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Policing in the 21st Century

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about a consultation paper that I am publishing today. Entitled “Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and the people”, it sets out the most radical reforms to policing in at least 50 years.

For this Government, police reform is a priority, not just because we inherited the worst public finances of any major economy, but because for too long the police have become disconnected from the communities that they serve, been bogged down by bureaucracy and answered to distant politicians instead of to the people. Crime remains too high, too many families and communities suffer from antisocial behaviour and barely half the public are confident that important local issues are dealt with. Meanwhile, the challenges that we face have changed. Terrorism, the growth in serious and organised crime and cybercrime all require new approaches that cross not just police force boundaries, but international borders.

First, we will transfer power back to the people. We will introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners by 2012. The commissioners will set the police budget, determine police force priorities and have the power to hire and, where necessary, fire their chief constable. To help the public hold their local police to account, we will publish local crime data and mandate local beat meetings so that people can challenge the performance of their neighbourhood policing teams.

Secondly, we will return professional responsibility to police officers. Front-line staff will no longer be form writers; they will be crime fighters, freed from bureaucracy and central guidance and trusted to get on with their jobs. We have scrapped the policing pledge. We have got rid of the confidence target. We will restore police discretion over charging decisions for particular offences. We will limit the reporting requirements for “stop and search” and we will scrap the “stop” form in its entirety.

Thirdly, we will shift the focus of Government. As the Home Affairs Committee noted during the previous Parliament, the previous Government tried to micro-manage local policing but failed to support forces effectively on national issues, so we will build on the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency to create a more powerful national crime agency, which will tackle organised crime and protect our borders. We will phase out the National Policing Improvement Agency and scrap Labour’s plans for a statutory police senior appointments panel. We will discuss with the Association of Chief Police Officers the way forward in its role as a professional leadership body.

Fourthly, we will make the police more efficient at force, regional and national levels so that front-line local policing can be sustained. To this end, we are already consulting separately on police procurement regulations to get better value for taxpayers’ money.

Fifthly, we will unleash the power of community pride and civic responsibility, so that people can come together to cut crime. We will therefore look for a cost-effective way to establish 101 as a single police non-emergency number so that it is easier to report crime and antisocial behaviour. We will also do more to encourage active citizens to become special constables, community crime fighters and members of neighbourhood watch groups.

There is nothing inevitable about crime. That is why we are determined to press ahead with these reforms, which demonstrate our determination to undo the damage of the Labour years, put the people back in charge, and rid our communities of crime, antisocial behaviour and disorder. I commend the statement to the House.

The statement should be entitled, “Policing in the 21st Century: How to make the job harder”. As usual, the Home Secretary trots out her infantile drivel about the last Labour Government, probably written by some pimply nerd foisted on her office by No. 10.

The Home Secretary said that she aims to undo the damage of the Labour years. That damage was recorded in the Home Office’s statistics on 15 July. Here it is: overall crime is down by 50%, violent crime is down by 50%, property crime is down by 55%, the murder rate is at its lowest level since at any time over the past 20 years, and the chance of being a victim of crime is at its lowest level since records began in 1981—21.5%, down from its peak of 40% under the Conservatives. That is the damage that she is seeking to undo—the kind of damage that any Government would be proud of.

The Home Secretary is about to have her budget cut by at least 25%.

Thanks to us, the hon. Lady says from a sedentary position. I remind her that we were making the police a priority and guaranteeing the funding for record numbers of police officers.

Last week’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission made it plain that any cuts above 12% were bound adversely to affect front-line policing. Soon we will learn how the Government plan to restrict the use of the DNA database and CCTV, and thus make it harder for the police to catch criminals. Today we have the final part of the triple whammy—structural upheaval through the imposition of elected commissioners and the abolition of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell me which chief constables, which police authority chairs or even which local authority leaders support the replacement of police authorities by a single elected commissioner. Sir Simon Milton, when he was the Conservative head of the Local Government Association, said that:

“there are already people elected at local level to represent the community and be advocates over a range of services—they’re called councillors”.

