I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern the Government's failure to prioritise the safety of communities by not protecting central Government funding for the police;
notes the conclusion of the Audit Commission and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary that any budget reduction over 12 per cent. will reduce frontline policing;
pays tribute to the police and other agencies for achieving a 43 per cent. reduction in crime, including a 42 per cent. cut in violent crime, since 1997, and for maintaining that reduction through last year's recession;
notes that public perception of anti-social behaviour is at its lowest level since it was recorded in the British Crime Survey of 2001-02;
further notes that the previous Government set out plans in its Policing White Paper to drive down policing costs whilst maintaining core funding;
and condemns the Government's policy of reducing police numbers, restricting police powers and imposing elected commissioners to replace police authorities, thus condemning the police service to unnecessary, unwelcome and costly re-structuring at a time when their focus should be on maintaining the fall in crime and anti-social behaviour.
The previous Government were the first since the end of world war one to leave office with a lower level of crime and disorder than when they came into power. In a previous debate when I mentioned that fact, the Home Secretary challenged it by rather bizarrely mentioning Michael Howard-now the noble Lord Howard of Lympne-who may have been many things, but was not a Government. Although it is true that the noble Lord Howard-recently much derided by his former colleagues-was the only Conservative Home Secretary in 18 years to preside over any reduction in crime at all, it was a modest reduction, to 4.6 million crimes a year, compared with 2.3 million in 1979, when the Conservatives were elected. In other words, without Lord Howard's contribution, crime under the Tories would have more than doubled; thanks to him, it merely doubled, with violent crime rising by 168% and robbery by 405%.
The Conservative party that presided over that truly miserable record refuses to acknowledge the tremendous work of the police and other agencies in tackling its legacy. The Conservatives can no longer deny that crime has fallen, including violent crime, so they resort to saying that crime is still too high-and they are right: it is. But when they were in power, the chances of being a victim of crime were 40%; now it is 21.5%, the lowest since records began. The latest statistics, published by the new Government in July and covering 2009-10, confirm the trend. Both recorded and surveyed crime continued to fall, by around 9%, through the deepest global recession in the post-war era, thus effectively destroying the theory of Lord Howard's fiercest critic, and probably his most feeble predecessor, the current Justice Secretary, that crime fell under Labour only because the economy improved.
The purpose of today's debate is to set out why that record of success is being jeopardised and to highlight three specific areas: first, the Home Secretary's failure to stand up to the Treasury and insist that policing and counter-terrorism be prioritised in the comprehensive spending review; secondly, her determination to restrict the ability of the police and other agencies to use DNA, CCTV and, now we discover, antisocial behaviour orders to deter and catch miscreants; and thirdly, the dogmatic pursuit of the abolition of police authorities and their replacement by a single elected commissioner.
In respect of the CSR, we know that some Secretaries of State are arguing vociferously for their Departments, but the one with the best argument is apparently content to take a 25% to 40% cut in her budget. Before Government Members seek to intervene on me with their Chief Whip crib sheets-subtitled "Patrick McLoughlin's route to a ministerial career"-let me say that if Labour had won the general election, the Home Office budget would have been cut and the police would have had to make savings. That is not a matter for conjecture: £1.3 billion of savings that we would have implemented by 2013 are itemised in last year's pre-Budget report, the Budget, last November's policing White Paper and other public documents.
On that issue, I have read the wording of the motion carefully, in which Her Majesty's loyal Opposition make the point that it is the Government's deliberate policy to reduce police numbers, which is not the case. I simply make the point that I made before, in the debate in July, that the shadow Home Secretary specifically said on
I knew that that one would be on the crib sheet. Of course it was right to say honestly to the public that no Home Secretary could guarantee that police numbers would not fall by a single police officer. The number of police and recruitment for the police are matters for chief constables and police authorities. What we guaranteed, as I will explain in a second, was that the central funding that the Home Office provides-which has led to the recruitment of 17,000 more police officers and 16,000 police community support officers-would continue to be provided, index-linked, because we considered crime and policing to be a priority.
The savings that we set out included £70 million in reduced police overtime, £75 million from business support and back-office functions, £400 million from procurement and IT, and £500 million from process improvement. My deal with the previous Chancellor-the one who did produce progressive Budgets-was to prioritise the police and security services by maintaining the 2010 level of central funding necessary for the continued employment of record police numbers, thus reducing the Home Office budget by around 12%-or £1.3 billion-without hitting front-line policing.
We have had a report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission endorsing that approach. The report, "Policing in an age of austerity", concluded that
"cost cutting and improvements in productivity could, if relentlessly pursued, generate a saving of 12% in central government funding ...while maintaining police availability."
This is therefore not an argument about whether there need to be cuts to the police budget over the next four years; it is an argument about a cut of 12% or, as the Chancellor announced on
I assure my right hon. Friend that I thought of this question myself. On Monday I met with the chief constable of Kent, who was concerned about the lack of information coming out of the Home Office. I do not know whether things were done in the same way when my right hon. Friend was Home Secretary, but although the Policing Minister said on Monday that we had to wait until
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. I do not think that the collegiate approach in this House has stretched as far as Members on the Opposition Benches getting the Government Chief Whip's crib sheet. I know that that was his own question, although I suppose that it might have come from our crib sheet. The issue is this: we would not have revealed before a CSR what the settlement was. That is why it is difficult to itemise the savings in advance of a CSR. What can be done-and what we did with the police in the policing White Paper-is to identify those areas that I have mentioned and ensure that the police and the security services understand that we were prioritising police and security. Also, in this year Parliament, including those now on the Government Benches, approved the allocation of funding, knowing that there would be another pay increase in the three-year police pay deal. What has happened now is that the Government have not only demanded more savings this year, despite having to meet that pay increase, but frozen the precept. The police are in a far worse position, including the chief constable of Kent, than they would have been had we been in government.
It is extraordinary that the Government should refuse to add policing to health, education and international development as an area requiring special consideration. The Chancellor is fond of quoting Canada as a precedent for the kind of savage cuts that he heralded in the emergency Budget, but the Canadian Government were not foolish enough to slash police budgets. Expenditure on policing fell by just 0.1% in the years following the Canadian Star Chamber cuts, and then rose steadily thereafter. The number of police officers dipped by at most 3%. In this country, the budget will be slashed by at least 25%, which means a cut in police numbers of between 35,000, as estimated by Professor Talbot, the respected criminologist at Manchester university, and 60,000, according to the magazine Jane's Police Review, which took what I hope is the exaggerated view that the cuts might amount to 40%.
The HMIC report means that there can be no further pretence that front-line policing can somehow emerge unscathed from this kind of budgetary carnage. As well as failing to protect central allocations, on which police forces rely for between 50% and 90% of their funding, the Government have placed a two-year moratorium on any increases in the local precepts. So much for localism. As a result, plans are already being drawn up in every police force throughout the country to cut the number of officers, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out. The 16,000 police community support officers, who are popular with the public and central to neighbourhood policing, are bound to go if there are cuts of 25%. As civilian staff, they are more easy to dispose of, which is why police forces such as Durham have already put every PCSO under notice of redundancy.
