Previous SectionIndexHome Page


11. Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): What plans he has for changing the standards of (a) proof and (b) evidence in criminal cases believed to involve terrorism. [155754]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): On Wednesday, at 9 o'clock in the morning, so that right hon. and hon. Members will have the opportunity to read it before the debate, I intend to publish a discussion document on the challenges laid down by the Newton Committee, and the challenges that were posed to us when we, as a Parliament, originally passed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Vera Baird : I acknowledge the difficult task that my right hon. Friend has in protecting the public from British people whom he believes to be a terrorist threat, when, almost by definition, the intelligence that informs him of that is not admissible in court, but I ask him to bear it in mind that there is a whole range of powers currently in statute that have not yet been brought into force, which could help, including in particular, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the admissibility of hearsay, which can be second-hand, third-hand or written evidence from abroad. Using that provision could transform the picture. If what is said in the press this weekend is right, I encourage him enormously to pursue the course that he appears to have embarked on, and allow the admission of phone-tap material in court as quickly as possible.

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. and learned Friend is right, in that we want a sensible, balanced approach that protects the rights of the innocent and retains the long-standing presumption of innocence, acknowledging that all of us in the House are committed to maintaining those historic rights, while allowing us to admit evidence in a way that is acceptable. The current review of intercept is an important part of that debate. I appeal to everyone—and I will do so on Wednesday—to address these very difficult issues in a spirit that presumes that even the Home Secretary is innocent until proven guilty.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What the Home Secretary said about the presumption

23 Feb 2004 : Column 14

of innocence is most welcome, but I urge him also not to interfere with the standard of proof, which would, unfortunately, undermine respect for the rule of law.

Mr. Blunkett: In the lecture that I gave to human rights lawyers and members of the supreme court in New Delhi, I did not suggest that we were intending to alter the standard of proof wholesale. I said, and my hon. and learned Friend has just said, that there are other ways forward. When I publish the paper, hon. Members will see that we are trying genuinely to find the right ways, with a lengthy consultation that will avoid anybody being bounced into any solution. All I want is that people come up with solutions, not with objections, because in the end the primary duty of Government is to protect our citizens from the undermining of their freedoms and democracy by those who know no bounds and have no understanding of the issues of punishment or prosecution when they take the lives of others through suicide bombing.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the interpretation of his remarks was bound to cause concern that there could be a weakening of the rule of law? At the same time, will he accept that those who have concerns and reservations about what he said—or what he is alleged to have said—recognise that 9/11 was not meant to be a one-off in respect of attacks on western democracies and that this country is no less under attack than it was immediately after 9/11?

Mr. Blunkett: It is precisely for that reason that I am initiating this discussion, but I do not accept the first premise of my hon. Friend's question. I did not expect a noble Baroness or, for that matter, a solicitor whom I remember well from joining in battle with her when she was defending the Militant Tendency, to be the ones whose pronouncements were reflected on, rather than the speech I actually gave in New Delhi.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I remind the Home Secretary that one of the other purposes of the Home Secretary's office is to ensure that justice is done, and that many of us who are involved in the criminal courts are concerned with the proposition that, as regards the standard or burden of proof or the admissibility of evidence, those who are alleged to be guilty of terrorist offences should be treated differently from those alleged to be guilty of other serious offences?

Mr. Blunkett: When we established the Special Immigration Appeals Commission as a superior court of record chaired by a High Court judge, we did so first because of the immigration rules under which we were unable to remove people from our country whom we intended to remove; and, secondly, in recognition of the difficulty of dealing with such cases through the normal criminal justice system. It must be clearly said, however, that we have dealt with very many cases through that system since 11 September 2001. The presumption, as during the debate at that time, is that we should continue to do so. I only ask right hon. and hon. Members to come up with their way of squaring the circle and making it possible to deal with people—on the evidence base and in the light of the difficulties that we face—through the normal courts.

23 Feb 2004 : Column 15

Community Policing

12. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the effect of community policing on the reduction of crime. [155755]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): There is a growing body of evidence that community policing can have a positive effect on crime levels. Community policing, however, is not just about crime reduction, but is fundamental to the future direction of the police service.

Gareth Thomas : I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Does she agree that CCTV has a role in improving the effectiveness of community policing? Will she agree to meet me and representatives of North Wales police and Denbighshire county council to assess proposals for a CCTV scheme for rural communities within the Vale of Clwyd?

Ms Blears: I am more than happy to accede to my hon. Friend's request and I am delighted to be able to highlight the excellent work of North Wales police on community policing. They have recently introduced a system of community beat managers under which police officers give a three-year commitment to being the local police officers in their community. They get to know the local people and report back to them, which is having significant results. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to see how we can do even better in north Wales.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that community policing and working with neighbourhood wardens is reassuring many people that a minority will not be allowed to destroy the lives of the majority? Will she give an assurance that we will continue to see further development of both community policing and neighbourhood warden schemes?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point and he knows that we now have record numbers of police officers—more than ever before in this country—out on our streets. There are also about 3,000 community support officers now patrolling, and increasing numbers of neighbourhood wardens, some of them funded not only by local authorities but by housing associations, so we are beginning to see a real partnership of people who can reassure communities and tackle the problems of antisocial behaviour. They are on the side of the decent law-abiding majority in this country, helping to ensure that antisocial behaviour is properly tackled wherever it arises.

Criminal Records Bureau

13. Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab): What progress is being made in implementing the action plan for the Criminal Records Bureau in Liverpool. [155756]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): The Criminal Records Bureau is now reliably delivering more than twice the number of checks undertaken by the police

23 Feb 2004 : Column 16

under the old arrangements. Furthermore, since June 2003, 92 per cent. of applications for standard and enhanced disclosures have been processed within two and four weeks respectively. That substantial improvement in performance has recently been acknowledged by the National Audit Office. Significant progress has also been made in implementing the recommendations of the independent review team.

Mrs. Ellman: Those employed at the Criminal Records Bureau in Liverpool are dedicated and work hard, but we were told that Capita would be a good private sector partner. How much has Capita been penalised for failing to deliver, and how much extra finance has been awarded to it, in addition to the amount agreed when it won the tender contract?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend will know that the contract was initially evaluated properly by an independent team, that there was little to determine the difference between the Capita bid and the other bids, and that it was deemed at the time that the contract was very good value for money. She will also know that a settlement has been reached in relation to Capita's previous performance—in the sum, I believe, of about £3.5 million; I can provide my hon. Friend with further details of the payments that have been made. We now have a contract that will in future start to deliver significantly more and better value for money, and more productivity, in the important process of carrying out criminal records checks.

Next Section

IndexHome Page