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Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): In answering questions, the Foreign Secretary has spoken with confidence to suggest that the strong restriction on the export of weapons to Israel means that they have
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not been used to repress the Palestinian people. Will he clarify whether he feels that some of the weapons that had been given licences have been used to kill Palestinians? If that is true, is there a case for further restricting the export of such weapons?

David Miliband: I have said repeatedly that we have a clear policy. When there is a clear risk that arms or their components would be used for internal repression or external aggression, those arms are not exported. To repeat what I said earlier, the totality of the equipment that has been used is not yet completely clear. As I also said earlier, any evidence of IDF methods or tactics in this conflict will be taken into account in assessing the clear risk in future licence applications. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that the words that he put into my mouth were not the words that I actually used. The words that I have used are very clear. It is not yet completely clear what equipment has been used. Our approach to exports in the past is clear and it is also clear that in future the conduct and methods of this conflict will be used in the assessment.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that of the 1,200 Palestinians killed in the recent conflict, a third were women and children. It is useful of him to keep repeating the British arms export criteria, but I ask him, once again, whether he is confident that no British arms—including those produced by an Israeli-owned arms manufacturer—have been used to repress the people of Gaza.

David Miliband: Perhaps my hon. Friend has a particular case in mind, given how she chose her words at the end. I am not sure; perhaps we could have a word afterwards. We take seriously the commitments that we make about the need for British exports not to be used for internal repression or external aggression. The best thing to say is that we will ensure that any suggestions that there has been such use are investigated fully. Last week, I said in the House that I was confident that an allegation made in one newspaper about one particular weapon was not true—it was not being used by the IDF, but had in fact been for export. I am happy to stick by that. Rather than my saying, “I am confident,” which can sound complacent, it is better for me to say that we have a clear policy and that we should continue to assert it and implement it clearly. That is what we are determined to do.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): In the past year, Hamas has launched repeated rocket attacks. Will my right hon. Friend tell me, today or later in writing, what proportion of those rockets have fallen on land militarily stolen from Palestinians by successive Governments of Israel after 1966—land that is now illegally occupied by Israeli colonists?

David Miliband: That sounded like the sort of question to which my hon. Friend has the answer. I do not want to guess the answer, but I assure him that I will try to find it out. I shall write to him with it and place a copy of my reply in the Library of the House.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The humanitarian situation in Gaza is horrendous, but there are reports that Iran has stated that it wishes to rearm Hamas as its proxy. Do the steps set out by the Foreign Secretary deal with that issue?

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David Miliband: Obviously, we would deplore such a statement or such an intent. The measures are designed precisely to forestall that eventuality.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I call Chris Mullin.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I thought you would never ask, Madam Deputy Speaker.

How can we possibly justify allowing the Israelis preferential access to European markets, in view of the enormity of what they have done in Gaza and the relentless advance of the settlements across the west bank?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend will know that the EU-Israel trade agreement is matched by an EU-Palestine trade agreement. It is vital that the access that the Palestinians are guaranteed under that agreement is fulfilled. It is also important that the produce from settlements does not get the benefit of the EU-Israel trade agreement, which was designed to ensure preferential access for Israel and not for the settlements, which we recognise as occupied Palestinian territory. It is for the benefit of both that the agreements that were last signed in 2004 are followed through.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): If this ceasefire is to be more than just a temporary lull in the cycle of violence, must not the Government of Israel somehow be made to recognise that they cannot reserve for themselves,
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as Israeli politicians seem to want to do, the right at any time to impose total blockades on Gaza, which stop any goods going in and out, stop power being supplied, and even stop medical supplies?

David Miliband: It must be right that matters that are subject to international negotiation, such as the 2005 agreement on crossings, are implemented in full, and that is certainly what we are determined to see happen. That is absolutely essential if there is ever to be progress for the people of Gaza.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): May I seek some reassurance from my right hon. Friend regarding the opening of border crossings to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza? He has already said that the situation is being monitored in terms of the number of vehicles going in, but can he assure the House that he is taking every active step possible to ensure that Israel recognises its international obligations and tries to make up for some of the considerable damage that it has done to its own reputation?

