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Mr. Blunkett: I take the wise words of warning from the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Even those of us who were not involved in such issues at the time have engraved on our hearts the words that he uses. That is why the standards unit and the refocused work of the inspectorate will be critical in rooting out any dangers of that sort that exist, and why it is very important that the extension of the British crime survey to a sample of 40,000 individuals will ensure that we root down into command unit level, not just force level, so that we can examine in more detail the performance that my hon. Friend describes, so that we compare like with like and root out failure. I cannot guaranteeI wish I couldthat all the failures and the undermining of confidence that my hon. Friend described can simply be eliminated. However, the tools and measures that we are putting in place will go a long way towards achieving that goal.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): What does the Home Secretary propose to do to end the anomalies in the funding of pensions and the perverse incentives that the police pension system gives to people to retire earlier
Mr. Blunkett: That is the first time that I have been accused of going soft on anybody or anything, and I have no intention of doing so. I intend to ensure that we take every possible measure to stop people reoffending and that we take tough action with the persistent offenders who obviously, as a result, have repeat victims. That is one of the scourges that we face. At any one time, about 100,000 people commit half the crime in this country, and the concentration on them does not mean going soft on the ones that we can deal with through the behaviour contracts and antisocial behaviour orders, which we will slim down. We will remove what I have described as the bureaucratic objections to implementing them and we will ensure that they are available more widely.
The hon. Gentleman touched on an issue that relates to value for money. Everyone in the House would like to deal with the problem that he mentioned, and I look forward to him making a contribution to me personally on what he wants to happen and on how best we can achieve it.
Clive Efford (Eltham): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, but if the changes do not result in our being able to tackle the nuisance and harassment that takes places on inner-city estates, the action will not be worth taking. The police currently do not have the resources to target such incidents in our communities and the victims are often too fearful to come forward to give the necessary evidence so that appropriate action can be taken. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend sets up specialist detective units or street wardens, will the people involved be trained in gathering evidence? If they become expert witnesses, we can target a problem that causes so many difficulties in our communities and which is often raised in our surgeries at the weekend.
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend is right to say that properly trained and accredited individuals can play a part in becoming professional witnesses without experiencing the fear and intimidation that is present in many communities. West Lancashire has piloted a programme with the total support of the police and it has been able to provide cameras and tape recorders. It has been possible to use those eyes and ears on the ground to enable the police to take action swiftly and to get the kind of results that everyone would wish for their community.
Lady Hermon (North Down): I welcome the Home Secretary's statement on police reform, and particularly the creation of an independent police complaints commission. He will know that Northern Ireland is slightly ahead on police reform because of the Patten report. It put human rights at the core of police reform in Northern Ireland. Will human rights be placed at the core of the new codes of practice?
Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Lady has me on the last pointI plead guilty to not knowing the answer. I have concentrated so much on England and Wales that I am not aware of whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made an announcement. I can assure her, however, that there is no question of discriminating against the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. I will check whether that announcement has been made and ensure, as soon as I leave the Chamber, that she is informed.
The human rights codes need to be practical and of value on the ground. We will provide the advice and the necessary safeguards for the public and the police on what can and cannot safely be done within the remit of the codes. I want to ensure that the advice in the codes puts the human rights of the victims and the community, as well as of others, at the top of the agenda.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially its emphasis on arrangements for youth crime and disorderthe No. 1 issue in many areas, including mine. What activity would trigger a standards unit intervention in a police force or a basic command unit?
Mr. Blunkett: Once the data are collected and the comparisons are made, in addition to compiling an annual plan, the force or, in the case of a BCU, the superintendent working to the chief constable will be required to produce an action plan, which will be monitored. Should there be a persistent failure either to take on board the codes of practice or to follow guidance that elsewhere had set standards showing that good practice achieves change, such as the national intelligence model, it would be up to the standards unit and the inspectorate to work first with the police authority and, in extremis, to report to the Home Secretary, who will be empowered to instruct the police authority and the chief constable to act.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): A chief constable of my acquaintance supports what the Home Secretary says about the greater use of high technology to ease the job of the police. So, when he was instructed to send out a copy of today's White Paper to every policeman under his command, he was pleased to e-mail the Home Office to say that he intended to do so using e-mail. He was surprised to receive the response that, on the Home Secretary's personal instruction, he was not allowed to do that by e-mail and had to do it by paper. Why was that?
Mr. Blunkett: It would be a damn good point if I had given a personal instruction either to the Wiltshire force or to anyone else. I am a great believer in people being able to read things easily and quickly. If forces wish to e-mail their stations and officers, they are welcome to do so.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): May I assure my right hon. Friend that his statement will have the vigorous support of my constituents, especially those who suffer from the impact of under-age drinking and prostitution on the streets, and the severe impact of heroin dealing and use? Is he aware of the initiatives of Cleveland police to tackle drug dealers in a series of raids this week, followed by a commitment to take out a drug dealer a day? Will he convey his support and congratulations to the chief
Mr. Blunkett: I think that my hon. Friend is challenging me to say "No", but I do, of course, offer an unequivocal "Yes I will." I am pleased that those people are taking that action. There is much that we can do together, not merely to tackle the problem of those who are dealing on the streets, but to contribute to the work that is taking place to tackle the intermediate market. In the west midlands, action is being taken to tackle those who stand between international traffickers and the people causing misery in our neighbourhoods. We have a long way to go, and the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service will have a part to play with local constabularies in making that happen.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): I welcome the Home Secretary's encouragement for beat policing, but is he aware that some senior officers take a contrary view and have, in effect, abolished it? That happened in my area two years ago, to much public annoyance. Is it an operational issue for the police, or something to which national standards will apply?
Mr. Blunkett: We shall provide guidance to forces on best practice. We want imaginative approaches. It is a question not of PC 49, with or without the whistle, walking the same beat every night and every day so that people get to know both when he will and when he will not be there, but of creating imaginative patrols that get people out of the station, interchanging those who are in plain clothes with those who are in uniform when that is appropriate, and ensuring that community policing means what it says.
The standards unit will concentrate on achieving best practice across the board. Without the constable in the community and the intelligence that that brings, and without the reassurance that is part of the process, we will not get the change that we need. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if a force refuses to recognise that reassurance and support for the community and community partnership is not forthcoming, we shall take the necessary steps to ensure that action is taken.