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Thirdly, working with my right hon. Friends the Justice Secretary and the Attorney-General, I am piloting a range of improvements to the way the police work with the courts and the wider criminal justice system. Those include virtual courts and new streamlined processes to reduce police and administrative time in preparing prosecution files. Fourthly, we are investing in new technology—including video identity parades, live scan electronic fingerprinting, body-worn cameras and the £50 million capital fund that will deliver 10,000 mobile
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data devices by this September—to make crime fighting more effective and to save officers’ time. I want to end the days of officers having to enter details more than once on to systems that do not talk to each other.

Sir Ronnie’s final report shows how we can go further and identifies further savings to the equivalent of 2,500 to 3,500 officers a year. I accept his recommendations to achieve that and I commend Sir Ronnie for his careful and measured consideration of how to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding stop and account. I agree with his proposal that we should scrap the lengthy form that officers use to record data when they carry out that critical activity.

I do not underestimate the need to build community confidence in policing. We must be able to monitor the proportionality of stops, so I welcome the proposal to use airwave police radio technology to record any encounter and to ensure that the simple card given out by officers to those stopped will have a phone number that they can call. We will immediately pilot this new approach to stop and account in three areas and I expect the changes to be national later this year.

As the House will know, stop and account is a very different issue from stop and search, in respect of which Sir Ronnie says that

I therefore welcome the work already being done by the Metropolitan police and the Metropolitan Police Authority, in co-operation with community representatives, to produce a shorter form for stop and search, which is being introduced later this month. Separately, the use of handheld devices to allow officers to input information directly and create a central record of a stop and search is cutting average time from 25 to six minutes. In view of the considerable benefits identified, I am calling on all chief constables to streamline their forms and process in the way Sir Ronnie has advocated.

Both stop and search and stop and account can be powerful tools in tackling crime, so from April we will extend police powers to tackle gang-related gun and knife crime, enabling officers to stop and search in designated areas where an act of serious violence has taken place, as well as in anticipation of serious violence.

We can now go further in other areas of recording. Sir Ronnie proposes that we endorse a radical new approach being trialled in Staffordshire and other forces, whereby police are freeing up more time to deal with victims of crime by using a standard one-page form. Officers are able to use their discretion as to how much further information they record, proportionate to the severity of the crime. I will ensure that that approach can be introduced nationally as soon as possible.

In today’s report, Sir Ronnie celebrates the development and delivery of neighbourhood policing. Thanks to the hard work of forces and police authorities throughout England and Wales, there will be a team for every neighbourhood in April. More than 3,600 teams are now in place and 16,000 police community support officers have been recruited. Up and down the country, at public meetings and in street briefings, local communities are helping to influence their team’s priorities. Throughout March, people will be hearing more about who their local teams are and how they can contact them.

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I have asked Sir Ronnie to report back to me in six months on the progress we and the police are making to reduce bureaucracy. This spring, I will publish a Green Paper with proposals for greater flexibility for front-line officers and staff, greater reductions in bureaucracy, strengthened local accountability arrangements and a reformed performance management framework.

Sir Ronnie’s report sets out a powerful challenge for how we can adapt to meet the demands of 21st century policing. We can do so by freeing police officers from unnecessary red tape; giving them the skills and tools for the valuable job they do; delivering neighbourhood policing in every area; and ensuring a better police service for officers, victims and communities alike. I am sure the police service and the Government will, working together, rise to that challenge. I commend the statement to the House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. I am glad that it, at least, was not lost in the post. I also thank Sir Ronnie for his invaluable contribution to the debate on police reform.

I agree with Sir Ronnie's assessment of the state of policing in Britain today. The question is, does the Home Secretary? Does she recognise, and does she accept, Sir Ronnie’s candid assessment of 10 years of failed policy? In Sir Ronnie’s own words, that policy has left the police subject to “perverse incentives”, “a slave to doctrine”, and “straitjacketed by process”. Police spend a fifth if not more of their time on bureaucracy, and wade through a “raft” of targets—and that is just what Sir Ronnie was allowed to say.

The original draft, widely reported, included material that has been taken out, and which we have not been allowed to hear today. For example, why does the Home Secretary dispute Sir Ronnie's estimate that our police forces face half a million hours of audit inspection every year? On what basis did she delete references to the devastating effect of—again, these are Sir Ronnie’s own words—“top down management”, the “proliferation” of process and “declining public confidence”, and Sir Ronnie’s finding that the over-centralised Government of which she is a member is “part of the problem”? On pages 64 and 65, the original report refers to

The final report states:

since the 1990s. That is not quite the same, and I wonder whether the Home Secretary can explain the change.

