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5.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): This has been a largely thoughtful and measured debate, and I shall begin by referring to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). He expressed the view—which I share—that our police service is of the highest standard. There are few greater responsibilities than supporting the police service to protect our freedoms and to lead the fight against crime. My right hon. Friend went on to say that matters to do with policing ought to be above party politics, and I agree—although I cannot be absolutely sure that my later comments will reach that standard.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing set out clearly in his speech at the start of the debate the Government’s
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commitment to a new vision for 21st century policing, which includes a new deal for what the public can expect from the police and the criminal justice system. Our Green Paper sets out the next stage of reform, which has been made possible by our success in cutting crime and by the record level of investment over the past decade.

Keith Vaz: May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister personally on his promotion? I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma) on his promotion to Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Front-Bench Home Office team. The commitment to reform is clearly in place, but hon. Members of all parties have identified that one of the key issues is the removal of paperwork and red tape. We need a bonfire of targets, so are the Government committed to ensuring that that will happen?

Mr. Campbell: We are, and I hope that in my comments later I will be able to give my right hon. Friend the assurances that he seeks.

The Casey review has been mentioned, quite rightly, in almost every speech this afternoon. It has highlighted the fact that changes are necessary to increase public confidence in the police and to empower people with the information that they need if they are to make well-informed decisions that impact on the local community.

Much has been made about confidence in the police, which is central to the single target that will be part of the policing pledge. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) gave the impression—I think inadvertently—that 1997 was year zero, so let me tell him that confidence in the police unfortunately fell after 1982. In that year, 92 per cent. of people had confidence in the police, whereas only 75 per cent. did in 2003. That shows that the decline in public confidence did not begin in 1997, but I assure the House that it is something that the Government are absolutely determined to put right.

The Green Paper addresses many other concerns, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has outlined already. The national policing pledge will set out for the first time the standard of service that the public can expect from the police. It will include standards and commitments on response times—an issue of great importance in the debate—as well as on neighbourhood policing, community engagement and time spent on the front line.

James Brokenshire: Does the Minister acknowledge that public confidence in crime prevention means that people need to be able to rely, not just on the police, but on those other agencies charged with keeping them safe? Does he accept that people’s confidence will have been rocked by this afternoon’s shocking news that the Security Industry Authority, which is responsible for vetting nightclub door staff and other security personnel, has not even carried out all the appropriate security checks on its own staff?

Mr. Campbell: I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ability to get that point into the debate, but I draw the House’s attention to the statement that the Government have
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issued this afternoon. That statement is part of the commitment on these matters that was set out earlier so, far from condemning us on that, he should be congratulating us.

The provision of local information about crime and policing issues in a local area will also be included in the pledge, as will follow-up for victims of crime and—importantly—information about how to complain. We want to provide the public with the service that they tell us they want. Any reform must be credible, and offer people the help and support that they need to challenge their police service, in a constructive way, to do better on the issues that matter to them.

I turn now to the comments of contributors to the debate. The hon. Member for Hornchurch opened the debate for the Opposition. He and I are becoming regulars at debates in various places. Often in debate, one side says that the glass is half full, and the other says that it is half empty, but invariably for the hon. Gentleman there is nothing in the glass at all. A lot of good work is done locally, through the efforts of the police and the community working together, but I am sorry to say that he is in danger of giving the impression that the work is not taking place, or is not valued. I am sure that he did not want to give that impression.

The hon. Gentleman went on to welcome—perhaps through gritted teeth—the Casey review and Jan Berry’s appointment to a role in which she will reduce bureaucracy. He suggested that he shares our view at least on the aspiration of reducing targets and bureaucracy, and on the general approach taken in the Green Paper, which includes provisions on crime mapping and regular meetings.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the length of time that members of neighbourhood policing teams would spend on-patch, and complained that the 80 per cent. figure meant that 20 per cent. of their time would be spent elsewhere doing who knows what. They will, of course, be doing partly what he wants them to do. If they are to be effective and arrest criminals, they must spend part of their time preparing evidence and presenting it in court to ensure a conviction and, hopefully, punishment. That will not be included in the 80 per cent. figure, because it does not count as front-line activity.

