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Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
Lack of access to NHS dentists is an important point for servicemen, servicewomen and their families and the Secretary of State has rightly announced that he is seeking to improve the situation. Given that the number of NHS dentistsfor whatever reasonis falling and that we do not have
enough service dentists, what practical steps will the Secretary of State take to improve the access for servicemen and women and their families?
Des Browne: Practically, what we intend to do, where we have existing facilitiesconsulting rooms for dentistsis to work with the health service to arrange for NHS dentists to come in and use our facilities, when they otherwise would not be used, in order to offer treatment to service people and/or their families; and to use mobile dental facilities where we cannot do that to make up the difference. In order to work out the practicalities of that, we will pilot it first in two places, and then once we have worked out the parameters and what we need to do to make it work, we will extend it across the country.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): My right hon. Friends comments on education today are an explicit recognition that many people join the armed services with a pretty patchy record in education, but once they are there, they discover a prodigious capacity to learn. Will he assure the House that his Department will make a careful and concerted effort to liaise with institutions of further and higher education to ensure that leaving servicemen get the very best from his announcement today?
Des Browne: With the Department for Children, Schools and Families, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and the devolved Administrations, we will of course ensure that our people know how they can access further or higher education where those courses are available. But I say this to my hon. Friend, and I am sure he knows that it is true: I have not known of an educational establishment that would not be very pleased to have people who have come out of the services because of what they bringnot just what they come to the institutions to achieve, but what they bring by their presence in terms of discipline and all the other aspects of service life, which we are most proud of and which they inculcate into others around them.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I very much welcome the bringing together of Departments to show this countrys appreciation of the service that our personnel give and the sacrifice that they make for the country. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier that veterans do not want to be seen to jump queues, and he has recognised that veterans are very stoical, so what efforts will be made to get out to veterans their entitlements under these new schemes, and what should they now be asking for of Government Departments that was not available before?
Des Browne: Part of our undertaking in the plain language of this document is to produce simple guides in plain language and to distribute them by all means of communications through the organisations that we have been working with and by other methods of communication, which are well known, to ensure that people know what they are entitled to.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab):
I thank the Ministry of Defence for the additions it has made to its own services for armed forces members, their families and veterans. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces on his patient and skilful negotiations
with other Government Departments that have made additions to their services. In terms of joined-up government, I am sure that my right hon. Friend learned a very painful lesson about how difficult that is in practical terms. What commitment has he obtained from other sponsoring Departments that the front-line staff in the delivering organisations, such as health trusts and councils, will be aware of the obligations that their organisations will now be under towards these people?
Des Browne: I welcome my hon. Friends question and I am content to add my own compliments to his compliments to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, and to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) and many others, including unnamed officials who will continue to be unnamed, who have worked very hard. This document is a good example of government at its best, working together. That requires quite a lot of work, from other Departments as well as from our own Department, but it is a good piece of work.
The communications exercise will be required to ensure not only that those who are entitled to services of this nature know that they are entitled to them, but that those who should deliver them know that they are dealing with people who qualify for them and will ensure that that is done.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): Since my right hon. Friend has had his job, he has made a series of decisions substantially enhancing successively the pay, the conditions and the equipment available to our fighting services. Our forces will be deeply grateful to him for that and the whole country should be deeply grateful to him for that.
In comparing the lump sum under the compensation scheme that my right hon. Friend has set out this afternoon with damages in the civil courts, am I right in thinking that, in order to make a fair comparison, one should add to that lump sum the present value of the war pension or disability pension that the beneficiary will be receiving, so as to get an equivalent figure?
Des Browne: My hon. Friend, in the work that he did on the recognition study that he carried out so effectively and efficientlyindeed, he distinguished himself by delivering it on time to my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministerhas made a significant contribution in a very short period to the objective that we all share that, as a nation, we should recognise what our armed forces and those who support them do in the service of the country. So I pay tribute to him and reciprocate his words. I am very grateful to him for the warm words that he has used in the House about my contribution, although many people deserve congratulations on and credit for what we have achieved over the past couple of years.
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that there is a predilection to compare apples with pears in relation to the amounts paid out by the no-fault compensation scheme and the awards in the civil courts. Frankly, I gave up trying to explain the difference, because no one seemed to be listening, but we might begin to win that battle now that we have figures that aggregate the guaranteed income payment and the lump sum into a proportionate amount, which I believe that people will consider appropriate compensation.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I welcome the statement, because it gives an absolute commitment on compensation and education, but does my right hon. Friend recognise that we will be judged on whether we ensure that we have houses fit for heroes when they leave the forces? So will he work very hard with housing associations and local government to deliver that, because they must recognise that provision is needed to ensure that those people have quality homes when they leave the services?