David Miliband: Yes. I assure my hon. Friend that I am doing everything in my power, as are my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and his Minister of State, who is in the region today. There is a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. I wish that we were talking about averting a humanitarian catastrophe, but there is one now, and the danger is that more people lose their lives as a result of it. That is what we are seeking to avert, and I assure my hon. Friend that we are working very hard to do so.

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Policing and Crime Bill

Second Reading

5.22 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I start, may I welcome the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to his new position on the Front Bench? He has very thoughtful and decent shoes to fill—those of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve)— but I am sure that he will do a very good job. [ Interruption. ] I will not say it about the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley).

This Bill builds on a determined commitment by this Government to protect the public through investment and reform in our police service by building strong and secure communities where we support the law-abiding majority and protect the vulnerable while punishing those who do not play by the rules—making sure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. To date, we have made good progress. Since 1997, crime is down by nearly 40 per cent.; burglary and car crime has more than halved; we have invested more than £1 billion to establish neighbourhood policing across England and Wales; there are almost 14,500 more officers in the police force, alongside police community support officers and backed by more civilian staff and a major increase in funding; and the likelihood of being a victim of crime is now lower than at any time in more than 25 years.

That is a tremendous record that stands as a testament to the achievements of this Government working in close collaboration with our many partners across the police, the courts, local government and the voluntary sector, as well as our most important partners—local people willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the police in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour in their communities.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Could the Home Secretary confirm that someone’s chances of being a victim of a violent crime such as a stabbing are significantly higher now than they were last year or 10 years ago, when her Government took office?

Jacqui Smith: No, I am not willing to accept that. What is more, and I am sure that we will get the chance to explore this in greater detail when I come before the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the actions of the police and their partners, particularly in those areas where knife crime has been the most significant crime issue, should be commended for the difference that they have made, especially in recent months.

Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Would my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to acknowledge the benefits that have come from the initiative to reduce violent crime in Cardiff, which was led by a medic who worked very closely with the police, taking a clinical approach to reducing crime? Is that not an example of the value of the crime reduction partnerships, and of the sort of benefit that has quietly been reaped in recent years? Does she agree that we should see such examples in every part of the country?

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Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend makes an important point about a project in which he has taken a personal interest. I am sure that he will be interested to know that through the tackling knives action programme, the project is being extended into the 10 areas that we are working with. The link between accident and emergency departments and the local police is being extended so that they can work together to tackle, and reduce, the amount of knife crime. We are determined to build on that solid foundation, and the measures in the Bill will enable us to do that by increasing the effectiveness of the police and by enhancing local accountability in order to build even greater public confidence in the police force. Those measures will underpin our ability to tackle thugs and criminals at local, national and international level, and reinforce our powers to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): In the past, attempts have been made to engage the community through the use of neighbourhood panels, but sometimes the police reject the involvement of local residents associations. I have one such very strong association in my area: Spring Park residents association, which has been denied representation on that panel. Would the new legislation make it easier for strong residents associations to be represented on those important neighbourhood panels, which, in turn, support the police?

Jacqui Smith: I obviously do not know the details of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes, but it is my view, as I shall explain later in my speech, that local people need a strong say in policing, particularly at the neighbourhood level. We need to find more ways of involving them, rather than cutting them off from the process.

The significant investments made by this Government have undoubtedly helped the police to make this country a great deal safer. By 2010-11, the police grant will show an increase of £3.7 billion on 1997 levels, and it is fair to say that the force has never been so well supported in terms of personnel and equipment.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the Government’s manifold success in tackling crime has been built rather more on the efforts of a well-funded police force than on successive pieces of criminal justice legislation, which wend their way endlessly through this Chamber. Could she say a little more to the House about why we need another police and justice Bill? It will be about the 46th Bill in the lifetime of this Parliament—[Hon. Members: “66!”] Somebody says from a sedentary position that it is the 66th. That does seem an awful lot.

Jacqui Smith: I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that during the 11 years of this Government, we have, on average, passed less Home Office legislation than was passed in the equivalent period under the previous Conservative Government. However, I will go on to explain to my hon. Friend why what we are proposing in the Bill will make a difference to the people whom he represents and why it is important.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I generally welcome the Bill, and I will support it. Following the point just made, does the right hon. Lady accept that we must
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build on existing legislation? On the abuse of alcohol, she will be aware of the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, and the requirement of that Act for the police to involve parents. Will she make sure that this Bill does nothing to take away the requirement on the police to involve parents and communities when trying to tackle under-age drinking on our streets?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. In the tiered approach that we propose for tackling under-age drinking, we have made more specific provision that parents should be involved, and at an early stage.