The hon. Gentleman also called for the greater use of powers, particularly in relation to alcohol. I echo that call. I echo everything that he said on that issue, but I suggest that he has a word with his colleagues in local government, where there is a reluctance to use many of the powers that the Government have introduced. He went on to talk about accountability. Although we agree on the need for accountability, we do not agree on the need for an elected police commissioner. The reason is clear: there is a risk of politicisation, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) pointed out. I also point out that the approach that the hon. Member for Hornchurch takes is not local enough. We have talked about one person representing various groups across a community, but I give him the example of Northumbria police area, my local police area, which stretches from Berwick to Sunderland—a distance of about 80 miles. It is full of diverse communities, each in themselves diverse, and it is spread out geographically. The approach that he advocates would not be local enough. That is why our crime and policing representatives, based in more local areas, offer a much better way forward.

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I want to return to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. I thank him for his comments, which he repeated just now. I look forward to working with him and his Committee, and I can assure him that no one would ever accuse him, or it, of being a patsy. I look forward to its report, and I want to place on record our appreciation of the work of the Committee. He identified the issue of lack of confidence, and worryingly said that confidence can sometimes be damaged after someone has come into contact with the police. That underlines the approach being taken in the Green Paper; we want to bring the police and the community closer together to increase understanding and enhance confidence. He spoke in praise of neighbourhood watch, and I join him in that view. He described its members as heroes and heroines, and I echo that. I am pleased to pay tribute to them today.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh talked about community payback and the wearing of tabards. He had something of a spat with the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies); I tended to agree slightly with the latter, but perhaps not to a great extent. The issue is not just the impact on offenders. Quite honestly, what offenders wear and whether it offends them is not of the slightest interest to me. What is of interest is the work that they do while they are wearing those tabards—meaningful work that puts something back into the community. As the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) said, the issue is about the community seeing that justice is done.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh talked about neighbourhood watch and community champions, but it is not an either/or issue: community champions exist and are probably already involved in their local community, but some of them might be members of neighbourhood watch, too. We should all support whatever works in individual areas. The hon. Gentleman went on to repeat a call for cross-party support, but he then talked about accountability. He attacked the official Opposition’s position, and I am glad to join him in that, but I listened very closely to what he said and I am not sure that he gave us any answers at all. I listened to the Liberal position, but, unless I have missed something, I am none the wiser at the end of it all. Not surprisingly, however, he brought us back to proportional representation, so I should point out to him that in some areas, the representative will in fact be a directly elected mayor, who, including my own mayor on Tyneside, will be elected by a form of proportional representation. However, it is hardly fair of him to blame us for what he calls 11 years of inaction when he finishes his remarks by asking us to return to the drawing board.

In a thoughtful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) used her experience to demonstrate the problems that have been highlighted in her area and brought up in the Casey review and in the Green Paper. I agree entirely about the need for local authorities to use the powers that are available, but I do not agree about the issue of crime and policing representatives, because the existing system is by no means perfect, and many local communities simply do not know who the members of their police authority are. I should point out to my hon. Friend that even after the representatives are elected to a police authority,
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there will still be space on the authority for local authority representatives, because many of them make an important contribution and we want that to continue.

In a knowledgeable and thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth acknowledged the point in the Green Paper about the need for national standards and the role for the police in setting priorities, and he underlined the need to work closely with the community to align those priorities, because, often, individuals will see their priority as something that has happened to them in their area, so it is important that we get the alignment right. The hon. Gentleman used his knowledge to illustrate concerns about jury trials, pre-sentencing reports and interventions, but we have to be careful, particularly if we are looking out from within the criminal justice system, because our constituents have a slightly different view of how it works. We have to maintain its fairness but ensure that it is fit for purpose for our constituents.

The hon. Member for Monmouth paid tribute to special constables, and I am happy to endorse that and point out that, in August, the Home Secretary announced £2.5 million to recruit 6,000 more of them. I wish Darran Grady and all the other police community support officers well, whether they are nominated for an award or not, but the issue of whether they receive a warrant card is contentious. We have to be careful that we do not derail the good work that PCSOs do and upset the balance that has been struck in local communities.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) made a number of points that, I hope, my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has addressed and, therefore, I do not need to. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) raised a number of issues about people with mental health problems and the criminal justice system, and we are talking to health authorities about the situation. We are aware of it, and I should point out to him the very good work that is being done on drug intervention areas, where there is some success. Indeed, I saw some success when I visited Coventry recently.

The money for alcohol and drug treatment to prevent reoffending comes from a number of different places, because we have a joined-up approach throughout the Government and on the ground, but the hon. Gentleman was right to draw our attention to persistent offenders. Nine out of 10 antisocial behaviour offenders stop offending after the third intervention, but that leaves about 7 per cent. who continue. It is important that we focus attention on the issue, and that is where Operation Leopard, for example, has been successful.

