Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
BLUNKETT, MP AND
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
60. On detention centres, you won your appeal
on the Oakington case, although it is possible it may go for further
appeal so I will not ask you to make any detailed comment on the
case, but have you taken up anything that has been said in the
course of the judgment which was made there, any changes which
are likely to be made as a result of that judgment?
(Mr Blunkett) Of course this is a historic challenge
rather than a present day usage. We were very keen and very pleased
indeed that the Appeal Court judges ruled unanimously in our favour.
You are right in saying I have to be circumspect in view of the
leave to appeal to the House of Lords. I think it is very important
we always take note of judgments. The judiciary may be surprised
to hear me say this so positively, but I do think it is very important
that we listen and that we reflect on that policy. Oakington is
of course a one-off, in the sense it provides on a seven-day holding
basis the most sophisticated provision anywhere in Europe. So
much so that I gather that when some elderly people were flooded
out nearby earlier this week, they were accommodated in OakingtonI
hope we will let them out in due course. It is a very different
centre from those which I was describing a moment ago.
61. When do you think you will stop using prisons
to accommodate asylum seekers?
(Mr Blunkett) We gave a specific pledge in relation
to Cardiff, where particular concerns were raised earlier in the
year, that we would have those who had not committed a crime or
been charged with a crime out by Christmas. I am, I repeat, now
committing our staff to ensure we achieve that across the prison
service by February.
62. A factual question: how many asylum seekers
are currently held in prison?
(Mr Blunkett) There are approximately 900 but only
400-plus of those are in the category I have just described, namely
there is no legal reason for holding them in prison, as opposed
to other detention or secure facilities.
63. Can I take you back to the 30,000. I want
to be absolutely clear, it was a pledge to remove 30,000 asylum
seekers in 2001-02, you are now saying you might hit that run-rate
next spring, 2002, but you are not going to hit the 30,000 target
until 2002-03 and only then with extra measures?
(Mr Blunkett) No, the pledge was 2003. It was in our
manifesto. There was not a public service agreement either on
this issue but there was an internal service agreement which was
unattainable, and I have therefore adhered to the manifesto and
to my statement on 27 June.
64. One should not be under any illusions, Home
Secretary, about the difficulty of achieving that kind of target,
should one? There will be a lot of personal tragedies involved
in that as well, will there not?
(Mr Blunkett) The difficulties are enormous. I think
I made the point actually in the House in June that there would
be considerable tears in terms of trying to reach that target,
were we to be addressing long-standing, domiciled families. I
have no illusions about this at all, and we will try and address
those issues in the development of policy in a way which is both
sensitive to that and is robust in terms of the signals that if
people are not accorded the right to remain or given leave for
long-term asylum status, refugee status, they will have to leave
65. Where children are involvedand some
of them will be very young childrenI hope we are going
to deal with this matter sensitively, are we?
(Mr Blunkett) We have got to. I have to combine, as
with so many Home Office policies, the right robust signals that
achieve policy objectives with a sensitivity to treat people as
Chairman: Thank you. Can we turn now to police
reform. Janet Dean?
66. Home Secretary, turning to police recruitment
and retention, how well has police recruitment across the country
gone so far this year, and has every force been able to recruit
the numbers for which the Crime Fighting Fund money was granted?
(Mr Blunkett) The Crime Fighting Fund has been a tremendous
success and has helped us enormously to get to the 125,519 officers
on the latest statistical count, and leads us to believe that
we will be able within the next year to reach an all time high
in terms of police numbers and by 2004 at the latest to get over
130,000 police officers in place. It has to be accompanied, of
course, by the ability to retain those officers, and therefore
avoiding seepage is a crucial part of the policy.
67. Are you satisfied with the current rates
(Mr Blunkett) We are satisfied that there has been
some substantial progress. There are difficulties in some parts
of the country. London has a particular problemand it was
raised in the House yesterday afternoonin terms of the
way in which housing and other costs make it attractive for people
to spend time learning the trade and then to move out. We need
to continue the progress that was made by the former Home Secretary
and the schemes worked out with the Department for Transport and
Local Government to assist them in that and make sure that the
supplements and supports available to them on top of the London
allowance support that fact.
68. Finally, can you tell us what progress has
been made in adjusting pension arrangements to encourage experienced
police officers to remain in the force?
(Mr Blunkett) Part of the police reform measures in
the White Paper will have to address the issue of enabling police
officers to be encouraged to stay on. Forgive me, if I do not
pre-empt the White Paper at this stage.