Is not the Home Secretary setting up, in Sir Simon Milton’s words,

“a parallel and potentially conflicting system with a competing mandate”?

Sir Hugh Orde has said:

“Every professional bone in my body tells me”

that having elected commissioners

“is a bad idea that could drive a coach and horses through the current model of accountability and add nothing but confusion.”

The Conservative chair of the Association of Police Authorities has said that the idea appears to be driven by dogma, and Richard Kemp, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Local Government Association, has said that the vast majority of the 3,700 Lib Dem councillors—a figure soon to be drastically reduced at the next election—oppose an elected commissioner. Does the Home Secretary not think that the narrower the remit of the position, the weaker the case for having the occupier of that position decided by ballot?

How will the Home Secretary safeguard the operational independence of the chief constable? As the APA has pointed out, police authorities have done a great deal over the past few years to ensure that the public understand their role and that police authority members are properly equipped and trained to operate effectively. There is a clear argument for enhancing and increasing the role and responsibility of local government, so that local councillors have a clear mandate for holding the police to account. That is the route that we should be taking, rather than this unnecessary, unwanted and expensive diversion. Can the Home Secretary tell me whether the LGA is right when it states that the elected commissioners will cost £50 million? What is her estimate?

The coalition agreement talked about refocusing the Serious Organised Crime Agency, not eliminating it. That organisation was formed only four years ago, and the structural upheaval then took years to settle down.

It was our structural upheaval, I agree completely, but that is what occurs with any reorganisation. To put people through another structural upheaval four years later is simply madness.

In 2006, SOCA was wrongly described as replicating the FBI, and reports over the weekend gave the same description. Does the Home Secretary think it is accurate? She will be aware of Sir Paul Stephenson’s John Harris memorial lecture recently, which rejected the FBI option. Sir Paul set out a model built upon SOCA, not upon replacing it, and his national federated model has much to commend it. Why is the Home Secretary not pursuing that alternative?

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does fantastic work. To build upon that work, we were moving it away from SOCA to be a non-departmental public body. Will the Home Secretary continue that process, and if not, why not?

Will the dedicated border force replace the UK Border Agency, and how many jobs will be lost as a result of these initiatives in SOCA, the UKBA, the National Policing Improvement Agency and elsewhere?

We have yet to hear a word from this Government about how they plan to cut crime. All we have heard is how they will cut officer numbers, prison places and police powers. Today, the Home Secretary has managed to reannounce at least three decisions that we had already taken in government. She says that she will mandate beat meetings to challenge the performance of neighbourhood policing teams, having scrapped the policing pledge drawn up by chief constables themselves to provide exactly that mandate.

The Home Secretary inherited the Department when crime had fallen substantially, public confidence in the police had never been higher and public concern about antisocial behaviour had never been lower. She says she is pursuing bold policies; in fact she is pursuing bad policies. I was pleased to see the Government’s U-turn on anonymity for rape defendants; elected commissioners need to go the same way.

I have to say to the shadow Home Secretary that I find his complacent attitude in relation to what has happened over recent years rather surprising. As far we are concerned, we do need to fight and cut crime, but our streets can never be too safe and we will not be complacent about the antisocial behaviour and crime that still blight the lives of too many people in this country.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the damage that is being done, but I will tell him when damage is done to policing in this country. It is when, as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported last week, at any one point an average of only 11% of police officers are out on our streets. It is when the average police constable is spending only 14% of their time on the streets and 22% in filling forms. The Labour Government did that damage over 13 years.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the DNA database. It is extraordinary that he is still willing to defend a Government who wanted to put innocent people’s DNA on the database, but were not willing to ensure that they had the DNA of all the people in prison on that database.

