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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Figures for 31 March show that there were a total of 8262.5 full-time equivalent probation officers in post in England and Wales. On the same date, there were 227.7 full-time equivalent vacancies that were actively being recruited to, which accounted for 2.68 per cent. of the total posts available at that time.
Tim Farron: I thank the Minister for his reply. Recently, I met probation officers in south Cumbria, who expressed deep concern about the Home Secretarys attitude towards the probation service. Given the Ministers reply, does he accept that the Home Secretary should stop undermining the probation service with ill judged rhetoric in inappropriate places and poorly thought out legislation, and instead support the probation service by acknowledging that it has met the overwhelming majority of its performance targets this year, unlike his Department?
Mr. Sutcliffe: If anyone is undermining the probation service it is the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The Home Secretary has said on numerous occasions that the probation service is working hard and well, and that the public need to understand exactly what it does. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Offender Management Bill, which is in Committee and tries to enhance the role of the probation service and probation officers. The Government are confident that they want to promote a successful probation service, not undermine it like the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are doing.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I know from his statements in the Chamber and conversations I have had with him elsewhere in the House that the Minister is an enthusiastic proponent of contestability. In future, when the probation work undertaken by the probation service doubles, then doubles again, because the private and voluntary sectors will be involved, does he accept that the quality of probation officers recruited to fill the vacancies to which the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) referred is likely to decline, because private sector organisations, but not voluntary sector ones, are likely to provide services down to price, not up to standard?
Mr. Sutcliffe: My hon. Friend and I disagree on this issue, but I respect his viewpoint. The probation service must grow if we are to reduce reoffending rates, so we must make sure that providers, whether the probation service, the voluntary sector or, indeed, the private sector, can provide the best service. The Government and I do not want to prevent anyone from providing such a service. Training and development enhances the role of probation officers, and a backstop will always be provided by Her Majestys inspectorate of probation, which will maintain consistent standards of inspection.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con):
Shortly before Christmas, I had the privilege of visiting the probation service in Milton Keynes, and I wish to pay tribute to the work of Anna Perry and her
team. Is the Minister aware that in the past year alone the average officers case load in Milton Keynes rose by 15 per cent., so that he or she dealt with 46 cases? At the same time, on the front line, there has not been a real-terms increase in budget. To be fair, that is partly because of the rapid expansion of Milton Keynes, but does the Minister accept that morale in the probation service is at an all-time low in the town?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not accept that the morale of the probation service is at an all-time low. The service wants certainty about the future, and I do not believe that there is a lack of investment. For instance, since 1997, there has been a 21.5 per cent. increase in probation officers, from 6,827 to 8,298., so there has hardly been a lack of investment. We must make sure that morale among probation officers is high, and that we cut reoffending and protect the public from violent offenders.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Last November, at a time when probation service morale was already at an all-time low, the Home Secretary went to Wormwood Scrubs, of all places, to give the service a pre-meditated kicking in front of an audience of convicts, whom he charmingly described as the experts on probation work. How does such behaviour help reduce the reconviction rate of those released from prison?
Mr. Sutcliffe: This is not the first time that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the issue. The Home Secretary has been clear about wanting to ensure that the probation service delivers not only for probation officers, but for the public at large. He has pointed out in speech after speech, in particular in the Second Reading debate on the Offender Management Bill, that he holds the probation service and probation officers in high esteem. However, we all agree that they are not reducing reoffending. That is the fault not of probation officers, but of society. The Offender Management Bill provides an opportunity to put that right.
The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office conducted a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, as my right hon. Friend knows, and identified that some processes are excessively bureaucratic owing to an over-zealous interpretation of the Act. The Home Office is currently working with ACPO and the Office of Surveillance Commissioners to eliminate such excessive bureaucracy.
I draw the Ministers attention to the comments from Sir Ian Blair during the recess, that whereas as young policemen they used to anticipate being able to make three arrests during the day, now young officers say that they can only make one arrest because of the red tape, particularly as a result of RIPA. Does not an imbalance seem to be developing
between the interests of the public and the police, as opposed to the interests of the criminals and the avaricious lawyers? I welcome the steps that my hon. Friend has announced. Can he tell us the time scale, and can the process begin fairly soon so that the police officers on the streets of Sandwell will be able to get out and arrest the criminals?
Mr. McNulty: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. On the specifics of RIPA, the review showed that there were unnecessary forms in place, unnecessary bureaucratic duplication by forces, and in some cases an unnecessary desire to find out information that they already knew. In one case a police force made a RIPA application for a subscriber check on a telephone which turned out to be in its own headquarters and for which that force was the subscriber and paid the bill. In the case of RIPA and other legislation to which my right hon. Friend alludes, there must be a clear understanding of what is anticipated within the overall strategic demands of the Home Office, and those at the centre must let police forces get on with it, as we are seeking to do.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I recently conducted a review of the terrorist threat and our counter-terrorist response, the conclusions of which are with the Prime Minister. The threat from international terrorism is seamless and is no longer easily divided into foreign affairs, defence or domestic affairs. Our counter-terrorist campaign will need to be seamless, integrated, politically driven, forward-thinking and dynamic, and have at its heart the recognition that above all this is a battle for hearts and minds, a struggle of ideas and values.
measured meetings and reports, not real world impact,
no one seemed to be in charge.
a seamless, integrated, driven, politically overseen counter-terrorism strategy.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that the situation is a dynamic situation. It is not a static one. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we know now that the first AQ-related conspiracy plot in this country was in 2000, and that was in Birmingham. Since then, the threat has been growing. It is serious and it will, I believe, be with us for a generation. As that terrorist attempt expands, we must expand and respond in a continually improving fashion. Therefore the idea that, just because I have outlined what we must
do now, that precludes improvements over the past year or two is not consistent. The current terrorist threat level is at its second highest level, classified as severe, which means that a terrorist attack is highly likely. It indicates a continuing high level of threat. We must therefore do everything to continually improve our response to it. That was the purpose of my report to the Prime Minister and will be carried through in the strategy, the functions and the structures, but we are doing that continually.
