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Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I thank the Home Secretary for giving me advance sight of his statement and also of the White Paper. We welcome many parts of the proposals in that document. He is right to want to find ways of building much closer links between the public and the police, and I am glad that he has rejected the more simplistic approach of having either directly elected sheriffs or directly elected police authorities.

Does the Home Secretary acknowledge, however, that a barrier to more local policing is the amount of time that the police still have to spend on administrative tasks? I acknowledge that he has made some progress in that regard, but is that not just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling paperwork? Does he have any specific plans to tackle the amount of police time wasted in court appearances, when officers are often not called or have to wait ages to give evidence?

The Home Secretary says that he can free up the equivalent of 12,000 constables by cutting bureaucracy. Is that not an admission that under Labour—with its obsession with targets—the Government have actually tied up those 12,000 police officers in the first place? I welcome his plans to allow people to join the police at higher ranks, without always having to serve in the junior ranks first. Does he envisage this opportunity being available to people who have had business careers, or just to those who have had related careers?

The Home Secretary will also know that many people in rural communities feel that their police are being drawn into the city centres. What guarantee can he give under these proposals about local police levels in communities that feel that they are missing out in this way? In the White Paper, he says that he will seek a financial contribution from the drinks industry towards the cost of the harm caused by excessive drinking. Would he extend that to imposing a levy on late-night venues, to help with the cost of policing our city centres?

There are many good ideas in the White Paper, but will the Home Secretary explain exactly how they are going to be funded, particularly given the recent concern that police authorities have expressed over their
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settlement? Will these changes result in higher council tax bills, or will they be fully resourced from the Home Office?

Mr. Blunkett: I am very grateful for what I take to be the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the White Paper and for his sensible questions. Yes, our work on overturning bureaucracy does represent only the tip of the iceberg, which is why we are investing in technology such as Livescan, and why simple technology such as pagers and mobile phones should be used to avoid officers having to sit in court day after day without being called, when they are needed elsewhere. A lot of this is simple common sense. A new case and custody programme has now been introduced in 11 force areas, and we can now streamline the reporting of crime on the spot using the Airwave system, rather than requiring officers to return to the station. All these things, plus the effort being made nationally and locally to reduce paperwork, will make a difference. I do not accept that the 12,000 officers who will be freed up is a consequence of engaging 12,000 officers in the stations.

An interesting statistic is that we had 37,000 fewer constables 30 years ago than today, but more people saw them and believed them to be visible and available on the street. We must return to that era. In conjunction with police services, we must be able to ensure that people are released from sitting around in the station, which is why, three years ago, we started the process relating to the diary of a police officer.

I said that community policing in rural areas needed to be tailored to particular needs. Experiments are currently taking place using community support officers in rural areas, where there is less crime and fewer dangers, to substitute for police, thereby releasing police officers to engage in community policing in new ways. The local police service itself must tailor that approach to its area, as we cannot do it from the centre. By ensuring that we use the two aspects of policing—constables and support officers—we can do a better job.

On spending and the police grant, police authorities believed that they were to get a 3 per cent. uplift. On that basis, they have been lobbying that that is insufficient for them to meet the future demands of the service and they have been demanding 5.7 per cent. Let me make it clear: there is no way that I can deliver a 5.7 per cent. uplift across the board, and I do not believe that the police authorities truly believe that that is feasible. However, I will make sure, along with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister, that the uplift that we deliver in a few weeks will ensure that the programme that we have set out, and its supplementing in the years ahead, will deliver the neighbourhood beat police officers and the 25,000 support officers to which we have committed. On that basis, we will have the trust of the British people.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Now that I am calling Back Benchers, I limit them to one supplementary question each.
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Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I welcome today's announcement of the White Paper, and I thank my right hon. Friend for his recent visit to Grimethorpe, not Grimesthorpe, in my constituency, where we met representatives of the local police team and representatives of the local community, and where neighbourhood policing is now making a difference in terms of reducing crime. While we were there, we met a number of community support officers, who felt that their role could be beefed up to include, for example, use of the power of detention and so on. Will he reassure the House that the Government are looking to beef up the role of CSOs under the White Paper?

Mr. Blunkett: I thank my hon. Friend for the warm welcome that I received in Grimethorpe. It was an interesting afternoon, with the community being part of the solution—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Grimesthorpe is in "Brassed Off".

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I know. I have wanted to heckle my hon. Friend ever since he started to mumble away when I was making my statement, for which I will get him afterwards.

Mr. Skinner: I was supporting my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Blunkett: Well, I refrain from using a more robust term in reply—I will save that for interviews on radio.

I reassure my hon. Friends that chief constables will have the power to designate detention powers to community support officers, but we will leave that to individual chief officers rather than impose it from above. They will of course automatically have powers for levying fixed penalty notices and requiring information such as names and addresses.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): How do we empower decent local residents? What information on local policing will be provided to each household, and how will it be distributed?

Mr. Blunkett: That will be part of the joint role envisaged for community safety partnerships. If we are to reduce bureaucracy, it is important that we do not duplicate and ask police to issue paperwork to the communities that they serve. Local authorities and community safety partnerships will work together to provide regular updates to local people. They will provide, in writing, information on where the local police service can be located; the numbers on which officers can obtained and, when we have a three-digit reserve number, a record of that number. They will ensure that local people know where local community panels and forums are being held and know how they can contribute to them. Where there is considerable disquiet, we need to inform people how they can take action under the new trigger powers to require consultation. In extremis, where things have gone very badly wrong, we need to tell local people how they might trigger snap inspections. The obligation to provide such information will be overseen by police authorities, which, regrettably, are little known by the public at the moment—on recent polling, about 80 per cent. of people
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had never heard of their police authority. That must be a thing of the past if decentralisation is to work in the way that I have spelled out in my statement.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that wardens should play a key part in the police family? Will he thank the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety for visiting Tameside to see our model of neighbourhood policing? Does he agree that we need to speed up the process of accrediting wardens where they are working hand in hand with the police? Should not that be the job of the local division commander rather than the chief constable?

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