The right hon. Gentleman asks who supports the decision to have directly elected commissioners and elected representatives of the people. He will find some support from the following quote:

“we will legislate to strengthen the democratic link with the public by introducing local, directly elected crime and policing representatives.”—[Official Report, 17 July 2008; Vol. 479, c.435.]

Those are not my words, but those of the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor as Home Secretary, the right honourable Jacqui Smith.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the need to publish figures. Of course, we will in due course publish figures in relation to the police commissioners as well as the business case for the national crime agency. He mentioned its role and the need for it. Only two weeks ago in the Police Foundation lecture, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, raised the need for us to strengthen the tasking and co-ordination of response to serious organised crime. That is what the national crime agency will do. It will also deliver our commitment for a border police force and strengthen our ability to protect our borders.

On the shadow Home Secretary’s comments about cuts in budgets, I simply refer him to two things. First, he seems to have forgotten that, in the words of the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, “There is no money left.” Secondly, it would be helpful for the House to know that yesterday, on Sky News, the shadow Home Secretary confirmed that, in a Labour Government, he would have cut police budgets.

Order. A great many hon. Members wish to take part, but there is important business to follow and there are real pressures on time. Single, short supplementary questions and brief replies are therefore required.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the checks and balances that apply to elected police commissioners must be strong enough to stop populist politicians turning policing into their personal fiefdoms?

I think that everybody in politics aims to represent the people and their views. The point of directly elected commissioners is to replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that checks and balances need to be in place. That is why we will introduce the police and crime panels, drawn from local authority representatives and independent members, with powers to look at the commissioner of police’s plans in their area and to raise public concerns if they wish to do that.

I will leave aside the fact that the Government came to power promising to stop constant reorganisations but have done nothing but reorganise. Will the Home Secretary confirm that SOCA in its current guise is being abolished and that the intelligence function, which is crucial to dealing with, for example, the cybercrime and e-crime that she mentioned, will go with it? Does she therefore propose to enhance the role of the excellent police e-crime unit in the Met, or to transfer the powers to that amorphous body, the NCA?

The right hon. Gentleman’s assumption that SOCA’s intelligence-gathering capability will be abolished is completely wrong. We intend to build on and harness the intelligence-gathering expertise that has been built up in SOCA in the past few years as part of the serious organised crime command in the national crime agency.

Given that, in November 2003, the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals included changing police authorities so that they would be wholly or partially directly elected rather than appointed, I am sorry that he has not supported our proposal for directly elected commissioners.

Given that the Home Affairs Committee found that SOCA managed to seize only £1 from organised crime gangs for every £15 of its budget, will the Home Secretary reassure us that her proposals for the national crime agency will be more effective in cutting not only crime, but waste?

I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. SOCA has built up expertise in intelligence gathering, but we need to do more. We need to put more focus in this country on fighting serious organised crime, which is what the command within the NCA will be able to do.

The Home Secretary will know that effective policing in this country is absolutely dependent on good intelligence at every level. How will she ensure that the relationships between local authorities and the police, which are essential not only for neighbourhood policing, but for that golden thread of intelligence that goes all the way through to tackling terrorism, are maintained under her proposals?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question and for raising the point about the golden thread that runs through policing. It is absolutely essential that we retain that golden thread from local neighbourhood policing all the way through to the work done at national level to fight serious organised crime, terrorism and so on. However, one of the points of introducing directly elected police and crime commissioners is to ensure that someone in each force has a direct responsibility to the people, which will ensure that they represent the needs of the people in local policing.

The Home Secretary has done what the Opposition failed to do—she has stood up to the vested interests and put the police under democratic control. Since she does not envisage allowing directly elected individuals to direct particular investigations, will she assure the House that she will not sign up to a European investigation order that would allow political appointees in other member states to do precisely that?

We are considering our response to the proposals for the European investigation order, and I will ensure that the House is informed of our decision on it. I suggest that my hon. Friend has another look at the order if that is his interpretation of it.

