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Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): I welcome the fact that the stop form is to be scrapped, but it should never have been introduced in the first place. May I take the Secretary of State back to an issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary: the civilianisation of police functions? Does she accept that doing that might lead to the resilience of police forces in emergency situations being weakened, and will she reassure us that anything that is done to improve day-to-day efficiency will not undermine the capacity of police forces to respond in emergencies by bringing officers from back-office functions back on to front-line duties?

Jacqui Smith: It is worth while remembering that the stop-and-account form came out of the Sir William Macpherson review into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Sir Ronnie has spoken to Sir William Macpherson, who says he is convinced that stop and account is an example of where the police have gone further bureaucratically than was intended by his eminently sensible recommendation to protect the police and the public and the relationship between them. The form was developed for wholly laudable reasons, but it is right, given that support and Sir Ronnie’s recommendation, that we now get rid of it and find more effective methods. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman that having—to borrow Sir Ronnie’s description—the right people in the right place at the right time, including using civilians where appropriate, makes the police less able to respond; in fact, it frees up police officers to do the jobs that only police officers can do. Therefore, the progress we have already made should be welcomed.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): The report includes many sensible recommendations that I wholly support. As a Member who has had two young men in my constituency lose their lives in knife-related violence in the past year, I am absolutely committed to anything we can do, including the use of stop-and-search powers, to reduce the number of guns and knives on our streets. However, may I remind Conservative Members that the accountability measures that were introduced after the Macpherson report came about because of the breakdown in trust between the police and many urban communities? Stop and search should be intelligence-led and not prejudice-led if we are going to retain community support in reducing crime. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that in cutting bureaucracy we will not lose that vital accountability of the police to our communities?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point and she demonstrates the difference between being able to get an easy headline and actually being able to deliver improvements by reducing bureaucracy while at the same time maintaining trust among our communities. We are taking the latter approach; unfortunately, Opposition Members have taken the opposite approach.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Can the Home Secretary reassure members of the public and me about one of the more alarming aspects of the
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report that I read yesterday? I am talking about the suggestion that equal weighting is given in police targets to solving simple, low-level crimes and solving serious crimes. Is that the case? If so, it must be addressed because otherwise the police will naturally concentrate on solving lots of little crimes rather than the important ones.

Jacqui Smith: I do not believe that was ever the case, but we have recognised the concerns about the targets that we set on offences being brought to justice. As the hon. Gentleman says, serious violence should clearly be treated more seriously than other offences. That is why our new performance framework, starting this April, reflects the significance of serious violence in managing police forces’ performance.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for picking out Staffordshire police for particular praise in her statement. Does she agree that its strong performance can largely be put down to a succession of excellent leaders in its chief constables, up to and including the present one, Chief Constable Sims, and a very supportive police authority, which is ably led by Councillor Mike Poulter? When Staffordshire police tell me that they can implement the Flanagan proposals for cutting bureaucracy in just 12 months, I believe them—does she? If she does, will she assist them with getting started on that work straight away?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. He has brought to my attention the excellent work being done by Chief Constable Chris Sims and the police authority, which, as he said, is led by Mike Poulter. That work has also come to the attention of Sir Ronnie Flanagan, and I believe it also came to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week. The way in which Chief Constable Sims has been able to reduce the recording crime paperwork while putting increased focus on victims is inspiring. As I have made clear today, the proposals should be rolled out quickly not only in Staffordshire but in the rest of the country in order to realise the massive potential that exists.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): I am sure that the Home Secretary will join me in paying tribute to the high quality of policing throughout Wales. Will she confirm that proper consideration will be given to the costs and difficulties of policing in rural areas when the new statistical profiles and the funding formulae are being developed? When I read chapter 2 quickly, I did not see any reference to that point, which is particularly important in the Welsh context.

Jacqui Smith: May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that Sir Ronnie had considerable engagement with the Welsh Assembly Government and with representatives of Welsh forces and police authorities in putting together his review. The issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is slightly different in terms of the formula used to allocate resources. The previous formula review considered the impact of rurality on the distribution of funding. I am sure that will be one of the issues that he will bring to our attention when we review that formula again, and it will, of course, need to be put into the mix when we consider that allocation.

