HC Deb 15 October 2003 vol 411 cc177-229
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

We now come to the second debate on the Opposition motions. I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.17 pm
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the emerging political and professional consensus about the need to increase the level and effectiveness of neighbourhood policing in Britain in order to restore the confidence of the public but regrets that the Government is seeking to achieve this through a burdensome and ineffective bureaucracy; and urges the Government instead to return power to decentralised local policing and to make local policing more accountable to local people. As I will mention some things on which the Opposition and the Government are not in total agreement, I begin by acknowledging the significant overlaps and degrees of consensus that exist between us on neighbourhood policing. I am heartened that all three main parties agree, I think, that we need to do something serious to improve the effectiveness of national and international policing by increasing the co-ordination of the many bodies involved in that endeavour. That includes not only parts of the Metropolitan police, but other agencies—the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and parts of Customs and Excise, the immigration and nationality department and the security services. I hope and trust that we can advance on the basis of agreement, although we may be at variance over time, and sustain change in that aspect of our national life. I add that it is remarkable for a senior chief police officer to make a speech in which he applauds both the Home Secretary and myself for moving in the same direction on something, as he did on that policy.

The second and last matter of consensus is that the Home Secretary and I agree—I suspect that the new spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), whom I welcome to his position, will also agree—on the need for effective neighbourhood policing. That is not as anodyne as it might seem. Some years ago, many chief constables and the political parties would not have regarded that as a priority. For some years we were all under the sway of the idea that real, proper, professional policing involved turning away from the neighbourhood and towards the pursuit of the serious criminal by means of the intelligence model and other devices rightly and admirably developed by Sir David Phillips and others in our police forces.

I think that, partly as a result of seeing what has been done in other countries—primarily in some American jurisdictions—we have all now concluded that we need, in one way or another, to add to the splendid pursuit of effective means of containing the serious criminal a renewed emphasis on neighbourhood policing. I think that we also agree that this is not just a matter of reassuring people and making them feel comfortable, but of taking ownership of the neighbourhood—a matter of putting the police officer into the neighbourhood and making him feel that he is its custodian. It is a matter of ensuring that the low-level intelligence that comes from a police officer's really knowing the people for whom he or she is responsible, and from their really knowing the officer, can be used to benefit the control of not just crime but—equally important—disorder.

I believe that those aims are shared by Members throughout the House; it is about the means that there is so much debate. The Home Secretary and the Government have adopted a number of means to try to achieve the neighbourhood policing of which I have spoken. For instance, a huge amount of energy has been poured into initiatives, most recently—in the last 36 hours—the initiative on antisocial behaviour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We shall see whether Labour Members' delight persists.

There have been many initiatives from the Home Secretary—I believe that they are currently running at roughly one a week—but the record has not been entirely good. The night courts turned out to cost £8,000 a case, and have been abandoned. The cash point fines did not cost anything, because they were abandoned before they could. The child curfews have cost nothing, because there have been none. The proposal most apposite to the antisocial behaviour initiative—the proposal to withdraw housing benefits from bad tenants—has never been implemented.

It might be regarded as a mere piece of cheap politics to point out that many of the initiatives do not exist, but a deeper issue is at stake. It must be admitted that some initiatives have been carried through and that some, in their own terms, have enjoyed some success. The question is, has anything sustainable been left behind?

Let us take the street crime initiative. I have admitted publicly, and will go on record as admitting today, that it has succeeded to some extent, for a period, in the places to which it has been applied. It is true that it has been rather expensive—I believe that it costs about £14,000 per mugging eliminated and that it has, to a degree, distracted the attention of the local constabulary: in the areas where street crime has fallen, burglaries have increased. Those, however, are not my main points, and over time they may no longer apply. The situation will vary from area to area.

The real issue is that the lasting effect is unlikely to be great, because an initiative cannot deal with underlying problems. Drug-related crime is an example. The street crime initiative rightly identified, for instance, the need to ensure that the young hard drugs addicts who, I regret to say, are responsible for a huge proportion of acquisitive crime—especially acquisitive street crime—were treated, and correctly stated that they would be treated very quickly. It failed to note, however, that no effective intensive treatment was available. As we all know, a large number of those young people were led up the garden path: they secured appointments, but they never secured intensive treatment. That is a serious failure to tackle the underlying problem.

It is not just me who says these things. The Lord Chief Justice, who I do not believe is a supporter of the Conservative party—not that he is a supporter of any party; he does not speak from a political position—said: You can have initiative after initiative … but if you don't touch the basic problems, you will never achieve public confidence. I know that from time to time the Home Secretary comforts himself with the thought that members of the judiciary are wholly out of touch, do not believe that, but the Home Secretary does, so let us hear from Jan Berry, the head of the Police Federation—one could not get much more in touch with reality than that—who said: There is a real danger that with the centre increasingly dictating police priorities, police resources will increasingly be skewed to respond to the latest high profile cause célébre"— she uses the term "cause célébre" because she is an intellectual; I use the word "initiative—" to hit the media. Policing is not just about quick wins or one-dimensional responses. We are in the business of delivering longterm sustainable solutions to crime and disorder. That is indeed the business that we ought to be in. I do not believe that initiative after initiative is likely to deliver that result.

It would be very unfair—I hope that I have some reputation for being fair about these matters—to accuse the Home Secretary of merely engaging in initiatives. His energy is limitless, and initiatives occupy only a small part of it. He is also fond of creating bureaucratic structures. He inherited many and he has much amplified them. In the Home Office there are 63 units, 10 teams, six directorates, five groups and 25 miscellaneous bodies. In case that seems too abstract, let me retail to the House—my hon. Friends will be surprised by this, as I was—a small sample of the units particularly concerned with a topic close to the Home Secretary's heart, criminal justice.

There is the criminal justice performance directorate, the criminal justice local performance and delivery support, the criminal justice confidence team, the criminal justice strategic planning and analysis team, the criminal law and policy team, the Criminal Justice Bill team, the criminal law policy unit and the criminal procedure and evidence unit. I do not know what the ladies and gentlemen in those many directorates and units do or say to one another, but I rather imagine that there is some connection between confidence, performance, local performance, strategic planning, policy, Bills and procedure. If there is a connection, one wonders why there must be eight such units in the Home Office. And it is not just a matter of units. There could be a small number of people divided into a large number of parts, and that might be an effective way to proceed, but the Home Office statistics show that those are not small bodies. The criminal policy group has 537 members. The police and crime reduction group has 663 members. The community policy directorate—I do not know what the community policy is, but the directorate is undoubtedly responsible for it—has 216 members.

Of course, these hard-working and no doubt stressed-out officials, who probably need stress counselling because they are so busy talking to one another, are complemented by a tremendous apparatus for ensuring that the public are aware of their efforts. That is why the national publication directorate within the Home Office—a remarkable term—has 233 members, and the communications directorate 232. I do not know why the communications directorate deserves one member fewer than the national publication directorate, or whether the communications are published by the communications directorate, or whether the publications are communicated by the publication directorate, but one way or another these 465 people are involved in communicating and publishing I know not what.

I must inform my hon. Friends and the House as a whole that great effort goes into administering these administrators. The corporate development and services directorate and personnel directorate have 952 people between them—952 people administering the administrators.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

If I have counted correctly—he will correct me if I am wrong—the right hon. Gentleman has so far mentioned a total of around 1,300 people. The proportion of the crime prevention budget represented by those people is less than 0.1 per cent. When will the right hon. Gentleman come on to the remaining 99.9 per cent. of our effort?

Mr. Letwin

I will proceed to that. I have considerable respect for the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, but the main problem about these ladies and gentlemen is not the amount that it costs to maintain them—although that is undoubtedly considerable—but the costs that they impose on the system by obscuring it, obfuscating and destroying incentives. How do they engage in the activity of lessening the effectiveness of our police forces? An admirable document has been produced, entitled "The National Policing Plan 2003–2006". I can best describe the wonders of that plan by revealing—I summarise—that it is about ensuring that KPIs fit into BVPIs so that they form part of the PPAF so that they can be made part of the PR so that the PSU can ensure that the Home Office delivers its PSA. That is the great work that is being done under the heading of the national policing plan.

What does that mean in practice? I shall quote at some length—I hope that the House will forgive me—from the magazine "Constabulary": the Home Office, attempting to satisfy the Treasury's demand for numerically measurable results, converted the initiative into a bureaucratic obstacle"— that is, obstacles such as those I mentioned to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer). The magazine continues: They insisted that persistent offenders must be defined as those who had been convicted of at least six offences in the previous 12 months. The Home Secretary may feel that that is admirable, but the chief constables were not so persuaded. They complained that was a definition not of a persistent offender but of a stupid one; that it diverted their efforts from the clever offender who had evaded conviction and also from the imprisoned offender who was about to be released without any recent convictions simply because he had been locked up; that it invited them to go after the schoolgirl who had been caught shoplifting six times but not the habitual burglar who had only been caught twice. That is an example of my point: the targets distort things.

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

So when the debate on bad character takes place and the Conservatives vote in the House of Lords, will they support us in ensuring that the police can take evidence to the courts in situations such as those that he describes, where people have not been jailed for offences?

Mr. Letwin

The Home Secretary and I have a slightly different view of the meaning of justice—that has emerged during the debates on the Criminal Justice Bill. I have never quite believed that being shown to be innocent on several occasions is a good basis for being shown to be guilty on the next. I believe that effective policing is directed towards those people about whom the police have suspicions, but that in court, proof beyond reasonable doubt of the particular offence is the greatest bulwark of our liberties.

Mr. Blunkett

So what is the definition of an "offender"? Is it someone who has been found guilty of an offence, or is it someone who is suspected of having committed an offence but has never been arrested or found guilty of it? Given the right hon. Gentleman's ridiculing of the definition of a persistent offender as one who has been found guilty six times, I presume that he would want to back the police in saying that those who have not been found guilty and designated an offender should now be designated an offender according to that definition.

Mr. Letwin

The Home Secretary needs to engage in a paradigm shift. He seems to believe that my attack is on his target, but the problem lies not only in the target, but in the idea of such a target. The police need to know which people to go after and to go after them, not spend their time working out whether those people fit the definition in the Home Secretary's national policing plan. That is the fundamental difference between us. I accept that he passionately and sincerely wants to get the same result as I do. He wants to get those people behind bars, or at least off the conveyor belt to crime. I accept that there is unity between us on that. He thinks that he can achieve that through bureaucratic targets; I think that it should be done by letting the professionals get on with the job. That is the fundamental difference between us.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be sensible if the police went after not only those who are regularly convicted but those who are identified locally—for example, through the national intelligence model—as being a significant cause of crime in the area? If so, does he also agree that the national policing plan, which was published last year, makes it clear to the police that they should pursue the very people being identified by the national intelligence model? What the right hon. Gentleman has portrayed today as the contents of the plan are not in fact the contents of the plan.

Mr. Letwin

I hope that my response will not be seen as unfair, but I very much welcome that intervention because it enables me to remind the former Minister, who was to some degree responsible for the national policing plan, just what the chief constables said about it.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

What do they think about your sheriffs?

Mr. Letwin

I think that the hon. Gentleman will reflect in a moment that that might not have been a wise intervention.

I shall quote again from an article in Constabulary: For many months, in private, the most senior officers in the land told Mr Blunkett their opinion of this central manifesto of the Government's attack on crime. That is referring to the national policing plan. I apologise in advance for this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that what I am about to say is parliamentary language, but it is in a quotation. The article continues, One chief constable captured in a single vivid sentence the message his colleagues conveyed: "Frankly, sir, with respect, this is crap.

Mr. Denham

He did not actually ever say that; that is the problem. I hope the House will accept that, although I may not have been present at every meeting that took place between my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the chief police officers, I was there for virtually all of them. I was also present at every meeting at which the Association of Chief Police Officers was represented at the most senior level in drawing up the national policing plan. The right hon. Gentleman quite reasonably quotes from something that has been published in a non-official magazine, but I hope he will accept that those words were never said in relation to the plan, and that the plan was agreed by a whole variety of organisations, including ACPO. It would be wrong to proceed on the basis that things were any different from that.

Mr. Letwin

Because I know that the former Minister—I say this without a hint of irony—is someone who is persistently determined to tell the truth, I accept that the magazine might be wrong in the particular. However, I spend a large amount of my time—as the former Minister used to—going round the police forces of this country, and I hear what chief constables tell me when they are not under the Minister's eye and when they have not been able to be persuaded by the power of the purse. I can assure the House that the chief constables' view of the national policing plan is not something that would make happy reading for Ministers.

We cannot take lightly the demoralisation that these tactics of excessive bureaucracy have created. The gentleman who is currently the Secretary of State for Education and Skills was once a Minister in the Home Office. [Interruption.] I do not know about that. I was not in my present post at the time. I do know, however, that in December 2000, the right hon. Gentleman said one thing that was very true: The number of people leaving a profession may be taken as an indicator of morale."—[Official Report, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 65W.] That is not a statement by a Conservative or Liberal Democrat spokesman or a Back Bencher; it is a statement by a Minister.

In 1997, there were 774 resignations from the police forces of this country. In 2001–02, there were 1,644 resignations—an increase of 112 per cent. As we go round the country, the reality strikes us over and over again. I hope that the Home Secretary will attend to this; he must know that it is the case. There is intense demoralisation in our police forces as a result of the amount of bureaucracy with which they are faced. The Home Secretary can deny that to himself or deny it in public as much as he likes, but the fact remains [Interruption] It is not fantasy, as the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety says, chuntering from a sedentary position. If she is so protected by her officials, her cars and her grandeur that she cannot understand what the ordinary police officers of this country are feeling, it is very bad news. I accept that it is difficult for reality to pervade the Home Office, but that is the reality.

Interestingly, at a recent meeting with a prominent chief constable, some of my colleagues were told—I have heard this over and over again—that there is an increasing disinclination at present even to use stop and search because of the Home Secretary's recent proposals to enforce over-burdensome reporting.

On Friday, I was in a police station in East Yorkshire—[HoN. MEMBERS: "For begging?"] I had no opportunity to beg. Police officers were telling me time and again that they simply could not bear the number of forms they were now compelled to fill in.

Mr. Blunkett

It is important to put it on record that we have not introduced the new reforms to stop and search in East Yorkshire.