69. Home Secretary, I notice that one of the
possible elements in the police reform package is to have CID
officers in uniform. Bearing in mind that the nature of their
investigations often means that they must not be identifiable,
has there been any consultation as yet with police forces on this
(Mr Blunkett) Yes there has. The decision of Sussex
Constabulary was their own in terms of the changes that triggered
an interesting set of headlines across the country. I am bedevilled,
as all Home Secretaries have been, by, one, consultation behind
the scenes ending up with pronouncements by those who do not like
it publicly, and, two, individual initiatives being paraded as
Government policy. I can, however, confirm that we are very keen
to look at the best proportion of those in the CID at any one
time being in uniform or in civilian dress. In other words, people
might actually be able to come in and out of civilian dress. There
might be no great problem in them sometimes donning uniforms for
one particular need and being able to go into civvies for other
activities. It does not appear to me to be a great revolutionary
move but it does appear to engage people's imagination. I hope,
therefore, that the consultation and the experiments in Sussex
will enable us to get it right, that we need people in civvies
when they are undertaking operations where it would be a commonsense
approach to do so, but we do need visibility of policing and reassurance
in our neighbourhoods and communities because quite a lot of the
detection, the intelligence work can be undertaken as part of
community policing and not merely by those who are not identified
quite so visibly as policemen.
70. Is it your impression, Home Secretary, that
many policemen regard patrolling the beat as a punishment rather
than one of the basics of their profession?
(Mr Blunkett) I made the point at the Superintendents'
Conference in early September that it would be tragic if people
were disciplined by being switched from DC to PC and, therefore,
we should be able to promote the status and the rewards and future
prospects of those who do a damn good job as community police
officers. We need to develop that and to see intelligence gathering,
reinforcement, preventative policing and community safety programmes
as being something that is very worthwhile and is critical to
overcoming anti-social behaviour and disorder, which are the main
gripes of most of our constituents.
71. Do you think there is anything in the suggestion
that sometimes the police are a little too keen on state-of-the-art
technology where perhaps, instead of a helicopter, we could have
100 policemen on bicycles and that would be greater value for
(Mr Blunkett) So long as they do not all ring their
bells in quite the way the helicopter that comes over my house
regularly in Sheffield disturbing people's nights' sleep, then
I would be interested in how to do it. I think the two need to
go hand-in-hand. We are developing technology for the appropriate
purpose. The Airwave programme, the technology that can be used
in the future to allow speed and effectiveness and coherence and
security of the criminal justice information system to work from
the moment of arrest, through charge, to prosecution would be
very helpful. I think using technology inappropriately, as in
other areas of our lives, uses an enormous amount of resource
for very little return. I was joking but I do live quite close
to an area in my own home city which has a particular problem
with criminality and it is sometimes, as I wake up in the night,
a moot point as to whether they had better get on with it or wake
me up. That was a joke by the way! I am in favour of them. The
heat sensors and all the rest of it are very effective.
72. Home Secretary, we all recognise the need
for our police forces to be more representative of the communities
that they serve and I think we all welcome the targets that the
previous Home Secretary set for the recruitment of ethnic minority
officers into the service. One of the problems with targets is
people will say when they miss them "we did not have the
turnover" or "we did not have the expansion in numbers".
It seems to me that you are committed to expanding our crime-fighting
personnel, if I can put it that way, to encompass all of it quite
substantially and this is now a chance that may never come again
in terms of increasing our recruitment of ethnic minority people
into our crime fighting personnel.
(Mr Blunkett) . Yes I think it is and some of the
work that has been done in the Met and forces like Leicestershire
to encourage recruitment of ethnic minorities in a wide range
of the community is very encouraging. If the expansion of the
civilian staff and support staff, the way in which we can develop
the use of specials, and the way in which we can encourage people
to come forward as full-time trained police officers can do that,
I think we would all gain a great deal from it. It is back to
the point you were raising with me earlier, if people have confidence
and trust they are more likely to trust themselves to taking up
73. Home Secretary, you mentioned special constables.
What are you going to do with them?
(Mr Blunkett) As you know, they are overseen, accredited
and trained with the police so that they, unlike other members
of the broader police family, the extended police family as we
are now calling it, have the capacity to pick up some of the police
powers because of that training and acreditation to be able to
help both with reassurance and with tackling anti-social behaviour
and disorder in our communities because if they are able to use
those powers they have the authority and, what is more, the people
committing those crimes and activities know they have got the
authority to do so.