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Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): Despite the fact that between April and December 2007 violent crime reduced by 13 per. cent in Warrington and personal robbery reduced by 31 per cent., we have experienced some serious crimes involving tragic loss of life. My constituents want significant further action to be taken to reduce crime on our streets. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be no reduction in the number of police officers on the streets tackling crime in Warrington?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the importance of our investment in police officers and the work that is being done locally. I understand the particular circumstances that caused concern in her constituency. Next year, we will ensure that Cheshire police force receives a 2.5 per cent. uplift in the central police grant, including a 2.7 per cent uplift in the part of the grant that relates to neighbourhood policing. It is for the local chief constable to make decisions about the issues she mentions, but I believe that the Government have ensured that the resources are available to put the policing personnel in place to tackle crime and to ensure that her constituents feel safe.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): These reforms will be welcomed by all police officers, but may I recommend that the Home Secretary examines one other aspect? A growing number of people who are stopped by police for offending and dealt with by process are not being searched, even though many of them will have recent convictions for carrying knives, drugs or guns. Will she consider giving police the power automatically to do a non-invasive, pat-down search of anyone who is stopped for breaking the law but is not being arrested?

Jacqui Smith: It is quite difficult to envisage a search not being invasive. The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that we need to continue talking to police officers about the powers that they need to do their job properly, and I can certainly give him the undertaking that we shall do that.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): As a Staffordshire MP, I welcome the report and I look forward to its implementation in Staffordshire. The Home Secretary is fully aware that this country has too many police authorities and that there is a wide divergence in their performance. How will she ensure that the best practice of the better-performing authorities is passed to lower-performing or poorer authorities? Will she consider introducing a light-touch audit on the authorities that perform well?

Jacqui Smith: If my hon. Friend is arguing, as I think he might be, for us to look at the performance management regime and ensure that it is proportionate in representing success but strong in challenging underperformance where it exists, he makes an important point. That will be an important element of the consideration that we will put into the policing Green Paper.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Home Secretary aware that recently a number of high-profile cases have exposed the deficiencies and limitations of police community support officers—they
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have little training and limited powers of arrest, and are paid. In stark contrast, the specials, who do a superb job, are not paid, they are all volunteers, they receive high levels of training and they have normal police powers of arrest. What plans does she have to put more emphasis on the specials and to boost their numbers?

Jacqui Smith: Specials do an excellent job, their numbers are increasing and we should congratulate them on their work. However, to congratulate them while denigrating the crucial work that PCSOs do in communities across this country day in, day out short changes not only our communities but PCSOs and specials. It is about time that we recognised, as I believe people within policing do, that policing is about a range of contributions being made by the specials, PCSOs, police officers and police staff. To run down one particular section in order to make a point demeans the argument.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome the report and the shift in resources from the back office to the front line that it recommends. That is just what the public want. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the kind of efficiency savings that are being talked about—2,500 to 3,500 officers-worth—will not be scooped up by Government generally, but will be redeployed and will produce the extra officers that people want to see, be they police officers, PCSOs or staff, such as forensic staff, who are civilians but who are key partners in the fight against crime?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have rightly set strong efficiency targets for the police service, on which it has delivered well. The report is about ensuring that we can shift the resource that is already in policing so that, as Sir Ronnie appropriately puts it, we have

That is what this report and our action are about.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): In my time on the parliamentary police scheme, I detected a debilitating culture in the police, whereby it seemed better not to make a bad decision than proactively to make a good decision. Police officers of all ranks seemed afraid of making decisions lest something went wrong and they were left hanging out to dry. Will the Home Secretary ensure that officers are given proper support when things go wrong through genuine mistakes and are not left in the situation that I have outlined? Will she ensure they are given more discretion to size up situations for themselves? They should not process people through the custody desks on cases that they know are not going anywhere just because they do not feel that they have discretion to size up the situation for themselves. That happens at the moment.