Mr. Letwin

Is that not remarkable? It was not in East Yorkshire but elsewhere that the report about stop and search was given to a colleague. I will have a private conversation with the Home Secretary and tell him where it was. In East Yorkshire, coppers were showing me other forms that they had to fill in and were telling me of their demoralisation. I have no reason to suppose that they were trying to mislead me: they were giving me an impression that emerges over and over again.

There is another point that is at least as important, if not more so, as demoralisation, resignations, chief constables feeling that their priorities are distorted or complaints by the Police Federation, although all those are of some importance. The most important point is where the attention lies. As in any organisation, the effectiveness of the police will depend on where they are focused. They can be focused only on one of two places. They can either look upwards to the Home Office or downwards to the customers they are meant to be serving: the populations on whose behalf they are policing. It is not possible to face in both directions at once.

The common experience of people at all levels in the police force today is that they are being driven to look upwards, which will diminish and not increase their attention to their customers. In May, the chairman of the Police Federation said: We are seeing more and more priorities, targets and diktats handed down from the centre but often they fail to reflect public concerns and divert—that is my point—police resources away from the kind of policing the public want and indeed the style of policing that can make a genuine difference to tackling disorder. He added that policing was not just about number-crunching, record burglary detection rates or street robbery initiatives. It was about providing reassurance to the public closer to home.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Office police forces also need to look sideways? If he casts his mind back to a visit to Bulford in my constituency, he will recall that he came across the Ministry of Defence Police's DARE—drug abuse resistance education—project, which is educating children in schools against drugs and alcohol. He will recall that, in many areas, Home Office police forces are working closely with the MOD police and the military police and we must see this in the round if we are serious about neighbourhood policing.

Mr. Letwin

Of course my hon. Friend is right. The DARE project is a good example of the long-term attitude to policing that I am recommending. I suspect that not a single target set by the Home Office has ever been brought closer to fulfilment by the DARE project. I suspect that if chief constables were to follow exclusively the recommendations of the national policing plan and try to fulfil the targets set for them by the Home Office—I pray that that will never be their sole objective—they would pay no attention all to the DARE project, which seeks to lead youngsters away from drugs. The Home Secretary wants that to happen just as much as I do, but he is creating an apparatus that has the opposite effect.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for nearly half an hour and has not even mentioned his policy from his party conference about increasing police numbers. Is that because it has fallen apart so badly that he has already ditched the policy? If he is not to have targets, performance monitoring or a national police plan, how will he enforce his policy in the first place?

Mr. Letwin

I am sorry to ask the hon. Gentleman to exhibit just one and a half minutes' more patience, but my next plan of action is indeed to mention our policy.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Letwin

I have taken many interventions from Labour Members, I hope to the benefit of debate, but I shall take none further as I have been invited to pursue this issue.

Before I move on to describing the alternative that we proposed at our party conference, and which we will continue to propose during the next 18 months—hopefully, we will eventually have the opportunity to implement it—I want to point out that it is not just the Conservative party, the constabularies of this country and ordinary electors who have noticed that there is a problem. The Home Secretary certainly speaks the language of community policing, and as if he wants to increase the focus on the customer, but that does not persuade even The Guardian—a journal which I think supports the Labour party on the whole. One of its leaders stated: New Labour doublespeak continues: much talk of devolution to local basic command units, while new powers are consolidated at the centre. Stalinism won't work because constables have to have discretion. What is our alternative? It is threefold and quite simple, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) for prompting me to describe it. First, there must be resources; secondly, there must be professional autonomy; thirdly, there has to be local accountability. The resources issue is plain. As Members are probably aware, I am not the greatest proponent in this House of expanded public expenditure. On the whole, I have been devoted to reducing public expenditure, so I did not begin in my current post by assuming that what the police need is more resources. But like the Home Secretary, I have been to other countries, talked to other police forces and seen what has been achieved. One common pattern that emerged—I hoped that this issue might prove common ground, but I fear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has come between us—is that our police forces are relatively and absolutely under-resourced. They do not have enough coppers to undertake proper pursuit of serious criminals under the national intelligence model, or to get police on to the streets. There is no solution to that problem, other than to provide them with the resources that will enable them to get police on to the streets.

I want to congratulate the Home Secretary, although I hope that he will not object and think it a brussels sprout congratulation. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary referred to me in that way in his party conference speech, so it is his phrase, not mine. I want to congratulate him on increasing very significantly this year the rate at which he is increasing police numbers. Some 9,000 extra coppers have been recruited since the election. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) reduced police numbers when in his previous post, which was not the right direction in which to go; indeed, he needed a little encouragement in such matters. To the current Home Secretary's credit, he has increased police numbers, which is marvellous. We have 9,000 extra coppers—just 1,000 fewer than the number of additional administrators taken on since this Government took office.

The strike rate is now respectable. As I understand it, the Home Secretary has allowed the police forces to employ more than 4,000 additional coppers in the financial year. Marvellous. That rate now needs to continue for seven or eight more years. We need to achieve a figure of some 40,000 additional police officers, and I do not believe—I hope I am not being over-optimistic—that any Labour Member in the House today, or anyone who has the right to sit on the Labour Benches, disagrees with that well-known fact.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin

I would not normally do so, but as the hon. Gentleman is making his first appearance in the House in his current guise, I feel compelled to give way.

Mr. Oaten

I am most grateful. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how he arrived at the 40,000 figure? What independent assessment informed him that this country needs 40,000 extra police officers?

Mr. Letwin

I shall indeed tell the hon. Gentleman how we came by that figure: it is not an independent assessment—it is ours. Indeed, it is the responsibility of a possible future Government to assess that matter. We looked at the level of policing available in New York, which is the most successful example of neighbourhood policing in the world. Since it began its new neighbourhood policing and its serious attack on disorder, it has reduced crime by about 60 per cent. on a sustained basis over 10 years.

The level of policing that we recommend for this country is per capita almost identical to that in New York. That was the basis on which we derived our figures. We then cross-checked—this will interest the hon. Member for Winchester who is also concerned about rural areas—against the question of how we could be sure that a police officer would be available for every parish in this country. We found, not altogether to our surprise, that roughly the same number would enable that to occur. If this country were one in which our cities were policed as in New York and in which our rural areas were able, after many years of failure, to have a police officer in charge of the parish who knew the parish, it would make a huge difference to public confidence in the control of public order in this country.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)


Mr. Letwin

I will not give way.

I turn now to professional autonomy. There is no hope of restoring serious professional autonomy so long as the Home Office continues to run local policing. There is too much of a temptation for Ministers to do exactly what the Home Secretary and his colleagues have done—try to run the whole show on the basis of strings pulling puppets. That applies to the present national policing plan or any other such plan. We have to move power away from the centre to the localities and give back to the police the professional autonomy that comes from not being controlled from on top.

Mr. Henderson

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin


That is why I proposed at the Conservative party conference last week—and will continue to propose and develop—our plans to give serious autonomy to the police.

Mr. Henderson

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin

I will not: otherwise Government Members will accuse me of continuing for too long.

We have to create for the first time in English law a statutory version of the Denning doctrine. We must establish the absolute right of the chief constable to operational independence, so that no politician—local or central—can tell a chief constable how to behave in respect of operations.

The third element—that of local accountability—is equally important. Once we have removed powers from the Home Office, we cannot dispense entirely with the democratic check. If the check cannot, in order to avoid a top-down centralist bureaucracy, be from above, it must be local. If a serious transfer of power to the localities goes ahead, we can expect local electorates for the first time to take an interest in those elected to police authorities under a system of direct election.

Mr. Henderson


Mr. Letwin

I have every confidence that that thesis is gaining ground. I say that because, just a couple of days—[Interruption.]

Chris Ruane


Mr. Letwin

When the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) hears who I am about to quote, he might change his mind. A couple of days after our announcements, Sir Ian Blair, deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and two other chief constables with whom he was working, came up with a most illuminating, inspiring and excellent set of proposals. I shall quote from Sir Ian's speech: It is now becoming increasingly clear that what we would describe as policing for the purposes of reassurance has got to become a matter as significant as preventing and detecting recorded crime; we have to understand what it is that people see as being the signal events which show disorder within their community… I am quite certain that this will be pointing the police service towards its role in the strengthening of communities … We need to go much more local, much more accountable … However, it is no use doing so, unless those local policing boards can actually determine what the local police should broadly be doing … If localism is to work, then the number and weight of national … targets must lessen. A direction is discernible here that is not only the direction of the constabularies and the Conservative party, but of the most serious professionals in today's police forces.

In summary, the argument is simple. The need for neighbourhood policing is a matter, as I said earlier, of consensus. That top-down bureaucracy directing insufficient resources to the police does not work is an emerging consensus among those most seriously involved. A consensus is also emerging that the way forward is a properly resourced professional autonomy subject to local democratic accountability. The Home Secretary is part of that emerging consensus at the level of rhetoric. [Interruption.] As he says quietly from a sedentary position, he writes such things. He does. He writes and says such things, but he does not do them. The question is, when will the Home Secretary stop merely talking about localism and professional accountability and autonomy, and start doing them?

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

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the Government's investment in policing which has resulted in 136,386 officers by the end of August 2003, an increase of more than 4,000 since December 2002 and the highest level ever; notes that there are now more than 1,900 Community Support Officers and record numbers of police staff assisting police officers in their work; further notes the priority given by the Government to reducing bureaucracy to enable officers to concentrate on frontline duties; and welcomes the Government's commitment to further reform to improve accountability and engagement between the police and the communities they serve. I welcome the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) back from his exertions in Blackpool, which profoundly demonstrated to the world his grasp of inner city problems and the difficulties of disadvantaged areas and how glad he is that he has nothing to do with them. Well, I do. I was brought up in such an area, I represent such an area and I am proud to say that what is happening in my area, as a result of the last six and half years of this Government, is transforming the life chances of children, giving hope to adults, engaging them in the solutions that they want for their communities and inspiring them to believe that they can make a difference. That is the difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself.

We are all looking forward to the right hon. Gentleman's forthcoming visit to fantasy island, once he has identified which island it is. On that island, with the asylum seekers, there will be sheriffs and new local boards. They will seek to hold to account the local chief constable who will have been granted complete autonomy. Not only could the Home Secretary not require or demand anything on behalf of the people who elected the Government who then selected him, but of course the local board and sheriff would not be able to demand anything of the local chief constable. Autonomy means complete freedom from any political direction and complete detachment from any requirement from whoever has been elected locally or nationally. That cannot be the same thing as accountability. The right hon. Gentleman used the word "direction" and he quoted Sir Ian Blair accurately. We agree with Sir Ian Blair, but he also mentioned responsiveness and accountability.

Mr. Letwin

Does the Home Secretary recognise the difference between operational autonomy and the general character of policing in an area, and does he accept that a force can be operationally autonomous and also accountable to a local, directly elected police authority for the general pattern of policing?

Mr. Blunkett

Of course I accept that, and the police already have operational responsibility. At another time and in another place, we might have an interesting intellectual debate about where the line lies between operational responsibility and some form of accountability. If the police authorities, or their successors under the Conservative scheme—or revisions under the scheme that I shall bring forward for consultation—have any form of influence, let alone power, there has to be an understanding of where the power lies. Otherwise, we would have a Home Secretary who appeared on the "Today" programme and bemoaned the fact that nothing could be changed. Under the scheme devised by the Conservatives, Home Secretaries could not do anything, because they would have no power. They might want to suggest change, but they would have to get in touch with the multiplicity of different police forces, sheriffs and boards. What is more, the local sheriffs and boards would not be able to effect change, because nobody would know what they could ask the chief constable to do.

Mr. Ivan Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the comments by Robert Chambers, the chair of Essex police authority, on the Conservatives' proposal to introduce sheriffs? He has tried to raise his concerns, and those of his colleagues, with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), but he says in an article on the subject that he has not even had the courtesy of a reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the right hon. Gentleman should start listening to his own members and to the chairs of police authorities before he introduces such a ridiculous initiative?

Mr. Blunkett

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's prognosis. We do not have to disagree with Opposition Members: they disagree with each other so readily that the matter is taken out of our hands.

In future, we may disagree more with the Liberal Democrats than with the Conservatives. I should like to take this opportunity to welcome to his new post the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). I am sure that the House will be looking forward to shorter speeches from now on. I have paid tribute to his predecessor, who had real commitment and understanding and who was certainly around a long time in connection with Home Office matters. His contributions were enjoyable but—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

He got paid by the word.

Mr. Blunkett

As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) says from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Winchester's predecessor was, like Dickens, paid by the word. We understood his words, and we heard them often and tediously. Nevertheless, we are very pleased to welcome the hon. Member for Winchester, who I believe is the chairman of the Peel group. That group aims at uniting moderate Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and will no doubt give new meaning to the adage that, if one peels a Liberal Democrat, one will get the taste of the Conservative underneath. We look forward very much to seeing the unity of purpose between people in Dorset and in Hampshire—and wherever else the Liberal Democrats can manage to take Conservative seats in the next general election.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett

How could I resist?

Mr. Kilfoyle

Before my right hon. Friend moves on, does he share the suspicion that some of us have about what the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) means when he speaks of local democratic accountability? Does he suspect that the right hon. Gentleman does not mean the accountability to the broader community that my right hon. Friend and I understand, but accountability to a group of the local great and good? That might be acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman, but not necessarily to the communities involved.

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. These days, the word "sheriff" refers to those who are appointed to represent the Queen's interests and to attend dinners and banquets. I am sure that the role is very important, and I commend the people who perform it. However, times have changed since the days of the sheriff of Nottingham, who it must be said did not have too good a reputation in mediaeval England. I should be interested to hear the definitions that will be produced in due course.

However, I was going to say that the one matter on which the right hon. Gentleman and I appear to agree is that we require more law enforcers and crime fighters. We are very proud that there are 136,386 police officers now. That is some 9,000 more than when we came to office, and 4,110 more than at the beginning of this year. We are proud that we have almost 2,000 community support officers, who did not exist until we pushed the idea through this House and encouraged local forces to take them on. At the time, it was claimed that that would not happen, but of course it has, and the new officers are welcome on the ground.

