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Mr. Wilkinson: May I interrupt the hon. Lady's filibuster for a moment to ask her to identify some of those hot spots?

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Taking as an example cases in which I am closely involved, the statistics for the number of sex abuse offences that are being perpetrated on Merseyside would lead one to believe that the people of Merseyside are genetically predisposed to sex abuse. Statistics for other parts of the country show that very few sex abuse cases are being pursued, which implies that Merseyside is a hot spot for sex abuse activities and inquiries. However, there is nothing at all to support that view, unless one accepts that argument for genetic predisposition. I should be pleased if the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) were able to give me any research corroborating that theory.

An effective compromise is to present the simple league tables as no more than the beginning of an exploratory process. If it is to be successful, the process requires the good faith of the Government and the constructive participation of ACPO, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation.

Ultimately, I would argue that diagnosis of management failure that is accurate enough to use as the basis for remedial action, and which will be accepted by all interested parties as the basis for change, requires a bottom-up, organisation-led approach. Where legislation supports such cultural reform processes, they can be said to have serious positive potential; otherwise, they are likely to suffer the fate of their predecessors.

I share the Police Foundation's view that the White Paper has set out on a well-worn path with insufficient insight into the nature of the problem that it seeks to tackle. To my knowledge, there has never been an example of a Government producing a revolution in management culture and style by legislative diktat. Nearly all the most effective catalysts for change were applied at middle and junior management levels, with directors supporting but not directing the process. Technological change is one universal means by which to power rapid and radical adaptation. No such radical technological change is on the horizon for policing, and innovations that might have had an effect—command and control, computer-assisted detection and crime pattern analysis—have mostly been folded into the existing culture without causing much disturbance. The Home Secretary and the Government may well argue that even during the Thatcher Administration and at the time of Sir Patrick Sheehy's report, concern over police performance and political will and power never coalesced as they do now; and that historical precedents should therefore be ignored in favour of a full-frontal assault.

ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association have already given their first reactions to the White Paper and I am pleased to say that it seems to have provoked a lively new interest in performance management. There is no intrinsic reason why, after a period of turbulence, the

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institutions outlined in the White Paper cannot be adapted to a reasonable and reputable process of management reform. However, the immediate intention to reform police conditions of service poses a taxing dilemma. The proposals have been roundly condemned and rejected by the Police Federation, as all involved could have predicted.

I acknowledge that conditions of service as regards shift working, overtime, salary scales, special payments, sickness, absenteeism, and so on must change. That much has been apparent since the Sheehy report in 1993. However, the way in which the list is approached will affect the progress of the rest of the reform agenda. So far, the auguries in that respect are not good, and my conclusion is that if negotiation with the federation remains on its current combative course, ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association will be seriously disadvantaged in trying to work behind the rhetoric of the White Paper, and with the impositions and injunctions of the Police Reform Bill, to achieve genuine reform in the management culture.

It should be clearly recognised that much could be offered to the federation arising from the reform agenda. The federation's considerable interest in the professional development of its members, and the introduction of warden and non-sworn officer schemes, will create opportunities for junior officers to take on management roles. New pay scales and reward systems are mooted; they would be welcomed at local level if there was trust that the spirit of these innovations would be honoured in their implementation. The recent federation vote against the reforms was a measure of its confidence in the service's management, just as the tone and content of the White Paper symbolise politicians' trust in the service. This is an elegant stand-off.

In conclusion, I believe that the political scene is too well set to be substantially redrawn at this juncture. If the Government have to keep on the present course, the most useful contribution that they can make to the reform of police performance management will be to invest heavily in three crucial areas. First, every effort must be made to empower, not weaken, the leadership potential of ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association. Secondly, a viable working relationship has to be created through the federation with sergeants and inspectors to deliver reform. Thirdly—most importantly, in my view—there must be a radical reappraisal of management training for junior officers. Only when these recommendations have been implemented will I have confidence in the product coming off the justice production line in the UK today.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. A number of hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye, so I urge Members to make brief contributions. More may then be successful.

12.11 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): This has been a most reassuring debate. First, the Minister told us that there were no Spanish practices in the police, and now we know from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis–Thomas) that there are no time-watchers in the House of Commons.

