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The Green Paper dismisses a more radical approach to slashing forms as futile, and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing can still not name a single one of the alleged 9,000 forms that he previously claimed had been removed. When will the Government learn that perpetual repackaging is no substitute for real delivery?

Then there are the typically ill-thought-through eye-catching gestures that have little bearing on reality. How will the Home Secretary implement the utterly implausible guarantee that 80 per cent. of police time will be spent on patrol, when the proportion is currently only 14 per cent? Is that not what she really means and is there not an obfuscation in the Green Paper? Who does the Home Secretary think she is kidding in announcing the appointment of a police bureaucracy champion? I am delighted to hear of Jan Berry’s appointment, but I gently point out to the Home Secretary that the previous post of national bureaucracy adviser has been kept vacant by the Government for two whole years. The half-hearted proposal for a crime representative on police authorities is a pale imitation of the Conservative commitment to directly elected local police commissioners.

The truth is that this exhausted Government can offer neither the inspiration nor the perspiration to deliver the serious and sustained reform that the police
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so badly need. In the meantime, there is a gun crime every hour, there are five fatal stabbings every week, and we still do not have any proper Government information on violence against under-16-year-olds, although the information has been demanded by Members on both sides of the House for years.

In conclusion, does the Home Secretary agree that the 22,151 serious offences involving knives, for which we for the first time have a figure, is a pretty damning indictment of a Government who seem consistently more interested in chasing headlines than chasing the perpetrators of crime?

Jacqui Smith: How very disappointing it was that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not find it in himself to congratulate the police and their partners on the very considerable reductions in crime that we have seen today, and how unfortunate it is that he chooses to claim crime mapping as a Conservative idea—

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Of course it is.

Jacqui Smith: Actually, it is a police idea that is already being delivered in some parts of the country. It would be good if people sometimes gave credit where it was due, rather than trying to claim it for political parties.

I can give the shadow Home Secretary a guarantee that there will be one target set nationally, as we make clear in the Green Paper. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) claimed earlier this year that neighbourhood policing teams had somehow not been delivered. In fact, thanks to the hard work of police forces across the country and to the £1 billion of Government investment, there is now a neighbourhood policing team in every neighbourhood in the country. That has resulted in a radical transformation in policing, and today’s Green Paper will enable us to take that reform to the next stage by making clear in the pledge the quality of service that people will be able to expect everywhere in England and Wales for the first time ever.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked which elements of the pledge were new. It is new that 80 per cent. of the neighbourhood policing teams’ time on duty will be spent on the patch. It is also new that they will reply to calls and e-mail inquiries within 24 hours. It is new that there will be a minimum standard to ensure that the police respond to emergencies in 15 minutes or less, that they respond to other non-emergency but nevertheless priority or vulnerable cases within 60 minutes, that they respond to other non-emergency calls with a bookable appointment within 48 hours, and that they deliver monthly public meetings for neighbourhood policing teams and the provision of crime information and crime maps. That is a serious and clear set of standards that people can expect to be delivered everywhere, and that the police will be committed to providing.

The hon. and learned Gentleman returned to the issue of the 9,000 forms. He knows, because I have written to his predecessor and to the shadow policing Minister about this, that we asked the now chief constable of Essex police, Roger Baker, to undertake that task. He has given his commitment that 9,000 forms were done
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away with, but the suggestion that we should go back and ask people to give the name of every single form in order to prove that we have cut bureaucracy just shows the misunderstanding among Conservative Members about how we should do this.

The shadow Home Secretary’s response today has been, at best, churlish in its failure to recognise the success on which this work is based. Either he reverts to claiming the credit for proposals that the police service is driving forward, or he calls important initiatives “gimmicks”. I do not believe—as he has previously claimed—that knife arches, search wands, antisocial behaviour orders and the seizing of drug dealers’ assets on arrest are gimmicks. I believe that they are serious attempts by the Government and their partners in the police service to cut crime, to respond to public concerns and to deliver a police service of which this country and the world can be even more proud. I hope that we will gain the hon. and learned Gentleman’s support for that.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I congratulate the Home Secretary, not only on the reduction in the crime figures but on this bold and imaginative Green Paper. She has obviously been listening in on the sittings of the Home Affairs Select Committee while we have been considering policing. These are our ideas, not the Conservatives’ ideas. The fact is that good practice already exists in many parts of the country. We have seen the Staffordshire example of reducing bureaucracy, and what is being done in Moss Side to tackle gun and gang crime. Will my right hon. Friend give a pledge that she will roll out these programmes immediately, rather than waiting for any further reviews? If they constitute good practice, let us have them operating in all 42 areas. I also congratulate her on the appointment of Jan Berry, but I ask her to ensure that Jan Berry is paid in full and on time, because she knows what the consequences will be if that does not happen.