I want to remind the House, and the Opposition, about street wardens. We supported that initiative, and funded it through what is now the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. People are very keen about including those wardens in the police family.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

Will the Home Secretary give the comparable figures for the numbers of special constables in the police service over the years to which he is alluding? He will be aware that there has been a large decline, with many special constables leaving the force because they were so disillusioned.

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, there has been a decline in the number of specials. I regret that, as the civil renewal agenda requires that people who are not full-time police officers but who are prepared to devote some of their own time to the job—often between six and eight hours a week—should be encouraged to do so. I want to find ways to encourage employers to release people for a little time each week. I want to look into new ways to encourage the badging of those involved in crime prevention and protection with the powers that special constables have at present. Yes, there has been a reduction. Of course, my figures are for full-time equivalents. The number of people employed as full-time police officers and CSOs is a great deal higher than the 9,000 extra people I mentioned because some of them are part-time. We should bear that in mind.

In the past six and a half years, there has been a drop in crime of more than a quarter. That has been true of burglary and car theft. Under the street crime initiative, there were 17,000 fewer theft and mugging offences last year and I am proud of that. We took that initiative. It made a difference to people's lives. Returning to what the right hon. Gentleman said about Jan Berry's comments, the public demanded that initiative because people were being mugged and robbed on our streets. If we had the right hon. Gentleman's system and the Home Secretary and Prime Minister had no powers, we would not have been able to act.

The interesting aspect of this debate is that there would be no point in having it under a Conservative Government. Why debate community policing, the role of the Home Secretary and what the Government want, if the Government have no power and if full autonomy means that the Home Secretary merely does as the right hon. Gentleman suggests? I suppose that the idea has been drawn from the ideological vacuum in which the Conservatives have been living—it is what Nicholas Ridley once described as a situation where a Secretary of State would convene a lunch once a year, let contracts and then go on holiday. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman, who is gentler, more convincing and more understanding than the late Nicholas Ridley—for whom I had a lot of time as an ideologue but not as a politician—actually believes the same sort of garbage. Nicholas Ridley once said that we could solve London's traffic problems if we did away with traffic lights. There was a free market logic to that. When people were so snarled up that they could not get their cars out of their driveway, they would go on the tube. The only problem is that unless one invested in public services to improve the tube, they would not be able to get on that either.

Yes, we want investment and accountability, but we want it in the real world, to reflect what is happening on the ground. The motion talks about the return of powers. The return of powers to whom? Is it to the chief constables? Which powers have this Government taken away from them? How have we diminished the powers of constables on the street? We have increased them. We have given them greater powers, although they do not always know that they have them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) said on the radio yesterday that he had just discovered a local constable who did not know of the powers on off-road vehicles and their confiscation in the Police Reform Act 2002.

The motion talks of decentralising to "local policing". Does that mean the sheriff, the board, or the chief constable alone? Are we simply to say that there should be 43, 80, 140 or whatever number of fiefdoms, which is what would happen under the Tory plan? Who will be the powerful person? Who will make the decisions? Who will be able to wield influence on behalf of the public?

That brings us back to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). In the end, we need to find a system that at the local level, in the neighbourhood, holds to account those who are working there and the commander of the unit, and gives them power and resources. Who has delegated the £50 million directly to basic command units? It happens to be this Home Secretary and this Government. Who has devolved to 30 of the basic command units with the highest levels of drug-related Crime—under the new initiative on criminal justice and drugs—the locally decentralised resources? It happens to be the same centralising, overbearing and over-powerful Home Secretary who is being criticised this afternoon.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Some years ago, we tried the sheriff system in the city of Nottingham and it was found wanting.

Is not the test for all parties what happens when there is consensus for community policing, or neighbourhood policing as it is referred to in this debate, but the local chief constable decides not to enact it, even when that chief constable has more police officers to deploy than at any time in the past? What do we do? What can local Members of Parliament, members of the public and indeed the Home Secretary do when confronted with that test? How do we surmount that problem?

Mr. Blunkett

That is an important question and I invite chief constables, police authorities and Members of Parliament to assist us during the year ahead in a sensible dialogue about how to make the tripartite system work. This afternoon, the shadow Home Secretary has done away with the tripartite system, or he would do so if he had the power, which God forbid. The system cannot be tripartite if one of the three legs is taken away. The right hon. Gentleman would remove one leg—the Home Secretary; he would remove the power and relevance of the post that he wants to occupy. He is asking the electorate to give him a majority to put him into a position that he could no longer occupy or take power to use. Secondly, he has made it clear that the rest of the tripartite approach would be disabled overnight by giving full autonomy to chief constables. The police authority would be able to think, but it would be unable to act.

I want a dialogue about accountability in the neighbourhood and about how to achieve responsiveness without taking away the operational rights of the police. We cannot second guess or put in place the action necessary to catch criminals, to deal with criminal gangs and overcome antisocial behaviour, but we can give support and provide additional powers and resources. We can legislate, but we cannot do it all.

There is a real issue about how we ensure that the extra police and those who work with them are visible, available and accessible on the street. How is it that we have 136,000 officers and all their additional support staff, including 10,000 additional civilian staff, amounting to a staggering 200,000 crimefighters—36,000 more trained and uniformed police officers than 30 years ago—yet people see fewer officers on the beat and in their communities and certainly feel that the police are not as accessible or responsive as they used to be? That question is profound.

Even if we left aside the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which had to be brought in to overcome the injustice and misuse of power that was taking place, and if we stripped away the requirement to monitor at least basic equality of provision across the country, how could we get rid of the remaining burdens that are, it is claimed, the obstacle to the police being out on the beat? I said "claimed" because when we actually ask people—not just chief constables, but commanders—to manage, they are inclined to suggest that it is not their job. However, I suggest that it is and that the six forces that have removed 2,800 surplus and unnecessary forms are the leaders in getting rid of bureaucracy. I cannot get rid of bureaucracy purely from the centre; we need local forces to do it, too.

That exercise was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen who examined the diary of a police officer to see what was keeping officers in the station. We found that local forces were duplicating national forms. They were collecting data that had never been requested by the Home Office and asking constables to do things that were no longer required.

Let us join things together. The O'Dowd taskforce, which included police officers of different ranks, came up with a set of proposals, some of which have been acted on. Some remain to be acted on and that must be done swiftly. However, the cry that all we have to do is remove the Home Office and get rid of any central involvement is nonsense. The moment that we did so there would be cries from across the country to reinstate the system.

Yesterday, I met some of those people in the Conservative party who have embraced what the Government have done. I met those in the community protection department of Westminster city council who have effectively used the powers granted to them by using CCTV or embracing the new powers that we have given to local government through antisocial behaviour orders and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which has been so often ridiculed, but which is so often praised locally. I commend my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for what he did in introducing that Act, which is being used.

I shall tell the House what those in Westminster council told me. They told me that, two years ago, 1 per cent. of the borough's landmass accounted for 25 per cent. of the crime and that Leicester square was virtually unusable. They have used the powers in the 1998 Act and the resources that we have given them, as well as their own initiative, to pull together in that new community protection department, working hand in hand with Metropolitan police, to clean up Leicester square and the surrounding area, so it can be used by local people and visitors alike. I commend that Conservative council for its initiative in that respect, although not in any other way, and for using Government money—after all, Westminster gets enough of it, as those of us who were in local government know. If my city received anything like the per capita investment that Westminster receives, we could do a damn good job with it.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the Home Secretary also listen to Westminster council on the subject of what the Licensing Act 2003—put through by his hon. Friends in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—will do for the very issues that he mentions, not just in Leicester square, but across the whole area?

Mr. Blunkett

That Department is pulling together its licensing, trading standards, health and safety and other activities to ensure that the lessons can be learned. I am absolutely certain that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport would agree that, if it were proved that those changes—the liberalization—caused a major disadvantage or problem, we would address that. I should have thought that the Conservative party in its new free-nation mode would welcome the ability to act more flexibily at local level, although perhaps, with Charles Moore's departure from The Daily Telegraph, there will be a change in stance on the free-nation front.

The police, local authorities and all those involved welcome the new powers that we have given to them to use fixed-penalty notices, which cut out bureaucracy. [Interruption.] It is no good laughing. Wherever we go, the police tell us that they welcome the fixed-penalty notices because they cut out the prolonged process that has bedevilled them. They welcome the investment that we making in new technology, including the Airwave system—£500 million of new technology—to make it easier to do the job. They welcome street arrests and cutting out the existing unnecessary burdens that are placed on them.

But it is not this Home Secretary who is refusing to use the new video identification scheme in 18 forces; it is not this Home Secretary who is using helicopters, rather than people on the ground; and it is not this Home Secretary who introduced the mobile police, rather than the community police. In fact, most of that occurred under a Conservative Government. Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, bravely said that the initiatives—I use the word advisedly—that were taken 10 years ago and that moved away from community policing were a mistake, but they were not my mistake. They were not even Douglas Hurd's mistake. They were a mistake made, presumably, at local level; it was a 'lend that was picked up and used.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The Home Secretary makes a point about bureaucracy, but I can assure him that, on the specific issue of the bureaucratisation of stop-and-search powers and their recording, the fact that those powers will be used less because of the associated bureaucracy is causing the police serious disquiet. I have to tell the Home Secretary that that is entirely the result of his Government's policy and we pointed out at the time that that policy would have exactly that consequence.

Mr. Blunkett

It is very difficult to know what consequence the hon. Gentleman is talking about. We can judge the consequence when we have done it. We agreed to phase in a new programme, using technology and slimmed-down methods of simply writing down why someone had been stopped and searched. Correctly done, that will save time and difficulty and allow constables—who are accused constantly of racism—to have greater confidence in undertaking stop and search, as they will be able to outline why it was undertaken and provide that note. That is not impossible, but because it causes such fear in the police service we said that we would experiment, ask forces to volunteer and see which approach worked best. That is what we promised to do and that is what we are doing. I do not think that it is unfair to provide people who are stopped and searched in the street with an explanation as to why, as long as we do not burden the police—on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman—in a way that would preclude them from doing it, and there is no evidence whatever that that is likely to take place.

Let me quote from the shadow Home Secretary's speech in Blackpool, which is material to the debate this afternoon. He said: No more so-called National Policing Plans"— so there would be no overview from the centre in future. He said: No more centrally imposed targets"— so there would be no drive for the street crime initiative to achieve a particular goal. He continued: No more Whitehall-based units and initiatives". When is an initiative not an initiative? I suggest that it is when the Opposition propose it rather than the Government. An initiative is a decision to take action to overcome a perceived or real problem. Action is what Governments should be about, not ineptitude, inaction or inertia. It is about ensuring that when there is a problem, democracy can deal with it. If democracy cannot deal with it, we will see the rise of the British National party. A delegate at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth made the fair point that the way in which the Liberal Democrats sometimes behave undermines democracy, as they pretend that there are simple solutions, and that if only they were in power, all the difficulties would disappear. Well, they would not disappear, because government—locally and nationally—is difficult, as the Lib Dems found out in Sheffield, which is why they were booted out.

James Purnell

My right hon. Friend will remember that I used to be something of a policy wonk, and I think that the shadow Home Secretary used to be one, too. Is not the idea about sheriffs and, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, the possibility that the BNP could run policing in my area or his area, policy wonkery gone mad? Is not it the kind of ideological extremism that we would expect from the person who came up with the idea of the poll tax?

Mr. Blunkett

That is absolutely certain. Once the Opposition get into an ideological framework that has a dead end, and their leader pleads for a novel idea—as the Leader of the Opposition said the other day, no one would deny that they had not come up with eye-catching initiatives—

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

That was Blair's phrase.

Mr. Blunkett

Ah, they were not initiatives. Fantasy island is not an initiative but a fantasy. When an initiative is from the Opposition it is a fantasy, but when it is from us it is an initiative. I am happy to plead guilty to an initiative, however, and I am happy to plead guilty to all the units that the right hon. Gentleman would also do away with, because they include the antisocial behaviour unit that we have established, which will drive forward and spread best practice at local level. Incidentally, if there were sheriffs—here is the rub—they would need information. Even if they were going to approach or e-mail the chief constable to take him or her out to dinner to plead with him or her to do something, they would need comparative information. They would need to know the performance of their own force vis-à-vis other forces across the country. Is that agreed? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I am very pleased that it is agreed, and there were even some voices from the Opposition Benches who agreed. At the end of this wonderful quote from the shadow Home Secretary in his conference speech, he said, "and performance monitoring". Who by? Oh, by the centre. Therefore, each of the 140 police services would set up their own little monitoring unit so that they could find out what other forces were doing, how they were doing it and what the performance looked like vis-à-vis their own. That is game, set and match.

Mr. Letwin


Mr. Blunkett

I am happy to give way for clarification.

Mr. Letwin

I apologise, because for quite a long time I thought that we were having an interesting debate. We now have slapstick instead.

The Home Secretary surely realises that his standards unit, which is trying to run the activities of every basic command unit in Britain, collects information from the localities, brings it to the centre and then dispenses it back to the localities to tell them what to do. We are simply short-circuiting that activity in having the information at the local level where it can be acted upon effectively without the level of bureaucratic intrusion that is required when one is trying to operate such things from hundreds of miles away in Whitehall. That is a rational proposition. We may disagree about it, but surely the Home Secretary understands that there are two possibilities.

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, there certainly are. To use the New York analogy, unless one can collate the information at the centre—that is what the commissioner in the New York force did from the various units—one cannot make sense of the data and one cannot spread best practice. [Interruption.] I shall wind up, because I do not want to be speaking after all the Conservative Members have crept off to the 1922 committee to determine the future of their leader and their party.

Mr. Letwin

The Home Secretary has put in mind a point that he will find very difficult to wrestle with. If he thinks that New York is the model, does he believe that the Federal Government or the mayor run policing in New York?

Mr. Blunkett

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the mayor of New York had much more power over the police than I have over the police in Britain or that the Home Secretary had over the Met when he was directly responsible for it, which incidentally was the policy under the Conservative Government until we changed it. Six commissioners were sacked or removed under the previous mayor.

To return to the issue, there is a real cost in any ideas that are put forward. The real-life costs of what Conservative Members want would not be felt in Dorset but in constituencies such as mine and those of many other hon. Members. The articulate can usually get their way. Those who have access to the media usually have their voice heard. Those who have the cash can move out of the areas of greatest disadvantage and antisocial behaviour. They can install alarm systems in their houses, and they can even live in enclaves where they employ what amounts to their own protection service.