I thank the right hon. Lady for clarifying that the Government intend not to abolish SOCA, but rather to build on it. How will she ensure that efforts are made locally and regionally, whether by elected commissioners or chief constables, to focus on serious organised crime, so that the national agency can perform appropriately and for the benefit of the whole country?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that important point. Of course, individual police forces will still have a responsibility to deal with serious organised crime, but we need to strengthen that national co-ordination and tasking in relation to such crime, which is why we are bringing the serious organised crime command into the national crime agency. However, we are also looking at imposing strong duties of collaboration among police forces to ensure that, when collaboration across force boundaries is necessary to deal with issues such as serious organised crime, that does indeed take place.

Will the Home Secretary give an assurance to the House and police forces in England and Wales that they need not fear that they will be forced into amalgamations because of the changes, and that we are not going to resurrect the Labour party’s proposals from its last term in power?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and for enabling me to put absolutely clearly on the record that this Government will not try to impose mergers on police forces. If police forces voluntarily wish to merge and come forward not only with a strong business case, but with clear indications that such a merger is supported by the local communities, we will of course look at that, but we will not, unlike the previous Government, try to impose mergers on forces.

May I welcome a number of the Home Secretary’s proposals today that are in keeping with recommendations made by the Select Committee on Home Affairs last year? I was going to say that she nicked the name of our last report for her White Paper, but I will be generous and say that she borrowed it. She is right about SOCA, and clearly, £79 million on National Policing Improvement Agency consultants is far too much, but will she give the House an assurance that, whatever the reorganisation entails, front-line policing will not be affected; that the number of officers on the front line will remain the same; that our fight against terrorism will be as strong as it has been over the past few years; and that we will not give in to the serious organised crime gangs?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions, for the work that the Home Affairs Committee has done under his chairmanship and for the issues that it has identified, to which I referred in my statement. I can confirm to him—and it is clear in the document—that our work on counter-terrorism is a good example of forces coming together and working together, and we have no plans to change the arrangements that are in place. In relation to front-line policing, this Government want to strengthen it. We want to slash the bureaucracy and get the police where they should be—out on the streets.

In setting up the new national crime agency, will my right hon. Friend ensure that it does not make the same mistakes as its predecessor bodies in setting artificial targets for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime, which have often led to inappropriate and wasteful proceedings?

It is one of the characteristics of the previous Government that they set more store by setting targets than by ensuring outcomes and giving bodies the freedom to do what was necessary to get on with the job and fight crime.

Can the Home Secretary tell the House whether she has had any independent assessment made of the likely impact of these proposals on crime rates?

The Government’s intention throughout the actions that we have announced today is to strengthen the fight against crime at local, regional and national levels.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that for elected commissioners to work in the court of public opinion they will have to have real teeth? I am pleased to hear that they will have the powers to hire and fire. Will she confirm that those powers will not be watered down in the legislation?

I can confirm that our intention is as set out in the document today and that the directly elected police and crime commissioners will have the ability to appoint, and if necessary remove, the chief constable.

Is the Home Secretary aware that while concern about the impact of crime will always be great among our constituents, in my constituency the police—led by Inspector Damian O’Reilly and his colleagues—have great achievements in reducing crime levels and improving detection rates in several categories? Does she accept that, if those achievements—achieved with the support of the Labour Government and Manchester Labour council—deteriorate in any way, it will be her cuts and her reorganisation that will be held responsible?

I of course commend the work that is being done on the ground by individual police officers, such as those whom the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. This Government want to strengthen the fight against crime. He returns—as did the shadow Home Secretary—to the issue of cuts. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported last week that it thinks that it will be possible to find 12% budget cuts in the police force without affecting front-line policing. The reason that we are having to look at the sort of spending cuts across Government that we are—[Interruption.] Labour Front Benchers may groan, but they know that it is their fault: it is the legacy of the last Labour Government.

