§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the strategic plan for the Home Office, "Confident Communities in a Secure Britain", which sets out our detailed plans for the next five years. It is linked to the joint plan for the criminal justice system that I published alongside a written statement earlier today.
Fundamental to our strategy is the need to build security, order and stability. Whether in our homes or neighbourhood, a sense of security is the basis of a civilised society, and is central to our economic prosperity and the regeneration of our most deprived communities. Security builds confidence and trust, removes the fear of difference, reinforces social cohesion and enables people to cope with rapid change. In the strategy, we set out plans for both preventive and tough enforcement action. Crucially, these measures are linked to strengthening the assets of the family and the wider community.
For decades, rising crime and insecurity seemed inevitable. By the mid-1990s crime had risen to the highest levels in the developed world, and fear of crime and antisocial behaviour rose as police numbers fell. Since 1997, we have demonstrated that a very different future is possible. Crime has fallen by well over a quarter, and the chance of being a victim is at its lowest for over 20 years. Since the late 1990s, asylum claims have, as we know, increased substantially—a trend seen across the developed world. In 1997, it took an average of 22 months to reach an initial decision, and only 9,000 failed asylum seekers were removed. Today, with security and immigration controls moved to the French coast, the use of new technology at borders, and the closure of the Sangatte camp, applications have fallen by 60 per cent. in 18 months.
By investing in communities we are encouraging a new spirit of civic engagement, as evidenced by the additional 1 million men and women who are involved in volunteering, compared with the number involved three years ago. We have put the sense back into sentencing. We have introduced tough minimum terms for murder and longer jail sentences for dangerous offenders. Tough and effective community sentences will replace ineffective short-term custody. Drug abusers are now offered a way out through arrest referral and treatment programmes. All of that is the result of sustained investment and reform, and I thank everyone whose dedication has brought about the transformation.
Yet challenges remain. International terrorists aim to undermine our freedom and security. Organised criminals build ever more sophisticated international networks. Antisocial behaviour, binge drinking and lower-level thuggery continue to blight the lives of too many people. Gun crime and domestic violence too often lead to serious injury and fear. Our solutions must be rooted in the community. We must change the culture of violence. Respect needs to be restored; responsibility and duty accepted; and parenting seen as an essential contributor to change.
22 Our task is to renew the relationship between the citizen and government by putting the interests of law-abiding citizens first, focusing support on individuals and families, and developing stronger partnerships between communities and public service. As part of this, we will re-examine the resources currently directed into local communities, whether in public services or in sustaining families. We will audit how this investment could be used more effectively to prevent, and not simply to ameliorate, poverty.
We will reinforce, and further invest in, the development of neighbourhood policing teams, complementing and not replacing the intelligence model. These teams will work alongside the communities that they serve, addressing the causes, as well as the manifestations of, criminality. That will contribute to a further 15 per cent. reduction in crime over the next three years. The teams will provide a visible and responsive presence in our communities. Our sustaining of record police numbers—they are up by 12,500 since 1997—will make this possible. We will supplement that by providing the equivalent of 12,000 extra officers on front-line duty and by a sustained reduction in bureaucracy, and as in the NHS and in schools, we are complementing the skills of existing professionals with new support staff. Since 2002, nearly 4,000 community support officers have taken up post.
I can announce today that, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we are launching a new neighbourhood policing fund, which will be kick-started by £50 million of new money in this financial year—money over and above the spending announced by the Chancellor last Monday. As a result, we will be able to recruit the first tranche of an additional 20,000 community support officers from this autumn. Next year, we will add to this fund and combine it with the current crime fighting fund. That underlines our commitment to fully accredited police officers.
No Government have done more to increase police numbers, and we will seek to enhance the role of the constable by focusing effort back on to the front line. The development of the national intelligence model will provide the link between neighbourhood policing and the measures needed to tackle high-volume, serious and organised crime. The exchange of necessary information will be enhanced through the development of a new national information technology system for police intelligence. In addition, we will establish a policing improvement agency and thereby rationalise the relevant bodies. We will consult further on this over the summer.
Neighbourhood policing will go hand in hand with new approaches to targeting offenders. Some 5,000 repeat offenders are responsible for almost one in 10 crimes. That is why we are investing in a new prolific offender programme, which will use tagging and satellite tracking to enhance existing measures. In addition, for lower level offenders we can provide prison without bars, which, combined with mentoring, support, drug treatment and restorative justice, will contribute to reducing re-offending. We will also develop improved and intensified supervision and surveillance programmes.
In tackling antisocial behaviour, we will extend the current focus, in 12 areas of England and Wales, to a total of 50. That will be matched by the development of our new community justice centres, the first of which 23 will open in Liverpool next year. Additional investment in prison and probation services and in counter-terrorism will supplement the existing plans for next year.
To build confidence, we must also transform public access to the police. We will set out new consistent standards of customer service. By 2008, we will have a new nationwide non-emergency call number. We will give local communities new powers to require information and to trigger action when problems remain. I will publish our full proposals in a consultative paper later this year.