We want the same protections for the people we represent. When they approach us, we want to be able to tell them that a Member of Parliament can approach the Home Secretary and that there will be just a chance that the Home Secretary might be able to do something about the problem. We want to appear at the Dispatch Box with some levers to pull that would make a difference to the lives of the people we represent. We want democracy to work in such a way that when people vote, they believe that it will make a difference. We want to link that to greater accountability and responsiveness at local level and to a new debate about the reform agenda for the police and those working with the police in the family of the police.

We want to do that as part of the regeneration programme at local level. We want to build the capacity of people to be able to take part in that debate and to be able to bring influence to bear. If we can get this right, the new tripartite approach will not take away responsibility for operational policing, but it will restore confidence that the police will react to the needs of the local community and that the Government will remove bureaucracy. However, the Home Secretary and his colleagues in Parliament will at least be able to go into a general election accepting some responsibility for what happens in our country, for the steps that we take to spread best practice, for the units we have established in making a difference and for the investment to go effectively into changing the nature of policing. That is what we are advocating; that is what we will vote for later tonight.

5.29 pm
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)

I start by thanking the Home Secretary and his shadow for their warm welcome, although I suspect that it will not last for long. I also pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). He had enormous energy and was a great guardian of civil liberties in this place. As chair of the Liberal Democrats parliamentary party for the past two years, I note the point about the length at which he made speeches—I was aware of that myself. I shall try to be brief because I am sure that a much more interesting event is taking place on the Corridor Upstairs—I note that fewer than 25 Conservative Members are in the Chamber.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk about the police in my first Home Office speech. There is nothing more important than ensuring that we have a strong police force in this country that can protect and reassure people—it is essential for that to be in place. Despite the differences that have emerged during the debate, it is important for hon. Members in all parts of the House to recognise that this country has an absolutely wonderful police force and that compared with many countries, ours is safe and secure. That is sometimes forgotten when we debate these issues.

It is rightly in the nature of politicians to examine constantly how things can be improved, to react constantly to new problems and to want to endorse and approve new forms of technology so that we may improve the police force. Although I am sometimes critical of the fact that politicians always want change, it is right to try to respond and make improvements. With that in mind, I welcome several of the suggestions and initiatives that have been proposed by the Conservative party this afternoon. We need new thinking on the police and although I disagree with many aspects of the party's document, it brings forward new ideas that are worthy of merit, which I shall talk about later.

A much bigger question is bubbling under the debate with which all three parties are trying to come to terms: what is meant by devolving down, new localism and central control? That is a real difficulty because politicians of all parties increasingly want to move toward a more local solution but, instinctively, we are nervous of doing that because we like to keep a form of central control given that we make promises at elections and such control is the only way to deliver on them. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) hit the nail on the head in his intervention because the real worry about letting go is not knowing what will happen when the system goes wrong or where the blame culture will lead. Devolution underlies the debate and I shall talk about it a little later in my speech.

I largely agree with several of the shadow Home Secretary's criticisms of the Government's approach on crime and policing, although I do not have a clue what the reference to brussels sprouts was about. It must be an in-joke between him and the Home Secretary, so perhaps I shall be let in on it when I have been part of the club for a little longer. We have all heard anecdotally from our constituencies about the difficulty that the police have when juggling their real job of catching criminals, reassuring the public and reducing crime, and their burden. The word "burden" is used constantly and although I understand the Home Secretary's sensitivity, I have been in my job for only 48 hours and the word has been used many times by the police. They say that I must address the burden of their work load.

I want to address the critical question of what the police should be doing. What do we mean by neighbourhood policing and what are the priorities? The Home Secretary said this week—and passionately this afternoon—that he is dissatisfied that some of the new police officers, whom I welcome, are not visible enough. It is hardly surprising that they are not visible enough because there is no [...] that they could be described as almost handcuffed to their paperwork and desks. I was troubled to experience that a couple of months ago when I went out on a Friday night in Winchester, which is not one of the most violent places on a Friday night.

I was amazed by the lack of respect toward policemen and the extent of the provocation to which they were subjected. One policeman was spat at—middle-class children under the influence of drink were doing such things. The problem was that there were only six officers out on that Friday night. I was amazed when they were spat at and called rude names, so I asked why they did not do something about it. They said, "Look, we can't do something about it. If we do, we have to go back to headquarters and vie will be in there for a couple of hours. Our judgment is that it is better to ignore it and stay out for the rest of the evening in case something worse happens." That cannot be right. Despite the Home Secretary's protests, there is concern about the work load balance. The Home Office report a year or so ago said that 17 per cent. of police time is spent on patrol. That means an awful lot of time is spent doing other things. I acknowledge that a lot of that work is worth while, but much of it is not appropriate police work.

We welcome the establishment of a bureaucracy taskforce, but we also acknowledge that many police authorities think that that will only touch the tip of the iceberg. One message that came through in my discussions with police officers over the past 24 hours is that although the taskforce is welcome and many of the recommendations are good, much of the work revolves around switching from a paper-based system to an IT-based system. That is costly, complex and needs a great deal of support. Jan Berry, the chairman of the national Police Federation, sums it up well by saying that for far too long officers have been hamstrung by an unwieldy and excessively bureaucratic system. There is concern about that.

I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary wants to tackle such issues. Perhaps he could take some of the pressure off chief constables, especially by reconsidering targets on burglary and robbery. I was interested in the evidence given to the Public Administration Committee by the chief constable of Thames Valley. He reported that when he faced what he regarded as unrealistic Home Office targets, his police authority chose to ignore them and to set its own. According to Home Office targets, Thames Valley would have been set a target this year of reducing robbery by 25 per cent. Instead, the local judgment is to reduce it by 10 per cent. Robbery fell by 18 per cent. in the previous year. Having achieved that cut, the police authority thought it unacceptable to move on to a Home Office aspirational target of 25 per cent.

In such circumstances, it has to be right to give chief constables greater freedom to set targets as they think best. Central targets, inspections, audits and ring-fenced money undermine the ability of chief constables and police authorities to act. They are, after all, on the ground. They know the lay of the land, can identify the large problems and should have the freedom to set more targets themselves.

Dr. Palmer

I worked in industry for many years and as a manager I would have liked to set the targets that I was to achieve. Does the hon. Gentleman not fear that chief constables will set targets that they are confident they can achieve so that they give themselves a slightly easier life?

Mr. Oaten

I have yet to meet a chief constable who takes that approach. Most chief constables that I have met are committed to delivering a good and realistic job locally. They are not in the business of raising public expectations on which they cannot deliver, a criticism that we could, perhaps, level at some politicians.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

The hon. Gentleman says that chief constables will be concerned with the local situation and adjust targets so that they are reasonable in the local context. Will that be based on figures produced by the local crime community safety groups? If so, does he agree that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and the organisations that it established, moved the focus on to neighbourhood policing?

Mr. Oaten

I agree that a key tool for chief constables is better and clearer intelligence drawn from data that reflect local experiences. I do not mind whether the data are managed locally or centrally and then used for local decision making. I want chief constables to take decisions based on the best possible forms of data available.

On visibility and the politicians' dilemma of whether we should see more bobbies on the beat, we all know the Audit Commission's argument that a bobby on the beat will walk around an area and stop a crime once every 100 years. At the same time, we all say in our Focus leaflets and statements to the media that there must be more bobbies on the beat. We know instinctively that the public want to hear that, and while we may have our doubts about the effectiveness in terms of actual detection, we are aware that it is a good idea for the purposes of reassurance and some of the latest thoughts on neighbourhood policing.

I welcome the national reassurance project, which steps outside some of the arguments about crime rates and concentrates on people's perceptions of the safety of their communities. We know now that visible policing makes a difference, but I am not sure that we have all the answers to what is the best form of it. I note with interest research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation: it was announced last week that a project near York had shown that an increased number of bobbies on the beat had actually increased the fear of crime. As a layman, I am not convinced that that is possible—it seems plain to me that more police in an area must provide some reassurance—but we should not dismiss it out of hand. It suggests that we need more research so that we can ensure that we are giving the reassurance that we think we are giving.

Mr. Letwin

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. First, does he agree that, according to the evidence, the constable involved in that project was not often on the streets? That seems to me to vitiate much of what has been said publicly. I am glad to note that the Home Secretary agrees.

Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not solely, or primarily, a question of reassurance, but primarily a question of preventing crime and disorder where it would otherwise occur, and depriving the criminal fraternity or gang of the environment in which crime persists?

Mr. Oaten

I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. There is a danger in some of the simplistic language that we have all used in speaking of increasing the number of police. The three main political parties tend to become involved in a Dutch auction in which we hear 9,000 from the Government, 10,000 from the Liberal Democrats and 40,000 from the Conservatives. That approach is too simplistic. We should try to make a genuine assessment. Perhaps what we need is an independent assessment of the number of police who are actually needed. I probed the right hon. Gentleman on that because I was horrified that he had plucked the 40,000 figure from the air on the basis of some evidence from America. A system based on such evidence does not strike me as sufficiently robust. To take the heat off the issue, the three parties should possibly assign a standing commission or review body to establish a realistic level of policing that is needed.

Let me deal with the Conservative proposals in more detail. The right hon. Gentleman was prepared to take many interventions on the generality of the issue, but was not prepared to take many relating to the detail and substance of the proposals. He believes in devolution, or localism, and as a Liberal I support that. I do not want to knock the Conservatives' suggestions, because they are genuinely trying to achieve a different form of delivery, and we support that trend. It contrasts slightly with the Government's approach during their first five or six years in office—although I am interested to note that over the past year they have placed much more emphasis throughout the public services on the need for fewer targets, and the need to devolve down and let go. The difficulty is that there is too much of the nanny state in this Government for them to be prepared to let go.

Mr. Blunkett

Kiss granny good night.

Mr. Oaten

I would thoroughly recommend that to the Home Secretary. Political thinking is, however, moving in the right direction. I do not think that the Conservatives have responded to many of the dilemmas relating to letting go of control. The most astonishing feature is the 40,000 figure: I am bewildered by how they arrived at it. The right hon. Gentleman is living in a fairytale world if he thinks that the cash needed to fund additional police numbers can be based on stumbling across some island for asylum seekers.

Shona Mclsaac (Cleethorpes)


Mr. Oaten

Let us set aside for a moment not just the "where" question, but some of the legal issues arising from the Geneva convention on refugees, before even getting on to the subject of cost. Until we get answers to these questions, voters would be well advised to take the figure of 40,000 with a large pinch of salt. If the target is not to be met from some magical island, the shadow Home Secretary will have a difficult job convincing his shadow Chancellor to fund the proposals, given the shadow Chancellor's agenda to cut public spending.

Mr. Letwin

I am sure that in due course we will have many happy hours debating our asylum proposals. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear it in mind that in a couple of months he will hear a great deal from us about how we intend to tackle the legal issues. I expect that we will not agree about them, but our proposals will be clear-minded and extremely radical.

Mr. Oaten

I cannot wait. If the right hon. Gentleman can bring an atlas and identify the island, that would be useful. Perhaps he could also help me understand the 40,000 figure. We have no published costings for it, so the best analysis that I have been able to come up with is that he took a calculator and keyed in the budget for the immigration and nationality directorate, which happily comes to £1.74 billion. He then pressed the appropriate button and divided that sum by the cost of training and paying a police constable—about £44,000 a year. Magically, that produced the figure of 40,000 police officers. I suspect that that is where the figure came from, not just from New York. Perhaps he will provide a more reasoned explanation for the costing.

Mr. Letwin

So that the debate does not continue tediously, let me explain that the savings of about £1 billion in the asylum and immigration system that we hope to achieve, which we can debate in due course, are intended to fund only the first four years of the programme, at about £50,000 a head. It is the New York experience, not the asylum facts, that leads us to the numbers. I have been entirely open about the fact that we do not yet know how we would fund the second Parliament of a Conservative Government, and I admit that I am not yet ready to assume that there will be a second Parliament of a Conservative Government, although I very much hope that there will be.

Mr. Oaten

In the unlikely event that the right hon. Gentleman gets the first one, we will see what happens with the second one.

Mr. Blunkett

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the figure is based entirely on the New York ratio, and New York lost 3,000 police officers last year, as it did, the figure is now down to 37,000 officers, presumably achieving the same goal?

Mr. Oaten

The Home Secretary highlights the folly of basing a system in this country on the system in New York.

I shall deal now with elected police authorities and elected sheriffs. If, under the system, decisions about money are to be devolved, it is difficult to see how the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) would be able to achieve the targets. Would there be some binding condition that the money that came through had to be spent on extra police? If that were not a binding condition, what controls would be in place to make sure that the target of 40,000 could be achieved?

An important issue is involved. If £1.8 billion is available for extra policing, has the Conservative party worked out that extra police represent the best use of that money? Are there other police priorities that should be put in place? How does the Conservative party know that the number of extra police should be 20,000, 40,000 or 60,000?

I welcome the record number of police officers announced by the Secretary of State earlier this month, and I hope that the Government will not allow numbers to slip, as they did in 1997. If major new resources are to be spent on further increases, such as the Conservatives suggest, surely that should be on the basis of evidence. I ask the right hon. Member for West Dorset to get out of the bidding war and join me in calling for a standing commission on policing. Such a body, independent of Government and staffed by experts, should examine the case for a large increase in police numbers, consider the costs and the potential benefits, and recommend a figure towards which we could all work.

I shall touch on a couple of other aspects of the Conservative proposals. We did not hear much about sheriffs. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman even mentioned the word. It did not feature in the consultation paper, but it featured prominently in the press coverage last week. Sheriffs were an idea imported from England and were ideally suited to the lawless conditions of the wild west, but is the lawlessness of Bristol and Manchester the lawlessness of Dodge City and the wild frontier? Can we expect sheriffs to go out on a Saturday night and take direct control? The American model of policing is not necessarily suited to this country. For a start, in America there are 18,000 US police departments. Imagine the issues of joined-up working if we moved towards much greater devolution along those lines. Assuming that sheriff powers were to be meaningful, another nightmare scenario was raised earlier. How would the right hon. Gentleman feel about the prospect of a BNP-sponsored candidate winning a directly elected election on a low turnout in, say, Bradford or Oldham? We trust our police to wield their power for the good of the whole community, not in the interests of one section of it, but there is a danger that that could start to happen in the event of such elections.