There was nothing about this in the coalition partners' manifestos. Indeed, the Lib Dems, who believed that this country was under-policed, were promising to use the money saved by scrapping identity cards to recruit 3,000 additional police officers. We now have the Government's own figures for the amount of money that will be saved by scrapping ID cards. I will willingly take an intervention from anyone on the Lib Dem Benches if they want to tell me how many police officers that equates to. Is it 3,000? No. Is it 2,500, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 200? No. If we used all the money saved by scrapping ID cards, we would get 117 extra officers, not 3,000. Would that we could look forward to any increase in officer numbers at all. It is now likely that the Lib Dems will preside over the loss of 3,000 officers every four months over the next four years.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the contribution of the Liberal Democrats. Many people have wondered whether this Government would be any different if the Lib Dems were not involved, but are we perhaps now starting to see how they are involved? When we look at the cuts in policing, the decision to put yobbos on to the street rather than in prison, and they ways in which the Government are on the side of the criminals rather than of the police, we can see that the lily-livered Liberals are indeed making their contribution to government, just as people were beginning to wonder what they were doing.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. During the general election, the Conservatives and Labour were united in saying, "Don't let the Lib Dems anywhere near crime or national security-or immigration, for that matter." We remember some of their policies in that area. I do not blame the Lib Dems at all for the Government's policy on crime and policing. The Home Secretary has been careful to have only one Lib Dem in her team, and she is a very good Minister, but the Government have not allowed her anywhere near the important stuff in the Home Office. This policy cannot be described as a coalition approach. Certainly, the decision not to prioritise the police in the comprehensive spending review was made by the Conservatives.
I have mentioned the likely loss of police officers over the next four years. Let us have no doubt that cuts of this magnitude will also put national security at risk, as the most senior counter-terrorism officer in the UK has made clear. Insufficient resources will inevitably lead to the closure of regional counter-terrorism units, to fewer surveillance teams to monitor suspects, and to a reduction in the number of police officers who work full time on counter-terrorism.
Was my right hon. Friend concerned about yesterday's announcement of the abolition of the Audit Commission? We are going to see massive cuts across the board, and the Audit Commission normally monitors, evaluates and supports the performance of the police. The cuts will have differential impacts, and in Swansea, 38% of the people are in public sector employment. They face massive cuts, and unemployment and education cuts are growing, which is fuelling more localised crime. Is he worried that we will not have the tools to assess what is happening, to enable the Government to channel resources to where they are most needed?
That is certainly an issue, particularly in the light of the HMIC-Audit Commission's joint report. We must take a rigorous approach to its conclusion that, if the Government cut more than 12%, front-line policing will be affected. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Audit Commission has been done away with; I hope that HMIC will not come next.
Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on to other matters, may I tell him that I have been listening carefully to the points that he has made about cuts? He knows full well that his Government had pledged to make 20% cuts in public sector spending. If they were not going to occur in the Home Office, where were they going to be?
When we were in government, we decided to pick the priority Departments, and the chosen areas were health, education, international development and crime and policing. It is extraordinary that the present Government- [ Interruption. ] Hang on! I am answering the question. It is incredible that the present Government believe that international development, health and, to a certain extent, education must be prioritised, and that they are more important than crime and policing. Quite frankly, I can say as a former Health Secretary that we did not commit to increase the health budget above the rate of inflation. That budget was £110 billion. I went from the Department of Health, which had a £110 billion budget, to the Home Office, which had a budget of about £10 billion. We would have saved £73 billion; we would not have gone for a saving of £113 billion, which Boris Johnson described only yesterday as cutting too savagely and too deeply. It is a central feature of this argument that the Government are going too far with the cuts and that they are failing to treat crime and policing as a priority in the comprehensive spending review, even though it is a priority for constituents everywhere.
During the summer, the Home Secretary made a speech saying that we needed to "move beyond the ASBO". I want to make two things clear. First, the antisocial behaviour order is the most serious of a range of civil powers introduced in 1998 so that the police, local authorities and other agencies could tackle the problem in a co-ordinated way. They needed to tackle the kind of behaviour that falls short of criminality but nevertheless destroys people's lives. These powers are not driven from Whitehall, as the Home Secretary suggested, but through community safety partnerships that involve community groups and social enterprises.
The second thing that we need to be clear about is that, where those powers are used effectively, they work. I shall lapse into what I hope is uncharacteristic immodesty for a moment when I say that they worked particularly well during my year as Home Secretary, when an additional emphasis was placed on the victim and on intensified activity in localities where public perception of antisocial behaviour was above average.
The social affairs correspondent of The Guardian said recently that these measures had had no discernible effect, but they had a discernible effect in the one place where an effect can be discerned-namely, the British crime survey. The Home Office, under the current Home Secretary, stated on
"the reduction between 08-09 and 09-10"- the glorious year of Johnson-
"reflects falls in the proportion of people perceiving a problem with almost all types of anti-social behaviour that make up the overall measure".
That refers to reductions in abandoned cars, noisy neighbours, drunkenness, drug use, youth nuisance, litter, vandalism and graffiti. Those are all issues for which there were insufficient powers prior to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The statistical release went on to say that antisocial behaviour was now at its lowest level since records began, with, for the first time, a majority of the population agreeing that the police and councils were dealing with antisocial behaviour in their local area.
The right hon. Gentleman cites statistics. Forensic Pathways, an organisation in my constituency, has used Home Office data to show that, although the volume of crime has fallen in the past seven years, the detection and clear-up rates have not fallen. So the cost of crime, per crime, is going up, and the police are becoming less efficient. Does he not think that, rather than ploughing money into a broken system, it is better to get the bureaucracy off the backs of the police so that they can do the job we want them to do, which is to detect more crime?
It is great to hear Conservative Members accepting that crime has fallen, as they spent so long dancing around the issue under Chris Grayling. They were told off by the UK statistics authorities and by everyone who looked at the matter. Some people in the police force are looking askance at what this Government are doing. I mentioned the record under the previous Conservative Government. Christopher Pincher is right that the conviction rate needs to be tackled as well, but under the previous Conservative Government, it was not just the conviction rate and the detection rate that had not been tackled, as crime reached 4.6 million-a doubling-under the Tories. There was a 168% increase in violent crime and a 405% increase in burglary. Of course, the Labour Government can be criticised for aspects of what happened over the last 13 years, but what no Conservative Member can do is to suggest that somehow crime has gone up when that was in fact their legacy. If Britain were ever broken, it was broken between 1979 and 1997. The statistics I am citing are not mine; they are the Home Secretary's.
The death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter last year shocked this House and shocked the country. It had a profound impact on me as the incoming Home Secretary. That is why I wanted to intensify action. There is no evidence from this tragic incident that it is time to move beyond the ASBO. All the evidence, summarised so astutely by the coroner in that tragic case, showed that the police and local authority in Leicestershire were acting as if they lived in the pre-ASBO era, when no powers existed. One police officer said at the inquest that antisocial behaviour was nothing to do with the police. He was wrong. It is certainly not the responsibility of the police alone, but the police are responsible for it. That police officer was wrong, but 13 years ago, he would have been right. We have to be careful not to return to those days. The Home Secretary speaks of the need to tackle the root causes of this kind of behaviour as if she is unaware of Sure Start, free nursery education, family-nurse partnerships, family intervention projects, the education maintenance allowance, the huge increase in apprenticeships, the 30% increase in the number of kids from deprived areas going to university and all the other measures introduced by the Labour Government-yes, to be tough on the causes of crime, as well as on crime itself.