Victims and witnesses are at the heart of our policy. The no witness, no justice programme is already making a difference and it will be expanded across the whole of England and Wales. The victims commissioner will hold to account the agencies responsible and a new dedicated victims fund will add to the support available.
Immigration must not be a political football. Securing legal routes for migration and offering legitimate ways of employment is common sense. We need the skills and enterprise of those prepared to come here to work. To achieve that, we will reinforce existing rigorous controls at our ports and airports to prevent abuse of our immigration system. We will develop new electronic border controls, known as e-borders. That system of automatic tracking of travellers entering and exiting our country will provide monitoring and usable data. That innovative technology will clearly help us with counter-terrorism. Taken together with the introduction of biometric identity cards, these measures will help to ensure that only those legally entitled to be in our country will be able to work, to draw down on services and to have permanent residence here.
Global terrorism and organised crime require a new level of responsiveness. The creation of the serious and organised crime agency and additional resources for the Security Service and counter-terrorism police will help us tackle those who would destroy our democracy and undermine our well-being. Using the recovered assets agency, we will target those living on the proceeds of crime. Through a new incentivisation programme, we will return those resources to the communities from which they were stolen. From fixed penalty notices to severer penalties, it will be the criminal, not the law-abiding citizen, who pays. We are today laying orders to extend the offences for which a fixed penalty notice is available, targeting under-age drinking, lower-level damage and theft, and the misuse of fireworks.
The correlation between enforcement and prevention is crucial. We must invest in young people. In addition to the existing resources across government, I can announce today an expansion of the youth inclusion and early intervention programmes. Those will be doubled across England and Wales. From Sure Start to enhanced children's centres, from learning mentors to parenting orders, we will provide a route out of inter-generational disadvantage.
It is within the communities themselves that we face the biggest challenge. Nowhere is that more important than in race relations and equality. Community cohesion can be achieved only by an awareness of the need for comprehensive and active engagement with 24 faith communities and a coherent drive against racism. I will shortly publish an updated strategy on the way forward. Where those measures will help the most is in reinforcing confidence and belief in our own identity and citizenship. For those seeking naturalisation, the learning of English and citizenship and the ceremonies of celebration are reinforcing a sense of belonging.
We have a choice: to work together to overcome insecurity, instability and fear, or to deny the role of government; to match tough enforcement, with investment, support and powers for local communities or to do nothing to build respect and overcome alienation.
We on the Government Benches are clear. We will put the law-abiding citizen first. We will invest in the modernisation of policing and we will develop new forms of community engagement appropriate for the 21st century. We seek a partnership with all those willing to join in this critical task. That is why I commend this statement to the House.
§ Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who could not be in the House today. I also thank the Home Secretary for an early copy of the statement.
From this morning's headlines and programmes, we could have been forgiven for thinking that the Home Secretary's statement would be entirely dedicated to dealing with antisocial behaviour. This morning the Prime Minister rejected the Labour Government of the 1960s and the actions of his mentor, Lord Jenkins. But for the ordinary people of Britain, there was no liberal consensus, as the Prime Minister suggests. They did not want political correctness stuffed down their throats. They did not want to be intimidated by young hooligans or to have to step over vomit in the streets. In the light of the Prime Minister's statement this morning, will the Labour party—and for that matter, the Liberal Democrats—apologise for all their bedfellows of the past 30 years, who told us that the criminal was the real victim? Or is it just another example of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary grabbing headlines without substance? Why should we believe this lot of initiatives? Why should we believe that they are any better than the 155 others that we have had since the last election?
We welcome the extra resources for our security services and for anti-terrorism measures. In principle, we welcome the resources for crime reduction, although they fall significantly short of our commitment to fund the extra 40,000 police officers necessary to achieve the quantum leap we need if we are to get real neighbourhood policing to work.
A year ago, the Home Secretary published his last strategic review. He was going to reduce crime, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour. Today, he claims a reduction in crime that no one believes. That is not surprising because he is counting only part of the figures. His figures exclude illegal drug use, which is up 16 per cent.; retail crime, which has doubled; sexual offences, which are up 42 per cent.; and, most importantly, crime against young people, which is also up. The truth is that after falling for five years under the Conservatives, recorded crime is up by 800,000 a year under Labour. 25 Violent crime is at an all-time high and there was a gun crime every hour of every day last year. With the latest crime figures due out this week, is it not the case that violent crime will be up again?
Last year, the Home Secretary also set a target to ensure effective delivery of justice. That was a laudable aim, but the good intention has failed. The proportion of convictions and cautions compared with recorded crime fell to its lowest level for well over a decade. It peaked in 1997, and has fallen, year in year out, under Labour. Why?
Now the comprehensive spending review sets new targets, including to reduce crime by 15 per cent. in high-crime areas. Will the Home Secretary tell us specifically which the high-crime areas are? What are the baseline figures, so that we can judge whether he achieves his target? He pledges to improve the delivery of justice by increasing the number of crimes for which an offender is brought to justice to 1.25 million. That is another laudable aim, but the figure has not reached 1.1 million under Labour and is falling, so how does he expect to achieve it?