Jacqui Smith: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant this, but in my contact with police officers I have not felt that they have a debilitating culture. I have always felt that they have a can-do attitude in the way in which they respond. From a position of some experience, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about how we can maximise discretion and support police officers in making split-second decisions in which it is appropriate that
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they have the support of the public. I have always provided that support for police officers and senior police officers in such circumstances when, sometimes, those on the Opposition Front Bench have not. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the way in which we provide that discretion and support and the Government are committed to ensuring that that will happen.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): But is not the police service the classic example of an organisation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? There must be a limit to civilianisation. Is not our drive for efficiency often seen in the police service as deskilling the organisation and losing its resilience?

Jacqui Smith: Of course there is a limit. There are important roles that only sworn police officers can play. In my experience, including of some impressive projects that I was looking at just last week, there is still great enthusiasm from police officers and others about the idea that we should ensure that whether someone is a member of police staff, a police officer or a police community support officer, they focus on what they are best able to do and therefore provide the best service to the public. We have seen good examples in both our work force modernisation pilots and other projects of increased police activity, increased public satisfaction, falling crime rates and—dare I say it?—general content all round. While we continue to see that, I would be keen to push on with those programmes. I know that they have widespread support across policing.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): May I return the Home Secretary to a question posed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, which she never answered? When it came to Sir Ronnie’s original draft of his review, why did she remove the reference to half a million hours spent on audit work?

Jacqui Smith: Sir Ronnie’s review was written by Sir Ronnie and published today. It is written in his own words and I respect them.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Is it not a mistake to go down the line of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and praise one part of the police team rather than the whole police team? It is only when we have the civilian staff as well as the constables, the specials and the PCSOs working together that we can get what constituents want, which is a regular presence on the street, swift answering of the telephone, somebody there when there is an emergency and every claim taken seriously. It is not also important that we boost the specials? Would it not be better to have more local training of specials so that we could encourage more people to come into the force? Perhaps we could consider a small honorarium of £500 a year for specials.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the range of police personnel. The fact that the Government have been willing to invest so that there are 25 per cent. more police personnel now than there were in 1997 is very important. He makes some interesting points about the specials, which I shall certainly consider as we approach the Green Paper on policing.

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Topical Debate

NHS Staffing

1.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): I beg to move,

This July, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the national health service. As the Prime Minister said in a recent speech, it is not only a great institution but a great, unique and very British expression of an ideal. Health care is not a privilege to be purchased but a moral right secured for all.

Over the past six decades, the NHS has cared for tens of millions of people and saved many hundreds of thousands of lives. It has been at the forefront of innovation in health care, pioneering advances in medical treatment, such as triple therapy for TB; in surgery, such as artificial hip replacements; and in imaging, with the development of MRI scanning. With its unique offer of health care free for all at the point of need, it has liberated us all from the fears of unaffordable treatment and untreated illness.

As we begin to celebrate the achievements of the NHS over the past 60 years, it is right that as new technologies emerge, as expectations rise and as health care needs change we look ahead and continue to reform and renew the NHS for the future. Indeed, the birth of the NHS was not easy. Aneurin Bevan had not only to persuade his colleagues in Cabinet that all hospitals should come under the umbrella of the new national health service but to fight to establish the NHS in the face of concerted opposition in Parliament from the Conservatives, who voted against its establishment at each turn, and outside from the British Medical Association, I am afraid, which was equally opposed to the idea.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Is it not the case that the NHS came about as a result of the Beveridge report in 1942 and was supported by the glorious leader of Parliament at the time, Winston Churchill, who was a Conservative MP?

Ann Keen: The hon. Gentleman should check the facts. The Bill that set up the NHS was voted against on Second and Third Reading. That was very sad.

Babies born into the NHS in 1948 have had the opportunity of 60 years of the NHS. The NHS is one of the biggest employers in Europe and now employs more than 1.3 million staff. That level of staffing is required to provide the standard of health care that people demand and the significant improvement in health care provision that we have seen over the past 10 years.

When we launched the NHS plan in 2000, the public made it clear that their top priority was to have more staff working in the NHS. More staff are working in the NHS in England now than in 1997. There are almost 11,500 more consultants, more than 35,000 more doctors and nearly 80,000 more nurses in the NHS than there were in 1997.

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