There is another danger. The areas that most need reform and change may be those in which the electorate are less likely to get engaged in the process. We could end up with a chattering class culture of people who are heavily involved, while people in areas with more problems to be tackled are not involved.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

I join other Members in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his appointment.

Is it not somewhat odd that although the Liberals espouse a local income tax—in other words, local people paying a local tax decided by local representatives—the hon. Gentleman does not want to give such local representatives any control over the police?

Mr. Oaten

I am highlighting my concern about installing, on the basis of a low turnout, an individual with the power to take fundamentally important decisions. That is very different from a system based on an elected council comprising a large number of individuals.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten

I promised that I would not be like my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, so I shall take one last intervention.

Mr. Letwin

At least it demonstrates that the hon. Gentleman is saying something interesting, even if I do not agree with it. Is he proposing that the Liberal Democrat candidate for the mayoralty should not have the right to run London's police?

Mr. Oaten

No: my proposition is that in an area as large as London one can take reassurance from the electorates and the existing system. My nervousness is based on some of the trends and examples that have emerged, particularly in northern cities where difficulties have arisen after elections with very small turnouts. I am urging caution on those who advocate the establishment of a powerful new elected tier, such as a sheriff, in those areas.

Some of the Conservative proposals for the delegation of power and the reform of police authorities are not that different from the Liberal Democrat model. The structures and organisation of policing in England and Wales need to catch up with public expectation and the realities of crime and disorder, both locally and nationally.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten

I want to finish, as I made a commitment to try not to speak for too long.

We already have a national police squad that deals with the most serious national and international crime and liaises with Interpol and Europol. There is an argument for reviewing and expanding its functions, perhaps merging it with the National Criminal Intelligence Service, Customs or special branch. The logic is that that new force should be accountable to the Home Secretary and an appropriate, more widely democratic authority along the lines of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Alongside that body, there should be a common border force, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, to do away with the confusing alliance of police, immigration officers and Customs staff and to implement greater levels of security at our borders.

We will support Conservative Members in the Lobby because we believe that the thrust of their new ideas is worthy of further discussion, but I have grave concerns about their approach. We tabled our amendment because we believe that if the structure of local policing is up for review, the rest could be, too. It has been 40 years since the last royal commission on policing. Given the comments that have been made about the possibility of setting up a national police force, there can be no doubt that we need a serious debate on the issues. I urge hon. Members to move away from rhetoric and bidding wars and to take up the Home Secretary's offer to look seriously at ways in which we can improve an already very good police force.

5.54 pm
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

I shall try to be as brief as possible, because so far the debate has mainly been a conversation between Front Benchers, and it should be informed by the experience of more hon. Members. I note that although the motion makes great play of neighbourhood policing, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said little about the reality of neighbourhood policing on the ground. I would like to speak a little about that.

I do not want to wax lyrical on sheriffs. We could make a lot of mischief out of the use of the word "sheriff", but a posse of sheriffs—or even of John Waynes—would not make much difference in constituencies such as mine, which operate under so-called neighbourhood policing.

I am sad that the Liberal Democrats are going to join the Conservatives in the Lobby tonight, not least because, when the Government announced their initiatives yesterday on antisocial behaviour and low-level disorder—as I describe it—in communities, my local Lib Dem council immediately tried to upstage the Government by commenting that Liverpool city council was already geared up for getting rid of burnt-out cars within 48 hours. I had never heard of that service before. That breakdown in communication was underlined when I got one of my staff to try to speak to a real living person who could tell us something about the unit. My colleague spent the whole day trying, but failed to find anyone, and could see no mention anywhere in the council's indicators that it provided such a service. I am not saying that it does not, but the essential lesson is that it has to communicate to people the information about the services that it provides. That will be the gist of what I have to say about neighbourhood policing.

I am a firm admirer and supporter of the police in my authority who are trying to put neighbourhood policing into effect and stand second to no one in my admiration of the difficult work that the police do generally. I recognise that there have been great successes in neighbourhood policing in the Merseyside police authority area, as I am sure the Home Secretary and chief constable would agree. However, I want to talk about my constituency, which is a classic inner-city area.

The way neighbourhood policing works in my part of the world is that a number of local government wards are grouped together and a police resource allocation is then made to them, normally comprising about 30 constables, two sergeants and an inspector. In theory, the first point of contact is the inspector. That sounds quite a lot for a relatively small local government unit, but when we examine the situation in detail, we find that the officers work a shift system, so two thirds of them are not on duty at any one time. We also find that some people are away on training courses or holiday leave. We then discover that the numbers are made up with what I describe as ghost workers—people on long-term sick leave who have been allocated to a particular unit to effect neighbourhood policing, but who never appear because they are on permanent sick leave. That is grossly unfair to the officers who are trying to work in these under-staffed units. I have been out with them and seen the work that they do, and I recognise that they can only do so much in any given working day. It is also unfair to the communities that have a right to expect those units to do the job that has been allocated to them, namely neighbourhood policing.

The problems that result from all this are immense. First, there is a rotation of the people in charge of the teams, and in the composition of the teams themselves. By the time one person has got to know the community leaders in an area, they are moved on or promoted. There does not seem to be any consistency.

A second problem that I always encounter relates to priorities. I was interested to hear what the shadow Home Secretary said earlier about the operational autonomy of chief constables. Yes, chief constables and senior management can decide what their operational priorities should be. In my area, they have made a decision that the priority, certainly at weekends, should be to flood the city centre with police officers, and they do. It is a very safe city centre—so safe that the Duke of Westminster commented that he was happy when his daughters travelled from Eaton Hall to Liverpool, but not when they went out in Chester. That is his view.

Liverpool has a very safe city centre, but when all those officers are in the centre, they are not policing the neighbourhoods where people live. In those areas, one cannot get a response from the police. If one does, it is not followed through. The most repeated subject in my surgeries and postbag and on the telephone comes from people bedevilled by low-level disorder. What do I mean by that? I mean the vandalism that leads to burnt-out cars, gangs of scallywags on the streets making people's lives a misery and the archetypal neighbours from hell who appear to know no bounds when it comes to their irresponsibility towards their neighbours.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington)

I can reinforce that point. I had cause to investigate a serious incident in Orpington, but found to my horror that because of a police exercise in Kent and an exhibition at the dome there was only one policeman in the whole of Orpington to deal with antisocial behaviour.

Mr. Kilfoyle

That is a repeated problem; I hear the same story from colleagues around the House.

We all accept that the police must prioritise, but when we bandy police numbers around, do we know what a realistic figure is? I am sure that we could go from 40,000 to 100,000 without meeting the real demand. The professionalism and expertise of senior management in police forces is shown by how they manage their resources and how they grade, in an elastic and organic way, the priorities in their operational area at any given time.

I wish to give some examples of incidents in my area where I have tried to raise instances of antisocial behaviour and low-level, localised crime within the context of community policing. When I checked, I was horrified by the lack of response to alleged crimes that do not appear to have been investigated. I wrote to a senior officer on 7 July and pointed out a house that was being used to sell drugs, the telephone boxes used for drug drops, the registration numbers, makes and colour of the cars and the times at which they went back and forth. I described the concerns expressed to me by local residents. That was on 7 July; I have had no answer.

I wrote on 27 May to list allegations made by a woman, including assault, harassment, threats to kill, criminal damage, more common assault and burglary. I still have had no response. I am not saying that the police have not responded, but it would be nice to know that they have. I should like to liaise with my constituents and tell them that an incident is being followed up and act ion taken. That is not the case. It is not that we let these incidents lie; we try to elicit a response and fill the black hole in communication.

On 26 April, I raised the usual story: bunches of youngsters creating mayhem and damaging property. There was no answer. I can go back further, to 31 March, when I wrote about antisocial behaviour by youngsters. There was no answer. This is not about bureaucracy. I am asking someone to pick up the phone and let my constituents and me know that the police have taken cognisance of the comments and are attempting to make people's lives a little more tolerable by some sort of intervention.

On 27 March, I asked why scrambler bikes had not been confiscated. There was no answer. On 24 February, allegations were made—I kid you not, Mr. Deputy Speaker—of rape, siphoning off money and arson, yet still there is no answer as to what the police are doing in that case.

Incidentally, I issued a press release on Monday, not knowing of the announcement that was to be made by the Prime Minister. My view was very simple and the press release was headed, "Neighbourhood policing is not working."

I wish to give an example to the Conservative party, the "party of business", of what a business has to contend with when neighbourhood policing is not working. Mr. N. Harrison, the managing director of a small dairy that has been built up and now employs 30 of my constituents, wrote to me with a list of incidents. The following account sounds funny initially, but it is no laughing matter. He states: The most recent event was on Saturday August 9th at 4.30 am. One of my drivers was out in his milk float and was followed by a car carrying 6 or 7 youths. At some point 2 of the youths got out of the car and got into the float either side of the driver. They forced him to drive all around the streets in the Oakfield Road area and would not let him out. Eventually, they took control of the float and drove it into two telephone kiosks demolishing them. They then ran away. The driver telephoned the depot and a supervisor was sent out. The depot telephoned 999 to report what happened and to make a formal complaint. Mr. Harrison said: We had no response whatsoever from the police, but they did take the time to contact BT to ask them to clear the site of the demolished kiosks. It is now … August 12". So in three days, the police never responded to the 999 call. Mr. Harrison continues: I am having extreme difficulty recruiting staff". Are we surprised?

A business is being threatened, individuals are being threatened, and residents' lives are being made a total misery—all under the aegis of neighbourhood policing, which I am told works. Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being extremely doubtful about the efficacy of neighbourhood policing. As I understand it, it is not about the high-flown rhetoric of various Front Benchers but about trying to improve the lives of the people on the ground, who desperately need the police to intervene if there is to be any tangible improvement.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman is making a most interesting speech. Does he agree that one thing that would be useful in the context of crime against retail business is some figures? It is remarkable that no central statistics on retail crime whatsoever are collated.

Mr. Kilfoyle

That may or may not be so—I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's word—but my only concern is the constituents whose interests I represent.

In closing, I repeat that I am aware that neighbourhood policing can be very effective in many areas, including on Merseyside, but I can only speak from my own constituency experience and the particular problems in it.

6.7 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)

I shall try to be brief, as I know that other Members wish to speak. Our motion states that we believe that the Government are seeking to achieve their aims through a burdensome and ineffective bureaucracy", a phrase that the Government amendment seeks to strike out. In listening to this debate, I have been struck by the fact that most contributors, including our own Front Benchers and the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten)—he now speaks on these matters—have made it clear that the situation is burdensome. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman used such phrases several times, yet he has been in his job for only 24 hours. I should like to hear the Minister acknowledge that the police still face an excessive burden.

I went out on patrol with the Norfolk constabulary a few months ago, and before doing so I visited the new headquarters, which is in my constituency, and the local Wymondham police station. The officers there showed me all the forms that they have to fill out; indeed, they spread them out over a huge conference table, which the forms more or less covered. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister is writing this down, and I can tell her that the forms were supplied not by Norfolk constabulary but from the centre, and that local officers were forced to comply with them.

If the Minister does not believe that the system is now too burdensome and bureaucratic, perhaps she will take the word of the chief constable of the Norfolk constabulary. His report of 26 August to the Norfolk police authority enumerates the problems that the police have been facing. We are familiar with the problems that many police forces have had to absorb: additional tasks in support of, or compliance with, extra initiatives, legislation and processes, including best value; data collection for performance indicators; efficiency planning; annual reports; performance planning; consultation; activity-based costing; and various legislation, including the Human Rights Act 1998, the working time directive, and legislation on information and security, and on freedom of information. There are also the diversity issues that constabularies now have to contend with, the implementation of the recommendations of the Climbié report, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, equal opportunities provisions, the implementation of the Police Reform Act 2002, and so on. Those, of course, impose extra burdens as well as extra costs, but there is the additional problem of the funding process itself, which imposes still further costs.

The chief constable of Norfolk expressed in his report to the police authority the constabulary's concern that Government policy seems to provide funding more and more by discrete ring-fenced packages rather than through the general formula, often on a bidding basis which is competitive between Forces. This causes a great deal of work on the part of individual Forces, often at short notice and with the prospect that this work may not result in funding being allocated and may therefore be nugatory. Even when bids are successful, a huge bureaucratic process is attached to grant claims, monitoring and reporting expenditure, and auditing, and, typically, the long-term continuation of ring-fenced funding streams is not guaranteed. I know that the Minister said recently that she would like to see, where possible, a reduction in the amount of ring-fenced grants, and I urge her to take that commitment seriously. Where such funding is necessary, it should be as clearly defined as possible and requirements should be given to constabularies as early as possible.

Even if the Government believe that they are doing their best, I would like them to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go in reducing burdens on the police. I quote again from the chief constable's report, which said that police staff were being subjected to an increasing burden of form-filling, paperwork and bureaucracy arising from numerous statutory and other initiatives, target-setting and performance monitoring that is significantly diverting resources from front-line policing. He was talking about August this year, and continued: We accept that the police service must be fully accountable and open to scrutiny but we feel that the balance has tilted too far in one direction. I would like the Government to acknowledge that the balance has indeed tilted too far in one direction. Much more radical action is necessary to tilt that balance back in the other direction and I hope that the Minister will confirm that in her response tonight.

6.12 pm
James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I too shall be brief. I want to draw the Minister's attention to neighbourhood policing in my area, and particularly to two issues on which my local council leader and chief superintendent told me that they would appreciate some help.

In 1997, Tameside had 353 police officers; it now has 432. That contrasts with the reduction in police numbers that took place under the Tories. It is worth saying that their promise of extra police numbers amounts to a cruel deception. The kindest way of describing it is as spin. If they really believe that they can find £1 billion from putting asylum seekers on an island, they have gone into fantasy politics mode. The problems in the asylum system were, of course, caused by Tory cuts in the first place. Solving the problem by magically finding £1 billion is extraordinary. Frankly, I do not believe that they believe it themselves.