The Home Secretary pledges to reduce unfounded asylum claims—
§ Mr. Paice
Well, the Home Secretary pledges to do it in the future. The Minister should read the review that was published last week. What is the baseline against which he can be judged in a year's time? What is also obvious is the long list of targets that have disappeared. Can the Home Secretary tell us whether that is because he accepts our position that there are too many targets, or because virtually none have been met or have any chance of being met?
The Home Secretary refers to 12,000 extra police officers and says that the police can make 3 per cent. annual efficiency gains. They probably can, but not unless he lifts the yoke of central bureaucracy from their shoulders. So when he gets rid of 2,700 civil servants, how many forms, how many targets, how many ringfenced funds and how many Home Office units will go with them?
The Home Secretary refers to tagging. Will he clarify whether he considers the tagging of prolific criminals as part of their sentences? Is that an expansion of the early release scheme, which we were told last week would not be expanded, or is it a long-term protection for the public, especially from paedophiles? Is tagging really a sufficient punishment, or is it driven by prison overcrowding?
The Home Secretary pledges in his statement to develop new electronic border controls. He says that a system of automatic tracking of travellers entering and exiting our country will provide monitoring and data. Will he explain what he is saying? Is he today announcing the re-introduction of embarkation controls? If so, of course, we welcome that adoption of Conservative policy as an effective measure to control immigration.
The Home Secretary also says that he will give local people power to ensure that laws are implemented. What does that mean? I agree with him, of course, that 26 antisocial behaviour has many causes and that the community needs to be involved, but who is he blaming for not using the law—the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or the courts system?
The Home Secretary has announced the extension of fixed penalties. Will they work? Does he really think that they are what people want? I suggest to him that people want a penalty that is both a deterrent and that provides a chance of rehabilitation. They do not want a minor penalty that becomes a badge of honour for some young oik.
The Home Secretary also refers to the increase in community support officers. Let me repeat our support for the role of civilians in helping the police. Our concern has always been about giving them police powers, especially the power of detention. So what has happened to the review of those powers, which we were promised at the time of the legislation, or the national evaluation that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), promised only last week, an hour before the Chancellor announced 20,000 more CSOs?
Will the Home Secretary tell us what discretion chief constables will have over the use of the money? Will they be able to spend it instead on full police officers? If not, what has happened to his drive for local accountability? What happened to his statement in last year's White Paper thatHome Office research has found that delegation of resources and responsibilities can…increase responsiveness"?
The people of this country are fed up with units, targets and initiatives. They want a Government who do not confuse good intent with achievement. When a crime is committed, they want a police officer, not an incident number. What they have got is centralised control, 10,000 more bureaucrats, 40-plus units, overcrowded prisons, record crime levels and a Home Secretary who says that he has not got a clue how many illegal immigrants are in the country. What they are offered is a new public service target of reassurance—a new word for spin, a patronising word from a Government who know best. Does the Home Secretary realise that reassurance will come not from words or money alone, but from results: fewer crimes, quicker justice, secure borders and a Government on the side of the law-abiding? He cannot buy reassurance; it will come by itself when he delivers the rest.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his second appearance in two Mondays. The Opposition Front Bench is characterised this afternoon by no money, no policy and no shadow Home Secretary. I am almost beginning to forget what he looks like—he has been missing two Mondays running.
Let me take the questions that have been raised head on. Yes, when we have got in place the electronic border surveillance, we intend to reintroduce embarkation controls, which were abandoned 10 years ago, as hon. Members know, under the former Conservative Government. However, that was understandable because, without the new electronic surveillance and computer system, such controls were a complete waste of time. If we do not know who has come in, there is no point in trying to track who goes out. If we do not have identity cards, we do not know who is here anyway, so 27 we cannot know whether they are legitimate or not in terms of drawing down on services. I am glad that we are agreed on that.
We appear to be agreed that we should all be tackling antisocial behaviour. The hon. Gentleman asked me about fixed-penalty notices. Some 20,000 fixed-penalty notices have been issued, and they are effective and speedy. They contribute to the reduction in bureaucracy that the police service has been seeking. They ensure that, instead of four to five hours for arrest, a fixed-penalty notice can be issued within 30 minutes. That means that the police can go about their business rather than returning to the station. It means therefore that we can release people for front-line services and we can bring in civilian staff to undertake the backroom work. That, again, frees police officers to do their job. The 20,000 additional community support officers are available on the streets on a permanent basis. That frees the rest of the community beat team and their colleagues to target particular offenders, including prolific offenders, who cause so much havoc in the community.
Yes, the prolific offenders programme will involve electronic tagging and satellite tracking. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether that would be instead of prison sentences. No, it will be part of the new supervision programme that was passed in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and it can really be effective as part of that programme only if we know exactly where people are and can track their movements down to the last few metres. This will be a major drive to prevent the scourge of prolific offenders, and often prolific victims. That is why our victims programme is so crucial.
On immigration, we have a record to be proud of. We have turned round a major problem in world movements and, from 18 months ago, we have reduced unwarranted asylum claims by 60 per cent. The baseline level is 2002, but we are actually saying that we will reduce unwarranted asylum claims year on year, so we will be reinforcing that message.