My right hon. Friend is providing us with an excellent list of the range of powers available to deal with the very complex issue of antisocial behaviour. It is not just about enforcement, as it is also about tackling the causes. Does he agree that the victims of antisocial behaviour disproportionately live in the poorest parts of our communities in Britain? Someone living in a nice leafy suburb behind a gated community might not appreciate the misery still caused by antisocial behaviour. That is why we need the powers to deal with the problem.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who did a great deal during her time at the Home Office to pursue this agenda. I think that all social strata can suffer from this problem, but she is right in what she says about poor areas. That is why we must never go back to the days when the typical response to this problem on the Labour Benches was saying that we should not get involved in it. We did; we have; it succeeded. We pioneered restorative justice. We began linking drug treatment to prison sentences. We trebled investment in prison education. As a result, reoffending is down by 20% and youth reoffending by nearly 25%.
The Home Secretary said in her July speech that for 13 years people had been told that
"the ASBO was the silver bullet that would cure society's ills".
I want her to give me one example-just one-of a Minister ever making any such claim. We never did. It took a whole range of measures to deal with the spiralling crime that we inherited, and that is what we did. As usual, the only thing wrong with the Home Secretary's pronouncements is the facts.
If the ASBO was such an excellent policy, will the shadow Home Secretary please explain why the chief constable in my local area wrote an article published in The Daily Telegraph on
"we need to give people the confidence to tackle anti-social behaviour. In Germany, two thirds of citizens would intervene in public; in this country, two thirds would not. Referring everything to the police, and the legal system, is not the answer to every problem-nor is it affordable."?
There it is, this is another "big society" argument-or "do it yourself": there will not be any PCSOs and police numbers will be cut, so do it yourself. Actually, that article did not in any way contradict what I am saying. There is not one police officer or local government officer in this country and no one on a crime and disorder reduction partnership who does not understand that people have to work together using a range of measures, including getting communities involved. It works successfully where communities have decided to turn their own communities around, but they get help. What the Government are now proposing-Nicola Blackwood could not have put it more succinctly-is that people will get no help in future. That is the Tory argument that we are countering. As I said before, the Home Secretary is often accurate on everything except for the facts.
Following the irrelevant drivel that we have just heard in the previous intervention, is my right hon. Friend aware that Inspector Damian O'Reilly of my constituency, who has just won the Greater Manchester police's community police officer of the year award and has been entered for the national finals wrote to me to say:
"Were ASBOs to be abolished it would be devastating for both the community and the officers who put much effort into obtaining them, the problems would reoccur and the only winners would be the criminals."
Yes, I agree. As I mentioned, ASBOs are the most serious of the range of measures to combat antisocial behaviour, as an acceptable behaviour contract or a simple letter to the parents of a miscreant might be enough to stop it. What we introduced, as the coroner in the Fiona Pilkington case pointed out, was 15 measures that the police and local authorities could use, dependent on severity of the behaviour. ASBOs, as I say, apply at the more severe end, but all those measures need to be used together, depending on the problem.
No, not again, if my hon. Friend does not mind; I have already given way once to him.
On DNA, the Home Secretary says with the smug piety that can have come only from working closely with the Liberal Democrats that our proposed way forward on the DNA database was disgraceful, because, she says with eyes blazing, it meant that the DNA of innocent people would be retained. That is what the right hon. Lady says and I see her nodding her head; it is a viewpoint that she uses against us. The fact is, however, that she proposes to do exactly the same. The difference is that we would keep the DNA profiles of those innocent of both serious and non-serious offences while she would keep the former but not the latter. Furthermore, we would both take the DNA from all those arrested and keep it for a sufficient period to check against previous crime scenes. The logic of the lofty argument that she has got from the Lib Dems- [Interruption.] I will come on to the issue of six years in a few moments. The logic of the argument that innocent people's DNA is being kept is that we should not take DNA from anyone until they are convicted. Let me explain how nutty that proposition is; it is so nutty that it is not even a Lib Dem conference policy-always a good gauge of whether something is extraordinarily daft.
There is no evidence whatever that those arrested but not convicted of a non-serious offence have any lower propensity to be re-arrested than those arrested but not convicted of serious offences. I repeat-no evidence whatever. If there is, we will no doubt hear it put forward from the Government Dispatch Box. Mark Dixie, the man who brutally raped and murdered Sally Anne Bowman in her front garden, was on the DNA database because he had been arrested but not convicted of a pub-fight-a non-serious offence. If that DNA link had not been made, a guilty man would have remained free to rape and murder again and an innocent man, Sally Anne's boyfriend, who had dropped her off outside her home after a blazing row witnessed by passers-by, would probably be serving a life sentence. Steve Wright, the murderer of five prostitutes in Ipswich, was on the DNA database because he had been arrested for suspected theft. He would not have been on the database under the Scottish model, which this Government want to adopt.
Furthermore, while the Scottish model retains the DNA of those arrested but not charged for three years-I come to the issue raised by a sedentary comment from the Minister for Immigration-rather than for six years as we propose, it also allows the police to extend the period of retention for unlimited further two-year periods. The next time Members hear the Home Secretary accuse Labour of wanting to retain the DNA of innocent people for six years, they should remind themselves that she wants to adopt the Scottish model. She wants to adopt a system that allows the DNA of innocent people to be retained indefinitely; a system that has no evidential support; a system that, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, would cost an additional £158 million to administer because of all the bureaucracy involved in the two-year reviews; and-most important-a system that would have probably left 26 murderers and rapists unconvicted had it been in force last year.
The Minister is in the Home Office now. He can seek the evidence. It comes from ACPO's research, and it comes from Home Office statistics. That is why I used it when I was Home Secretary. That is why my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson and I used it when we steered through legislation that was agreed to by the Minister's colleagues. [Interruption.] During the wash-up period, Chris Grayling said, "No way will we agree to this", but they agreed to it. They could have stopped it, but they did not. I hope that that is because they have begun to realise their sheer folly-and I assure them that they will discover what folly there is in the actions proposed by the Government.
As for CCTV, we still do not know what the coalition means by its reference to greater regulation, or why it considers that there is a problem. I can tell my hon. Friend Toby Perkins that that reference definitely came from the Liberal Democrats, but we do not know what it means. Given the existence of the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act, all of which apply to the authorities responsible for public-space CCTV surveillance, it is difficult to gauge the problem, but in the light of the portentous speeches of the Deputy Prime Minister, we must conclude that the Government want fewer CCTV cameras because the Liberal Democrats have consistently accused the last Government of introducing a "surveillance state".
I support CCTV and reject the argument that it offends civil liberties. Indeed, it protects the civil liberties of our citizens-and, as we have seen recently, those of the occasional cat dropped in a wheelie bin. I agree with the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, Nick Herbert, who, in 2007, wrote this-it is excellent-in his local newspaper:
"I had been shown a community centre on a council estate that had been burned down in an arson attack... If only there had been CCTV, the attack might have been prevented or the perpetrator caught.... to those who claim that this all heralds a Big Brother society, I say, why should innocent people worry that someone is watching out for their safety?"