Jacqui Smith: The Home Affairs Select Committee possibly does deserve some credit—[Hon. Members: “Possibly?”] Okay, I am sorry. I apologise. Unlike Conservative Members, I will not be churlish. The Home Affairs Select Committee does deserve credit, because its members have been out and about listening to what police officers and those in our communities have actually said. That is why it is putting forward those ideas. I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that we will pilot only for as long as we need to in order to be completely confident of not whether but how we should roll out the initiatives nationally. As I said earlier, I am pleased that someone with a record of standing up for front-line police officers will now be working with us to free up those officers to do the job that they came into the service to do.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I would certainly like to join the Home Secretary in praising the police and add my congratulations to them on the work that they do, and on putting their lives on the line day after day to try to make our communities safe. There was a note of self-congratulation in what the Home Secretary said, but I wonder whether she is aware that crime has been falling in every single western European country except Belgium since the 1990s. Would she consider benchmarking our performance against those of other countries, possibly excluding Belgium?

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Does the Home Secretary have any comment on the puzzle—which I am sure must have detained her—of the difference between the official figures showing a fall in crime and the continued rise in the public fear of crime? Does she feel that this is an opportunity quickly, rather than slowly, to put the crime figures under an independent agency such as the Office for National Statistics, as the Government have already done in other areas? If so, when might that happen?

On policing and crime, there is general agreement in principle that there should be an emphasis on what works. However, in the past week, the Government have come up with a half-baked scheme for offender hospital visits, which has already been tried and tested in the United States, and which failed, and the Conservatives have been advocating imprisoning all knife carriers even though the evidence shows that sentence severity has a negligible effect on criminality. Surely the Home Secretary must agree that the time has come for a national crime reduction agency—a beefed-up National Policing Improvement Agency—that would act like the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the health service and attempt to establish real consensus between the parties on what works. Nothing would give the police greater support in their desire to see professionalism triumph than an end to the political bickering that we have seen here today.

We also warmly welcome the emphasis on neighbourhood policing, on local crime maps, and on local accountability. This is surely the way to improve on the figure of 53 per cent. of people who say that the police are doing a good or excellent job. That figure obviously leaves some room for improvement.

The concerns about the proposals for crime and policing representatives were not allayed by reading the details in the Green Paper. As I understand it, there would be just one representative for each council in a crime and disorder reduction partnership, directly elected, presumably by the first-past-the-post system. That would be the first such proposal that the Government had made since 1997. All the other new representatives have been elected by proportional systems. Let us take the example of my own police authority in Hampshire in the south of England, which, under the proposed system, would have two Liberal Democrats, 12 Conservatives and no Labour members whatever. Does the Home Secretary really intend to disfranchise 25 per cent. of the voters in the south of England who happen to be Labour, merely because she is going to consider only a first-past-the-post system? We know from the way in which the system works that this would also cut out ethnic minorities and women. Is that what the Home Secretary wants?

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Don’t listen to a word of that.

Jacqui Smith: I shall not take my hon. Friend’s advice, because a few of the comments made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) were quite sensible. In particular, he rightly emphasised the importance of ensuring that we not only cut crime, but raise confidence in our ability to do so. That is why setting a target that measures local people’s confidence in the ability of the police and their partners to cut crime and deal with the issues that matter locally is the appropriate way to
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ensure that we cut crime and clearly communicate the actions being taken—not just by the police, but more widely across the criminal justice system—to drive up confidence.

I do not accept the hon. Gentlemen’s suggestion that the crime stats are not independent, but I hope that he has noted that we now issue crime stats using the new provisions for which we have legislated. The independence of the statisticians in the Home Office is now much clearer, and there is an overview from national statisticians, too. I do not accept his view that the way to tackle knife crime is to set up a new quango. We have been very clear that knife crime is a serious problem, but more so in certain areas than in others, and that we therefore need a national knife crime programme. The programme is to be led by a senior police officer, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock, and it will focus on those issues. We need to ensure increased use of stop and search, and to ensure that links are made with our schools. This week, we made it clear in the youth crime action plan that tackling knife crime starts with ensuring that parents live up to their responsibilities, too. We have to make sure that punishment is tough, and involves custody whenever a knife has been used. Where a community sentence is given, the sentence should bring home, particularly to young people, the consequences of even just carrying a knife. That is the right way to address the problem.