I am trying to be quick but as courteous as possible to hon. Members. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) paid tribute to the good work being done on the ground; I echo that, and what he said about the police working with the eyes and ears of the community. Our police pledge and the Green Paper are about working with the eyes and ears of the community and working better with the wider community. That is our ambition, and we are determined to fulfil it. A lot of comment today suggests that there is a lot of good work in the Green Paper and we will—

It being Six o’clock, the motion lapsed, without Question put.

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Northern Ireland Grand Committee

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Icelandic Banking Collapse

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Ms Butler.]

6 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for giving me the opportunity to raise the issue of United Kingdom citizens affected by the Icelandic banking crisis and the fact that they have or had offshore accounts. We have seen much on the news about the collapse of the Icelandic banks, the Government’s seizure of their assets and the subsequent guarantee of all UK deposits in Icelandic banks.

Running alongside that unfolding drama has been the equal drama of the position of people who held Icelandic bank deposits located offshore in the Isle of Man and Guernsey. I shall focus the majority of my remarks on the Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander Isle of Man bank, from which two of my constituents have lost large sums. The first is Katy Watt, who has lost everything that she has worked for throughout her life.

Ms Watt moved to the Isle of Man five years ago to take up a job as a youth worker. The wages of UK citizens working on the Isle of Man cannot be paid into a UK bank account, so she was required to open an Isle of Man bank account. She bought herself a house in Peel, and worked for five years on the island. This summer she turned 60, and decided to retire to Wakefield, where her daughter and friends live. In August, she sold her house on the Isle of Man. The proceeds from the sale went into a KSF Isle of Man account along with her life savings, ready to be transferred to a UK account when she found a house in Wakefield. Like all KSF depositors, Ms Watt believed that her money was protected. KSF had specifically told her that she was protected by a 100 per cent. guarantee from the parent Kaupthing bank in Iceland. She was also attracted by a high interest rate of more than 6 per cent.

On 6 October, amid rumours of collapse in the banking sector, Ms Watt contacted KSF Isle of Man and was told that the bank was safe. However, she decided to move her money out of KSF and into a UK-based account. She contacted the bank again and was told that the money had left her account. It never arrived. Her money has been lost in the UK clearing system, and many other people who sought to move their money out have lost it in transit.

Ms Watt had not arranged a private pension, but had carefully saved her money. The money in the KSF account was to buy her a home and provide an income additional to her state and work pension. She is now left with absolutely nothing. She has no home. She is staying with friends and family, but cannot stay with them permanently. She is entirely reliant on her small state pension. When she came to see me in this place it was immediately apparent that her income was such that she now qualifies for pension credit. She is devastated that after a lifetime of working hard and playing by the rules, she is dependent on state benefits to top up her income. I should like to put on the record my thanks to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for helping to speed up the payment of those benefits. I strongly advise other depositors who have lost pension lump sums and rely on their investment
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income to consider whether they are entitled to pension credit and to claim it immediately if they are entitled.

My second affected constituent is Mr. David Speed, who lives in Farnley Tyas, a small village just outside Huddersfield. He recently retired after 40 years’ work and sold the small business that he had set up and run. He put the majority of the proceeds into a six-year investment bond, which cannot be touched. He placed the remaining cash, about £200,000, in a one-year bond with KSF Isle of Man, on the recommendation of his accountant. Mr. Speed has a £127,000 capital gains tax bill to pay by the end of January 2009, but no cash to settle it. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) has a constituent in exactly the same position.

My constituents are typical of many depositors who have lost their money in Kaupthing Isle of Man. Mike Simpson, the KSF Isle of Man provisional liquidator, has stated that there are 8,168 individual depositors with KSF Isle of Man. In total, they have lost £821 million from the bank.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She has done well to secure this debate. She has mentioned two very difficult individual cases, and the whole House will have sympathy with her in that regard. I draw to her and the Minister’s attention the case of a company in my constituency, which for obvious reasons I will not name. It is trying to carry on in business despite the crippling problem of having most of its funds tied up in the bank to which she is referring. It feels completely helpless and let down by the black hole of regulation, support and compensation that exists in relation to a bank that it used not because it was searching for high interest but because it used to bank with Singer and Friedlander, which it regarded as a traditional City name.

Mary Creagh: Many people’s funds have ended up in KSF Isle of Man by a variety of routes. I am sure that we will hear from other hon. Members about the routes by which money ended up in offshore accounts. I entirely understand the position in which the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency finds itself. We need to look into the regulation that took place. As he will be aware, the Isle of Man has a separate regulatory regime, and it is not clear to small investors that that is the case. It was certainly not clear to people who invested in Guernsey that they were not covered by any compensation scheme.

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