I base my politics not on fantasy, but on talking to my constituents. In the past few weeks, I have done roving surgeries, in Godley, Ridgehill and Newton. My constituents told me that the key issue for them was antisocial behaviour. Time is short, so I shall provide just one example. A woman with a garage and patch of land behind her house has to contend with young people on that land every night who drink, dump condoms, rubbish and bottles, and terrorise the neighbourhood. Local people are terrified of going outside their doors at night. Members throughout the House are worried about precisely that issue, so I greatly welcome the Government's announcement this week.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

In common with my hon. Friend, I speak to many communities in my constituency. One of the difficulties of tackling antisocial behaviour is obtaining witnesses to stand up and report what they have to endure to the courts. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should do more to encourage the use of professional witnesses, which would remove some of the pressures and fears of those communities?

James Purnell

That is an interesting suggestion and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will take it up when she replies.

The burden of community policing must fall at the community level and in Tameside an innovative approach is being adopted that combines the police and local patrollers. With 100 or so people working together, we will reopen the sub-police stations that have been closed, base people in those areas permanently and have them available from 8 am to 10 pm, so that people will once again know their local constable. The constables will know the regular offenders in the area in the same

way as they know the people who run the local post office and local teachers. The constables will have a genuine understanding of what is going on in the community, and that is where the real value of community policing lies. Individuals can build up a relationship with the people they serve, and work with local youth workers, schools and sports clubs to provide young people with an alternative and constructive use of their time. The great majority of young people are scapegoated for the misbehaviour of a small minority.

I hope that the Minister will consider two points. The first is bail. At my roving surgeries, people complained that curfews or restriction orders on offenders are difficult to enforce. A 15-year-old might be bailed on condition that he does not leave his home after 10 pm, but he does. He can be rearrested, bailed under the same condition, and break it again the next day and the day after. A shoplifter banned from the centre of town can go back again and again. I am told by David Crompton, my local chief superintendent, that it is difficult to take specific measures beyond the bail conditions to stop offenders breaking them time and again. Further measures are possible only in specific circumstances, such as interference with a witness or the possibility that the offender will not surrender to the police. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address that issue.

The other issue of concern is alcohol. The sale of alcohol to young teenagers fuels much antisocial behaviour. We all know that it goes on, but the problem sometimes is that the only punishment is taking away the licence of the person selling the alcohol, and that is a big punishment. It should be used when licensees gravely abuse the terms of their licence, but I wonder whether intermediate measures could be threatened. For example, many off-licences rely significantly on lottery income. They can lose their lottery machines if they sell tickets to under-age players. Perhaps we could consider withdrawing that facility from those found guilty of selling alcohol to those under age. I also wonder whether anything else could be done to prevent people from selling alcohol to young teenagers. I would be grateful for the Minister's comments on those two issues.

6.18 pm
Bob Spink (Castle Point)

We need a balanced approach to what is a sensitive and important subject for all our constituents. Neighbourhood policing is essentially about antisocial behaviour, and juveniles are largely responsible. But the kids should not be stigmatised. Kids in this country are generally great and we must allow them to go out and enjoy their childhood, to grow up, to play games and to gather together socially. We must understand that they will occasionally rebel and experiment, especially with alcohol, and we need to seek tolerant and caring ways of dealing with the problem.

The children need more facilities to distract them from bad behaviour. We owe that to them, and I congratulate Legacy XS in my constituency on the project that it is running. The kids also need a disciplined framework, with clear boundaries and consistent enforcement. They also need to know that tough consequences will ensue if they break the rules. We need much more parental involvement in ensuring that children behave. I know that not all children these days have two parents, and we all appreciate the difficulties of single-parent families, but we need parents to take responsibility in stopping bad behaviour by children. For instance, my Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 enabled the police to involve parents in connection with incidents of under-age drinking. It should be more widely used. I contend that greater local control of the police would ensure that such action is taken, as local people would demand it.

My second point has to do with the police. Like some other hon. Members, I went out on patrol with my police force on a Friday night in the summer. I encountered some good behaviour among youths gathering together, but other youths displayed a great lack of respect towards the police. My respect for front?line officers certainly grew as a result of that experience.

I believe that the police should not have to deal with so much bureaucracy. They need to have access to new technologies such as palm-top computers. They need more resources, as well as the 40,000 officers that the Conservative party promises. The number of special constables needs to rise, not fall as has been happening lately.

The law needs to be clearer and more consistent. In their six and a half years in office, the Government have failed abysmally in that respect. Initiative after initiative has been introduced, often by the Prime Minister himself, and then failed. For instance, child curfews were introduced in 1998. They were a total failure. In 1999, antisocial behaviour orders were introduced. They were an almost total failure, and they died because of bureaucracy. In 2000, the Prime Minister suggested cashpoint fines.

Mr. Bacon

That was a farce.

Bob Spink

My hon. Friend is right to say that that was a farce. In addition, fixed-penalty fines were introduced, followed by the suggestion in 2001 about night courts, which copied what happens in America. The Government also promised to remove housing benefits from bad tenants. None of that made a lot of difference, so what happened next? En January this year, the Government established the antisocial behaviour unit, which was designed to "tackle anti-social behaviour" and make an immediate and lasting difference to the lives of people who experience anti-social behaviour day after day. What has happened? Nothing—absolutely nothing: if anything, things are getting worse on our streets. Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched an action plan called "Together: Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour". Do not hold your breath, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Under-age drinking is a particular problem. It leads kids on the street into bad behaviour and the first use of drugs, and it needs to be tackled. My 1997 Act gave police the power to remove all alcohol from under-age kids on the streets. It was designed to keep kids out of trouble and to save communities from the trouble that they cause. So what did the Prime Minister do in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001? He removed the very power that I had given police to take alcohol away from kids. Fortunately, that power was given back to the police on 18 September—and about time too. We need a consistent approach on this matter, but that is not what this failed Government have delivered.

What can be done now? We can show the kids more respect, and give them more in the way of facilities. We can give the police more resources—and the Opposition have promised 40,000 more police officers. We can try to keep police stations open so people have greater access to them. We can cut bureaucracy, introduce new technology, and ensure that the police involve parents in their children's behaviour. We can try to deliver more treatment for drug addiction.

We must put an end to gimmicky Government initiatives and get down to introducing simple, tough and consistent laws and to enforcing them with rigour. Finally, we must ensure that local police are truly accountable to local people.

6.24 pm
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

As we know, there is widespread concern about crime and antisocial behaviour. The thoughtful new Liberal Democrat spokesman asked why that is, given that there has been a steady fall in crime in recent years according to all the seriously accepted statistics. That started in 1995, when mass unemployment began to fall, as it has continued to do under the Labour Government. The Home Secretary put his finger on it when he said that people constantly read in the media about the most horrific crimes and see intensifying antisocial behaviour locally. They extrapolate from the latter to the former. If they see youths being disrespectful to the police and seemingly out of control and read about horrific murders, they think that the two are linked and that there are more horrific murders. Antisocial behaviour is a serious issue in that it engenders fear of more serious crime. That is one reason why we need to take it so seriously.

Increasingly, people understand the complexity of the issue. As has been said, we have had something of an auction in the number of additional police that we want to put on the beat. People realise that we have more police, but that they have not solved the problem of antisocial behaviour. Gradually, they are perceiving that the issue is complex. We are talking about the number of police, their role—exactly what they do, what they are allowed to do and how they are deployed by chief constables—and the number of support staff.

In this political auction, we tend to talk about the number of police officers as opposed to the number of civilian staff. There is a danger of undervaluing the role of support staff—as happened in the national health service—in enabling existing police officers to get out on to the beat. I accept the point that everyone makes, which is that certain types of paperwork could be avoided. Few people would say that we should not be reacting to many of the initiatives that the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) listed, such as the Climbié inquiry. It is much easier to say that there is too much paperwork than to identify specific papers that do not need to be filled out. In many cases, it may be possible to reduce the paperwork, but we may also need more civilian staff to take that burden off the police. One constituent recently had a lengthy statement taken down in longhand by a police sergeant. That does not make sense. The Conservatives attempted almost to demonise support staff in the health service by saying that 20 per cent. of them ought to be sacked. I hope that we will not do the same with policing, as we may well need more support staff more urgently than we need more police.

People are also looking at police powers and the willingness to use them, which the Prime Minister raised recently, as well as at the role of the courts and sentencing. I want a simple, practical change to transparent sentencing. The sentence announced should be the 50 per cent. tariff that we know will result in incarceration, rather than the 100 per cent. that could theoretically be applied. That would be a sensible change, and one that people would understand.

The Conservative party has complained in the past week or so that the media have been concentrating exclusively on the Leader of the Opposition's secretarial arrangements at the expense of examining the Opposition's policies. I have some sympathy with that complaint. The way in which the media work in Britain is dispiriting. I therefore wish to take the remaining five minutes of my speech to consider quickly the concrete policies that the Opposition propose.

I am second to none in my admiration for the courtesy and honesty of the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). We have met in various Committees and it is always a pleasure to debate with him. One of his characteristics is that he does not try to conceal vagueness, as we saw on the issue of the island to which several Members have referred. He had obviously been pressed by his leader to come up with something, so he said that we ought to put all asylum seekers on an island. When he was asked which island, he did not say, as perhaps most of us would have said—I certainly think that I would have—"We have a number of islands in mind, we are weighing things up but it would not be right to disclose it at this time." Instead, with characteristic honesty, he said, "I haven't a clue." I admire him for that. We have to accept that that element of his policy is currently shrouded in considerable vagueness.

We find the same vagueness in the motion, which urges us to have more local policing that is more accountable to local people—words that have no discernible meaning, or which, if they have a meaning, it is a meaning to which we can all subscribe. Why not have more local policing and local accountability? It sounds good.

In the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he tried to fill the gap. He advocated greater decentralisation. On that point, he uncharacteristically allowed himself to stray into vagueness. Decentralisation can be a good thing but it can also be a formula for postcode policing. Nottinghamshire, part of which I represent, offers an example. We have an unusually low detection rate, for reasons that we could debate, but there is no ambition in the county to set up a protectionist barrier against the use of best practice from elsewhere. We would like to achieve in Nottinghamshire the successful detection rates that we see elsewhere, and if that meant a centralist initiative, it would be just fine with most people. There is a danger that if we chop the country into too many little bits, there will be bits where policing works well and bits where it does not. With respect, that policy is half-baked.

Mr. Letwin

The hon. Gentleman is making a serious speech and we accept that an inevitable consequence of a serious-minded localist approach is that there will be differences between places. Some will be better at some things and some will be bad at others. That is why we place our faith in local democracy. It is our impression that when people see that something is being better done somewhere else, they will want to apply pressure through their local democratically elected police authorities for the place where they live to do it better.

Dr. Palmer

I accept that the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are good, but that intervention brings us to the dog that did not bark in his speech—sheriffs. He did not mention them once. We are all aware of the dangers of elected sheriffs—

Mr. Letwin


Dr. Palmer

I am sorry that I cannot give way again; I want to conclude, so that the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) can speak.

The risk in having elected sheriffs is simple, and we should be open about it. The election of mayors has produced many charmingly eccentric people, but in the emotive matter of crime there is a danger that election could produce British National party or extremist sheriffs. With the complete operational independence that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give chief constables, the likely outcome would be a state of permanent confrontation between populist, tub-thumping sheriffs with no real power, setting wholly unrealistic targets, and chief constables who ignored them and did their own thing. There is a genuine hole at the heart of the right hon. Gentleman's strategy.

As I want to allow the hon. Member for Upminster to speak, I shall not pursue the matter further. With respect, however, if the right hon. Gentleman wants that Conservative policy to be taken seriously, it requires considerably more detail.

6.34 pm
Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

In view of the lateness of the hour, the House will be pleased to learn that I have abandoned my speech, although I am sure that hon. Members would have enjoyed it. Instead, I intend to make three brief points.

My first point relates to the 40,000 extra police officers proposed in the Conservative policy. Some hon. Members have referred to that as though it were an extravagant or even unnecessary number, but I understand that 8,000 of the 40,000 might be allocated to the Metropolitan police and, as there are 32 London boroughs, Havering is likely to receive about 160 of those 40,000 police officers. With absences through sickness, holidays, courses, and officers being off duty and other abstractions, 150 officers might be left. Shared out over three shifts, 50 officers are not even enough to have two additional officers in each ward, so by no means is the figure over-generous; it is perfectly reasonable, and no more than is necessary in the prevailing circumstances.

My second point relates to a particular problem in the London borough of Havering. My constituency is one of the three component constituencies of Havering. Romford is one of the others. Rom ford town centre has the largest concentration of late-night entertainment centres and nightclubs outside the west end of London, which places enormous demands on Havering police. Those demands should be enough to make Havering a special case, but that is consistently ignored in the Metropolitan police resource allocation formula. We live in hope every year, but so far those hopes have been dashed.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, 10,000 additional people come into Romford—that is a conservative figure; it has been put as high as 13,000—to avail themselves of the delights of those nightclubs. The on-duty police officers quite rightly concentrate the lion's share of their resources on Romford town centre at that time. It is a public order issue, and the divisional commander is right to do that, but the effect is that there is no neighbourhood policing in the rest of the borough.

I have been out on night duty with Havering police, and they have one car to use to react to radio messages relating to incidents the length and breadth of what is a very large borough. They get there too late every time. The incident is over; the culprits have escaped. The police then hear of another incident at the far end of the borough, and the car chases after that. In effect, the borough is not policed, with the exception of Romford town centre, when those nightclubs are in operation. I add another plea—I make no apology for doing so again for additional police in Havering because of the special demands placed on it by Romford town centre.

My third point relates to the criminal justice system, which does not always give the police the support that it should or could. I should like to give just one example of co-operative working between my local council and the local police in dealing with what we all recognise as a neighbours-from-hell situation. I have received a long list of complaints from some residents who live in some flats over a small block of shops. When I visited them, it became obvious in conversation that all the problems emanate from one flat: there was abusive behaviour, drug taking and drug paraphernalia left in the stairwells, drunkenness and loud music night: after night. One of the gentlemen who complained was a newsagent in one of the shops below, who had to gel up very early in the morning.