Des Browne: The point that my hon. Friend makes is very important to service people. Indeed, this morning, I spoke to some service people who, despite the stage that they were at in their careers, were anticipating the possibility that they might at some time get on to what they described as the housing ladder by owning their own house. I am determined that we will make strides in that regard. The provisions in the document help us substantially along the way, but those who read it carefully will see that that work is only just beginning. I still have other ideas, which I will announce to the House in due course, once I have worked them through.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I give my wholehearted support to the statement today, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the courtesy that he has shown to servicemen and women in north Staffordshire. It is important that all armed forces families are aware of what they will be entitled to subsequently. I wonder whether the armed forces parliamentary scheme and MPs who have taken part in it can have a role in helping to increase awareness about the new opportunities that armed forces personnel will now have.
Des Browne: I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks and, from my own experience of her advocacy on behalf of families and service people, I know of her work to support her constituents. I pay tribute to her for that. Frankly, all MPs have a responsibility, whether they are in the armed forces parliamentary scheme or not, to disseminate this information. If my Department can do anything to assist MPs of any party to disseminate it to the total population of about 10 million people in this country who could be affected by these provisions, we will do so.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State revisit the question of requiring local authorities by statute to allocate a small proportion of their housing stock for nomination to service leavers? It is unfair to some local authorities that have a disproportionate burden and meet it that others simply are not playing their patriotic part. It would be much better if each local authority had to make a small allocation of its housing stock available to service leavers.
I will need to check Hansard. I regret it if I have forgotten that I gave that undertaking, but the document contains a specific provision in relation to the housing allocation that we are in the process of delivering
in England. We have complementary undertakings from the Administrations in Scotland and Wales to follow our decisions on the allocations policy in England. I believe that that is entirely consistent with what the armed forces have asked us to do, but I will just have to give my hon. Friend another commitment to go away and look at his suggestion.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I join other hon. Members in welcoming the statement, which reinforces the status of the armed forces, addresses the injustices that they have suffered in the past and presents opportunities for those in the armed forces. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the possible impact of the package on recruiting able young people to the armed forces in the future?
Des Browne: My hon. Friend knows that we regularly survey the armed forces and beyond them to establish their motivations in relation to either retention or their desire to leave the forces. We have identified that in the issues addressed in the document and in the steps that we have taken over the past six monthsfor example, improved commitment bonuses, the tax-free operational allowance, the whole host of things that we have done in personnel investment in Headley Court, child care vouchers, council tax relief and the freepost issues in which we are in partnership with the Royal Mail. We have comprehensively addressed the list of issues that motivate our people. At the end of the day, of course, for all sorts of reasons, people come and go in all sorts of jobs, including jobs in the House, and we should encourage our people to do so and ease their path to prepare them for future careers. We will do that by the steps that we have announced in the document as well.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Governments policing Green Paper, which will help the police to continue to cut crime, drive up confidence and deliver for the public. Copies of the paper have been placed in the Vote Office.
Todays Green Paper is built on foundations of success. The crime figures published this morning show that, in the past year, vehicle crime is down 14 per cent.; criminal damage is down 13 per cent.; violence against the person is down 8 per cent.; robbery is down 16 per cent.; and burglary is down 4 per cent. Since 1995, the number of violent incidents recorded in the British crime survey has fallen by half, representing around 750,000 fewer victims. We have met our target, set in 2004, to reduce crime by 15 per cent. Indeed, we have exceeded it; crime over that period fell by 18 per cent., and the chances of being a victim of crime are now at their lowest since 1981.
This success is a tribute to the police service of this countrythe men and women, warranted officers, police community support officers and staff across the growing police family, to whose bravery and dedication we owe so much. Whether working in one of over 3,600 neighbourhood policing teams, forming the backbone of emergency response policing, tackling the threat of terrorism or working in specialist victim support roles, our police service is the envy of the world.
We stand today at a crossroads for the future of policing: over a decade of record investment; a bigger and more flexible work force; and now neighbourhood policing everywhere in England and Wales, alongside new technologies and improved systems. But the service also faces unprecedented challenges. From new forms of criminal activity and terrorism to new ways of working in partnership locally, the services scope has never been so broad and public expectations have never been so high. Both Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Louise Casey, in their separate but linked reviews of policing and crime, have emphasised how important it is that the public can feel that they are able to influence policing priorities and that people know what they can expect from their police locally.