Does the Home Secretary agree that having directly elected police commissioners will help to improve the public’s trust and confidence in our police force by ensuring that the police listen to local people?

My hon. Friend makes an important and valid point. We need to restore that confidence and the link between the police and the public—the link that has sadly been damaged over the years by the increased bureaucracy and imposition from the centre under the last Labour Government. He is right that our proposals will increase the public’s confidence.

There will be concerns about the possible disruption of activities against organised crime as a result of the changeover from SOCA to the national crime agency. What contact has the Home Secretary had with regional assemblies across the UK and can she give an assurance that the formation of the new agency will not mean a downgrading of the fight against crime in regions such as Northern Ireland?

We certainly wish to ensure that the fight against crime is in no way downgraded; indeed, the whole purpose of our proposals is to help to strengthen the fight against crime across the UK, as I have said in answer to a number of questions. The directly elected police commissioners will relate to England and Wales, and both the Minister for Police and I have had discussions with the Welsh Assembly.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s excellent statement, may I urge her to consider extending control to the Crown Prosecution Service? We saw in the earlier statement the difficulties that we have with the uniquely British system of having a prosecution organisation that is wholly independent of accountability.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important point. As their name suggests, the police and crime commissioners will have a responsibility that goes wider than simply the police force. We are looking at how they can work with, for example, community safety partnerships in local areas. However, we also envisage looking at the possibility of extending the remit of police and crime commissioners further in the criminal justice system. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Police is looking at that with both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

May I press the Home Secretary for an answer on the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which has established itself as a world leader in protecting children and finding perpetrators? All the evidence points to the need for an independent organisation focused on child protection. Why does she want to shoehorn CEOP into the national crime agency?

There is no suggestion of shoehorning anything. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that CEOP has built up a significant reputation through the important work that it has done. I pay tribute to CEOP and Jim Gamble for everything that they have done in that area. However, we are not talking about shoehorning it into anything. What we are talking about is greater co-ordination across a range of activities under the national crime agency, and CEOP will be part of that.

May I congratulate the Home Secretary on her commitment to looking for a cost-effective way of re-establishing the single non-emergency number, 101? May I also urge her to undertake to build on the pilots already established in Hampshire and elsewhere, and roll out the number nationwide as quickly as possible, so that the general public can have a quick and easy way to report crime and antisocial behaviour, and an alternative to the overloaded 999 number?

I thank my hon. Friend for making an important point. Let me take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to him for the work that he did at an early stage of the introduction of the 101 number pilots. The 101 number is an important development, and we will do all that we can to ensure that we introduce it cost-effectively.

Can the Home Secretary explain how having elected police commissioners will genuinely be a step forward for democracy when it is likely to lead to senior police officers being chosen not for their ability to do the job, but because of their party allegiance?

As the hon. Lady will know, the question of party allegiance does not arise in relation to chief constables, because members of the police force are not able to be members of political parties. We are absolutely clear that chief constables will retain their operational independence. It is important that they and the police in this country are able to operate without fear or favour, and we will maintain that. However, according to a Cabinet Office survey conducted under the last Labour Government, at the moment, only 7% of people in this country know that if they have a problem with the police, they can go to their police authority. We will clearly be ensuring democratic accountability for the police at local level through the introduction of police commissioners, although I am sorry that the hon. Lady has such a jaundiced view of the views of the British people.

As a special constable who served in the Cheshire constabulary, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement about increasing the number of special constables. Does she agree that these unpaid volunteers are an excellent and cost-effective way to fight crime?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of special constables. I thank him for what he did as a special constable and place on record the thanks of the whole House for the work that all special constables do in helping the fight against crime. They play an important role, and we intend to encourage more people to take it on.