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Just before Christmas, I visited the unit dedicated to fighting serious organised crime and terrorism in the east midlands, which is based in Derbyshire. It has received only pump-priming funding for its establishment and first couple of years of operation. Will the Home Secretary assure me that steps will be taken to ensure that the very good work that it is already doing will be maintained and further developed with additional resources?
John Reid: My hon. Friend points out an improvement that did not exist before. The assurance that I will give is that the security services will have the resources, capabilities, structures and politically driven oversight that are necessary to meet the level of threat that we now face. We now know that the first plot connected with al-Qaeda was in Birmingham in 2000, and the threat has grown apace year by year. The security services are aware of approximately 30 plots in the United Kingdom. As of September last year, 98 people were awaiting trial for terrorist offences, and we believe that a considerable number of people were involved in those plots. The subject is serious, and it is not always easy to get the balance right between putting too much information too often into the public domain, which disrupts our normal way of life, and retaining information that may be necessary for operational purposes but of which the public feel they should be availed. We try to get that balance right.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): We regularly read in the papers that the Home Office is aware of British nationals who are training in terror camps overseas and that some of those people have returned to Britain. Will the Home Secretary confirm that he has a list of those people and will he state how many British nationals are currently training in overseas terror camps and how many of them have returned?
The security services have a list, but I am not going to reveal the details or implyas the hon. Gentleman implied in his questionthat the ones we know of are all those who are so engaged, because that would be misleading. As one of my counterparts in the United States pointed out, the difficulties are the unknown unknowns. Since we know that a considerable number of people in this country are engaged in conspiracies and that some of them have
trained abroad, we must assume that there are others of whom we do not yet know, and to say otherwise would be to mislead the House.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What criteria does my right hon. Friend use in assessing whether an individual or organisation is a suitable partner in the fight against terrorism? What assessment has he made of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee?
John Reid: On our criteria for engaging with people, the basic political criterion is the working assumption that the division in this country is between terrorists and the rest and that it is not between Muslims and other sections of society. It follows from that that we cannot defeat domestic terrorism, or indeed terrorism which is international and domestic, by security or military means alone. We can defeat it only from these two premises: first, that we get maximum unity among those people, Muslims and everyone else, who oppose the use of terrorism; and secondly, that we understand that, although the struggle may manifest itself in security terms, military terms or other terms, it is at heart a battle for hearts and mindsa battle over values. That is why the starting point for our defence against terrorism in this country is the defence of our values. Anyone who contributes towards that is a potential ally in that struggle.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Why will the war on terror last for a whole generation? Why could it not be brought to a successful conclusion earlier, and why would it end at the end of one generation?
John Reid: First, I have not myself used the expression, war on terrorism. Secondly, I have pointed out that it is, in essence, a struggle for ideas and values. Thirdly, the nature of that struggle is such that it is inside Islam as well as outside it. Fourthly, it is a global struggle that manifests itself in different theatres in different forms. Fifthly, I cannot give a guarantee of any time scale, but if I am asked for an estimatewhich is obviously, since it is a social rather than a physical science, a human estimate rather than one of 100 per cent. predictabilityit is that this will probably last as long as the cold war did.
The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty):
Although there is no one model of neighbourhood policing, as each police force is tailoring its neighbourhood policing response to the particular needs and priorities of its local communities, neighbourhood policing will be introduced to every area by April 2007, and every community will have neighbourhood policing teams in place by April 2008.
Delivery of neighbourhood policing has now extended to some 6,700 neighbourhoods. There are 81 neighbourhood policing teams already in place in Humberside and 96 in Hampshire.
Ms Johnson: In light of recent announcements about allowing local flexibility in the allocation of neighbourhood policing resources, does my hon. Friend agree that that should allow forces such as Humberside the flexibility to recruit the higher number of police community support officers that they want, and that the level of funding that they expected should be given?
Mr. McNulty: Every community will have a neighbourhood policing team by 2008. This year, the funding for Humberside specifically for PCSOs will be some £3.1 million, and next year it will be some £4.4 millionan overall increase of some 42 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friends fundamental point that that should mean that the mix required for neighbourhood policing appropriate to Humberside is achieved.
Mrs. Miller: The Government have announced their policies on neighbourhood policing many times, yet this year, in Hampshire, Government cuts have meant the loss of more than 200 PCSOs. Has the Home Office changed its policy or does it no longer think that neighbourhood policing requires visible policing?
Mr. McNulty: Visible policing, including the role of PCSOs, is central to what the Government require of police forces in Hampshire and everywhere else. The allocation for Hampshire is some 333 PCSOs. This year, the funding for Hampshire is some £4.8 million; next year, it goes up to £7.8 million. The overall funding for the neighbourhood police fund will be some 41 per cent. higher than this year. I am not sure how the hon. Lady works that out as being a cut.
Mr. McNulty: As I said, it is for each chief constable to determine the mix and the balance of and approach to neighbourhood policing. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities have asked for as much flexibility as possible in funding and resources for neighbourhood policing as well as other matters so that they can use their resources as effectively as possible for local policing needs in my hon. Friends constituency in Coventry and elsewhere.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Surrey police would like to engage in more neighbourhood policing. However, given that they had a relatively poor settlement compared with other shire counties, that they were underfunded by £500,000 through the costs of the abortive merger with Sussex, and that we recently heard that the number of community support officers will be cut against expectations, how can they deliver services to the people of Surrey?
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