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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): We have made good progress in reducing the bureaucratic burdens on police officers by cutting almost 9,000 unnecessary forms, civilianising posts, rolling out the penalty notice for disorder scheme and ensuring that forces have the best scientific and technological support, such as video identity parades and electronic fingerprinting, so that our police spend more time in communities tackling crime and antisocial behaviour and reassuring the public.
Come off it. The Minister says that they are a listening Government. Why are they not listening
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to the police, who say that they are snowed under with bureaucracy and paperwork? Is it little wonder that the police spend so much time in police stations and not on the streets where they should be? Why do the Government not start, for instance, with the form that the police must fill in every time they stop someone? It is a foot long and it takes them seven minutes to fill in. Is it not about time that the Government did something about that?
Hazel Blears: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong again. All the evidence shows that filling in most stop forms takes less than five minutes and that such encounters happen, on average, once every two and a half hours on patrol. I would commend to the hon. Gentleman PC Diederik Coetzee of Nottinghamshire police. He is a police officer in Mansfield and he has the record for the number of arrests this yearhe has arrested 309 people. He said:
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Just occasionally, bureaucracy gets in the way. For example, in my constituency a partnership between local residents in Burton and the police using mobile speed detection devices has been blocked because of an absurd argument between Government officials and Ofcom about the wavelength that is used. Will my right hon. Friend knock a few heads together and get some common sense into this?
Hazel Blears: I would be delighted to do that. I am firm but fair, and I will certainly look at that problem. The kind of partnership project that my hon. Friend mentions is exactly the kind of thing that we want to take place between police officers and local residents working together to make their areas safer. So, I certainly give an undertaking to get on the job and on the case.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Many hon. Members hope that the reorganisation of police forces on which the Government are consulting will lead to a reduction in administrative burdens, although we remain to be convinced of that. Those of us who represent rural areas with small police forces must weigh that against what we think will be a reduction in local democratic accountability and pressure on rural policing because big cities drag in more of the resources. Are the Government prepared, in response to that consultation, to entertain proposals that would create two levels of policingone at regional or national level that would deal with very serious crime, thereby leaving local policing to locally accountable police forces?
Yes. We want to ensure that we have four levels of policing: at the very local neighbourhood level, then at basic command unit level, then at strategic
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force level, and then the national and international levels that we have now. We are about to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will look at those national and international levels. However, it is crucial that all those levels of policing should stay connected because very often local community intelligence can help to tackle neighbourhood crime, more serious, organised crime and even international crime. I would not want those forces to become divorced from one another. The concentration on neighbourhood policing is very much the top priority for me because that is where the public want to see their officers, and people should have that relationship with their local police in rural areas as much as in urban ones. Having strategic forces ought to reinforce the ability of the neighbourhood police because if there is a big murder in a small force, very often neighbourhood officers get taken away to deal with that complex crime, but bigger forces have the resilience to ensure that that does not happen.
Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Police in my patch welcome the cut in the number of police forms that they must complete, but they complain that when an arrest is made they are taken off the streets into the police station, where they must fill in paper-based forms. Will my right hon. Friend permit the use, perhaps on a pilot basis, of electronic hand-held devices such as PDA to minimise bureaucracy in administration, as much as is possible, and ensure that police officers are on the beat for as long as possible?
Hazel Blears: I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue for some time. I also know that he regularly goes out on patrol with his force, so he sees for himself what is happening on the ground. Several areas are piloting the use of hand-held computer devices, which means that officers do not have to go back to the station. The increasing civilianisation of custody suites means that officers can hand over prisoners to civilians to be put through custody, which means that more officers can be released to the front line so that they can patrol and give the public the reassurance that they want.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister really listen to the people of this country about policing? Although I accept the sincerity of her responses, does she accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) that police services in rural areas are under-resourced compared with those in urban areas, which I believe receive a much more generous allocation? If the police do, as they say to me, have to fill in many forms, which keeps them in the police station, rural areas are clearly suffering from inadequate numbers of bobbies on the beat. It is the bobbies on the beat who prevent crime, so there is a huge incentive to get them on the beat so that they can prevent crime, rather than investigate it.
I entirely accept the enthusiasm and genuine sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman makes his point, but may I gently say to him that I do not believe that rural areas are under-resourced? Policing in this country is determined by a formula that examines
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the need for policing, and I genuinely believe that that formula is fair. I have to make the point to the hon. Gentlemanagain gentlythat under his Government, police officer numbers were cut by 1,200. Under this Government, the number has gone up by 12,000, and we now have 6,500 community support officers out on the beat, who are reassuring the public as a visible uniformed presence. The Government are listening to the people of this country, who want more police officers and community support officers on the streets.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Electronic monitoring providers' compliance with contractual obligations is generally satisfactory. However, sometimes things do go wrong, and I would like to express my deep regret for the tragic murder of Marian Bates by an offender who was subject to electronic monitoring. Since then, electronic monitoring procedures have been strengthened and the Home Office has issued new guidance to prevent a similar tragedy occurring in future.
Jon Trickett: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and share her concern about the individual whom she named. Does she share the anger of local people in my area, and the frustration of senior police officers, after discovering that a prolific local offender had been in breach of his tagging order 22 separate times and that Securicor, the contractor, had failed to inform the police of those breaches, which became apparent only when the man was arrested for committing a public order offence while in breach of his electronic tagging order for the 22nd time? Is that not a disgrace? Will the Minister carefully examine Securicor's behaviour?
Fiona Mactaggart: I am very keen to examine carefully any breaches of the agreement that we have with the electronic monitoring companies. One of the changes to which I referred is that 100 per cent. of actions by them are now monitored by us. A breach of the sort that my hon. Friend described would thus automatically affect the contract with the company involved. If he will provide me with further details of the case, I will certainly look at it to ensure that it has been properly followed up. The scheme can be an effective way of monitoring offenders. It can help to regulate offenders' behaviour between prison and the community and have positive effects, but only if it is operated effectively by the monitoring companies.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Would not it deter offenders who had been tagged from removing their tags if they were informed that the price of removing the tag would be that they would serve the rest of their sentence in prison?
That is possible. If someone breaches the conditions of their curfew or monitoring by
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removing their tag, they have to be sent back to court, which means they can be returned to jail, but the decision for how long they should serve is rightly made by the sentencer and not by a Government Minister.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Surely fulfilling contractual obligations is not enough. Two weeks ago I visited Group 4 Securicor's tagging headquarters and was surprised to learn from the company that it is not subject to an inspection regime. With more than 3,000 prisoners tagged and high-profile failures, why is there no specific provision for an inspection regime in this highly sensitive area?
Fiona Mactaggart: The company's performance is monitored regularly by staff employed by the Home Office, and they are required to report on a series of particular performance indicators, including how quickly breaches are reported and brought back to court, for example. Under the new contract, any failure on any case is counted as a breach. It is not a sampling system, as it was under the old contract.
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