Many of the improvements that the Home Secretary has talked about are already happening on the ground in Stoke-on-Trent, thanks to people such as Inspector Sharrard-Williams. Recently, however, the House might have seen a man who runs the British National party claiming that he has 1 million followers—that is, 1 million people voting BNP—in the UK. What happens when the BNP stands for one of these commissioner posts, as will happen, and gets it?

This is something that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have raised on a number of occasions, and I will give him two answers. If he looks at the voting record so far, he will see that the British National party has never managed to get more than 15% of the vote in an election. But let us set that to one side; I actually believe in trusting the people of this country.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement as a way of empowering communities and making our streets safe. With regard to unnecessary bureaucracy, what steps are being taken to review the work of the NPIA, which costs millions and achieves nothing, according to some senior police officers?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The document makes it absolutely clear that we will be phasing out the NPIA. We will review its functions, and we believe that it will be necessary to transfer some of them elsewhere, but the NPIA will be phased out.

Neither the Home Secretary nor I would want to comment on ongoing investigations, but I hope she will agree that the Northumbria police force recently faced a huge and complex challenge and that it responded to it admirably, with the support of police forces across the north. Will she explain to me and my constituents how this top-down reorganisation, combined with cuts in central and local funding, will enable the Northumbria police force to rise to such challenges in the future?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that I would not want to comment on the ongoing investigations into the recent work of Northumbria police in relation to Raoul Moat. I would say, however, that that was a good example of how a police force can bring in resources from elsewhere. It brought in resources from across the country, including from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Met and other local forces, in response to a very difficult situation involving a callous murderer, Raoul Moat. I would say to the hon. Lady that we are not imposing a top-down reorganisation; we are talking about restoring democratic accountability, which will enable the link between the police and the public to be restored.

What effect does my right hon. Friend expect the national crime agency’s border police force to have on the number of illegal immigrants, which the previous Government estimated to be around 700,000?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It has been a long-standing concern of ours that we need to strengthen our border protection through the introduction of a border police force. We will do that within the national crime agency, which will enable the work of border police force, bringing together the work of the UK Border Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other agencies, to link in with the work of the serious organised crime command. That will not only strengthen our ability to protect our borders in the way that she suggests, but will enable us to protect this country against serious organised crime.

What is the point of the Home Secretary giving a paean to police community support officers when she is overseeing a programme of cuts that has resulted in Durham constabulary announcing last week that it would have to remove 200 such officers?

I believe neighbourhood policing to be an important part of our police landscape. The work that can be done at local level by warranted officers and PCSOs forms an important part of the golden thread that runs from neighbourhood policing through to national issues. The hon. Lady mentioned cuts in police budgets. The in-year cut in police budgets this year is less than 1.5% across the country, and we all know why. This will probably be a cause for groans from Labour Members because they know what the answer is: those budgets have been made necessary by the legacy of economic mismanagement by the previous Labour Government.

Last week, Staffordshire police authority announced the appointment of its first full-time chief executive, with a salary of £85,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Staffordshire would rather have more influence over policing priorities than see the appointment of another unelected, unaccountable and expensive bureaucrat?

The whole point of the structure that we are proposing is that, after May 2012, there will be directly elected police and crime commissioners who will set the budget and the strategic plan for the police, and ensure that the decisions being taken are in line with the interests of the people and with fighting crime.

Given the amount of sensitive information to which the elected commissioners will have access, will they undergo security clearance before standing for election? What would happen after the election if they were elected without the appropriate level of clearance?

If the hon. Lady is implying that people who wish to stand for election should somehow be required to have security clearance, that is a new and interesting thought, but it is not one that I intend to pursue.

Is the Home Secretary aware that the chief constable of Essex has said in a written statement that the opportunities presented by elected police commissioners include the potential for less cost, less bureaucracy and greater public clarity? Will she agree to meet the chief constable with me, and to support local people who believe in local democracy for local policing?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reporting to the House the comments of the chief constable of Essex, whom I would be delighted to meet. We have been meeting chief constables across England and Wales to discuss the proposals, but I would be happy to hear what he has been able to do to fight crime and reduce bureaucracy in Essex.