The public want a new deal with their police service, and I know that the service wants to deliver to the highest standards for the public everywhere. The public are the best weapon in the fight against crime, but they need to be clear about what they can expect from the police. They want to see transparent, reliable and responsive policing. That will drive greater public confidence. Today I, along with the leaders of the service, accept the challenge of driving up public confidence.
To deliver on that ambition, the Green Paper will set out nationally agreed rights to be in place in every police force by the end of the year. Those rights will form the new policing pledge, with both national and local elements, that clearly expresses what we can each expect from our police service and that ensures that the publics voice is heard during the setting of police priorities.
The police are committing to minimum service standards everywhere. That means, for example, that as well as performing excellently in getting to emergencies when we need them to, the police will now offer appointments for non-urgent calls at a time convenient to the individual concerned and within 48 hours. In addition, we will legislate to strengthen the democratic link with the public by introducing local, directly elected crime and policing representatives. They will form the majority on police authorities, and will be responsible for ensuring that the police are tackling the priorities that concern us most, including by chairing their local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Local information, with crime maps everywhere by the end of the year, will further empower the public.
To give the police the tools to do the job and the time to spend on the front line, we will invest a further £25 million over the next two years to put more mobile data devices in the hands of front-line officers. By March 2010, the additional £75 million that the Government will have invested in those forms of police information technology will have meant an extra 30,000 mobile devices.
Furthermore, we will implement across England and Wales the current pilots on cutting the bureaucracy around crime recording and on scrapping the stop and account form. Jan Berry, the former chairman of the Police Federation, will take on the work that Sir Ronnie Flanagan has begun by becoming a new independent champion for the ongoing reduction of police bureaucracy. She will be a powerful voice for the concerns of front-line officers. However, today I want to go further. I have decided that the time is now right to strip away all but one top-down target for police forces, to deliver improved levels of public confidence that crime is being tackled. That is a direct response to calls from chief officers for the space and freedom to focus on tackling crime. It is a significant mark of my trust in them.
With stronger and more accountable police authorities, a robust and independent inspectorate and the momentum that the policing pledge gives us being delivered by the end of the year, todays Green Paper is the next stage of police reform. It is our response to the views expressed by front-line officers and staff up and down the country and by the communities that they serve. It represents a new deal, and will mean greater freedom for the police, matched by greater power for the public. I commend this statement to the House.
Given the now daily tragedies on our streets, the public have long been waiting for sensible action from the Government on policing. I am afraid that it is not success in crime reduction that brings the Home Secretary to the Dispatch Box today, but massive public disquiet. We know what the problem is. Recorded violent crime has virtually doubled in 10 years. Police numbers are up by 10 per cent., and detection rates for violent offences are down by a quarter. We know why there is a problem; after all, we have had five Labour reviews of policing. Does the Home Secretary accept Sir Ronnie Flanagans surgical dissection of serial ministerial failures which revealed perverse incentives, a raft of targets and officers straitjacketed by process? We also know what
is needed to free up the police: less red tape, fewer targets and greater local accountability of police to the communities that they serve.
The Green Paper offers some constructive ideas, but I have to say that virtually all of them originate from this side of the House. Take the Conservative crime mapping proposals; they were announced in April and are already being implemented by a Conservative Mayor of Londonmonths later, they have been pinched by the Home Secretary for her policing pledge. Take her piloting of the abolition of the stop and account form. That is a greatly watered-down version of the nationwide overhaul that we proposed in February to free up nearly 1 million police hours to get officers back on the street. Why not scrap them altogether, as we propose? There is also the promise to review the onerous bureaucratic burden that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 places on the most basic investigations. That is a straight lift from Conservative party policy.
I also note that the Home Secretary has said that she wants to strip away all but one top-down target for the police. That, however, is not how it is stated in the Green Paper itself. Will she guarantee that these targets will not be reintroduced in some new form? There is also a string of rehashed, reheated and half-baked announcements. Neighbourhood policing teams, for example, were announced three years ago and again six months agowhy have they been announced again today? Perhaps she would like to tell the House. As far as I can recollect, monthly victim progress reports were announced in 2005, but they have been reheated today for media consumption, so presumably they were never implemented. There is also a series of police response targets. I ask the Home Secretary to identify one of them that is new.
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