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Police (Paperwork)

14. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What plans he has to reduce the paperwork police officers have to deal with. [75325]

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The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): We published the report of Sir David O'Dowd's taskforce on policing bureaucracy in September. It shows us how the police service can cut administrative burdens and reduce inefficient working practices, which together keep police officers off the streets. The Government have set up a joint group co-chaired by the Association of Chief Police Officers to take forward and implement the taskforce report.

Dr. Ladyman: I am very appreciative of my right hon. Friend's answer, but what progress has so far been made in implementing the report? More importantly, since this is really about getting police officers back into front-line policing, how are we going to monitor whether reducing bureaucracy is in fact equalling more policemen doing what they are employed to do?

Mr. Denham: On my hon. Friend's first point, we kept in close touch with the taskforce while it was doing its work, so we were able to make a number of changes to, for example, the powers that can be exercised by civilian custody staff in the context of the Police Reform Act 2002, which received Royal Assent in July. We have therefore already made a start on the issues identified by the taskforce. Equally, we are discussing with the police service the best way to measure the taskforce's impact. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—we need to develop an effective measure that indicates to us and to the public how we are gaining greater visibility and more officer hours on the front line as a result of these and other changes. When we have completed that work, we will publish that indicator for the police service.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will the Minister tell us when the new computer systems in respect of arrest and taking into custody will be available for use in the service?

Mr. Denham: The case and custody system, to which I think the hon. Gentleman refers, is being successfully trialled in Warwickshire. I hope that, during the three years from next April, the system will be rolled out across the police service. We are looking in detail at the deadlines and timetables, but that is the time scale towards which we are working.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Has my right hon. Friend seen a piece of paperwork that is doing more to reduce the number of police officers on the streets of Slough than any other? It is an advertisement, issued by the Metropolitan police, showing a photograph of two terraced houses, both of which are occupied by police officers. The rubric states the following about the occupiers:

What can the Minister do to help those police forces on the periphery of London whose members are being poached by the Metropolitan Police Authority? In the

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case of Slough, such activities are leading to an increase in crime in precisely those areas that we are targeting for reduction.

Mr. Denham: I have not seen the advertisement to which my hon. Friend refers, but if that is what it says, that is not the way in which forces should compete for police officers. A few years ago, an agreement was reached and police forces did not attempt to recruit from each other's areas. At the instigation of the Association of Chief Police Officers, that was changed some time ago, when it was agreed that such recruitment exercises be carried out. However, it is essential that they be conducted in a responsible manner.

Reoffending Rates

15. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): If he will make a statement on reoffending rates among young offenders in the last five years. [75326]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn): Reoffending rates are not normally measured, as they rely on self-reporting by offenders. Our target is therefore to achieve, by 2004, a 5 per cent. reduction in reconviction rates for young offenders within 12 months of original conviction, reprimand or final warning. Statistics published in June this year for the group dealt with in July 2000—just after

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the start of the main youth justice reforms—showed a 14.6 per cent. reduction in reconviction rates compared with 1997.

Mr. Robathan : Notwithstanding the hard work put in by many staff, does the Minister agree that young offenders' institutions such as Glen Parva in my constituency are not happy places? Contrary to what the Minister says, the number of those in such places who are reconvicted has increased by 58 per cent. in the past five years throughout the country. Does the Minister think that there are any lessons to be learned from past regimes—for example, approved schools—in terms of why the offending rate was so low then? Does he think that a case exists for a challenging regime of support, rehabilitation and training after custody, to prevent people from re-offending and being reconvicted?

Hilary Benn: I do agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. If he looks at the work that the Youth Justice Board is undertaking, what he describes is precisely what makes up the intensive supervision and surveillance programmes that youth offending teams are running up and down the country. They provide the rigour that is required to get young people to face up to the consequences of their offending, and they give them the support that they need to live their lives differently in future. That is precisely why we have invested in youth justice reforms, and the whole House will doubtless welcome the early indication that those reforms are succeeding in helping to reduce reconvictions.

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European Council

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the European Council in Brussels on 24 and 25 October.

This European Council set the framework for the final stage of the enlargement negotiations. We are on course to finish those negotiations in December, sign an accession treaty with the candidate countries next spring and welcome them into the European Union at the beginning of 2004.

Enlargement has been a goal of successive British Governments. It was an historic obligation to offer membership to those nations that won their freedom after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their membership will establish a single market of some 500 million people. We hope that those 10 countries will be joined by Bulgaria and Romania no later than 2007.

The European Council also welcomed the reforms undertaken by the Turkish Government. The Council agreed that Turkish progress had brought forward the opening of accession negotiations. At the Copenhagen European Council in December, we will decide on the next stage of Turkey's candidature. For our part, the British Government look forward to Turkey's membership of the European Union in accordance with the conditions that all candidates have to meet.

The last stage of any negotiation is always the most difficult, and the last stage of the negotiation between the existing members of the European Union and the candidate countries is of course about money: what they pay into and receive from the EU budget, including structural funds and the common agricultural policy.