I think if we can develop this as part of what
I was describing earlier to my aggrieved Hon. Member for Colchester
74. Who has now disappeared.
(Mr Blunkett) Who has disappeared. Well, there we
go. Thank you for clarifying his question, Chairman, it did help
me a lot to answer it. That we would be able to make this part
of the civic renewal agenda so that people would feel they were
playing a part, getting the necessary credit as well as the professional
training for it. I hope to be able to examine how we would provide
them with the necessary expenses so they are not out of pocket
in doing it.
75. You say you want to extend the powers that
specials might yield. What reaction have you had from regular
police about the proposals to extend the powers of special constables?
(Mr Blunkett) The police service as a whole is very
enthusiastic both about special constables and a third element,
because there is the street or neighbourhood warden/traffic warden
element, there is the specials and there is a third element which
is being discussed in the Metropolitan Police Authority which
isI do not like the termsomething like auxiliaries
who have a very specific task. Unlike the specials they would
be full-time paid workers but with a very specific and targeted
role, accredited with that role. This means that instead of seeing
the agenda as being full-time police officers or nothing, fearful
that if we are recruiting others to the extended police family
we are inevitably going to pull back on full-time police recruitment,
we can recruit the numbers I described earlier and extend the
different layers of the family in a way which will provide us
with a presence on the streets, reassurance, key targeting, for
instance where there are major problems and pressure on the police,
perhaps on a Friday and Saturday evening where enormous numbers
of police personnel are utilised displacing the time that they
would be able to spend, not just then but at other times of the
week, on policing and crime reduction programmes, and enable them
to back up, so you can have a mixture of full-time police together
with other members of this extended programme. That seems to me
to be the best of both worlds.
76. Thank you. If I can take you on from what
is broadly front line policing and perhaps look at the future
management of the police. Under the current climate and circumstances
do you think there could ever be a case for a national police
service or at least a rationalisation of the current 43 police
(Mr Blunkett) There has been a continuing debate about
rationalisation, whether there should be a regionalisation or
something akin to it. My own concern at the moment about that
is that it is likely to divert from, dislocate, reforms relating
to uniformity and getting rid of the great disparity in performance,
in standards on the ground, in detection and conviction rates,
in areas of sickness absenteeism or sickness early retirement
that I would rather concentrate on at the moment. This debate
presumably is not going to go away. I think that the idea of having
a national police force is not one that would be welcomed in many
quarters, therefore ensuring that we have clarity of direction,
that we have a standards unit that can work alongside the Inspectorate
of Constabulary and do that job better in terms of achieving that
comparable standard of delivery, is more important than getting
involved in an esoteric argument which would lead us nowhere.
77. If I could just focus on that clarity of
direction. Do you think that one of the problems is accountability
of chief police officers? Do you think they are accountable enough
to police authorities or perhaps that they should be accountable
to a national police authority?
(Mr Blunkett) There is a very specific remit for the
police authority in relation to what the chief constable should
be held to account about. What I would like to see is a much broader
definition of accountability so that the very positive development
of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and other community
safety measures can be made accountable more broadly to the public
so that people can feel what is happening and be part of it. The
police authorities are submitting their own thoughts in relation
to the White Paper and the police reform agenda. I do honestly
say that if there are things that the Select Committee collectively
or as individuals would like to submit to us that would be very
welcome because this is an issue for us all, not just for ministers
to decide and others to criticise.
78. Perhaps one of the problems we see with
the 43 police forces is that they all introduce 43 IT systems
and 43 communication technologies. Do you see a role for you,
or the Home Office, taking greater powers to ensure that there
is a compatible technology and communication system across all
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I do. I think both through the
Police National Computer development, the airwave development
piloted in Lancashire, the way in which we are now taking hold
of, with the Lord Chancellor's office, direction of the information
technology systems across the criminal justice system as a whole,
we can make them workable, effective and coherent.
79. Just one final question, Home Secretary.
The Lord Chancellor's Department have recently been monitoring
why court cases in the magistrate's courts fail to take place
on the day that they are planned and they found that literally
thousands of cases in a year fail on that day because the police
expert witness fails to turn up. Have you any plans to try to
put pressure on chief constables to make sure that they turn up
at the time that they are allotted?
(Mr Blunkett) I am tickled by the fact that I am able
to say that it is not just ministers who engage in spin. I read
in the Sunday papers that you were going to ask me this question
so I thought I had better do a bit of work on it. I am aware of
the review, although of course it has not been published so I
congratulate you on your sources of information.