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Mr. Blunkett: In those circumstances, it can be, and where forces and man and woman power can be combined so that the job can be done better, that is welcome. The local commander, with the chief constable, will therefore be in a position to agree those designations. In some areas, wardens have decided to upgrade to community support officers, which is welcome. Some local authorities, regeneration partnerships and new deal for communities areas have been co-funding the appointment of officers, police community support officers and wardens. That is very welcome, and we will examine in future how local co-funding can play a more important role in expanding the service.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Did the Home Secretary discover this morning, when he and the Prime Minister were in Falconwood in my constituency pulling their little public relations stunt, that one of the reasons the public do not believe his figures is that they see what is happening on the ground? One of the problems in the Metropolitan police area is that those officers notionally allocated to the Bexley division, which he and his chum visited this morning, are consistently taken away for central force duties. Whatever he says at the Dispatch Box today about the figures, my constituents know that it is not happening on the ground, with or without the presence of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
Mr. Blunkett: What a terrible denigration of the police officers and community support officers whom I met this morning. What a denigration of the work of the community. Do not take my word for what I and the Prime Minister saw this morningI ask any journalist or broadcaster listening or viewing this afternoon to go to where we were this morning, and to talk to local people, the head of the community arts college, local police constables and community support officersthen call them a liar, not me.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab):
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on continuing to be tough on crime, but may I also remind him that he needs to be equally tough on the causes of crime? We could have a uniformed officer on every street corner, but unless we tackle effective parenting so that young people have the proper values, it would still have little impact on crime. In his previous job as Secretary of State for
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Education and Employment, I know that that matter concerned him. Will he also take cognizance of the fact that arresting officers are spending hours in the police station progress-chasing case papers through to charge? If he is able to solve that problem, he could increase the number of hours spent by the average police officer on other duties by 25 per cent? Will he take that seriously?
Mr. Blunkett: That is a critical point, and the civilianisation of the force, and better use of technology alongside it, will help. Reconfiguring what takes place in the station, and how custody and management work at that level, is a major issue, and our investment of more than £1 billion in information technology is part of that. As I discovered when I was in Nottingham at the end of last week with the ministerial team, parenting is absolutely crucial, not merely in terms of building discipline but in terms of re-inventing and reinforcing respect within the family and in the community that we serve.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): The right hon. Gentleman referred to diversity. I wonder how far that principle has been extended throughout all police authorities in dealing with folk with disabilities, both in relation to recruiting people who could do good police duties but who have certain impairments, and retaining and caring for those in the police service who are disabled. For example, I still think of that picture of the Royal Ulster Constabulary collator receiving the George cross who had no nether limbs because they had been blown off. It seems to me that, at times, we lose folk who could do excellent police work because of our standards in relation to disability.
Mr. Blunkett: I am pleased to say that I agree. A review is taking place, with the police service, of requirements that should no longer apply owing to improvements in medical technology and people's ability to cope. The new fitness test recognises the crucial role of women police officers. While maintaining reasonable standards, we must be able to welcome people who would otherwise have been excluded.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I am pleased about the review of the partnership provision of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I believe that a lack of co-operation is the main reason for the underperformance of crime and disorder partnerships. Will my right hon. Friend consult Members in all parts of the House who have a worm's eye view[Laughter.] I mean a view from the ground, of course. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when we conduct the review there is input on this important issue from all sides of the Chamber?
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
Following the question from the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), will the Home Secretary tell us exactly what he proposes to do to reduce the current complexity? Police officers trying to do their job on the ground are faced with an enormous
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bureaucratic nightmare when they take someone to the station. What precisely will the Home Secretary do to free up police officers?
First, we are introducing a hotline so that officers themselves can telephone anonymouslyor, if they wish, give their namesto get something done about that bureaucracy. Secondly, we introduced someone with responsibility at force levela move condemned earlier by the right hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleague, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)precisely to secure action at that level. Thirdly, the whole point of civilianisation is to enable officers to leave the station and return to the community. That is working extremely well: there has been an immediate release of police time and, above all, a new morale in the service. We are beginning to see that everywhere we go.
Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South) (Lab): Notwithstanding the antisocial behaviour displayed by some Conservative Members, may I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on his statement? I especially welcomed the emphasis that he placed on the roles and responsibilities of individual police officers.
When talking of the extended police family, my right hon. Friend mentioned community support officers and neighbourhood wardens. Will he now comment on the role of the special constabulary? We are experiencing record levels of recruitment in Northamptonshire: more than 300 special constables are doing valuable work in the community. Will my right hon. Friend consider the role that they can play in the neighbourhood teams that he is setting up? Many special constables would welcome the opportunity to act as parish or neighbourhood constables, and to play a full part in those teams.
Mr. Blunkett: That is an excellent idea. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a special constablethe only person among us who can go out on Saturdays and Sundays and do that imaginative job for his constituents. [Interruption.] I should say that he is the only Labour Member present today who is able to do that, although I appreciate that there are people doing other things in other ways.
It is crucial for us to build on the 21 force areas that have increased their numbers of special constables over the past year. In the east midlands last week, I noted that not only Northamptonshire but Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire had dramatically increased their numbers. That is one way in which the creation of a citizenship communitythe development of a civil societycan be used to establish greater safety in the community while helping those at work. It demonstrates how those two processes can be combined.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD):
Will the Home Secretary take the opportunity provided by his reforms to simplify the structure between the Home Office and local people, so that there
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can be one pot of money for each local area and local authorities and police can decide on priorities in consultation with the people, rather than there being numerous different strands and funding streams as there are now?
Again, I am pleased to say that I agree. The Home Office has now reached 21 local area agreements involving unified funding streams, and is experimenting with the idea of having just one person in the Department to contact and work with. That makes much more sense than the multiplicity of individual sections and divisions with which people have been having to deal.
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