Community Policing

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th January 2001.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central 12:00 am, 8th January 2001

If he will make a statement on his plans for community policing. [142648]

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Effective policing depends on the community working together in partnership with the police to fight crime. In two thematic inspections in 1997 and 1999 Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary endorsed the importance of community beat officers. Progress on implementing the recommendations made in the reports will be assessed in a further thematic inspection report to be published in January.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but given that an effective community police officer can do more to tackle crime and disorder in an area than just about any other type of officer, can he tell the House what action he will take to ensure that police force practice is continuously monitored to ensure that police services throughout the country give community policing the priority that my constituents tell me it deserves?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

In "Winning the Race Revisited" in 1999, Her Majesty's inspectorate gave credit to forces that included provision of community beat officers in their policing plans and stated that they should not be abstracted from their primary tasks. It also found that the effectiveness of community beat officers could be undermined when their role was combined with other duties. Chief constables will no doubt know the strongly expressed views of the inspectorate and will, I am sure, take close account of them in making decisions on allocation of resources. My hon. Friend should be congratulated as the community beat officer of the year award for 2000 went to PC Tony Sweeney, who operates in his constituency.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Given the widespread concern in London and elsewhere about the reduction in community policing—I guess that Ministers would agree with everybody else that losing nearly 2,000 police from the Met over two and a half years and 2,500 across England and Wales means that the position is desperate—will the Minister and the Home Secretary consider additional measures to retain police officers on the ground? First, those coming up to retirement should be encouraged to stay on for an extra five years.

Secondly, good police officers who have retired since the election should be encouraged to return for up to five years. Thirdly, local authorities should establish a new level of policing to deal with low-level crime and disorder on the beat as a new form of supplementary police service in which they could easily participate.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The Government are, indeed, considering a number of measures to ensure that we retain and increase the number of police officers. By 2003–04, funding for policing will have increased by almost £1.6 billion against the provision for this year, which is a rise of nearly 21 per cent., and more than £1.3 billion of that sum is new money. That is the biggest boost to police funding in a generation. The settlement has been strongly welcomed by many police authorities. It represents great support for the police, but a lot more needs to be done. The large-scale recruitment campaign that we are undertaking is producing substantial results and we are anxious to consider not only new recruitment, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the retention of those good officers who may wish to stay longer in the police. We are studying those issues, and he and I would both want them to be studied, but I cannot give him any guarantees on how our discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers will turn out.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important aims of community policing is to reduce burglary? May I draw to his attention the Kirkley shield initiative in Lowestoft in my constituency, which is achieving considerable success by improving home security, clearing away abandoned vehicles, focusing on reducing youth reoffending, establishing more beat policing and, above all, listening to the community? All that is possible because of a substantial grant from his Department, for which we are grateful. The scheme will last for about 12 months. Is it possible for such schemes, where they are working well, to be extended?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

We will certainly consider that idea, and I congratulate the police in the Lowestoft area on the hard work that they are doing to deal with burglary and, in particular, on the work being done to improve home security. Self-evidently, if we can improve the quality of home security, we can reduce the chances available to opportunist burglars in particular. Therefore, we want to keep a close eye on the work being done in Lowestoft. In the long term, we want it to be sustained.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

If a political party that promised in its election manifesto to increase the number of policemen on the streets has in fact presided over a decline in those numbers, is it fair to describe that manifesto—in the words made famous by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)—as a metaphor? To avoid virtual reality manifestos in future, can some practical solutions be proposed? Perhaps the Minister will tell us what he will do to stem the catastrophic decline in the number of special constables, for example.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

In the hon. Gentleman's area, police numbers have risen by 47 from March last year. The Government have put extra resources into policing to increase police recruits by 9,000 through the crime fighting fund. The decline in police numbers began under the Conservatives in 1993. This Government are reversing it. The Conservatives abolished the police housing allowance in 1994, which the Police Federation has identified as the principal reason for the decline in police numbers. The Conservatives promised 5,000 more police in 1993 and delivered 1,500 fewer police. If they ever got into power, they would promise more and deliver less. The Conservatives are committed to £16 billion worth of public spending cuts. They have avoided matching our commitments to spend on the police. We will deliver increased numbers of police officers where the Opposition failed.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Everyone agrees that community policing can be very effective indeed, but it is probably the most expensive form of policing. Adverting to the remarks of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn), will the Home Office consider ring-fencing an additional amount of money for this purpose, so that police forces that wish to do so will be able to put officers on the beat?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The objective of the crime fighting fund is to ensure that forces that have plans to increase police numbers can bid for the extra resources to do that. Our objective is to target the increase in police numbers. Through the financial opportunities available to the Home Office, we are trying to find mechanisms to encourage an increase in the numbers of police officers. Under the Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994 passed by the previous Government, responsibility for police numbers rests with chief constables, but responsibility for resources rests with the Home Office and the Government. That is why we are producing the necessary resources—the biggest funding increase in a generation. We want to ensure that in Dyfed Powys, as well as elsewhere across the country, police numbers increase.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

When my hon. Friend next discusses the matter with chief constables, will he encourage them to consider particularly the needs of some of our new towns, parts of which have been badly designed, with the result that police cars can go only along the main roads? That is almost a charter for crime and antisocial behaviour in some of the closes where police cars cannot go. Will my hon. Friend encourage chief constables to consider the provision of community policing in those areas? Most of the crimes can be solved through information from the public, but that requires a good relationship between the public and local police officers.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My hon. Friend is entirely right. During the 1970s and before that, the design of some of our new towns did not properly take into account the implications for dealing with crime and disorder. We have therefore sought to encourage new design in towns where that is possible, to recognise issues of crime and disorder. What is particularly important is the way in which the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 has brought together the police and local authorities in partnership, so that in future, when they are dealing with issues that affect them both, they will have at the forefront of their minds issues of crime and disorder, and the design of properties such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend will take that into account.