The contribution of the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was to demonstrate by its loquacity that the Liberal party is at least the measure of the

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Conservatives. The difference, of course, is that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has his natural fenlander reassurance. I do not think that he ever gets rushes of blood to the head. He is someone on whom we can instinctively rely, and the police service want that kind of interest from those who are likely to be Ministers of the Crown in the near future. We were most impressed by what he had to say.

Without going down memory lane, I have detected that people's attitude to crime has greatly changed during the time that I have been in this place, from the early 1970s when I was a Member in Bradford, and from the late 1970s when I started representing Ruislip-Northwood. When I first became involved in inner-city politics in Bradford, and in outer-city politics in London, crime was not the overwhelming preoccupation for our constituents that it is now. Perhaps that is because, in those early days, there was not the drug culture that we have today. Muggings and street crime were not prevalent, youth was not so alienated, antisocial and violent, and there was not such a high incidence of racially motivated offences. The availability and use of firearms was much less, and—as a background—the family unit was not in the process of disintegration that it is in to a large extent today.

Any Government, therefore, will have a very difficult background against which to evolve imaginative policing policies. Her Majesty's Opposition are correct to emphasise—as I am sure they will on Tuesday, when we debate the quality of life in London and the south-east—that the breakdown of law and order in the capital and the prevalent culture of violence that exists in many of our big cities in the south-east and elsewhere have to be addressed as an urgent priority by Her Majesty's Government. They have not done so effectively to date.

There are useful initiatives. It is true that the crime fighting fund will provide extra moneys to recruit new officers—although retention has been more of a problem than recruitment—and the resource allocation formula will make it likely that outer London boroughs such as mine will have a higher proportion of officers than in recent years.

The effort that the Government are making to address the pay and remuneration of officers is crucial, and they must get it right. They will have to sit down with the representatives of the police service and work out a pay and conditions structure that will motivate and retain officers for at least the next decade. That may need some fairly radical measures, but it must be done.

I found something that the Minister said particularly important. He stressed the need to improve the training system, and said that the police needed enhanced leadership skills and a faster promotion structure. I endorse all those sentiments. I am not against the idea of a national centre for police excellence, or against the concept that the Home Secretary should more actively monitor the performance of chief officers.

In putting the tackling of crime at the centre of the Government's priorities, we could perhaps look at the model in many other countries, where the police service has an equal status to the three armed forces of the realm. I hope that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis could be given right of access, if necessary, to the Prime Minister. That would be a measure of great imagination, and would have a lot to commend it.

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The strategic aims that the Commissioner has set are wise. They include the increased security of the capital, in which regard the intelligence service within the police force must work more effectively with MI5 to tackle terrorism; the creation of safer communities for Londoners—all our constituents want more beat officers; and an improved police response to vulnerable victims. Here, too, our constituents often complain that the 999 system does not work well and that the police respond ineffectively and slowly.

A further aim is to tackle youth offending. I suggest that the Government reintroduce the borstal system. I believe that placing young offenders who have become alienated from society and repeatedly commit crime in an institution where they could learn new skills in a controlled environment in which discipline and better values were inculcated would be a great step forward.

Other measures are also possible. I would re-institute officer cadet entry into the Metropolitan force, and have a Trenchard-style police academy in which the best standards of leadership could be inculcated, and where the high fliers could receive the in-depth training and career-enhancing measures that are needed in their formative years.

Instead of having the problem of community support officers, I would transform the specials and have an auxiliary police service, rather like the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. It would operate to exactly the same standards as the regular force and be paid exactly the same rates of pay when on duty. It would be engaged in regular duty for two weeks every year and have a proper bounty. It should be a force to which retiring officers could aspire. They would receive an enhanced terminal grant if, on leaving the regular force, they joined the auxiliaries.

Lastly, there should be a much more flexible retirement age in the police force as a whole. Many of our police officers retire after 30 years' service when they still have a great deal to offer to the community. A flexible retirement age should be introduced, offering a full career even up to the age of 65. Clearly, officers who opted for such service would engage in more sedentary but nevertheless worthwhile duties, which are currently performed by civilians.

The Metropolitan police authority and the Government have exciting opportunities at present. The Government will have to show leadership and an interest in careers in the police service, which they have not done hitherto. If they can do that, they can start to address the problems that vex our constituents and that urgently need to be addressed.

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