We agree with many of the recommendations in the Flanagan report, even the Home Office-edited version. It demonstrates clearly that Labour’s approach—over-centralised micro-management of the police—has failed. We have proposed an alternative approach, involving a locally controlled police force with officers on the street, free of unnecessary red tape and free to do the job of protecting the public.

Sir Ronnie has adopted a number of our ideas, including scrapping stop and account—to which the Home Secretary referred—and introducing virtual courts. Those and other common-sense measures will receive our support.
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But there again, we have been calling for a fundamental overhaul of police bureaucracy for years, and we have had more police reviews from the Government than we have had Home Secretaries.

Let us look at the specifics. The Home Secretary has expressed support for increased civilianisation of police functions. We introduced civilianisation 15 years ago, and we made some sensitive and positive proposals a year ago. Will the Home Secretary tell us her response to the president of the Police Superintendents Association, who said this morning that there was a limit to the scope for civilianisation in a large number of forces?

If the Home Secretary wants to make a real difference, she should simply adopt the whole Conservative agenda. She should scrap forms, starting with the stop-and- account form but including the stop-and-search form. She should slash targets—rather than just fiddling with them—and the army of auditors that goes with them. She should strengthen police powers of stop and search to respond effectively to incidents or threats of knife, gun and drug crimes, and she should reverse the health and safety rules that wrap officers in cotton wool and put the public at risk.

The Home Secretary can go further. Will she adopt our proposals to put police back on the beat, revise the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 so that the police do not spend up to seven and a half hours filling in forms before they can stake out a known burglar’s house, and restore charging discretion so that they spend less time waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to make up its mind? Will she end 10 years of corrosive centralisation, and accept our long-standing call for locally elected police commissioners?

The Flanagan report is long and comprehensive, but it demonstrates two key facts: that the failure of 10 years of Labour’s centralised micro-management has demoralised the police and debilitated public confidence, and that it is the Conservatives who understand what it will take to get police back on our streets, accountable to the communities that they serve.

After five—five!—studies of police bureaucratisation and 150 recommendations before this report, none of which has been implemented, will the Home Secretary please tell us when the Government will stop just talking about stronger law and order? When will they get a grip and deliver it?

Jacqui Smith: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman did not have to put any extra work into his contribution by adding to what we had already read in The Sunday Telegraph last week.

The right hon. Gentleman made much play of Sir Ronnie’s words. Let me quote what Sir Ronnie said in the introduction to his report:

When the right hon. Gentleman finally began to deal with the substance of the report, we heard a series of references to elements of measures that I have announced today, or had already introduced, which he supports.
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He supports the action we are taking on stop and account, although his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did say last week in The Sun:

reform stop and search. We have identified how we will reform stop and account, and I referred today to the work that is already under way to reform stop and search within the Metropolitan police and more widely.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) claimed that virtual courts were somehow an Opposition idea, but it is the Government who are now establishing the process in London. It has taken a Labour Government to deliver that. The right hon. Gentleman made some serious points—as did Sir Ronnie Flanagan—about the process of authorisations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but we have already removed the equivalent of 24 hours of police time per day as a result of earlier reviews, and we will of course go further.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman chose to spend the vast majority of his time discussing the various versions of the report on which he has managed to lay his hands, and spent the rest of it regurgitating his Sunday Telegraph statement. I think that this issue demands more serious consideration, and that is what Sir Ronnie and the Government will give it.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): We welcome Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report, which is very much in line with many of proposals made by the Liberal Democrats over the years. Civilianisation, neighbourhood policing, increased use of technology and, indeed, a single case file system for the Crown Prosecution Service and the police should all be priorities. It seems to us, however, that as there has been substantial consensus on so many of these matters for such a long time, the real need is for action rather than recommendations. This is, to my certain knowledge, at least the fifth and perhaps the seventh review of modernisation in as many years. Sir Ronnie has suggested that the work force should be modernised over a 10-year period. Will the Home Secretary make a commitment to try to introduce some of the key changes rather more rapidly, particularly given the opportunities afforded by the retirement bulge?