The Home Secretary has not addressed the effect of police budget cuts on her ideas. Does she not agree that elected commissioners are already doomed to fail, as thousands of neighbourhood police and thousands more police community support officers, for instance in the Cleveland police force, are removed from the communities they have served so well?

No, I do not agree that that is the implication of what we are doing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman speaks to the shadow Home Secretary, who, when challenged during the general election campaign to guarantee that there would be no cuts to the number of police officers under a Labour Government, simply said that he could not make such a guarantee.

I thank the Home Secretary for making the statement now, because in past years such announcements were made during the recess when the House could not question a Minister. The UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield is closed and has been incorporated into SOCA, which is now being closed and will become the NCA. Are the Government still committed to combating human trafficking?

Yes, we are indeed still committed to combating human trafficking. Setting up the national crime agency, with not only the serious organised crime command but the border police force and increasing broader protection, will, I believe, enable our fight against trafficking to be even stronger.

I have already referred to that question, which was raised by the shadow Home Secretary. We will in due course publish figures about the cost of directly elected commissioners. As I have said elsewhere, the introduction of directly elected commissioners is not an attempt to make savings; it is a long-standing commitment, which we believe is necessary to reconnect policing and the public.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that these commissioners will not have a new paid bureaucracy created around them? Instead, might they be assisted by an unpaid advisory board?

Did the Tory party not claim to be the party of law and order in the past? Is the Home Secretary not embarrassed to be the first Tory Home Secretary to set out to undermine the police with the proposed cuts? Does she agree that gimmicks are no substitute for substance?

The police have been undermined by the way in which Whitehall has set them targets, and by having to look constantly to Whitehall in relation to what they do. Instead, they should respond to the needs of people in their local area. We are strengthening the ability of police to fight crime, slashing bureaucracy and enabling police officers to get out on to the streets, where the public want to see them.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the 101 phone number is an important tool in understanding real levels of crime, and that it is also effective in helping police officers to know where to tackle the problem areas in the community?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. The 101 phone number is important, and that is why we are considering introducing it nationally. The information that we will make available about crime at street level will also be important in helping people to tackle crime locally.

Does the Home Secretary accept that there will have to be a reduction in the number of front-line police officers as a result of the additional cost of directly electing police commissioners?

I declare my interest as a special constable serving the British Transport police.

Given that half of all crime is committed by 10% of criminals, may I urge my right hon. Friend to consider that one of the best ways of promoting policing in the 21st century would be to ensure that persistent and prolific offenders served their full time in jail?

I commend my hon. Friend for his work as a special constable with the British Transport police. The work that they do is often forgotten, but it is an important part of the fight against crime and the job of keeping people safe.

I think that what we need to do to protect people from crime is ensure that when offenders have served their time, we can reduce the likelihood of their reoffending.

Is the Home Secretary embarrassed about the fact that she has not even had time to figure out the cost of the separate police commissioner apparatus? What on earth has she got against good old-fashioned democratic local government as the best way of holding the police to account?

I have absolutely no embarrassment in coming to the House and making it clear that what we will do is restore democratic accountability to the police through the direct election of commissioners. The hon. Gentleman speaks of local government. As a former councillor, I believe that local government is an important part of the strength of government in this country, but I also believe that most people do not know what their police authority is, or that they can consult it with a problem relating to their policing. Now they will have an opportunity to vote directly for the individual who will be their police commissioner.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on going for it and introducing directly elected commissioners. They have been very successful in other parts of the world, particularly the United States. However, has she thought about the situation that might arise if a directly elected commissioner had one policy and she had another, based on the national interest? How would that situation be resolved?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that prospect. One of the purposes of directly elected commissioners is to be responsive to local needs. Of course it will be necessary to ensure that the collaboration between police forces that I referred to earlier can be undertaken when necessary, and that will also involve ensuring that national policing issues are addressed properly. However, it is not the Home Secretary who should determine what happens in regard to local policing—which is what happened under the Labour Government—but the directly elected commissioners.