The hon. Gentleman will not tempt me down the route of supporting his proposal for a new system of proportional representation; that may disappoint some people on the Labour Benches— [Interruption.]—and please others. Let me be quite clear: the intention behind the proposals is not to safeguard one political party or another, but to make sure that local people have a direct voice on police authorities. I take seriously his point about ensuring that we maintain diversity, as regards gender and people from minority ethnic communities, on police authorities. That is one of the reasons why, in our proposals, we maintain the provision for independent members of police authorities, who make a very important contribution.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): May I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement, and on the measures to empower, and ensure greater accountability for, local people, as regards the policing service? I very much welcome the further drop in crime announced today, and the appointment of Jan Berry, but will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that every time we decentralise decision making, in relation to targets and the collection of stats, we end up with a contradiction? Was it not the Association of Chief Police Officers that, just over seven years ago, changed the recording of crime, so that the number of crimes and events that had to be recorded rose dramatically? Since the original measures doing away with centrally demanded forms and statistics were put in place, the number of forms at local level has risen dramatically. With the help of the excellent president of ACPO, Ken Jones, will my right hon. Friend ensure that Jan Berry has the support and resources needed to ensure, at grass-roots level, that responsibility is taken with regard to doing away with unnecessary form-filling and collection, and with regard to implementing powers, legislation and enforcement, as that is often not present on the ground?

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Jacqui Smith: Yes, and as we reflect on the reform and the success that is the basis for the further steps announced today, let me say that my right hon. Friend deserves considerable credit for the changes that he made to policing when he was in my role, not least as regards the development of the work force and the strong emphasis on standards, which has led to some of the results that we see today. He makes a very important point about where bureaucracy and form-filling emanate from. He is exactly right that the job for all of us, and for Jan Berry, is to continue to drive forward the reduction in bureaucracy, whether it comes from national Government, police forces or other partners, and to ensure that there is a sensible approach to driving out bureaucracy and implementing future initiatives. An important role for Jan Berry and her team is to make sure that we implement any future changes, both nationally and locally, in a way that minimises burdens and maximises the effectiveness of the police.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): May I congratulate the Home Secretary—I pause for a moment to allow those words to sink in—on her acceptance of recommendation 24 of the Flanagan report on the stop and account form? Is she aware that I have questioned the need for that form ever since—indeed, since even before—it was introduced in November 2004? Will she give the House an estimate of the number of police hours that would have been saved, the number of knives that might have been discovered, and the number of lives that might indeed have been saved, if that unnecessary and ridiculous piece of bureaucracy had never been introduced?

Jacqui Smith: I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his prescience in relation to the stop and account form. Unfortunately, I cannot congratulate him on his record in bringing down crime when he was Home Secretary, but I do not want to be churlish. As I think he is aware, the increased monitoring, particularly of stop and account, understandably emanated from concerns—not least those that came out of the Macpherson inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death—about whether, and how, it was possible to ensure proportionality in the way in which the police dealt with people, whatever their background. That was an understandable reason for the development of that form, but I think—and others agree—that it now does not serve that purpose, and it is right that it be removed.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Ben Kinsella was a constituent of mine, and I agree with his family that the only way to stop kids carrying knives is to ensure that they know that they will be stopped, searched and punished for carrying them. I remember the sus laws well, but nevertheless I fully support the random use of stop and search on young people in Islington, because local statistics show that no group is being disproportionately targeted in Islington. Will we build on best practice, and can we have more police officers randomly to stop and search our teenagers, to make them safer?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. She and I know of the dignity with which the Kinsella family have responded to a terrible tragedy, and that they are making very constructive suggestions.
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My hon. Friend is right, and in London we have had considerable success with Operation Blunt 2, which uses Government investment in search arches and wands to step up stop and search operations, particularly in areas where there is considerable concern about knife crime. People have been stopped, knives have been recovered, and those concerned will face the consequences of carrying knives. I want that sort of activity to continue in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I want it to happen not just in London. Through the national knife programme, I want it to be spread to other areas of the country where there are concerns about knife crime.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady investigate the circumstances in which serving police officers can take second jobs? May I draw her attention to a matter about which I have just written to her? She will not yet have got the letter. I represented a man in the criminal courts who was an officer in the Metropolitan police. He agreed with his superior that he would work but two days a week. For the rest of the time, he ran a very large estate agency, handling hundreds of thousands of pounds of cash. That is, by any standards, undesirable. He was convicted of fraud. First, is it right in principle that a police officer should work but two days a week? Secondly, if it is right that he should have another job, should it be that kind of job, in which he would inevitably be exposed to huge temptation, and would handle very large sums of money?

Jacqui Smith: I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not expect me to comment on an individual case. I will, of course, respond to his letter, but it ill behoves Members of this House to comment on others having more than one job.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I congratulate the Home Secretary on both the Green Paper and the excellent statistics. The national statistics have been exceeded by those in Hove and Port Slade, where in the year until the end of June crime as a whole was down by 21.4 per cent. and violent crime down by 21.9 per cent. That is partly to do with our wonderful neighbourhood police team, with whose youth disorder operation I had the pleasure of touring my constituency a couple of weeks ago. We visited areas where large numbers of youths gather to speak to them and to see what was going on. That team’s successful approach involves sending letters to parents, which could form part of the initiatives that the Home Secretary aims to pursue. Does she plan to do that, and will she visit that team?

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