It is important to reduce bureaucracy without impairing the safeguards against abuse. The proposal to cut the bureaucracy involved in stop and account is sensible, as no coercive powers are used by the police when it occurs. However, in the case of stop and search, the Home Secretary has announced an extension of police powers to tackle gang-related gun and knife crime, which is not recommended in Sir Ronnie’s report and which would enable officers to stop and search in designated areas when an act of serious violence had taken place. Will she give concrete examples of circumstances in which the extensive powers for stop and search under part I of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, or section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 are failing—or is this another instance of the Government’s addiction to reaching for legislative powers when what is needed is implementation?

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Jacqui Smith: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was responding very seriously until the end of his remarks. Let me respond to some of his serious points.

I agree that there is much scope for both better efficiency and a better service to the public in work force reform. The hon. Gentleman suggested that that was not already under way. In fact, owing to the investment that the Government have been willing to make in increasing police personnel more generally, more and more time is being freed for police to spend on the front line. We see growing numbers of specialist staff, for example, working in roles such as the licensing of firearms and explosives, carrying out criminal records checks, front-office duties, and control room and CCTV activities; and increasingly in some of the work force modernisation pilots we see them working in areas including custody, training and some courts duties. Those and other efficiencies have enabled us to increase the time officers spend on front-line duties in each year since 2003-04 to the equivalent of having more than 5,000 more police officers on the front line.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for our action on stop and account, which will be introduced quickly following the three-month trials Sir Ronnie recommends. On stop and search, we have evidence—such as in tackling gangs—that the section 60 search provisions the hon. Gentleman referred to are being used effectively alongside other action to protect people from guns and gang-related crime. We proposed their extension during the passage of the Serious Crime Act 2007 so that they can be used both before and after an attack takes place. That is a reasonable and proportionate use of the stop-and-search powers, and that is what will be introduced from this spring.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome this excellent report and the Home Secretary’s powerful commitments. As she will know, the Home Affairs Committee is about to start a major inquiry into policing which will begin in Newark and end in Monmouth. As several Committee members discovered on our visit to Hackney on Monday, the public want, as far as it is possible, a bonfire of blue tape, and also for visibility to be put at the heart of community policing—they want to see the police constable right at the centre of what is going on. I therefore hope that the Government’s plans for neighbourhood policing will be rolled out, and it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend gave us a timetable. Also, might it be possible for us to get our old police boxes back?

Jacqui Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure when he was in Hackney he was able to celebrate with local police officers and Hackney council the considerable fall in crime that has been achieved in that part of London. The local authority, the Mayor and the local police force deserve congratulations on that. I am not sure I can reassure my right hon. Friend on bringing back police boxes, but I hope I can do so on neighbourhood policing: I agree that it is fundamental to ensuring that communities have confidence and that it is important that police officers are a visible presence. We will, of course, be in a position to ensure that there are neighbourhood policing
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teams in every single community in this country by April this year. I know that local communities are already engaging actively with them.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Further to what the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, has just said, is the Home Secretary aware that three years ago the Committee published a report that found that not enough progress was being made in key areas of police reform? Is she aware that if that report had been responded to thoroughly and promptly, much of what she has promised today would not have been necessary because it would by now already have been accomplished? Will she give an assurance that during this process she will listen to what police officers themselves say? They have told me that they are still as frustrated as ever by the mountain of red tape that they have to confront, which has been introduced in the past 10 years.

Jacqui Smith: I shall of course listen to front-line police officers—as, in fact, Sir Ronnie Flanagan has done. Equally, I will listen to the public about the service they want from their police. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that reform has not been successful at a time when the numbers of police personnel are increasing, their use is enabling police officers to focus more on their front-line activity and crime is falling, is a travesty both of the reforms and the progress that not only this Government but, more importantly, police officers and police staff have made over the past few years.

Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that neighbourhood policing is not just about numbers, but that it requires a local partnership approach to cut crime. Will she make sure that the flexibility to which she referred at the beginning of her statement is driven by a clinical approach to measuring and cutting crime in local areas? On violence, which she highlighted, might she learn from the scientific approach introduced by a surgeon in Cardiff, which significantly cut violence by identifying exactly where it was happening and how? There are scientific approaches that could assist the police and which are not currently being used to the full.

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend is right to say that an important aspect of neighbourhood policing is the partnership it is able to build up, including with local government, particularly using the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. That partnership has already led to the success of neighbourhood policing in helping to reduce crime and build confidence. He is also right to suggest that we should learn from important activities such as the one he described, where accident and emergency units identify the reasons that people come into their casualty departments, for example where drink is involved, so that action can subsequently be taken. I was pleased yesterday to be able to refer to the work being done across the whole of the south-east in making those links in order to cut violent crime.

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