Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of the statement and the White Paper and join him in commending the men and women of our police forces who work so hard, often against the odds.

We agree with elements of the White Paper. I welcome the introduction of a national IT system for sharing national police intelligence; it is long overdue. I welcome the fact that police authorities will be given power to request an intervention from the inspectorate, and the Home Secretary's acceptance of Conservative party policies on the need for greater accountability of police authorities—although the proposals do not go far enough.

We are considering the latest in a long line of initiatives on police reform from the Home Secretary. In March 2001, he established a police reform steering group. In December 2001, we had a police reform White Paper, which was followed the next month by the Police Reform Bill. At the end of last year, there was another Green Paper and now we have a White Paper with green edges. The Home Office has just finished consulting about modernising police powers to meet community needs and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary is reviewing the structure of our police forces. We shall end up with a reform of a reform of a reform.

Our police forces are already buried in Home Office initiatives. So what is proposed? It is another set of initiatives. The Home Secretary undertakes to cut bureaucracy. Like most of the contents of the White Paper, we have heard it all before. Back in 1997, the Labour party manifesto stated:

We must ask why, seven years and four or five police reform initiatives later, there are still unnecessary burdens and forms to remove or scrap.

The main reason for the mountain of red tape is the Government's obsession with control. The police are fed up with the Government's constant central control— the targets, initiatives, priorities, inspections, checks, audits and ring-fenced funding. One force reported 37 inspections, audits or checks in 12 months. The Government believe that measurement is a substitute for action. We learn from the head of the police standards unit that one of the bureaucracy-busting initiatives that the Government require is for each force to have a bureaucracy officer. What does he do? He measures bureaucracy. The Home Secretary says that cutting police paperwork will free up 12,000 police officers. Again, I am glad that he agrees with Tory policy—the question is whether he can deliver it.

As usual, the Home Secretary has tried to claim that crime is down, based on a survey that misses out murder, drug crime, shoplifting, crimes against children—millions of crimes. It does not matter how the Government try to spin the figures: overall, crimes have
9 Nov 2004 : Column 708
increased by more than 750,000 since 1997; violent crime has spiralled out of control—there are more than 1 million incidents a year; gun crime has doubled, and sex offences and drug crime have increased.

When the Home Secretary launched the original police reform White Paper, he said that detection rates were far too low—yet now they are worse. Overall detection rates have decreased by a fifth since 1997. In 1997, almost eight out of 10 cases of violence against the person were detected. That figure is now down to half—a mere 50 per cent. Even more disgraceful, detection of sexual offences has dropped from 77 per cent. to 39 per cent. The figure has been halved since the Government came to power.

The detection rate is the single most important issue that faces the police today. The White Paper mentions it but offers no new solution. The Home Secretary is keen on targets. His target for detection rates in 2008 is to get them back to 30 per cent. In other words, he is planning for a performance that lets seven out of 10 criminals go free. Even his inspector of constabulary accepts that that is not good enough.

Let us take just one example. The Home Secretary has announced today that, ahead of any proper independent evaluation, he will empower all forces to give community support officers the power of detention. Has the Home Secretary seen the research by Leeds university, which not only called for the Government to slow their rapid expansion of CSOs but warned that their proliferation was

Surely, instead of spending £50 million on recruiting 2,000 CSOs, it would be better to have 1,000 fully trained police officers.

I share the disappointment of the police, including many chief constables, in this White Paper. The police service today is by no means perfect, but when it has its hands tied behind its back—from funding decisions to form filling—it is hardly surprising that reform has been slow. There is nothing new or radical in this paper. All is open to consultation, and the reforms will take years to happen. I fear that the Home Secretary has come to the House today for little more than a taxpayer-funded public relations exercise in the run-up to the general election. If the Government were intent on dealing with crime, they would give the police the numbers, the time and the ability to deter and detect criminal activity. There is precious little in this White Paper to reassure our concerned and committed police forces or to inspire the confidence of the worried citizens of our country.

Mr. Blunkett: The first question that the right hon. Gentleman asked was whether we agreed with Tory party policy. The answer is no, we do not, because it was about cutting police numbers and involved a 50 per cent. increase in crime in the 18 years that the Tory Government were in office. It also involved using the British crime survey, but setting it on one side when it did not suit them, as they are now doing once again.

The right hon. Gentleman's second question was whether we agreed that it would be a good idea to reduce bureaucracy and get more police on to the streets. The answer to that is yes, we do agree. That is why we have increased the police force by 13,000 since 1997—by
9 Nov 2004 : Column 709
10,000 over the past two years alone—and why there have been 4,000 extra police community support officers and 31,000-plus staff overall during those years. It is also why we are now reducing bureaucracy.

The right hon. Gentleman then asked why we should have a bureaucracy-busting officer in each force. The answer to that question is, to bust bureaucracy. There should be someone whose focus and objective is to examine the pluralicity of forms that exist at local level, and to determine what can be done about that. At last, that is beginning to work, hence the 7,700 forms that have been set aside nationally and locally over the past two years.

The right hon. Gentleman next asked whether we agreed with ourselves that crime was actually falling. Yes, we do. Burglary and vehicle crime are down by more than 40 per cent. Those are year-on-year comparable figures, comparing like with like. Do we agree with some survey at Leeds university that says that police community support officers are a bad thing? No, we do not. I went to Bexley this morning with the Prime Minister and saw community support officers working alongside the new neighbourhood policing team, led by the award-winning police constable, Michael Wearing. What a tremendous example that was of those officers working alongside the community. There has been a massive decrease in crime and a tremendous uplift in reassurance, and these are just the kind of neighbourhood policing teams that we want to see right across the country over the next three years, putting in place neighbourhood reassurance, detecting and dealing with crime, catching criminals, reducing the fear of crime and ensuring that we can get more resources into the police force.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about resources. He asked about time and about fixed penalty notices. The 20,000 that have been issued in the first experimental period have reduced the time needed to take people down to the station to go through the arrest procedures and all the various case and custody processes by one and a half hours on average, and by substantially more in many cases. Yes, additional resources will be necessary, both from the new neighbourhood policing fund and from the uplift that we shall give to the police authorities in the forthcoming police grant.

Of course it will also be necessary to ensure that those resources are used wisely. We have had an uplift in funding of 30 per cent. over the past four years. We will ensure that no police force in the country will be required to cut its services over the year ahead, and that, instead, forces will maintain those police numbers and draw down on the national policing fund for additional community support officers so that they can do their job in the community. Above all, they will do that job alongside local people, with that customer focus and fulfilling that contract, so that when people phone or contact the service they are dealt with professionally, politely and properly and know what is taking place after they have reported the crime. Victims will be followed up with information and we will mobilise the community on behalf of the police.
9 Nov 2004 : Column 710

If the White Paper did not include proposals on all those issues, we would have failed. But it does, and when people have read it they will realise that we have unified an agenda for the future with the police force. The first police reform White Paper and Bill involved a past agenda that the Conservative Government had failed to fulfil on the back of the Sheehy report. Ten years later, it was my job to put that in place. Now, however, we are moving forward into a different era in the 21st century, with the chief constables, the superintendents, the Police Federation—I believe—and, above all, the public behind us. It is simply untrue to say that chief constables are not signed up to this White Paper, because they are. They are signed up to it because they want a radical, delivering police force that has the support of the public and is sufficiently reformed to deal with the new challenges. They want that because they are committed to reducing crime and ensuring that we have a safer Britain. We should all be proud of that.

Next Section IndexHome Page