Mr Blunkett: Yes, you can. I hope
with the review of other agencies and the way they are working
we can get this right. We are dealing with a whole range of agencies
here from Her Majesty's Customs & Excise to the National Crime
Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Special
Branch policing, even down to those actually chugging up and down
our coasts who often do not get into the picture, including the
Chairman: Thank you. That is helpful,
as is your offer of briefing the Committee.
Q52 David Winnick: Is it not important,
Home Secretary, that the Anti-terrorism Act 2000 should be used
for combatting terrorism and not for dealing with demonstrators
who appear to have absolutely no relationship with terrorism at
Mr Blunkett: I think if people
display no discernible threat of terrorism and there is no belief
they are in any way to be concerned with terrorism then we should
use Public Order legislation.
Q53 David Winnick: In which case
why is it that those who were demonstrating, and surely they had
every right to demonstrate, at the Arms Fair were in fact being
faced with police who were using anti-terrorism legislation?
Mr Blunkett: We distinguish between
those who do pose a threat beyond public order and those who do
Q54 David Winnick: Are you justifying
what the police were doing?
Mr Blunkett: Actually we need
to be very clear about this, it is not my role to justify what
they have done, it is my role to request from them and to hold
them to account if they get it wrong which is why I have asked
them to report to me quickly on the use of Section 44. Initial
findings overnight indicate that two non-British nationals were
picked up and that the police believed that they were justified
in doing so under the Terrorism Act and under Section 44. I need
to know whether other people on whom the Act was applied were
justified as opposed to public order.
Q55 David Winnick: When do you expect
the police to report to you?
Mr Blunkett: By next week.
Q56 David Winnick: Home Secretary,
earlier this year those who were demonstrating at RAF Fairford
were also apparently being confronted by the police who used the
act which I mentioned, so what happened apparently at the Arms
Fair this week was not the first time that this has occurred.
Mr Blunkett: No, but I would entirely
supporthaving investigated their actionsthe use
of the counter-terror legislation in relation to preventing people
with potentially dangerous weapons and with intent from achieving
their goal without being stopped and searched and dealt with appropriately.
The information on websites and on the network news on the intent
and objective which was displayed by some of those on their way
to Fairford was a dangerous situation which could have got out
of hand, not least in terms of obviously having to protect not
just those on the base but the materials and equipment that were
being dispatched at the time.
Q57 David Winnick: Home Secretary,
would you recognise there are Members of Parliament as well as
many public at large who do support, as I have done, and as I
have stated in the House of Commons, for obvious reasons the Anti-terrorism
Act but nevertheless are at this moment somewhat concerned that
such an act can be used against those who are claiming their right,
and in my view rightly so, to protest against what they see as
a wrong and, if I can say, in no way connected with terrorism?
Mr Blunkett: I have agreed with
you already. I think the balance is crucial if people are to have
confidence when we do use the legislation, either the Terrorism
Act on the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act, and we need
to use it. I talked about this in the Commons on a number of occasions,
it is important that those in charge of the operation have operational
responsibility. There has not been a Home Secretary in historythere
have been one or two who gone to events in top hatswho
has actually believed that they could take operational responsibility,
nor should they, because nobody would be able to take a single
measure without referring back.
Q58 David Winnick: Can I just ask
you in conclusion on this aspect, do you think there is a danger
that the Anti-terrorism Act will be discredited if indeed it used
in the way I have described? Liberty are very concerned about
Mr Blunkett: If it were repeatedly
used in a way that was subsequently found to be inappropriate
then yes it would.
Q59 Chairman: For the benefit of
the Committee, the public and the press you refer to weapons taken
to RAF Fairford.
Mr Blunkett: I am talking about
cudgels and swords, I am not talking about machine guns and ground-to-air