The right hon. Gentleman spoke for Britain then. The vast majority of the population would support what he said, although sadly it is not the view of the pseudo-libertarian Government of whom he is now a member.
First, the episode of the cat in the bin was filmed not by state-controlled CCTV, but by CCTV that belonged to the householder. [Interruption.] There is a big distinction. Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that many leading members of his party have expressed concern about the 13-year legacy of the last Government, and about the fact that the balance between policing and civil liberties has tipped in the wrong direction? All that we seek to do is redress that balance. It is critical to a right and proper society that policing and the rights of the individual are balanced correctly, but the right hon. Gentleman's party failed to achieve that in 13 years.
Well, that went on a bit.
I am perfectly well aware of what kind of CCTV caught the cat in the bin. Mine was a throwaway remark, and I now wish that I had not thrown it away. But it is good to hear that the hon. Lady believes that we went too far, and wants to reduce the number of CCTV cameras. That is her point, is it not? Good.
I can tell the hon. Lady about the level of bureaucracy that will have to be introduced if the CCTV cameras are to be taken away from Catwoman's observer and every other private household. It simply cannot be done. As for CCTV in public spaces, it is already governed by all the legislation that I mentioned earlier.
No, I will not give way again. It was tedious last time, and it would be tedious again. If the Government want to strike a blow against the surveillance state, they should sack Andy Coulson, not take away CCTV cameras.
We recently learned of another power that was due to be introduced, but is now held in suspended animation. This is a serious point. I refer to domestic violence protection orders, which received cross-party support earlier this year. They are designed to protect instantly women and children who are under threat. ACPO, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Women's Aid and the Home Affairs Committee urged their introduction to close a major gap in public protection. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, who chairs the Committee.
There was no dispute whatsoever about the need for that measure, but although the Home Secretary has said that her
"ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls", she presides over a regime that is threatening the enormous progress that has been made in tackling domestic violence over the last 13 years. There has been a 64% reduction since 1997. I am pleased to see that the Attorney-General is present, because he, with rather more grace than the Home Secretary, has recognised the significant increases in successful prosecutions and the sharp fall in the number of discontinued cases, as well as the amazing reduction in domestic violence. However, as the Home Secretary will agree, there is much more to be done in this crucial area.
Thankfully, the Government were forced into a U-turn on anonymity for rape defendants-mainly, I have to say, owing to the work of my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, who pursued the issue tirelessly. I think that it is time to execute the same manoeuvre, and to get on with introducing domestic violence protection orders as quickly as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Domestic violence is an issue that should worry Members throughout the House, as, indeed, should all forms of violence against women. If the last Government were so concerned about it, however, can he tell me why it took them 12 years to produce a strategy to end it?
The answer is quite simple. The Home Secretary ought to do some research. From 1998 onwards we did not need a strategy, because we had introduced an action plan involving the changes that led to the reduction to which I referred. [Interruption.] The statistics that I quoted came from the Attorney-General and from the Home Office. If we had waited 12 years to introduce any measures to deal with this issue, we would not have reduced domestic violence by 64%.
As I said earlier, during the biggest global recession that we have experienced since the 1930s, crime fell by 9%. During the recession of the 1990s over which the Conservatives presided, it rose by 18%, and domestic violence doubled. That was the legacy of the broken Britain that we remember from those days. It is ridiculous of the Home Secretary to suggest that because we published a strategy to deal with domestic violence against women and young girls and then moved to the next stage, we did nothing for 12 years. We did nothing for 12 years except reduce domestic violence by 64%, and produce all the other statistics quoted so generously by the Attorney-General.
I have dealt with the reduced resources being inflicted on police forces with restricted powers. Let me now deal with the third part of the triple whammy: the imposition of elected commissioners to replace the hundreds of experienced councillors, magistrates and other citizens who sit on our police authorities. Here we see the "we know best" arrogance of the Government in all its depressing detail. The public did not vote for the abolition of police authorities at the general election, or for their replacement by an elected commissioner. This model is opposed by the police, by local councillors of all political persuasions, by ACPO, by the Association of Police Authorities, and by practically everyone who knows anything about policing.
The Local Government Association, under a Tory stewardship, says it does not believe that introducing directly elected individuals is the best way in which to strengthen police accountability. The association believes that such action
"will weaken the ability of the police, councils and other public services to cut crime."
It could also "fragment local partnerships" and make a "place-based budgeting approach"-I am not sure what that is-"more difficult" to operate. Yet the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has said:
"we are not going to consider other models, this is the model we are going to introduce, that is the coalition agreement."
And so we have a rushed White Paper, "Policing in the 21st Century". Incidentally, the Conservatives also produced one of these in 1993; it was called "A police service for the 21st century", so the titles do not change much but the content certainly does. They published the more recent document on
"Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible."
Irrespective of where we stand on the political spectrum, the topic under discussion is a major issue about which there are deep reservations. To quote from the code of practice, it is "feasible and sensible" to have a longer consultation than 12 weeks; there is no argument whatever to curtail it.
The first objection to the proposal is its puzzling inconsistency in relation to the approach to elected mayors. While a referendum is necessary if a city or town might have an elected mayor, no such public consultation is proposed for the equally profound step of introducing a single commissioner to replace the collective and diverse wisdom of police authorities-and this, again, from a Government who preach localism.
There is, of course, an attraction in direct accountability; indeed, when we were in government we looked at the issue not once, but twice. However, the difference between us and the dogmatic zealots who now occupy the Treasury Bench-I excuse the Attorney-General from that-is that we consulted properly. Our 2004 consultation found overwhelming opposition to direct elections. Respondents pointed out the dangers of extremist groups succeeding on low turnouts, single-issue groups dominating, a move to a more short-term approach with re-election dependent on quick wins rather than long-term objectives, the politicisation of accountable bodies and the lack of public appetite for elections and the cost of running them. However, the case for directly electing the 17 members of the police authority-which is what we consulted on and which was Liberal Democrat policy at the last general election-is much stronger than that for the replacement of police authorities by a single elected commissioner. This is the most ill-considered and pernicious aspect of the proposal.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan looked at this issue in his 2008 review. He expressed the great fear about a single person with a political mandate exerting pressure that too readily conflicts with operational judgment. He pointed out that it may also be an impediment to collaboration-which, rightly, is a major part of the Government's White Paper-since the vote for the post will be on localised issues rather than the largely unseen issues of cross-border collaboration.
Flanagan made a number of points from a policing perspective, but an even stronger argument concerns the loss of a body of people who are geographically diverse as well as diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and background. The Government propose a new body-a police and crime panel-to oversee the commissioner. That is meant to provide the checks and balances. The body will, however, have no say on policing and no veto over the commissioner's decisions. Therefore, we face the prospect of having an elected commissioner who, as the White Paper makes clear, will have a team of personal appointees, and a police and crime panel to overview the commissioner but not the police, whose overview will be conducted by a single commissioner whose decisions are final. Somewhere in all of this will be elected councillors-and in some places elected mayors. Chief constables will have to find their way around this maze, with all the additional costs involved, while trying to cope with the biggest financial upheaval the police service has ever faced.
