HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc597-600
6. Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East)

What plans he has to reform working practices in the police service. [64751]

12. Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

What plans he has to reform working practices in the police service. [64757]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

Alongside the Police Reform Bill, we were successful in reaching an historic agreement in May with the Police Negotiating Board, which has resulted in substantial proposals for reforms. Those include: competency-related pay; a deal to reduce police overtime and to switch 15 per cent. over the next three years into front-line services; the scrapping of the old roster system; changes to overtime notice periods; the introduction of extra rewards for jobs at the sharp end; a £400 uplift per increment and a shorter promotion scale; more flexible arrangements to enable officers to work part-time; and new measures to improve the management of ill-health, among other things.

Mr. Luke

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he will agree that the introduction of special priority posts in the package of reforms to which the Police Negotiating Board agreed on 9 May will do much to help police forces up and down this country to focus more on front-line services, and to concentrate on issues and areas of significance, importance and concern to the communities and constituencies that they serve.

Mr. Blunkett

I agree: people want to see the police on the streets—they want that reassurance—but they also want police time to be targeted and the intelligence methodology to ensure that we can bear down heavily on what all of us accept is a major problem for modern society. Many of the issues that were targeted in the first five years of this Government have been successful, and we are now succeeding with street crime and robbery. We need to be equally successful in bearing down on violence. Targeting rewards and support for those at the sharp end is part of that process.

Mr. Colman

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on reaching an agreement with the Police Federation—a long awaited and long overdue agreement. Does he agree, however, that more action needs to be taken to reduce bureaucracy in police working practices, so as to get more officers out on to the streets of Putney where my constituents value them most—that is, at the sharp end?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, I do. Sir David O'Dowd's interim report has given us a lead in enabling us to take immediate action, but much more still needs to be done. We have slimmed down the performance indicators; we have put out for consultation slimmed-down proposals for the police and criminal evidence codes; we are introducing new technology that will be a major boon for the police on the beat and in the community; and we have introduced the back-up support necessary for forensic science. All that will enable the police to do their job more effectively. An extra 4,500 policemen and women have also been put in place over the past two years, and they will make, and are making, a difference in reducing crime.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Will the Home Secretary explain the change to police working practices that finds police officers in south Yorkshire reporting to a junior Education Minister who represents a north London seat and police officers in Nottinghamshire reporting to a junior Treasury Minister who represents a seat in Bolton? I know that the Home Secretary is keen on empire building, but is that not a bit ambitious?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes—very amusing. My only advice—I need to take it myself when I read the Sunday newspapers—is not to believe a word one reads. The truth is that Ministers are not overseeing the policing of any area. They were asked if they would work with local partners—the Crown Prosecution Service, the court service, the police and those working in education and youth offending teams—to see whether we could remove any obstacles to those organisations working together. I challenge Conservative Members and any reporter who cares to do so to give me the name of anyone working at local level who has found the work of those Ministers anything but helpful.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Does the Home Secretary agree that a fundamental feature of working practices is that they are based on the tripartite system of chief officers, the police authority and the Home Secretary working together? As we approach the Report stage of the Police Reform Bill, to which he and the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety have referred, will the Home Secretary accept that there remains a fundamental belief that, especially under clause 5, he is seriously damaging the tripartite arrangement? Does he understand that, contrary to the comments that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety just made, we are not seeking confrontation. The crux of our concern is who runs the police service. Its independence is derived from the tripartite system. Even at this late stage, may I invite the Home Secretary to come to the House with amendments to clarify that he will not seek further powers to direct or overrule chief officers or police authorities as they carry out their duties?

Mr. Blunkett

I am very happy to come to the House with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to ensure that we clarify exactly what is meant so that there is no mischievous misunderstanding. Let me get the position absolutely clear. Chief constables are operationally independent, and no one is challenging that. Police authorities have a role. I understand that Opposition Members wish to enhance that role, and I am happy to assist in that. As Home Secretary, I am responsible to the British people for the resources used and the statistics bandied about, and there have to be some levers to pull. That includes being able to ask for an action plan, to comment on an action plan and to expect the police authority to work with the chief constable on implementing an action plan. Anyone who challenges that simple and perfectly innocent approach is simply causing mischief rather than helping us to do the job.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that on Friday evening, Mr. Alan Musgrove, a constituent of mine, was gunned down on his doorstep in front of his family? It was the fourth such assassination in my part of east London, Forest Gate, but no one has been brought to justice for any of the incidents. The newspapers say that he was "shot by mistake", which gives rise to the question whether anyone can be correctly gunned down on their own doorstep.

May I inform my right hon. Friend that in certain parts of this country, including east London, guns have become almost a fashion accessory that people carry for fun? Is it not time that the Government considered the routine arming of all police officers throughout the country?

Mr. Blunkett

No, although I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. As a result of the growth in gun crime, it is necessary in London and elsewhere to reinforce Operation Trident. We need to work with the communities that are most affected by gun crime and those most likely to be the perpetrators of gun crime. We must ensure that we clamp down on the ownership of guns, but arming all our police force would not help us in that endeavour in any way.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

Further to the baffling reply that the Home Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), if individual police forces are not reporting to individual Ministers, and if those Ministers do have a role in the street crime initiative, will he tell us, as someone who is keen on making announcements, when that was announced to the House, and how that novel form of accountability is meant to work?

Mr. Blunkett

Some people are more difficult to baffle than others. Ministers do not have to report to the House on a day-to-day basis to demonstrate how helpful they can be in ascertaining facts from a local level—after all, that is what we are here for. They receive messages on how to unlock blockages and ensure that mistakes are overcome rather than repeated. Ministers ensure that legislation comes before the House to make the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or the court service work better.