The hon. Gentleman asked me what baseline we would use and how we made a judgment on the areas with the greatest density of crime. For the first time ever, a baseline assessment is published on the website that shows a comparator force by force and command unit by command unit in terms of the crimes committed and therefore the density and proliferation of crime. We and the force at local level can target resources to make that happen.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would give freedom to chief constables. They already have it. We will, of course, provide the funding for the additional community support officers and, through the police grant and the amalgamation of the crime fighting fund, the retention of the record police numbers that we have put in place. They will have the freedom to use those resources sensibly. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is heckling from a sedentary position, as his colleagues did throughout my statement; they were not really interested.
Police chiefs will obviously be able to make decisions about deployment and they will not be rigidly told that they can employ only community support officers. When we passed the legislation to bring these in, both 28 Opposition parties said that police forces would not use them and that the police service would not welcome them. Well, every police force in the land is clamouring for them; neighbourhoods are clamouring for them. What people want is not more of one thing and less of another; they want more of both. They want uniformed constables and an intelligence model; they want community support officers; they want us to clamp down on organised crime; they want to treat drug users sensibly; and they want to reinvest in youth inclusion and overcoming criminality by young people.
In short, people want us to have the comprehensive overview, the coherent policy and the balance of prevention and enforcement that I have laid out this afternoon. No other political party, now or in the past, has laid out such a comprehensive and, in my view, balanced programme. In doing so, I am proud to be Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD)
I thank the Home Secretary for advance notice of his statement. We agree with much of it. There is certainly a need to tackle the increase in unacceptable behaviour, although I am at a loss to understand why the Prime Minister is blaming the liberal culture of the 1960s for that because I would have thought that the culture of the 1980s might have more to do with it.
The Home Secretary's measures to increase numbers of community support officers are welcome, but does he agree that many of our police still spend far too much time stuck in stations filling in forms? Will he today commit to increasing the amount of technology, such as palm tops and mobile fingerprinting, that police have so that they can be seen much more out in the streets, where the public want them? He made no mention of his plans to have directly elected police authorities, so have they now been abandoned?
This morning, the Prime Minister raised the issue of holding some trials without juries. Liberal Democrats will oppose that. The Home Secretary will remember that, at the time of his heavy defeat on the matter in Parliament last year, he gave a commitment that no new measure would be introduced without cross-party talks. Does he stick by that commitment?
The Government said that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. We have had much focus on tough-sounding measures, but little on causes. With that in mind, does the Home Secretary recognise the urgent need to do much more to tackle the terrible rates of reoffending, with up to 70 per cent. of 20-year-olds who leave prison reoffending? Is it not time for a greater focus on education and training, with a tough prison regime, to target those issues?
The Home Secretary again raises ID cards in his main document. Does he not agree that the £3 billion cost of introducing them would make our country safer much more effectively if it were spent on more police and more technology for them?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that vote of confidence. I think that we all agree that we need to get police out of the station. We are spending £800 million on information technology in the criminal justice system and £500 million on the Airwave system. It is crucial that we develop the most extensive system 29 for using DNA in the world and ensure that people are trained to use such technology. The enhanced police national computer and the information intelligence model that I outlined in my statement are vital parts of achieving that.
We need to invest in avoiding repeated and prolific offending and in introducing restorative justice, so I was pleased that the Conservative shadow Minister agreed with that on the radio this morning. We are starting to get somewhere and agreeing what we need to do, although we are not all in agreement on whether we are prepared to raise the money for that. Labour Members are.
It is absolutely true that we will ask people to make a contribution towards biometric ID cards, but as I explained to the House at considerable length earlier in the year, the system will be associated with updating the security on passports, which we have to do. We will thus introduce biometrics on passports at the same time as ID cards, so it will cost an additional £4 per person, over a 10-year period, to issue the card rather than simply having a biometric passport. We do not have to spend £3 billion because, as people renew their passports, they will pay as they get the biometric cards. I thought that I should explain that at length so that people understand the system and realise that we are not diverting money from what we are doing elsewhere.
Let me be clear that we agree with the Liberal Democrats on many issues, such as training programmes in prisons. Some 50,000 prisoners are now getting basic education, but no systematic education programmes existed in 1997. We also agree that we should introduce work programmes, but we cannot spend the same money twice. We must all agree what resources are available and what they should be spent on. Last week, the Chancellor allocated to the Home Office for next year—not just for 2006–07—an additional £140 million for correctional services, and I want to spend that not only on expanding the prison estate, but on providing alternatives. If we can do that, we will turn round the dangers that exist in our communities.
The hon. Gentleman cannot tell people that the Liberal Democrats are in favour of clamping down on antisocial behaviour and crime, yet vote against such measures in the House. The Liberal Democrats cannot vote against closing crack houses, dispersal and curfew powers, expansion of antisocial behaviour orders, fast-track evictions—
§ Mr. Blunkett
When the Liberal Democrats vote against the Second and Third Readings of a Bill, they are voting against it. Week after week we will expose the duplicity in every way we can, so that at the general election those who mistakenly voted Liberal Democrat in Leicester, South and earlier in Brent, East will understand precisely what they voted for: open borders, open crack houses, open to exploitation.
§ Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab)
Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at two aspects of antisocial behaviour that we need to tackle? One is to build on the record of intervention schemes that work. 30 We have a fantastic scheme in my constituency called Wheelbase. It has a remarkable record of intervening with youngsters involved in multiple car thefts, but exists on hand-to-mouth funding year in, year out. We have to try and break the cycle of game-show funding for the schemes that work. If he is looking for a source of revenue to pay for that, let us consider the commercial interests who fund the licensing problems of binge drinking that plague our inner cities and pour drink into young people before they are poured out on to the streets, leaving the local authorities and the police with the problems of clearing up?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We need not only investment, but consistent investment in programmes that are working. In addition to resources from the Home Office through the Youth Justice Board, we have the potential to put together the Connexions programme, the new community safety fund on which we will work jointly with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the expanded neighbourhood renewal fund. It is crucial that we do so. There is a major role for those who make a profit out of the industries concerned to contribute in return. That is why an expanded business improvement district programme should be the opportunity to get agreement on putting something back in for those who get something out.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)
Will the Home Secretary explain to the House in simple Queen's English three or four things that my constituents and those of other hon. Members can expect to see during the next 12 months as a result of his statement today?
§ Mr. Blunkett
More police, more community support officers, more fixed-penalty notices, the expansion of the curfew and dispersal powers, the universal expansion of the justice care scheme for witnesses that I have just announced, and the youth intervention programme, which will be doubled. I announced all those things in my statement. I think that that is four.
§ Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)
In hardpressed inner-city areas such as mine, people will be grateful for the comprehensiveness of my right hon. Friend's statement, covering everything from the most serious crime through to vandalism. May I draw his attention to the question of how we assess the performance of the police? For example, my police force—Greater Manchester police—is often near the bottom of most measures of police performance. The public in a city such as mine are entitled to know whether that is because we need better policing or whether, as Greater Manchester police claim, they are underfunded. It is important for the public to know that they are getting value for money from the police in Manchester and throughout the country.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. The increase in resources is important for the expansion of programmes and numbers, but the quality of policing, which has improved under the leadership of Mike Todd in Greater Manchester, is crucial as well. The assessment process now allows us to examine the 31 family of forces so that we can compare like with like, which seems perfectly fair. It is important to reinforce the improvement that is taking place in one area by spreading it to others, which is why the police standards unit, working with the inspectorate, is doing just that. Greater Manchester police, with considerable encouragement from my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety in relation to organised gang and gun crime, has shown substantial improvements. There is still a long way to go, and the process of accountability at local level, not necessarily with fully directly elected police authorities, but with revised democratically accountable functions at both command unit and force level, will drive that from the bottom up, as well as from the top down.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Does the Home Secretary agree that excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for a huge percentage of violent crimes and antisocial behaviour? Is he willing to discuss with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills tuition in secondary schools on the nightmares that excessive alcohol consumption can cause? Is he also willing to look again at the consequences of 24-hour pubs?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Forty-four per cent. of all violent crime is alcohol-driven. It is necessary to provide education and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should undertake to do so. Of course, it is right that we should keep under review the changes—although people keep grumbling that they have made a tremendous difference, they have not yet been implemented—to the licensing laws. We have already made it clear that we would need to take action if we found that greater deregulation and flexibility were damaging.
§ Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, particularly with regard to the new neighbourhood policing fund, which will have £50 million. My constituency has four police reassurance wards, and I am willing to offer my constituency if any hon. Member does not want police community support officers or police reassurance teams. Will he look at the hours of operation of police reassurance schemes, because they currently end at 10 pm and we need to consider how to extend them?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I thank my hon. Friend, who has done a sterling job in her constituency in mobilising the community and working with the police. We need to look at the working hours and we could open up that matter and discuss it with appropriate representatives.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con)
May I gently remind the Home Secretary that all the issues that he has raised today in respect of antisocial behaviour were raised by his predecessor when this Government came to power in 1997? The fact that he is still talking about them today and that the Prime Minister is still sexing them up is the clearest possible proof that the answers that the Government claimed to have in 1997 have not been the overwhelming success that the 32 Government claimed that they would be. May I invite the Home Secretary to look instead at much tougher and more obvious and readily useable powers to deal with antisocial behaviour in the community, such as taking away tenancies from antisocial tenants, even though that may cost him the vote of confidence that he received from the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), since the Liberal Democrats opposed it tooth and nail and kept antisocial tenants in place?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Of course we are building on measures that we put in place in our first Parliament. This is the same Government, and we are building on, reinforcing and learning from those measures. That is why we have introduced fast-track and interim antisocial behaviour orders and why we have learned from the problems in implementing curfews. I have revised the arrangements so that we have had dozens of curfew and dispersal orders since 1 April, when the measures came into force. It is also why we learned about what needed to be done with regard to crack houses and antisocial tenants, and why, both in housing and antisocial behaviour legislation, we introduced new forms of tenancy ensuring that permanent, secure tenancies can be reversed. Where people continue to behave in an antisocial fashion, they can be fast-track evicted. All those things build on what was there, expand it, learn from it and put in place measures to allow the community to drive the change. I would have thought that that was very welcome.
§ Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab)
What further steps can my right hon. Friend take to persuade the very few chief constables left who have not done so, including the chief constable of Derbyshire, to take up community support officers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that they make a huge difference? The constituents of Erewash look across the border into Nottinghamshire and want a slice of the action. At the moment, we are experiencing some resistance. Can he help?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I suggest that my hon. Friend recommend that her constituents and those across Derbyshire write to the chairman of the police authority in Derbyshire demanding that the Derbyshire force take up the money that is available so that constituents, including me and the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), can enjoy wonderful, peaceful weekends in the Peak district, including in Baslow, where my car was scratched on Sunday afternoon.
§ Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP)
Asylum and immigration policy is one of the powers that the Home Secretary still has over Scotland. In the context of the five-year strategic statement, will he tell us his plans to expand Dungavel removal centre?
§ Mr. Blunkett
We have already announced the expansion at Dungavel, which is not for families and children, but for single men and women. The hon. Lady will recall her intervention one week ago and that she must tread carefully when she raises Dungavel with me.
§ Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Coop)
I welcome the Home Secretary's statement and in particular his comments about the introduction of a non-emergency telephone number. In my experience, nothing undermines confidence in the police more than communication problems with the local police station. We should have not only a non-emergency telephone number, but adequate back-up staff and a procedure to ensure that such problems are gone for ever.
§ Mr. Blunkett
The best thing that I can say is, "Spot on." All hon. Members know that that is one of our constituents' biggest gripes, and we must get the issue right. The point is not only whether the phone is picked up, but whether the system can properly judge the weight and repetition of a problem. The new computerised system tracks such calls and makes sure that the police and community support officers get to the area as fast as possible. The system is about not only reassurance, but decent customer service, so my hon. Friend is entirely right.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)
Does the Home Secretary accept that my constituents will not be impressed by his statement, because the police are hopelessly overstretched in our part of the Thames valley? My constituents rarely see a police officer, and one reason why so many of them have stopped reporting crime is because there is no point in doing so.
§ Mr. Blunkett
We have 10 per cent. more police and 4,000 extra CSOs compared with 1997. Using the same methodology, criteria and year-on-year comparators, crime has decreased by more than one quarter since 1997—sex offences are now counted, which is one of the few points raised by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) that I did not answer. Given all that, why is policing so bad in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay)? We must ask both the police and ourselves that question. That is why Peter Neyroud is so important in driving change in the Thames valley.
§ Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's emphasis on community policing. At the last Greater London authority election, both the Liberals and the Conservatives pledged to cut the money that the Mayor is using to roll out community safety teams across London, so we will take no lectures from them. If the programme is to succeed, we must expand work with young people to divert them from crime in the first place, which is why I welcome the roll-out of the youth inclusion programme. Many initiatives in the local community are led by people from the community, including young people's parents, who want facilities for young people to be expanded to stop young people getting involved in crime in the first place. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that when the YIP money becomes available, local communities are engaged in finding solutions at the grassroots level?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I entirely agree with that point. Last Friday, I saw a YIP working extremely well. It was turning around the lives and the hope of young people who had been involved in substantial criminality or who were in real danger of becoming involved in substantial 34 criminality—the issue is about the hope of a better tomorrow. We must ensure that YIPs are joined up with the extended school programme, weekend and after-school activities and the Connexions service, in which we are investing large sums of money. Getting the matter right is a matter of common sense, but it is also prudent, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, because in the long run it will save us a great deal of money as well as heartache.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con)
In May 2001, no doubt following extensive Cabinet discussion and in order to speed up the criminal justice system, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of night courts. Can the Home Secretary tell me where I can go to watch one of those courts at work? In which cities are they, and what hours do they sit?
§ Mr. Blunkett
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we introduced three pilot night courts, they were not successful and we did not pursue them. I have no problem at all in experimenting and innovating, and then being big enough to say, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, "This isn't working, so let's not waste any more time doing it."
§ Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)
I warmly welcome, as will my constituents, the extra resources that are going into policing and community support officers. However, will the Home Secretary bear in mind the special nature of inner-London constituencies such as Vauxhall, which contains high-profile security targets? That means that many of our extra resources are directed there, leaving community estates in the more deprived areas without the benefits of the extra policing. Will my right hon. Friend, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Authority, consider a different way of policing the areas on the south bank just opposite the Houses of Parliament?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes, the new chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Len Duval, and I will examine how best to do that. In addition to the money that I announced, next year there will be an additional £50 million for policing and counter-terrorism. It is right and proper that the particular pressures faced by the Metropolitan police are recognised and that a combination of additional community support officers and uniformed police can be deployed. Displacement is a problem not only for inner-city constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend, but for outer boroughs, whose neighbourhoods are left vulnerable when people have to be taken out of their normal duties for particular events. It is crucial to get the balance right.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
What are these improvements in policing that the Home Secretary thinks he needs a quango to bring about? Does that replace the current policy of sacking top cops when he does not like what they are doing?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have not sacked top cops and I never will. As I spelled out fairly clearly, we are trying to build on what is already in place. I am not entirely sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is for or against what we are doing.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have already explained that we will discuss bringing together into an improvement agency the range of bodies at national level that deal with policing excellence, training and the like. I should have thought that hon. Members would warmly welcome a rationalisation that will bring major gains in administration and coherence.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, through all the vagaries of fashion in policing over decades, our constituents have continued to say that they want regular, uniformed patrols in their neighbourhoods? Is it not the case that community support officers have already been welcomed as symbols of the authority of the local community and its insistence that law and order be maintained? Will not the additional resources and numbers that my right hon. Friend announced reinforce confidence and optimism among law-abiding citizens?