If it is okay to elect a Prime Minister and local councillors, why is it so wrong to give a local community the chance to choose the kind of policing it wants for its neighbourhoods? Why are the right hon. Gentleman and his party so hostile to local democracy?
This is a very different issue from that of elected mayors, because they have a broad remit. We introduced elected mayors, and we agree that the Mayor of London should chair the police authority. The trouble is that he finds doing that too hard, so he has stepped down and his unelected deputy is now chairing it. We agree with the Mayor chairing it, however; that is very important.
To answer the hon. Gentleman's question, I believe, as do many other Members on both sides of the House, that the narrower a post's remit, the more difficult is the argument that we should elect someone to the post by individual ballot, which I presume is why the Government are not suggesting electing the local leader of the health service or the local chair of an education authority. This is a fundamental argument. If there is a broad remit, part of which is policing, election is fine, but if someone is being elected to a post that addresses only one narrow remit, then I think it is wrong. I have serious concerns about this, and the Flanagan consultation showed that they were widely shared.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that one of the problems with having elected police commissioners-or whatever they are going to be called-is that policing organised and serious crime, which we do not necessarily hear about on our doorsteps but which reaches into our communities, will get deprioritised and will not be attended to as seriously as it should be?
I think that is absolutely right, and on this there is no difference between the Front Benchers. The Government refer in their White Paper to the "golden thread" of connectivity. That is a very important point; indeed, Sir Paul Stephenson made it in a recent speech. It is more and more the case that police forces have to co-operate across borders to tackle terrorism, cybercrime and serious organised crime.
Several generations of police reformers in the USA have regarded the British model of insulation from political control as a solution to their problems of corruption and partisanship. They also consider that the fact that America has literally hundreds of police forces makes their job really difficult. The point is that they cannot go back- once this kind of measure is introduced, that is it; there is no return. I therefore think the Government are being extremely foolish in going down this route. They suggest that there will be no political interference and that the commissioner's powers will be little different from those invested in a police authority now, which begs this question: what is this upheaval is for?
The Government say there is the problem of the invisibility of police authorities and we agree, as do the APA and the LGA. That is why so much effort is going into addressing that invisibility issue without jeopardising either the effectiveness of the really good people involved, who have served their communities well, or the crucial principle of the operational independence of chief constables.
I think there is a better solution and I offer it to the Government in a spirit of political generosity. If the Government are wedded to some measure of direct accountability I believe a solution might be direct elections for the chair of a police authority while leaving police authorities in place and certainly not causing this huge upheaval- [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I did not catch the sedentary comment of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice; if he wants to intervene he can. I think that such elections would be a far better way forward and that the Government should seriously consider that alternative. Instead of the eight-week consultation period, the Government should opt for 12 weeks at least so that these issues can be properly debated. I also believe that if they decide to plough ahead with this they should at the very least give the local population a chance to decide in a referendum whether it wants to maintain the current system or move to a single directly elected commissioner.
On police powers, I say in the same spirit of political generosity that the Government should maintain the DNA legislation, which they supported in the pre-election wash-up, until 2012 when the database will have been in operation for six years. At that point there should be a review of the actual evidence, instead of us just having the projections that inform both our model of six years and the random guess plucked out of the air, which is how Scotland came up with the three year option. Then we can decide properly on the relative merits of the two models. Otherwise we are going to wipe all the DNA information from the database after three years and find out after six years that it is irrefutable that we needed to maintain that information for that length of time to catch murderers and rapists.
The Government should also not reduce the number of public-space CCTVs. I do not wish to interfere with the CCTVs outside Mrs Smith's house at 42 Acacia avenue. We do not need to reduce CCTV coverage in public spaces.
On the most important issue-on police funding-the Home Secretary has to fight her corner to ensure that policing and security are prioritised in the comprehensive spending review and that cuts in the police budgets do not exceed 12%. As this Government's honeymoon period draws to a close, they are vulnerable on many issues, none more so than crime and security, where the issue is not about political vulnerability; it is about the vulnerability of our citizens as they seek to go about their daily lives. Despite the successes of the past 15 years, from Howard to Johnson, the battle against crime and disorder has to be stepped up, not scaled back. I warn this House and Members on the Government Benches that the Government are taking the wrong approach and that by refusing to listen and consult they demonstrate not their commitment to civil liberties, but their failure to protect the most important civil liberty of all: the right to be safe from crime and disorder.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add:
"notes the appalling fiscal deficit left by the last Government and reiterates the urgent need to restore the nation to economic health;
recognises that the police will need to play their part in reducing that deficit;
and welcomes the Government's proposed policing reforms, which will deliver a more responsive and efficient police service, less encumbered by bureaucracy, more accountable to the public and, most importantly, better equipped to fight crime."
The text of the Opposition motion and the 50-minute speech that we have just heard from the shadow Home Secretary provide yet more proof, if any were needed, of the utter state of denial of the Labour party. From listening to the shadow Home Secretary and reading the motion, one would wonder how on earth Labour lost the election; it had such a perfect record on everything. Let me just remind the House of its record. Labour doubled our national debt and left us with the biggest deficit in the G20. As much as Labour Members might now like to pretend otherwise, if they had won the election, they would have had no choice but to take action to reduce the deficit. We know that they were already planning 20% cuts-they just did not have the guts to tell us where those would come from. This afternoon, however, we were told by the shadow Home Secretary that they were going to come from health, defence and local government -[Interruption.] Labour Members say that he did not say that, but I asked him where the cuts were coming from and he said, "Well, they weren't going to come from policing and education" and that he would have taken-
The right hon. Lady really does need to follow the debate and to read the documents. Some £75 million was to come from police overtime, £400 million from procurement and £500 million from process. This was all set out in the pre-Budget report, the Budget and last November's policing White Paper-£1.3 billion-worth of savings. The Government can keep parroting that we have never set all this out, but the trouble is that we have and it is available to look at.
I say to the shadow Home Secretary that the intervention that he has just made was not the answer given to the question that I put to him earlier about the cuts and on which I was just commenting. The Labour party went into the election promising 20% cuts. He claims that those would not have come from the Home Office budget. I asked him where they would have come from and, as my hon. Friend Tom Brake has made clear from a sedentary position, the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that they would have come from health-that is what the shadow Home Secretary was saying.
If the shadow Home Secretary will not listen to me-he does not appear to wish to listen to me on the issue of cuts-perhaps he will listen to the following:
"When ... Alan Johnson"- flails at-
"the coalition for protecting NHS spending against cuts being inflicted elsewhere in Whitehall, Labour looks as if it is indulging in opposition for opposition's sake. Comfortable it may be. But it will not bring Labour back to power."
Labour's denial is not just about police funding; it is also about its record on crime and policing. I had hoped that the shadow Home Secretary would use the freedom of being in opposition to get around the country and to be out there meeting people and finding out what they really think about what is happening. He might, thus, have learned about the booze-fuelled violence that takes place in too many of our town centres at night, and about the gang crime in our cities and the antisocial behaviour that makes so many people's lives a misery. But judging by his speech today, and indeed by the motion, he has not bothered to find out what people actually think-
Wait a moment. That is a shame, because there are occasions when the shadow Home Secretary stops playing party politics and is a bit more candid about his record and about our policies. On licensing, for example, he has said:
"I regret not doing more to tackle the problems caused by binge drinking during my period in office. The Government"- this coalition Government-
"is right to stop alcohol being sold below cost price. It's something we should have done."