The cost of elections in Lancashire is expected to be at least £1 million. Given that the Home Secretary has just said that there is no money, can she tell us whether they will be paid for by the Treasury or by Lancashire taxpayers?

As I said earlier, we will release figures for the costs in due course.

The hon. Gentleman claims that I said that there was no money. In fact, it was the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury who said that.

Now that her right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary has explained that crime fell under Labour because of a rise in living standards, by what measure does the Home Secretary estimate that crime will rise as a result of cuts in public services, the rise in VAT and rising unemployment? Will the direct election of commissioners mean higher living standards for anyone other than the commissioners themselves?

That was a slightly convoluted question, if I may say so. I believe that directly elected commissioners will ensure that the police forces in their areas are responsive to local needs rather than being responsive simply to the bureaucratic imposition from Whitehall, as they were under the Labour Government.

Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s response to her hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), who gave the example of directly elected commissioners in the United States, is it not the case that, far from crime falling there, the United States has vastly larger crime totals than we do and vastly overcrowded prisons? Is it not also the case that once elected, the directly elected police commissioner tends to spend the next three years campaigning for re-election rather than tackling crime? Is that really the model that the Home Secretary wishes to introduce to this country?

I neither accept nor recognise the picture the hon. Lady paints of what happens with directly elected commissioners in other parts of the world. Labour Members who are so against directly elected commissioners should ask themselves two questions. First, why then do they support the arrangements we have in London, where the Mayor is directly accountable? Secondly, why was it, therefore, that in 2008 the then Labour Home Secretary brought forward proposals for directly elected police representatives?

If the Home Secretary will not tell us how much this is going to cost or where the money is coming from, will she at least tell my constituents in Selly Oak that she is not planning to pinch it from their hard-pressed police budgets?

I have answered the question about—[Interruption.] No, I have made it clear that we will publish figures in due course. As the hon. Gentleman will know, all Departments are going through the spending review at the moment and the budgets and other figures will be revealed later this year.

Given that 80% of the Northern Ireland public are aware of their police authority and Policing Board, has the Home Secretary any plans to replicate the mechanisms adopted in respect of the Policing Board for holding a chief police officer to account, namely having elected, as well as appointed, officials on the board who have regular monthly public meetings holding the chief of police to account? Is that not a better way forward than directly electing commissioners?

We did, of course, look at the arrangements in Northern Ireland, but what we propose to introduce in England and Wales will include a directly elected commissioner and a police and crime panel, which will be drawn from local authority representatives and independent people who will be able to ask the commissioner of police to appear before them and explain what has been happening in their area.

The inevitable logic of what the Home Secretary has said this afternoon is that we should be electing not only police commissioners but the local chief prosecuting officer. Indeed, it seemed from what she was saying earlier that she was moving in that direction. Surely the last thing people want in any of our constituencies is more party political interference in the policing of this country.

We are not talking about party political interference in policing. The picture the hon. Gentleman has painted does not accurately portray what I was saying earlier about directly elected commissioners. The directly elected commissioners will be called police and crime commissioners and they will have a wider role than simply looking at what is happening in relation to their police force; they will be looking at crime more generally and working with community safety partners. We are, however, absolutely clear that the operational independence of the police will remain.

As I am the final questioner, may I take the opportunity to ask two central questions? First, how much will these initiatives cost and, secondly, by how much will they cut crime?

As I said in response to a number of earlier questions, we will publish figures on cost and the business case for the national crime agency in due course—and I am sorry the hon. Lady had to wait such a long time to ask that question.

I am grateful to all hon. and right hon. Members, including the Home Secretary whose pithiness enabled more than 40 colleagues to ask questions on the statement; that was very welcome.