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Speaker's Statement

12.31 pm

Mr. Speaker: As the House will know, this Thursday is 11 November, Remembrance day. Although the House will not be sitting at 11 o'clock, right hon. and hon. Members, their staff and officials in the House will be attending to their duties at that time. I regard it as appropriate that we should join the nation in observing the two-minute silence at that time, so that we might remember those who gave their lives for their country to help to preserve our democratic freedom. I should be grateful if those responsible for chairing Committees would make appropriate arrangements. Instructions will also be issued to heads of Department so that those members of staff who wish to observe the two-minute silence should be enabled to do so.

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Police Reform

12.32 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the future of the police service in England and Wales.

I am publishing today the second phase of our police reform agenda. This is an agenda designed to restore community policing for the modern age. Our proposals embody reform for a purpose: to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour; to build safer and more secure communities; to reinforce respect for the law; to protect law-abiding citizens; and to provide a customer-focused service using modern technology to underpin neighbourhood policing.

I wish to place on record the debt of gratitude that we owe to the men and women of the police service—their job is always challenging and sometimes dangerous. Police officers, support staff, volunteers and now the new police community support officers have our full support.

I believe that we are all committed to a more responsive, visible and reassuring presence on our streets, but rapid economic and social change bring their own challenges. The nature of crime has changed. Success in one area highlights new forms of criminality, unacceptable behaviour and the breakdown of respect. The service itself is prepared and willing to embrace change while maintaining the enduring values of the British police service—values that must be sustained, and which include integrity, a commitment to public service and a professionalism free of party political interference. Those who denigrate the achievements of the police in reducing crime downplay the commitment and professionalism of those officers who have helped to achieve the 30 per cent. reduction in overall crime since 1997; the use of enforcement powers that have led to 100,000 cases of antisocial behaviour being tackled in the past year alone; burglary and vehicle crime reduced by two fifths; and robbery down by a quarter in the past two years alone.

Police numbers are at an all-time high, with 140,000 officers, 68,000 police staff and more than 4,000 police community support officers, which is the result of an uplift in the overall police work force of more than 31,000 over the past seven years. For the new neighbourhood teams to work, however, we must free up police time. We need to cut bureaucracy, reinforce civilianisation and use forensic science to underpin the application of additional resources, which is why we have revised the codes under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, cut performance indicators and reduced the number of forms used by the service by more than 7,000. Video identity parades now make up more than 98 per cent. of all identity parades. We have reformed the criminal justice system, introduced easy-to-use fixed penalty notices and reduced unnecessary time in the station and the courts.

The public rightly demand more police, more support officers, more investment and more visible and available policing in the neighbourhood. From prevention through investigation and detection, the public require both action and results. The approach that I am setting out today seeks to address those challenges in partnership with the police.
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The new neighbourhood policing fund will invest in dedicated teams across the country, in addition to the forthcoming uplift in the police grant. Fully trained officers with updated powers and police community support officers, who have core powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, will help to meet our goals. Those neighbourhood teams will clearly require a tailored approach to the particular needs of urban and rural areas.

The investment of £50 million of new money this autumn will deliver 2,000 police community support officers this financial year, as a first step to achieving the 25,000 uplift to which we are committed. The fund will ensure that, unlike in the past, we do not see a reduction in the 140,000 officers—instead, reductions in bureaucracy will free up the equivalent of 12,000 front-line constables. However, first contact with the police—whether on the street or on the phone—is crucial, and the response and follow-up to reported crime and the treatment of victims and witnesses must improve dramatically.

In the next two years, we will guarantee standards of public service by introducing, together with an appropriate assessment of public satisfaction, a new contract. The new contract will include national minimum standards for call handling, a new three-digit non-emergency number and new guarantees on information for victims, which will reinforce the customer contract. That is part of the 10 commitments to improved public service that are set out in the White Paper.

Where inaction over a period of time has led to disillusionment and frustration, we will work with chief officers and others to set in place credible mechanisms for triggering action. Local people, through their local councillor, will have new powers to require information, appropriate consultation and, where appropriate, action. Councillors or community safety officers employed by the community safety partnerships will be encouraged to focus on acting as a liaison or advocate, providing a better link between the police and the community. That will be supplemented by new channels for local people to influence policing priorities in their neighbourhood. There will be a lighter touch and longer breaks between inspections for the best performing services and the co-ordination of visits by different agencies will be improved. Improved performance will lead to greater freedom from monitoring through earned autonomy.

However, the police are not solely responsible for cutting crime, which is why we are reviewing the partnership provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and will publish a community safety strategy early in the new year. Investment in tackling drug abuse must be co-ordinated by local partnerships and the improvements we seek in accountability will assist by inculcating collaboration into mainstream practice.

Police authorities, which will now have enhanced local democratic representation, must increase their community links. Clearer responsibilities must lead to greater visibility and greater accountability. These enhanced powers will include: holding chief constables to account; setting clear performance objectives; conducting appraisals; overseeing engagement with the
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public at neighbourhood and command unit level; for the first time, a duty to promote diversity within the force; and greater consistency of response and performance in its area. Moreover, I am clear that central Government have to clarify their role in relation to what is described as the tripartite decision-making process.

Nationally, it is the duty of Government to set the strategic framework and to be prepared to stand back and let chief officers and police authorities deliver the service. That will be achieved through a slimmed down national policing plan and a rationalisation of centrally accountable agencies. The Government are responsible for providing resources and powers: they must also provide a focus on improved quality of service, consistency and coherence through a better focused inspection system; clarity about powers of intervention where police authorities, as well as forces, are functioning badly; and support where necessary.

The role of the Home Secretary must be more than simply distributing taxpayers' money. Where local communities are failed, action must be forthcoming. This Home Secretary will not duck the duty to act where necessary. Ministers carry responsibility, but with responsibility must come the power to act—responsibility without power is as corrupting of democracy as power without responsibility.

In addition to reform at local, force and national level, we are, as the House knows, establishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The rationalisation of organisations working to tackle criminality at this level has been widely welcomed. Similarly, it is now necessary to subsume the functions of the different policing agencies at national level into a new national policing improvement agency, which will embed a culture of self-improvement and customer service.

Work is now being led by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to determine how best the service can work across boundaries in handling more serious and sophisticated crime. The chief inspector will report in the early new year on how force structures can best be configured to improve effectiveness.

However, it is not structures but the men and women of the police service who will deliver the more visible, accessible and accountable service we seek. They will have our full support, through improved training, enhanced powers and the right technology, in taking on the new role that they play in the rapidly changing world of today. Through the 10 commitments to the service, we are setting out how we can offer a unified work force, recognising the contribution of all.

The constable will remain central to policing. Constable numbers are at a record level. We will develop their lead role in the new neighbourhood teams. Probationer training will be family friendly, and every officer will now obtain a transferable qualification. Promotion will depend less on examinations and more on performance on the job. Career pathways will be more clearly defined and the role of police staff will be enhanced. People with the right skills will be able to enter the service above the rank of constable.

Good leadership and management, together with the spread of best practice, will be complemented by the work of the police standards unit, which has already had
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a dramatic impact on the performance of forces with which it has been working.

This is a broad and ambitious agenda. We are committed to working with and alongside the police service to build a better service for the future—a service appropriate to the 21st century. I commend the statement to the House.

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