I welcome the support that he is, obviously, going to be giving to those measures when they are introduced in the police reform and social responsibility Bill.
The shadow Home Secretary listens selectively to one or two of the things that we say; I have just made the point that sometimes he is willing to put aside party politics and to make statements of that sort. Sadly, we did not hear any of those statements in the speech that he has just given. Instead, we heard the familiar rewritten history of the past 13 years. Let us examine some of the claims that Labour makes about that period. It hired a record number of police officers, but it bound them so tightly in red tape that they are available on the streets for only 11% of their time.
I shall say two things on this. Those on the Government Benches are deriding Michael Howard so, first, I should say that it was the White Paper called "A police service for the 21st century", produced under Lord Howard, that introduced all of the target regime and suggested that the Home Office should be able to appoint the chairs of political authorities. Some of that was the right thing to do. I know that he is derided by those on the Government Benches, but Michael Howard was actually a very successful Home Secretary.
My second point deals with the HMIC's figure on availability. HMIC talks about the percentage of the police who are available at any one time to be on the streets. The police work in shifts, and some police officers are sick, some have to be in court, some deal with counter-terrorism and some deal with child pornography, so that statistic is meaningless. Many police officers have been quick to point that out. There is no way in which under the previous Government that availability rate would have been any higher.
I say to the shadow Home Secretary that I am deeply disappointed in what he is saying. I will tell him who that statistic means something to-it means something to my constituents, and to those of other hon. Members, when they do not see police on the streets. They know the reality, but sadly the shadow Home Secretary is not willing to accept it. The reality is that because of things that his Government did we have seen that police officers have been tied up in bureaucracy and red tape, kept in police stations filling in forms when they could have been out on the streets, where people want to see them and where they want to be.
This is not just about the bureaucracy faced by police officers; the previous Labour Government passed a record number of laws, but left office with nearly 900,000 violent crimes taking place a year. They spent a record amount on criminal justice, but they left office with 26,000 victims of crime every single day. Labour Members might think that that is a record to be proud of, but we do not and neither do the British people.
Could the right hon. Lady tell us how many of those victims would support her suggestion to get rid of antisocial behaviour orders or would support the reduction in the number of CCTV cameras? Has she ever come across a constituent who wants to see fewer CCTV cameras?
Once again, the trouble with the Labour party is that it is making up things about what our policy is, purely in order to meet the arguments that Labour Members want to bring into this House. On CCTV, we have said that we want better regulation of it and automatic number plate recognition-ANPR-and it is right and proper for us to introduce that. If the Labour party thought that there was nothing to be done about CCTV, why did it start looking at introducing somebody to examine the regulation of CCTV? The regulation of CCTV is important and I suggest to the hon. Lady that she does not go around trying to suggest that the Government are going to get rid of CCTV cameras as a result of our policy to regulate those cameras better.
The hon. Lady has given me a welcome opening here, because I wanted to go on to discuss not only the record of the previous Labour Government, but what we are going to do- that is despite the fact that this is an Opposition day debate. I want to talk about how we as the new coalition Government will deliver effective policing that cuts crime in an era of falling budgets, because we on this side of the House are determined not only to tackle the legacy of debt we have been left with by the last Government, but to make sure we deliver high-quality public services even as we reduce public spending. If we are to succeed, the policing reforms I announced to the House before the summer recess, which were so derided by the shadow Home Secretary, will be vital.
Despite spending more on criminal justice than any comparable country, we remain a high-crime country-the chance of being a victim of crime here is higher than almost anywhere else in Europe- [ Interruption. ] Those on the Labour Front Bench are making lots of comments from a sedentary position, but that is again part of the denial. The idea that this country is somehow a wonderful world where people do not experience crime or antisocial behaviour because of the impact of the last Government is completely false. We remain a high-crime country and we need to do something about it. The complacency on the Opposition Benches about this issue is, frankly, breathtaking.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the figure, which is in the White Paper, comes from the international crime victims survey, which was last carried out in 2004 and surveys 2,000 people-in comparison with the British crime survey, which surveys 45,000 people-and sometimes takes its statistics from those convicted, a very important point that was raised in an earlier intervention, and sometimes has nothing to do with the level of crimes? It is not a basis for saying that we have the highest crime rates in Europe. Will she confirm that?
What I will confirm is that yet again, in this debate, we have seen from those who made up the Labour Government an unwillingness to accept what people out there see and feel on their streets. It is about issues of crime and levels of crime in this country that are not acceptable. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about the figures, I think that figures such as those that I quoted earlier-26,000 victims of crime a day and nearly 900,000 violent crimes a year-are not figures to be proud of. They are figures that we need to deal with. We need to do more and that means unfettering the police and allowing them to get out on the streets and to do what they should be doing, which is dealing with crime.
The right hon. Lady is right that there is always more to do in tackling crime. The Labour party has never been complacent about how important these issues are to the British public. However, does she not accept that there is now the lowest risk for more than 20 years in this country of becoming a victim of crime? Of course we are not perfectly safe but we are an awful lot safer than we used to be under previous Governments.
I am disappointed in the line that the right hon. Lady has taken. She made an important and valid point earlier in her intervention on her right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary about antisocial behaviour and the important fact that all too often the perception of antisocial behaviour is worse in deprived communities and those communities that are among the poorest and most vulnerable in our country. My point is very simple: none of us can be complacent about levels of crime in this country. We need to find the ways in which we can reduce crime and in which we can help the police to do their job.
No, I will not give way at the moment.
That is why we want to restore that connection between the police and the people that we believe has been bogged down by bureaucracy and damaged over the years.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Northamptonshire people have little to thank the previous Government for. They reviewed formula funding in a way that benefitted the county and then failed to implement it. They admitted that the population figures used were incorrect but failed to act on them and they cheated Northamptonshire police out of millions of pounds a year. On that basis, will my right hon. Friend meet a delegation from Northamptonshire and, I hope, talk about reviewing formula funding?
Either I or the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice would be very happy to meet delegations of colleagues, but I must say to my hon. Friend that the Lincolnshire Members of Parliament have already got in before him to discuss their bid on formula funding. However, as I have said, I am happy to meet such a delegation, as is the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.
Let me turn to the point about the accountability of the police and the policing reforms that we will put forward in the police reform and social responsibility Bill. Our changes to the accountability of the police will be crucial in ensuring that they once more become crime fighters instead of form writers. Central to those reforms is the idea that we want to get rid of the inefficient and ineffective processes of bureaucratic accountability, where power rests with Whitehall civil servants, and replace it with direct democratic accountability, with power placed back in the hands of the people. Not only will that make the police truly responsive to the needs of the public, but it will mean a more efficient and innovative police service, free from the meddling of central Government. We can be as aggressive as we like in cutting police paperwork-and we are-but we will never achieve the culture change we need until we deal with the driver of the problem and that is Whitehall.