It was council property, and the council looked very carefully at the tenancy and worked with the police, but the council decided that withdrawing the tenancy was the right course of action, as a last resort after it had tried everything else available to it. However, the outcome was that the court listened to the case, which had taken many man-hours of preparation and a lot of council tax payers' money and funding, but the court decided to give those neighbours from hell another chance. So they are back in the flat, and all their previous behaviour is being repeated. That is just one of many cases where the system lets the police down. If we ask the police to provide neighbourhood policing, which is what local residents want, it does not matter how many additional police we have—if the 40,000 were available tomorrow, it would have no effect—unless the criminal justice system plays its part and backs them up.

6.39 pm
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

This has been a short but important debate, and it has become clear that there is a remarkable degree of consensus about the solution in principle to part of our problems in our neighbourhoods—a substantial increase and improvement in the concept of neighbourhood policing. The only exception to that consensus was the contribution of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), but he is used to being in a minority on many of these issues.

What is also clear, however, is that neighbourhood policing must involve all local agencies. It is not something that can be achieved by any one police officer, police force, local authority or anybody else. The crime and disorder reduction partnerships—introduced by this Government, as I am happy to recognise—are a step forward. Like all partnerships, however, they lack the direct accountability that I believe is essential if we are to achieve the step change that we want.

Let us look for a moment at the difficulties faced by effective neighbourhood policing. First, there is the issue of what I call the reassurance mindset. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) touched on it by suggesting, I think, that there was some sort of conflict between the reassurance role of neighbourhood policing and getting on with policing real, major crime. I do not see it that way. Reassurance is the inevitable consequence of people feeling safer in their streets and neighbourhoods and of the reduction of the fear of crime or of being victims of crime. To that extent, neighbourhood policing has a major role, not just in dealing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) described, with disorder issues such as louts, foul language and the other things about which Members have spoken, but in gaining low-level intelligence.

It is a fact that three-quarters of all people who receive a custodial sentence receive their first such sentence before they are 24. There are plenty of statistics to demonstrate that virtually every major criminal started life as a minor criminal, doing the sorts of things about which we have all been complaining, so there is a vital role for neighbourhood policing to help to nip the problem in the bud, to use an old phrase. If it can reduce by only a relatively small proportion the number of people who go on to become ever more major criminals, the purpose of neighbourhood policing will have been achieved.

Neighbourhood policing also faces the problems of abstractions about which we have talked: the frequent changes of personnel as officers move on and are promoted, so that there is no continuity; the problems of bureaucracy, to which I will return; and the problems of the judicial system, a precise example of which has just been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) whereby police officers feel let down by the system of which they are part. We also have abysmal levels of rehabilitation among young people in our young offenders institutions, with the result that many go back to the same locality and continue their previous life.

There is no simple, single answer. All those problems have to be put right, and in many cases the Home Secretary agrees, certainly on the basis of some of his comments today and especially in relation to issues of reassurance and the judicial process. I am not sure whether he is having any more joy with the new Lord Chancellor than he had with the previous one in getting the changes that he wants in that regard. He recognises the importance of police numbers; otherwise, he would not keep on talking about the numbers that he has already provided. He also talks about the importance of bureaucracy and local accountability. Over a year ago, in May 2002, he said: we have deluded ourselves if we believed we could simply deliver from the centre. In the Edith Kahn memorial lecture, he floated the idea of direct elections to police authorities. In almost the next sentence, however, he showed why he is part of the problem and not part of the solution: he started talking about more plans, this time at basic command unit level, and more annual reports.

What is it that people really want? They want a society in which they can go about their daily lives free from the fear of abuse, assault or intimidation and in which their children can play safely, free of the risks from burnt-out cars, used needles, vomit, foul language and all the other things that beset parts of our communities. None of those things can be achieved from a police car or from a council office, let alone from Whitehall or in national plans. The only way such problems can be cleared up is if we have real police officers actively involved and responsible to the community.

Dr. Palmer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice

I am sorry, but I cannot give way.

We need someone to provide leadership to the local agencies and partnerships: the council, the housing authority, the Benefits Agency, environmental health and all the others involved. We may even need changes to legislation such as that on data protection. However, I am convinced that that leadership must come from a neighbourhood officer, and that role should be a distinct career path within the police and not a penance to be done and to be fitted in as and when other duties allow. I have seen examples of that happening, but they happen despite the system, not because of it.

The Home Secretary is deluding himself if he believes that there is not a problem with the burden of paperwork. Of course, he is not responsible for every single form in the country; nobody pretends that he is. However, we still do not have the computerised custody system that we have been promised ever since he has been in office. There are still 25 forms for every arrest. I have seen them, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) referred to them.

The Home Secretary talks about direct elections to police authorities, and we advocate them. However, who would stand for election to an authority whose role is now so diminished? That is why true accountability through direct elections will work only if it goes hand in hand with an ability to make a difference. That means local control over total budgets and local targets and setting local priorities.

I turn to some of the issues that the Home Secretary raised about our proposals in what was a travesty of a description and analysis of our policies. We are talking about police authorities directly elected by the population of each of the 43 forces that we have at present. The number is not 180, 8,000 or whatever other figure is bandied about. We are talking about a true locally elected police authority with real powers to control a block budget and to decide how to spend the money. We are talking about enhancing the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers so that information dissemination, best practice and consistency across all forces is achieved through the professional body, not imposed by the Home Office. Those are important changes, and they are the right way forward.

Over the past few years, there is no doubt that there has been increasing disjunction between the police and the public whom they serve. There is, I am afraid, so much public disillusionment that crimes are reported only if an incident number is necessary for an insurance claim. More and more people think that the police will not come and that, if they do, they will not do anything and that, if they do something, the criminal will get away with a smack on the wrist or even less, as my hon. Friends have described.

Is it entirely a coincidence that that has happened simultaneously with the ever-increasing centralisation that we have witnessed over the past few years? How can chief officers and commanders respond to local needs when they have to respond to Whitehall? Some brave officers have railed against the trend and have developed strong local forums. Even those local forums are relatively toothless; they have no real means of accountability back to the people whom they serve or for control over the force.

Did the Home Secretary really mean it when he said to the Police Federation: I want the reduction in bureaucracy to be the fuel for freeing people to do the job sensibly"? If he did, he had better start soon. There must be no more warm words and wishful thinking about reducing the number of forms and no more blaming others for creating the forms. We need an actual reduction.

In short, if we are to have the neighbourhood policing that the whole House now largely believes is an essential development, we need to give power back to people on the ground. We need to allow police authorities to be directly elected and given the freedom to respond to local needs. After all, that is democracy—surely the Home Secretary is not afraid of that.

6.50 pm
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

I am delighted to respond to the debate, but before I get into the meat of my speech I welcome the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) to his post. I am delighted that he finds the time to go out in Winchester on a Friday night but surprised that he is shocked that antisocial behaviour occurs on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights because most of us who live in such cities see such behaviour far too regularly. I advise him to get in touch with Manchester City Centre Safe, which has a fantastic programme to make the city centre a safe, vibrant and lively place where people may have a good night out. I also hope that he listened carefully to contributions to the debate about antisocial behaviour. I hope that he will take a fresh look at his party's stance on the Antisocial Behaviour Bill so that it reflects that of the vast majority of people in this country, who want us to take tough enforcement action on antisocial behaviour and the police to be given powers to make a difference.

We have had a good debate and I shall respond to hon. Members' comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) expressed his concerns about antisocial behaviour in his community and gave us worrying examples of what happens. I know that the Merseyside police are absolutely committed to making their neighbourhood policing work. They now have about 90 public access points throughout Merseyside, which is more than ever. They are trying to ensure that the inspectors in localities know the need to attack all the issues on the ground. I entirely accept that good work is going on but that there is much more to do. The points that my hon. Friend raised should be taken seriously by the local police and I hope that the campaign on tackling antisocial behaviour that we launched yesterday will help to address those important issues in Merseyside and throughout the country on behalf of constituents.

The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) talked about bureaucracy. We have abolished 2,800 forms, although I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that we need to do more. I was worried that he described the need to introduce diversity in the police force and to deal with child protection as bureaucracy. Such measures are central to ensuring that the police reflect important factors in our communities, so I would not class them as bureaucracy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) made a good speech in which he talked about antisocial behaviour in his community. I hope that he realises that the new powers that will be introduced next year under the Antisocial Behaviour Bill, such as nationwide fixed penalty notices, training and support for the antisocial behaviour academy and the action line, will help tremendously. He mentioned bail. I would ask his police superintendent to examine the possibility of obtaining interim antisocial behaviour orders because 66 were recently made in Leeds. When the powers of an interim order bite, they are an effective way of ensuring that conditions are enforced.

My hon. Friend also mentioned alcohol. He knows that we are preparing a national alcohol strategy and that we have introduced measures on under-age drinking and the confiscation of alcohol from youngsters drinking on the streets.

Bob Spink

We did that.

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend's idea about lottery machines is interesting and I shall find out whether we could take it further.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who is very keen to claim credit for his work, talked about the important need for a twin-track approach on antisocial behaviour: support for those who want it and provisions for families and young people twinned with tough enforcement and giving people the knowledge that consequences will follow from their actions. I am delighted that he supports the Government on every single point of our policy in this area and welcome his support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) made a thoughtful contribution that was typically useful and to the point. He exposed the emptiness of the Opposition's policy, although he was rather kind to call it vague and half-baked—I might have used more robust words.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) talked about the Conservative party's pledge of 40,000 extra officers. I am sorry to disappoint Conservative Members because the shadow Home Secretary made an admission today in a typically honest and straightforward fashion. He said that the pledge is only for the first four years and that he could not predict whether there would be a second-term Tory Government—heaven knows whether there will even be a first-term Tory Government—and, as a result, he could promise only 20,000 extra officers because he had no idea how the other 20,000 would be funded. He then acknowledged that 5,000 of the 20,000 would be appointed by us. So the pledge has gone from 40,000 to 20,000 to 15,000. It is decreasing by the hour, as we speak. I am sorry but the hon. Lady will be disappointed in the policy of her Front-Bench spokesmen.

Let me address the heart of the motion. Localism has become a bandwagon for the Tories to jump on. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) prides himself on being a bit of a thinker. I am told that it has taken him two years to develop his ideas on devolution and localism. It is disappointing that after two years of deliberation, he has concluded that there is nothing the Government can do to change the lives of people for the better. His recipe for localism, which is about removing all support from the centre—no national standards or national framework—would return us to the chaos and anarchy of laissez-faire politics so beloved of the Tories 100 years ago. That political approach left people to fend for themselves. Money and privilege determined a person's success in life. There was no role for Government. Politics could not make a difference. Nothing was done to create opportunities and drive up standards, especially for the poorest.

The right hon. Gentleman sets a dangerous agenda. Behind his façade of local accountability lies the sad admission that, in his view, Government and politics cannot make a difference. I understand why he, as a member of the Tory party, thinks that things are hopeless, but I cannot accept—

Mr. Paice

It says here.

Ms Blears

I have written every word of this myself and I am enjoying it.

I cannot accept that abrogating responsibility at the centre by giving up influence to shape and develop a system is a responsible attitude for any political party in a modern democracy. The Tories recently issued two consultation papers, although people might have seen only the one produced at conference. The first mentions 139 forces, with populations ranging from 2,000 on the Isles of Scilly to 1.3 million in Essex. There would be a directly elected mayor, a multi-person single-purpose police authority and a directly elected single sheriff to run this, that and the other. It is gobbledegook. The second document—the revised system issued two weeks later—says, "We don't really want to get into structures, so rather than be distracted by force reorganisation, we have no plans to change the current structure of police forces." That is a complete change in the space of two weeks. That is how well the Conservatives have developed their policy over those two years.

Our policies for developing community engagement are about involving local people. The Home Secretary's Edith Kahn lecture earlier this year set out an ambitious programme for communities to involve them in shaping and directing our policies from the inside. My pamphlet entitled "Communities in Control", available for £6.95 from the Fabian Society, sets out our commitment. I challenge the shadow Home Secretary: instead of simply having elected police authorities at local authority level, what about underpinning communities at neighbourhood level? People are interested in their street, their neighbourhood, the park where their children play, the shopping precinct and the bus and tube stops where they live. His plans focus on police authority areas. They are structural and relate to existing political boundaries. The real challenge is to gel, into neighbourhoods below the basic command unit level without the 139 forces and the chaos and anarchy proposed by the Tories. That requires—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 183. Noes 319.