The European Union will be generous to the new member states. It is right that we should be, given our own interest in their stability and prosperity. But at the same time, we do not want to jeopardise the progress that has been made in reducing agriculture's share of the EU budget from more than 60 per cent. 20 years ago to 45 per cent. now. The reforms agreed in Berlin in 1999 are worth Euro7.5 billion to EU consumers and taxpayers. We want to extend that reform in two ways. First, the Commission has brought forward proposals for the mid-term review of agriculture under paragraph 22 of the Berlin conclusions of 1999 which, if agreed would de-link agricultural subsidies from production for the first time in the history of the European Union. Secondly, we want to limit the growth of direct payments to farmers once the candidate countries become full members.

Before the summit, the main argument was whether enlargement could be blocked by the disagreement between France and Germany over limiting agricultural spending. Fortunately, before the summit, they reached agreement that future agricultural spending should be capped up to 2013 at the levels of 2006 envisaged by the Commission. In effect, because of allowances made for an inflation rate of only 1 per cent., that will mean a real-terms reduction over and above the original Commission proposals. That aspect of the agreement was welcomed by all. However, there then arose the question of whether in return for that, reform of the

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CAP, prior to 2006 when the current financial perspective runs out, would be postponed. That then dominated the latter stages of the summit.

In our view, such a blanket opposition to reform would have been wholly unacceptable. It would mean effectively destroying the current reform proposals of the European Commission. It would seriously inhibit the offer the EU can make in the World Trade Organisation Doha trade talks. Those talks are vital both for free trade and for the developing countries of the world. Those poor countries need agricultural reform in Europe and they need it badly.

Eventually, we agreed specifically that the limit on agricultural spending would be without prejudice either to the European Commission's mid-term review of agriculture based on paragraph 22 of the Berlin conclusions or to the Doha trade round. Those issues can now be taken forward by the Agriculture Council, which, of course, operates by qualified majority voting. Despite the difficulty in negotiating that, it would have been quite wrong for the possibility of CAP reform to have been hindered in that way. As a result of the summit outcome, enlargement remains on track and fundamental CAP reform remains on the agenda.

During the European Council, I also discussed with colleagues the issue of Iraq. We are all agreed on the need to ensure that Saddam has no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programmes. We are working hard for agreement on the terms of a tough new Security Council resolution. The key point has to be that the weapons inspectors should return, free to do their jobs properly, without any of the restraints wrongly imposed before. Should there then be a further breach by Iraq, I have no doubt that action must follow.

We also discussed the development of European defence. We agreed that Macedonia would be a good place to start and that we should therefore work urgently to complete the agreement between the EU and NATO.

In addition, we had a presentation from President Giscard d'Estaing on the convention on the future of Europe. In his speech today, I am pleased that the president makes it clear that Europe should co-operate as a union of European states, not a federal super-state, and I believe that his proposals on subsidiarity, the role of national Parliaments and Council reform will be welcomed, at least here. We are well placed in this vital debate.

Before concluding, I would like to update the House on the hostage crisis in Moscow that ended tragically with the loss of so many lives. At 9 pm local time on Wednesday, around 50 armed Chechens took several hundred hostages in a theatre in south-east Moscow. Among the hostages were three British nationals: Peter and Sidica Low and their son Richard. Peter Low and a few others were released on Thursday morning. I spoke to President Putin from Brussels on Friday. Britain sent a team of counter-terrorist experts to help. President Putin told me that he had no doubt that the terrorists were prepared to kill all the hostages; that they were heavily armed with explosives; and that whatever decision he took would be immensely difficult. After the siege had ended at 5.30 am local time on Saturday, I rang him again to welcome the ending of the siege. I asked him and he was able to tell me that the safe release of Sidica and Richard Low had been ensured.

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It is too early yet to know the full facts of what happened, but I ask people to understand that when it was clear that the terrorists were starting to execute the hostages, the Russian authorities had to act. I know how hard it will have been to make the right decisions. But there are no easy, no risk-free, no safe solutions to such a situation. And I hope that people will understand the enormity of the dilemma facing President Putin as he weighed what to do, in trying to end the siege with minimum loss of life and recognising the dangers of doing anything that conceded to this latest outrage of terrorism from Chechnya.

Although it is clear that hundreds survived, many did not, and the loss of each innocent life will be mourned not just in Russia but throughout the world, and we in Britain send our deepest condolences to the Russian people at this time.

The attacks in Bali, the occupation of the Moscow theatre, the other terrorist attacks around the world, the murder of the American diplomat in Jordan this morning are all brutal and horrifying reminders of this new form of terrorist extremism. A deadly mixture of religious and political fanaticism is being pursued by those who have no compunction about taking human lives, no matter how innocent, and little about losing their own. The only answer is to defeat them by security, intelligence and policing but also to tackle head on, especially within the Muslim world, their perversion of Islam in the cause of extremism. I remain of the view that it is not only the methods of extremism but the extremists' ideas that must be countered.

Thanks to the outcome of the summit, the way is clear to finish the enlargement negotiations by December. In the worst days of the cold war it would have seemed incredible that countries that were under Soviet rule for nearly half a century could find their freedom. But they did. This opportunity and the challenge of enlargement have helped them catch up half a century in the last decade. I hope the House will welcome this important step towards a Europe united, democratic and free.

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