As I noted earlier, according to the recent report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary that is cited in the motion, only 11% of police officers are visible and available to the public at any one time. It is not as if the Opposition were not warned about that when they were in power. The shadow Home Secretary has quoted Sir Ronnie Flanagan, but he said in his review that the difference in paperwork now compared with when he was a front-line officer was "truly staggering". Jan Berry, the last president of the Police Federation, said:
"As a result of Government diktats, the service has been reduced to a bureaucratic, target-chasing, points-obsessed arm of Whitehall".
The last Government did not listen, but we will. Already we have cancelled the top-down public confidence target and scrapped the policing pledge. We are reducing the reporting requirements for stop and search and we are scrapping the stop form in its entirety. We will return charging decisions to officers for minor offences and we will reform the health and safety rules that stop police officers intervening to protect the public.
That is just the start. Shifting the model of accountability from the centre to local communities removes the need for pages and pages of bureaucracy and it removes the temptation to Home Secretaries to issue initiative after initiative.
Of course, we welcome the steps taken by the Home Secretary to reduce bureaucracy, but the previous Government were also committed to reducing bureaucracy. That goes back, as the Home Secretary has said, to the Flanagan report. Will she commit herself to ensuring that Jan Berry, when she delivers her final report, can continue the good work that she is doing in monitoring the level of bureaucracy and advising the Government from outside the Home Office about the need to continue along this path?
We obviously look forward to the results of the further work that Jan Berry has been doing in this area. The right hon. Gentleman started his intervention by commenting that the last Government intended to reduce bureaucracy, but the problem was that they did not. We have come in and within a matter of months we have shown specific examples of where we can reduce that bureaucracy.
On that point, my recollection is-I think that the shadow Home Secretary said this in his contribution-that the previous Government did make some progress on bureaucracy. My concern, particularly on stop and search and stop and account, is that we have a long history in this country of recognising that they can have particular effects on particular communities. I hope that the right hon. Lady will be sensitive, particularly in relation to my constituency, to the fact that we have a long past for which this issue has been at the absolute apex of concern about crime. I do not want to see the sort of problems that we had in the 1980s again. When she says that bureaucracy is being reduced as regards stop and account, will she say whether there will still be accountability for stopping ethnic minorities, in particular?
I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's concerns. He makes particular reference to his constituency, and there will be others who will share his concern. That is why, as I said, we are reducing the reporting requirements for stop and search. We fully recognise that we need to do that in a sensitive way that notes and deals with the issue that he has raised.
In addition to dealing with bureaucracy, we will introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners-single, named individuals who will be democratically accountable to their communities. That accountability will be real and will be provided not by invisible police authorities-surveys show that only 7% of people know that there is a police authority they can go to if they have a problem with the police-and not by Ministers hundreds of miles away in London, but by people themselves. The police commissioner will be somebody whom people have heard of, whom they have voted for, whom they can hold to account and whom they can get rid of if they do not cut crime. So we will leave local crime fighting to local crime fighters, but we will not forget cross-border, national and international crime. It is an irony that for years the Home Office has tried to micro-manage local policing from the centre while it has neglected policing at the national level. That is why we will establish a national crime agency with a proper command structure to fight serious organised crime and to control our borders.
I understand that it was only yesterday that the Opposition added antisocial behaviour to their motion. The shadow Home Secretary spent quite a bit of time on it in his speech, but he forgot to mention his own quote about the last Government's record on antisocial behaviour, when he said:
"We became a bit complacent...we...dragged our feet by not making it a priority."
He claimed that the police have the powers they need to deal with antisocial behaviour and that there is a range of 15 options that they can use, but the fact that there are so many options is precisely the problem. We have individual support orders, acceptable behaviour contracts, antisocial behaviour injunctions, antisocial behaviour orders and criminal antisocial behaviour orders. There is a whole list of options that increases the bureaucracy and complexity and means that in many areas, the police, councils and local people find it very difficult to decide what is appropriate, and that all too often things are not applied.
The shadow Home Secretary should also know that three quarters of incidents of antisocial behaviour are not reported and that more than half of ASBOs are breached. Again, that is not a record of which to be proud or on which to be complacent. That is why we need to look at the whole toolkit that is available to the police in dealing with antisocial behaviour. No number of sanctions is a match for local policing that is responsive to local needs. That is what this Government's police reform agenda will deliver-simpler, smarter sanctions that are faster to obtain, easier to enforce and that provide a strong deterrent and a real punishment.
One of the main problems encountered by those dealing with ASBOs has been the inordinate length of time it can take for applications to succeed, only for people then to find that the problem that they were dealing with has gone away or has transmogrified into something else. Secondly, CRASBOs, or criminal ASBOs-I am sorry about using that acronym, or euphemism; it does not matter-are totally ineffective. They are afterthoughts that are bolted on to convictions and their enforcement has been nothing short of lamentable.
My hon. Friend makes a very strong point about the panoply of ASBO powers that are available. The important point is that the bureaucracy involved in getting an ASBO means that, all too often, nothing is done, because it takes so long to get something enforced. That is why so many communities up and down the country find that the orders are not working and why they continue to suffer from antisocial behaviour.
It is very generous of the right hon. Lady to see me. I could not sit any closer; I have been doing my best. Will she say how her Government expect to reduce the number of short-term prison sentences-now a clear and amplified ambition-at the same time as getting rid of ASBOs and the current means of reducing those short-term measures without a massive escalation of crime and antisocial behaviour in the community?
The hon. Gentleman should not try to second-guess what may or may not be in the sentencing review that will come from the Ministry of Justice. There is a commitment to reviewing sentencing and I suggest that he should wait until that comes out, when he will be able to make his comments.
One area that I want to speak briefly about, which has not been touched on much today, is the unmitigated disaster of Labour's Licensing Act 2003. One in three people who turn up in accident and emergency have alcohol-related injuries, and alcohol-related crime and disorder costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion every year. When that legislation was introduced, we were promised a café-style culture, but five years on the police are still fighting an ongoing battle against booze-fuelled crime and disorder. So we will overhaul Labour's Licensing Act to ensure that local people have greater control over pubs, clubs and other licensed premises. We will allow local authorities to charge more for late-night licences, which they will then be able to plough back into late-night policing in their areas. We will double the fine for under-age sales and we will allow authorities permanently to shut down any shop or bar that persistently sells alcohol to children. We will also ban the below-cost sale of alcohol to ensure that retailers can no longer sell it at irresponsible prices. As I have said, I welcome the support for that which we will have from the Opposition.
In today's motion and in the shadow Home Secretary's speech, he and the Opposition have fallen into the trap of thinking that they need to oppose everything the Government do just for the sake of it. They are denying the legacy of debt that they have left to this Government and they oppose the Budget cuts that they had planned to make. In denying their record, they oppose the police reforms that they once proposed, so let me try to shake the shadow Home Secretary out of his state of denial. Police officers are available on the streets for just 11% of their time and there are 900,000 violent crimes a year and 26,000 victims of crime every single day. That is the legacy of the Labour party and it will be up to the coalition Government to put things right.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this point in the debate. I have to start with an apology: the Jewish new year starts at sunset and therefore I shall not be able to attend the winding-up speeches because the imperative of the synagogue is greater than the imperative of the Whips.