Division No. 325] [6:59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Butterfill, John
Allan, Richard Calton, Mrs Patsy
Amess, David Cameron, David
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Bacon, Richard Carmichael, Alistair
Baker, Norman Cash, William
Baldry, Tony Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping
Barker, Gregory Barnet)
Baron, John (Billericay) Chidgey, David
Beith, rh A. J. Chope, Christopher
Bellingham, Henry Clappison, James
Bercow, John Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Blunt, Crispin Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Boswell, Tim Collins, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Cormack, Sir Patrick
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Cotter, Brian
Surrey) Cran, James (Beverley)
Brady, Graham Curry, rh David
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Brazier, Julian Davies, Quentin (Grantham &
Breed, Colin Stamford)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &
Browning, Mrs Angela Howden)
Bruce, Malcolm Djanogly, Jonathan
Burnett, John Dorrell, rh Stephen
Burns, Simon Doughty, Sue
Burt, Alistair Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Duncan, Peter (Galloway) Paterson, Owen
Evans, Nigel Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Portillo, rh Michael
Fallon, Michael Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian Pugh, Dr. John
Forth, rh Eric Randall, John
Fox, Dr. Liam Redwood, rh John
Francois, Mark Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Rendel, David
Garnier, Edward Robathan, Andrew
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts) Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Greenway John Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Grieve, Dominic Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Gummer, rh John Roe, Mrs Marion
Hague, rh William Rosindell, Andrew
Hammond, Philip Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick Sanders, Adrian
Hawkins, Nick Sayeed, Jonathan
Hayes, John (S Holland) Selous, Andrew
Heath, David Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David Shepherd, Richard
Hendry, Charles Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John (Orpington) Soames, Nicholas
Howard, rh Michael Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Spicer, Sir Michael
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Hunter, Andrew Spring, Richard
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Stanley, rh Sir John
Jenkin, Bernard Steen, Anthony
Johnson, Boris (Henley) Streeter, Gary
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Stunell, Andrew
Keetch, Paul Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness) Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Lait, Mrs M Jacqui, Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Lamb, Norman Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Laws, David (Yeovil) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Leigh, Edward Teather, Sarah
Letwin, rh Oliver Thurso, John
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E) Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David Trend, Michael
Lilley, rh Peter Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Loughton, Tim Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs) Tyrie, Andrew
Maclean, rh David Viggers, Peter
McLoughlin, Patrick Walter, Robert
Malins, Humfrey Waterson, Nigel
Maples, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham) Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Whittingdale, John
Maude, rh Francis Wiggin, Bill
Mercer, Patrick Willetts, David
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Wilshire, David
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Norman, Archie Winterton, Sir Nicholas(Macclesfield)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Öpik, Lembit Young, rh Sir George
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Page, Richard Angela Watkinson and
Paice, James Mr. Mark Field
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Dawson, Hilton
Allen, Graham Dean, Mrs Janet
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Denham, rh John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Dhanda, Parmjit
Darwen) Dismore, Andrew
Atherton, Ms Candy Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Atkins, Charlotte Dobson, rh Frank
Bailey, Adrian Donohoe, Brian H.
Baird, Vera Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Banks, Tony Drew, David (Stroud)
Barnes, Harry Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Battle, John Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bayley, Hugh Edwards, Huw
Beard, Nigel Efford, Clive
Benn, Hilary Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bennett, Andrew Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Farrelly, Paul
Berry, Roger Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Best, Harold Fisher, Mark
Betts, Clive Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Blackman, Liz Foster, rh Derek
Blears, Ms Hazel Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings &
Blunkett, rh David Rye)
Borrow, David Foulkes, rh George
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Francis, Dr. Hywel
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Bradshaw, Ben George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Brennan, Kevin Gerrard, Neil
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Gilroy, Linda
Wallsend) Godsiff, Roger
Bryant, Chris Goggins, Paul
Buck, Ms Karen Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Burden, Richard Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Burgon, Colin Grogan, John
Burnham, Andy Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Byers, rh Stephen Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cairns, David Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hanson, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &
Caplin, Ivor Rhymney)
Casale, Roger Healey, John
Caton, Martin Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Challen, Colin Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hendrick, Mark
Chaytor, David Hepburn, Stephen
Clapham, Michael Heppell, John
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Hermon, Lady
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Hesford, Stephen
Pentlands) Heyes, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Hodge, Margaret
Chryston) Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V) Hope, Phil (Corby)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hopkins, Kelvin
Cohen, Harry Howarth, George (Knowsley N &
Coleman, Iain Sefton E)
Colman, Tony Howells, Dr. Kim
Cooper, Yvette Hughes, Beverley (Stretford &
Cousins, Jim Urmston)
Cranston, Ross Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Crausby, David Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, Ann (Keighley) Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Hutton, rh John
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Iddon, Dr. Brian
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Ilisley, Eric
Darling, rh Alistair Ingram, rh Adam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Irranca-Davies, Huw
David, Wayne Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Highgate)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jamieson, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W) Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) O'Hara, Edward
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W) Olner, Bill
Kaufman, rh Gerald O'Neill, Martin
Keeble, Ms Sally Organ, Diana
Keen, Alan (Feltham) Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Keen, Ann (Brentford) Owen, Albert
Kemp, Fraser Palmer, Dr. Nick
Khabra, Piara S. Pearson, Ian
Kidney, David Perham, Linda
Kilfoyle, Peter Picking, Anne
King, Andy (Rugby) Pickthall, Colin
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Plaskitt, James
Bow) Pollard, Kerry
Knight, Jim (S Dorset) Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Lammy, David Pound, Stephen
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) E)
Lazarowicz, Mark Prescott, rh John
Lepper, David Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &
Leslie, Christopher Dinefwr)
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Primarolo, rh Dawn
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Prosser, Gwyn
Linton, Martin Purnell, James
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Quinn, Lawrie
LIwyd, Elfyn Rammell, Bill
Love, Andrew Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) Raynsford, rh Nick
Luke, Iain (Dundee E) Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin) Robertson, John (Glasgow
McAvoy, Thomas Anniesland)
McCabe, Stephen Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry
McCafferty, Chris NW)
McDonagh, Siobhain Roche, Mrs Barbara
MacDonald, Calum Rooney, Terry
McDonnell, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McFall, John Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Mclsaac, Shona Ruane, Chris
McKechin, Ann Ruddock, Joan
Mackinlay, Andrew Russell, Ms Christine (City of
McNulty, Tony Chester)
Mactaggart, Fiona Salter, Martin
McWalter, Tony Sarwar, Mohammad
McWilliam, John Savidge, Malcolm
Mahmood, Khalid Sawford, Phil
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sedgemore, Brian
Mallaber, Judy Shaw, Jonathan
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Sheridan, Jim
Marris, Rob (Wo/verh'ton SW) Shipley, Ms Debra
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Shettleston) Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &
Martlew, Eric Finsbury)
Meacher, rh Michael Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &
Merron, Gillian Lunesdale)
Michael, rh Alun Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Milburn, rh Alan Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Miliband, David Soley, Clive
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Spellar, rh John
Moffatt, Laura Squire, Rachel
Mole, Chris Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Moonie, Dr. Lewis Steinberg, Gerry
Moran, Margaret Stevenson, George
Morgan, Julie Stewart, David (Inverness E &
Mountford, Kali Lochaber)
Mudie, George Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mullin,. Chris Stoate, Dr. Howard
Munn, Ms Meg Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Straw, rh Jack
Stringer, Graham Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Stuart, Ms Gisela Watts, David
Sutcliffe, Gerry Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Taylor, Dan (Stockton S) Wicks, Malcolm
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F) Williams, Betty (Convey)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion) Wills, Michael
Tipping, Paddy Winnick, David
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire) Wood, Mike (Batley)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn) Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Trickett, Jon Worthington, Tony
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Wright, David (Telford)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wright Tony (Cannock)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vis, Dr. Rudi Tellers for the Noes:
Walley, Ms Joan Mr. Nick Ainger and
Wareing, Robert N. Vernon Coaker

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 306, Noes 182.

Division No. 326] [7:14 pm
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Caplin, Ivor
Allen, Graham Casale, Roger
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Caton, Martin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Challen, Colin
Darwen) Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Atherton, Ms Candy Chaytor, David
Atkins, Charlotte Clapham, Michael
Bailey, Adrian Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Baird, Vera Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh
Banks, Tony Pentlands)
Barnes, Harry Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Battle, John Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &
Bayley, Hugh Chryston)
Beard, Nigel Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benn, Hilary Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Bennett, Andrew Coaker, Vernon
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Coffey, Ms Ann
Berry, Roger Cohen, Harry
Best, Harold Colman, Tony
Betts, Clive Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blackman, Liz Cooper, Yvette
Blears, Ms Hazel Cousins, Jim
Blizzard, Bob Cranston, Ross
Blunkett, rh David Crausby, David
Borrow, David Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Bradshaw, Ben Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Brennan, Kevin Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Brown, rh Gordon (Dunfermline David, Wayne
E) Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Wallsend) Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Bryant, Chris Dawson, Hilton
Buck, Ms Karen Dean, Mrs Janet
Burden, Richard Denham, rh John
Burgon, Colin Dhanda, Parmjit
Burnham, Andy Dismore, Andrew
Byers, rh Stephen Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Cairns, David Dobson, rh Frank
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Donohoe, Brian H.
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud) Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lammy, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Edwards, Huw Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Efford, Clive Lazarowicz, Mark
Ellman, Mrs Louise Lepper, David
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Leslie, Christopher
Farrelly, Paul Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fisher, Mark Linton, Martin
Flynn, Paul (Newport W) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, rh Derek Love, Andrew
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Rye) Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
Foulkes, rh George McAvoy, Thomas
Francis, Dr. Hywel McCabe, Stephen
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S) McCafferty, Chris
Gerrard, Neil McDonagh, Siobhain
Gilroy, Linda MacDonald, Calum
Godsiff, Roger McDonnell, John
Goggins, Paul McFall, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mclsaac, Shona
Grogan, John McKechin, Ann
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McNulty, Tony
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) Mactaggart, Fiona
Hanson, David McWalter, Tony
Harman, rh Ms Harriet McWilliam, John
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Mahmood, Khalid
Rhymney) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Healey, John Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Hendrick, Mark Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, David (Glasgow
Hermon, Lady Shettleston)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heyes, David Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Martlew, Eric
Hinchliffe, David Meacher, rh Michael
Hodge, Margaret Merron, Gillian
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Michael, rh Alun
Hoon, rh Geoffrey Milburn, rh Alan
Hope, Phil (Corby) Miliband, David
Hopkins, Kelvin Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Moffatt, Laura
Sefton E) Mole, Chris
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Urmston) Moran, Margaret
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Morgan, Julie
Humble, Mrs Joan Mountford, Kali
Hurst, Alan (Braintree) Mudie, George
Iddon, Dr. Brian Mullin, Chris
Illsley, Eric Munn, Ms Meg
Ingram, rh Adam Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Irranca-Davies, Huw Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Jamieson, David Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Johnson, Alan (Hull W) Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham) O'Hara, Edward
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak) Diner, Bill
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) O'Neill, Martin
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W) Organ, Diana
Kaufman, rh Gerald Owen, Albert
Keeble, Ms Sally Palmer, Dr. Nick
Keen, Alan (Feltham) Pearson, Ian
Keen, Ann (Brentford) Perham, Linda
Kemp, Fraser Picking, Anne
Khabra, Piara S. Pickthall, Colin
Kidney, David Plaskitt, James
King, Andy (Rugby) Pollard, Kerry
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Bow) Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Knight Jim (S Dorset) Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham Stevenson, George
E) Stewart, David (Inverness E &
Prescott, rh John Lochaber)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Prosser, Gwyn Stoate, Dr. Howard
Purnell, James Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Quinn, Lawrie Straw, rh Jack
Rammell, Bill Stuart, Ms Gisela
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Raynsford, rh Nick Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Reed, Andy (Loughborough) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Anniesland) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry Tipping, Paddy
NW) Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Touhig, Don (IsIwyn)
Rooney, Terry Trickett, Jon
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton
Roy, Frank (Motherwell) Kemptown)
Ruane, Chris Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Ruddock, Joan Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Chester) Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Salter, Martin Vis, Dr. Rudi
Savidge, Malcolm Walley, Ms Joan
Sawford, Phil Wareing, Robert N
Sedgemore Brian Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Shaw, Jonathan Watts, David
Sheridan Jim Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Shipley, Ms Debra Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Betty (Convey)
Simon, Skin (B'ham Erdington) Wills, Michael
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Winnick, David
Skinner, Dennis Wood, Mike (Batley)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Woodward, Shaun
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Woolas, Phil
Finsbury) Worthington, Tony
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &


Wray, James (Glasgow


Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Yarmouth)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wright, David (Telford)
Soley, Clive Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel Tellers for the Ayes:
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis Mr. Nick Ainger and
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. John Heppell
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Cameron, David
Allan, Richard Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Amess, David Carmichael, Alistair
Ancram, rh Michael Cash, William
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping
Bacon, Richard Barnet)
Baker, Norman Chidgey, David
Baldry, Tony Chope, Christopher
Barker, Gregory Clappison, James
Baron, John (Billericay) Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Beith, rh A. J. Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Bellingham, Henry Collins, Tim
Bercow, John Cormack, Sir Patrick
Blunt, Crispin Cotter, Brian
Boswell, Tim Cran, James (Beverley)
Brady, Graham Curry, rh David
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Brazier, Julian Davies, Quentin (Grantham &
Breed, Colin Stamford)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &
Browning, Mrs Angela Howden)
Bruce, Malcolm Djanogly, Jonathan
Burnett, John Dorrell, rh Stephen
Burns, Simon Doughty, Sue
Burt, Alistair Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Butterfill, John Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Calton, Mrs Patsy Fabricant, Michael
Flight, Howard Paice, James
Hook, Adrian Paterson, Owen
Forth, rh Eric Pickles, Eric
Fox, Dr. Liam Portillo, rh Michael
Francois, Mark Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Dinefwr)
Garnier, Edward Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Pugh, Dr. John
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Randall, John
Goodman, Paul Redwood, rh John
Gray, James (N Wilts) Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) Rendel, David
Greenway, John Robathan, Andrew
Grieve, Dominic Robertson, Hugh (Faversham &
Gummer, rh John M-Kent)
Hammond, Philip Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hancock, Mike Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Harvey, Nick Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Hawkins, Nick Roe, Mrs Marion
Hayes, John (S Holland) Rosindell, Andrew
Heath, David Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David Sanders, Adrian
Hendry, Charles Sayeed, Jonathan
Hoban, Mark (Fareham) Selous, Andrew
Hogg, rh Douglas Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Holmes, Paul Shepherd, Richard
Horam, John (Orpington) Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Howard, rh Michael Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns &
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Kincardine)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Soames, Nicholas
Hunter, Andrew Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Jack, rh Michael Spicer, Sir Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Jenkin, Bernard Spring, Richard
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Stanley, rh Sir John
Keetch, Paul Steen, Anthony
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Streeter, Gary
Inverness) Stunell, Andrew
Key, Robert (Salisbury) Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Syms, Robert
Lamb, Norman Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Laws, David (Yeovil) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Leigh, Edward Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Letwin, rh Oliver Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E) Teather, Sarah
Liddell-Grainger, Ian Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Lidington, David Thurso, John
Lilley, rh Peter Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Llwyd, Elfyn Trend, Michael
Loughton, Tim Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs) Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Maclean, rh David Tyrie, Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Malins, Humfrey Walter, Robert
Maples, John Waterson, Nigel
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Atcham) Whittingdale, John
Maude, rh Francis Wiggin, Bill
Mercer, Patrick Willetts, David
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Coldfield) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Moore, Michael Wilshire, David
Moss, Malcolm Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Norman, Archie (Macclesfield)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester) Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Young, rh Sir George
Opik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton) Tellers for the Noes:
Ottaway, Richard Angela Watkinson and
Page, Richard Mr. Mark Field

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House welcomes the Government's investment in policing which has resulted in 136,386 officers by the end of August 2003, an increase of more than 4,000 since December 2002 and the highest level ever; notes that there are now more than 1900 Community Support Officers and record numbers of police staff assisting police officers in their work; further notes the priority given by the Government to reducing bureaucracy to enable officers to concentrate on frontline duties; and welcomes the Government's commitment to further reform to improve accountability and engagement between the police and the communities they serve.