§ Mr. Blunkett
They certainly will. That is the experience of the neighbourhood policing teams, which comprise uniformed police and CSOs working with them. They have demonstrated admirably that that is what people want. It is time to respond to that and I commend the retiring Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who was big enough to say that the change in policing a decade ago had not succeeded and that it was time to return to the community.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)
Why did the Prime Minister announce that the Government would withhold housing benefit as a means of tackling antisocial behaviour only for them to abandon that proposal?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Because my right hon. Friend was trying to show that rights and responsibilities, duties and obligations go hand in hand. Any policy that reinforces that is worthy of examination. If we have ideas—not the sort of ideas that I heard on this morning's "Today" programme from someone who claimed to be the director of an organisation for ideas, but ideas that change people's lives—it is right to float them. Not only the Prime Minister, but other colleagues and I will continue to float ideas even if cynics keep knocking them down.
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab)
The Home Secretary knows that all agencies have been in the forefront of the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour in Reading using the welcome new powers that the Department introduced. We have street crime wardens, drug action teams and ASBOs, as well as more police officers on our streets. All those measures have proved their worth in cutting crime but does my right hon. Friend agree that, unless the Government ensure that magistrates courts have more resources and that magistrates are properly trained in, and are aware of, the powers that are available to them, one important piece of the jigsaw will be missing?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes. That is the reason for the new public prosecutors who are directly linked to antisocial behaviour—currently in 12 areas but shortly in 50—and the introduction of specialist courts where there is intensive need. When antisocial behaviour courts need to be established as part of the existing system, we must do that. However, the ultimate message must be that magistrates and district judges have to clamp down heavily on breaches of existing orders. Otherwise, those who breach the orders will get the wrong message and the community will become disillusioned.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
If the proposal is all that good, why has it taken seven years to get around to it? Why should anybody believe the Home Secretary when he says, "Trust me, it will all be much better next year"?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I could say, "Trust me" because things have got a lot better in the three years that I have been Home Secretary. Even since 1 April, when measures under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003—whose introduction we had to fight through Parliament—began to take effect, a discernible change has occurred in those areas that have begun to implement the provisions. Anyone who represents those areas knows that that is true. Why has it taken seven years? Because we have been busy introducing all the other measures before getting around to the one that we are discussing. The idea that there is a year zero, that one day after an election we pass everything and life is okay and that we make a further judgment five years later is nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman used to be shadow Leader of the House. It is a good job that he was a shadow and that he no longer fills that position.
§ David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)
There is a clear link between crime and the ready availability of cheap hard drugs. It would therefore make sense to try to stop as many of those drugs as possible getting into the country. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that his strategic plan envisages closer working with his European counterparts to clamp down on trafficking hard drugs, especially the 95 per cent. of heroin on Britain's streets that starts life in Afghanistan?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes. It is a difficult issue that will form part of the forward programme for the Dutch presidency, the Luxembourg presidency and the United Kingdom presidency this time next year. It is difficult because we are dealing with sources and with tracking the organised criminals. That is why the serious organised crime agency, working not only from this country but with a revamped Europol, will be vital to achieve some real gains.
§ Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)
My right hon. Friend knows that the prolific offenders programme kicks off in South Yorkshire on 6 September. I stress that it will work. It gives the opportunity of a gateway out of crime for many young people. However, we require residential units in South Yorkshire for those young people, many of whom have spent a life on the streets. Will funding be available for residential units?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I commend my hon. Friend, who, as chair of his community safety partnership, has been driving change in his constituency and across the metropolitan district. Yes, we need to look at forms of residential support. We put in our document that we also need to look at intensive fostering, because if we can get those in their teens away from the dangers and the peer group pressure that they face in their home environment, we shall be doing them a big favour. I think that that is the way forward.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab)
May I thank the Home Secretary for his recent announcement of £960,000 extra for Cambridgeshire police to deal with the policing of demonstrations against Huntingdon Life Sciences, many of which take place in my constituency? Is it part of his strategic plan to introduce further measures to protect the innocent people who work in scientific establishments and to deal with the animal rights terrorists?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Yes I will and we will introduce a new programme pulling together what has already taken place, which we will announce within the next three weeks. I am deeply sorry that those who have been involved with the programme in Oxford have felt, for a whole variety of reasons, that their viability was threatened. I make no bones about the fact that it is necessary to find alternatives to the use of experiments on animals where we can, so I make no apology for having supported humane research in the past. It is vital, however, that we bear down with everything that we have on those terrorists in our own community who intimidate, damage and scare away those who would invest in perfectly legal, legitimate, properly licensed and regulated research. We are all clear about that.
§ Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)
I share the serious concern of my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members about the effects of alcohol and their implications for crime and disorder. Does he accept that a major factor involved is the easy availability of oceans of cheap alcohol, that it is time seriously to consider legislation to insist on minimum prices for alcohol in retail and licensed premises and to restrict the floods of cheap alcohol coming in from the continent of Europe?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Two critical issues here are the need to step up our response to the smuggling of alcohol through Customs coming into the serious organised crime agency, and the price at which alcohol is sold on the street at a particular time. I and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport had a very constructive meeting with representatives of the industry three weeks ago. If their code works, the pressure that they will be bringing to bear within the industry will reduce the incidence of happy hours and other promotions that damage the chance of avoiding the misuse of alcohol. We have made it clear to them, however, that if it does not work, we would be prepared to legislate.
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)
I welcome the Home Secretary's proposals to use satellite tracking technology to keep tabs on prolific offenders and early-release candidates. Given the start 38 up costs of the equipment involved, why do we not also use it to show the public that curfew orders and banning orders will be rigorously enforced?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I believe that, as we manage to get the technology in place, and if we can spread it, we shall be able to do that. At the moment, however, we are keen to use it in two ways: first, with those who would otherwise go to prison for non-violent first offences; and, secondly, with those prolific and dangerous offenders who are on supervision. If we can get that programme in place quickly, it will be worth its weight in gold, and we can then extend it to ensure that the same policing methodology is not needed to keep track of those on curfew orders.
§ Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
I welcome the Home Secretary's statement—indeed, it will be welcomed by millions of people up and down the country—and I particularly welcome the commitment that he has made to community support officers. There is no doubt that they have been an outstanding success. Would he consider introducing a modest extension to the powers of CSOs at an opportune time?
§ Mr. Blunkett
As part of the evaluation, it is our intention to review the powers available to CSOs. Without in any way threatening the clear distinction between those powers and police powers, we think that that would be very helpful.
§ Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)
May I, through my right hon. Friend, thank his Home Office ministerial colleague, the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, for her visit to my constituency a week last Friday? I could have chosen to take her to Maesteg, where a brand new police station, six community support officers funded through the communities first programme, and some of the 300-odd new police officers in south Wales would have been in evidence. What joy can he bring to the community to which I did take her, Nantymoel, where people do not see the evidence of that programme being rolled out, and the priorities of the police or local authorities are not reflected? What provision has he made to extend the power of accountability to those communities so that they can take charge of their own policing?
§ Mr. Blunkett
First, in terms of the police reform and accountability agenda, at panel and forum level in the neighbourhood, as well as through the division, the voice of the community will be heard. Secondly, where there are additional resources, the community will be able to decide where those can be deployed and on what priority, as I saw this morning in Camden, where that has been extremely successful with the Metropolitan police. Thirdly, where there are major problems, the local community can trigger the necessary meetings and, if necessary, the snap inspection that I talked about in my statement. All those matters need to be handled with sensitivity for the reasons that I gave: we do not want vexatious activity; we want people collaborating in partnership.
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that it is not so much the legacy of the 1960s as the legacy of the 1980s that was damaging to communities such as the one that I represent, which were decimated by policies introduced by a Government who said that there was no such thing as society, and that mass unemployment was a price worth paying for low inflation? His approach to try to rebuild confidence in those communities is therefore absolutely right. What can we do to make sure that the policies that he announces are introduced at that local level?
§ Mr. Blunkett
As I have made clear in broadcast interviews, I believe that the 1980s and early 1990s, with the massive increase in unemployment, the fall in police numbers and the individualisation and selfishness of society being reinforced, were a disaster for all of us, and we are reaping that now. That is why not only reinforcing citizenship and civic renewal but ensuring that powers exist at that level to command change is important. We also need to examine the idea of co-funding, whereby we put up resources, and local neighbourhoods have the power to raise and match spending. That is currently being done through regeneration budgets and it may be done where local residents wish to raise a levy. That occurs in relation to tenants and residents associations, and some parts of the country are keen for us to examine whether that could be done. Again, it would be targeted on the most deprived areas, so that it would not be the wealthiest—who could do it for themselves—but the most deprived who would benefit most.
§ Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the range and diversity of his plans, which hold much promise, not only for now but for our third term. Does he intend tagging to be used to tag domestic violence criminals out of premises where their victims live, as well as tagging other kinds of criminals to stay at home? Can I ask him to exercise care in the use of the restorative justice in domestic violence cases, where the imbalance of power and the emotional links between victim and offender can make restorative justice oppressive?
§ Mr. Blunkett
On the latter point, it is true that we would not wish to use restorative justice in circumstances in which the victim feels threatened. It would be entirely wrong to do so. All of us, however, accept the responsibility for payments for children in that family. The first issue is an interesting one. One would only wish to track or tag an individual to maintain their presence in an area, or out of area, in the more serious cases, for obvious reasons, not least because it would be uneconomic to do otherwise. It is an interesting idea, however, which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins), who is responsible for correctional services, will take away and reflect on.