To return to police reform, even with the great strides that we have made there is still scope to do more. The policing Green Paper set out a radical programme of reform designed to make the police service more efficient, visible and accountable to the public whom it serves. We are already seeing the benefits of those changes. For example, all 43 police forces in England and Wales signed up to the policing pledge, setting out the minimum standards that people can expect from their police service. It represents a major milestone in engaging communities and helping local people to set the right policing priorities for their area. Monthly meetings and local crime maps are already helping local people to influence local action, which is a crucial step in generating greater confidence across communities and creating a more responsive police service.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am sorry to interrupt the Home Secretary’s paean of self-congratulatory humbug. Perhaps she would like to explain to my constituents why, since 2004, she and her predecessors have consistently failed properly to fund local police authorities such as Cambridgeshire to deal with the impact of EU migration, which has had a massive and demonstrable impact on crime and policing in our area. Despite promises from the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who is sitting next to her, we are still not properly funded and we are still in the bottom five funded authorities in the country.

Jacqui Smith: Some of the congratulations that I offered were to the police themselves. As the hon. Gentleman argues for greater funding for Cambridgeshire police authority, he might like to ponder the impact of his Front-Bench team’s proposed £160 million of cuts to the Home Office budget from this May—the equivalent of 3,500 police officers across the country. Opposition Members would be better off charging their Front Benchers with ensuring that they continue even our level of support for police authorities such as Cambridgeshire before they start pleading for more.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that her Department passes on the good practice of some police authorities, such as what the Select Committee on Home Affairs saw on a visit to Staffordshire? The authority there had reduced greatly the amount of paperwork involved in processing particular crimes. It is important to pass that good practice on to other police authorities and, even though all the authorities are different, to try to get some standardisation of good practice in the police force.

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Jacqui Smith: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will therefore be pleased to know that I said just before Christmas that the sort of scheme that he saw in Staffordshire should be available throughout the country, in the same way that good practice in the use of hand-held computer devices and the scrapping of the stop and account form are now available across the country. That is driving good practice and efficiency among police forces. Of course, we have also stripped away national crime targets for the police, leaving just a single target for each force to satisfy—increasing public confidence. That is crucial, because reinforcing confidence in a fair criminal justice system is the key to maintaining the support and active involvement of the public in our fight against crime and disorder.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about public engagement, and I thank her for making Luton one of the new neighbourhood crime and justice pioneer areas. In that context, will she ensure that the police use new technologies to engage with communities as well as evening meetings? Mums do not do evening meetings, so we need to use BlackBerries, as Bedfordshire police does, and online consultations to ensure that the public really can engage. How would the Opposition’s proposal to cut 30 police from the Bedfordshire constabulary help with all that?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend has a very good record of challenging both the Government and the police force to use new technology in the most effective way possible. If police forces are to drive up confidence in the way in which we now expect, they will need to find new ways to communicate and engage with the public, as she identifies. I agree that not only confidence in the police force but the confidence of the police force would be reduced if cuts to police numbers such as those proposed by the Opposition were inflicted on police forces across the country.

The new performance management regime will not only give the police greater freedom in deciding how to go about bolstering public confidence, but as my hon. Friend pointed out, it will give each force a real incentive to be more innovative in how they tackle crime and communicate with local people. It will also inspire professional discretion on the front line, of the nature of the Staffordshire pilot that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) referred to.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Home Secretary referred to improving and enhancing police accountability. As a Member of Parliament for this capital city, I wonder how we can ensure that the democratic mandate of the Mayor of London’s role can be enhanced in terms of police accountability. Will she give the Mayor the power to appoint and dismiss the Metropolitan Police Commissioner?

Jacqui Smith: I know that the Mayor has called for that, not least in his briefing for this debate, although I wonder whether the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell —it would be interesting to hear from him on that today—agrees with the Mayor that responsibility for the appointment of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who has a national responsibility for counter-terrorism, should be taken out of the hands of the Home Secretary and put into those of the Mayor of London.

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