Crime is a concern that never goes away. Whatever the statistics say, and whoever quotes those statistics, crime against one's family or oneself is, for most people, the only crime. That is natural. However, statistics show that crime in many categories has gone down and that the number of police has risen. The Greater Manchester police cover my constituency, and the statistics that they have issued over the past few weeks, while not perfect, as they never will be, are encouraging. They show the beneficial effect of both the dedicated work done by our police in Manchester and more widely and the policies that the Labour Government implemented.
In my constituency, taking into account the continuous and justified concern about law and order issues that there will always be, the record is even better. Statistics that have been sent to me by the police in my area show that 76.5% of users of the law and order mechanism were satisfied with that service. That is remarkable because the satisfaction of the population will always be affected by crime levels and the effect of crime on themselves. Remarkable figures have been issued for my constituency showing reductions in antisocial behaviour, burglary, vehicle crime and robbery. We also have remarkable figures on the detection of serious sexual offences, domestic abuse, racially or religiously aggravated crime, burglary, vehicle crime and robbery. Our figures on levels of crime are a great credit to the police, so I thank the police in my constituency, and those more widely in Greater Manchester, for the wonderful job that they do. I repeat that that does not mean that the statistics are perfect, but they are getting better all the time.
Given the commendable record of the police and the fact that they have close relations with the community, what will the Government do? First, they will spend a lot of time meddling with administration and, secondly, they will make huge cuts in spending. The Home Secretary kept on saying-it was like a mantra-that we have a coalition Government, so let us look at what the Liberal Democrat manifesto said. It included the heading "Cutting crime with more and better police", even though there will be fewer police. It said that
"more police are needed on the streets...to provide a longer arm for the law", but the number of police on the streets, like the number of police overall, will be cut. The manifesto said that, if the Liberal Democrats had any voice in government, they would,
"Pay for 3,000 more police on the beat", but there will be fewer police on the beat. I can say to the Government and the Liberal Democrats that we will tell everyone in Gorton again and again that, while the Liberal Democrats will make promises, if they are ever involved in government, they not only fail to deliver them but then turn on their head. We will not allow the Liberal Democrats in my Gorton constituency or those more widely in Manchester to get away with that. What the Liberal Democrats promise and what the Home Secretary foreshadows will not happen.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, but if I have time, I shall certainly give way.
We must also consider the situation surrounding antisocial behaviour orders. We pioneered ASBOs in Manchester and have a remarkable record on that. Inspector Damian O'Reilly has just received the Greater Manchester police's community police officer of the year award and will be entered in the national finals in November. He has given me information about how ASBOs have dealt with gangs in my constituency. That has been praised by a judge. When certain people who had been detected and rounded up by the police were found guilty by that judge, he said:
"It's time to give Ryder Brow"- which is in my constituency-
"back to the residents".
Inspector O'Reilly-he is someone who is doing this work-says that he has found ASBOs
"to be really effective in breaking up the dynamics of problematic groups".
He goes on to state:
"Were ASBOs to be abolished it would be devastating for both the community and the officers who put so much effort into obtaining them, the problems would reoccur and the only winners would be the criminals."
The Home Secretary states-although it is impossible to say how she knows this-that only a proportion of antisocial behaviour is reported. She seems to suggest that that is an indictment of ASBOs, but only a minute proportion of rapes are ever reported by rape victims-a tiny number of women report rapes-so does that mean that we should not have legislation to deal with rapists? The right hon. Lady puts forward an utterly absurd argument.
No Government have ever had a perfect record on law and order, but the Labour Government improved things and made it possible for the police at the sharp end to improve the situation in my constituency. Time will tell what will happen as a result of the Government's proposals and the objectives that the Home Secretary set out today. If she is right, we will have to acknowledge that, but if she is wrong, the Government will be to blame and they will have to carry the can. What they are doing is likely to make the criminal more rampant while the householder who is burgled and the person who is knocked down on the street become more vulnerable.
I should start with a declaration of interest in that not a single word of my speech has come from the Chief Whip's crib sheet, despite the fact that my right hon. Friend was born and bred in my constituency.
We have heard a lot of speculation about the possible effect of cuts. As it happens, that was pure speculation, given that we do not know what the settlement will be following the comprehensive spending review, and Labour Members have not had the good grace to tell us where they would make cuts. However, I want to try to nail one issue by moving the debate away from the stale analysis of inputs of the past 10 years and towards an assessment of outputs. During its 13 years in government, the Labour party was incredibly successful at one thing in particular: persuading the country that only by putting more in could we possibly get more out. That is why the debate about effective policing is always focused on numbers of police rather than what they actually do, as we have heard.
Labour Members have always followed a simple equation: more money equals better public services. They therefore believe that simply having more police and PCSOs automatically means that there will be better policing, irrespective of what those people do all day-whether they are in cars, on patrol, filling in forms or responding to jobs. The Opposition seem incapable of acknowledging that simply having more police officers doing more administrative and bureaucratic tasks leads to lower morale and, ultimately, less effective policing.
Labour Members have extended the argument of looking at inputs rather than outputs to the public sector as a whole, but if their argument is true-if more public spending genuinely equals better public services-this country should have some of the best public services in the entire world. Given the amount that we have spent, borrowed and spent again during the past 13 years, we should surely have the best public services in Europe, but the sad reality is that we are at the bottom of many league tables because we have the worst services.
Labour Members will remind us that we have more police than ever, with 140,000 full-time equivalent officers in England and Wales, but let us not make their mistake of thinking that having record numbers of police means that we have record effectiveness of policing, because almost the opposite is true. Despite the record numbers of police, there is huge public dissatisfaction with the service. Significantly, the public's attitudes towards the police are negatively related to personal experiences of the police service. The shadow Home Secretary likes to cite the British crime survey, but according to its 2005 public satisfaction report, although 89% of people were satisfied with their initial contact with the police, only 58% were satisfied with their follow-up contact. Only 50% of all respondents thought that the police in their area did a good or excellent job, and that was down from 67% in 1994. According to the BCS, therefore, such satisfaction decreased massively under the previous Government from 67% to 50%. A 50% satisfaction rating is a very poor performance by any institution; similar surveys rate doctors, teachers, judges and the NHS higher-unsurprisingly, only politicians score worse.
At the same time as we have record spending on the police, we have declining public satisfaction with the service they receive. That leads me to my key point: if more money does not equal better public services, it cannot be the case that less money will mean worse services. Why, when there is a record number of police officers, do the public still routinely say when asked that they feel less safe? Is it something that only Members on this side of the House understand? Only in the public sector is Labour's absurd notion that better results can be achieved only with more money propagated. In the private sector, if better outcomes or more efficient production are needed to sell more work or deliver better results faster, spending more money is pretty much the last thing that those in that sector think about. If the customer is not happy, they do not put up the price; they look to take costs out of the business and seek ways to make efficiencies, improve processes, reduce overheads and stop spending time on administrative and bureaucratic tasks. If they conclude that efficiencies are needed to lower the price and stay competitive, then, by God, that is what they do.
I think better outputs are possible with fewer officers if they are better directed and not spending their time doing administrative, bureaucratic and ultimately futile tasks that do not benefit the public in any way.
To continue the comparison with the private sector, Sainsbury's employs 150,000 people in this country and is creating 5,000 new jobs through store openings this year because of-not despite-saving £4 million this year in administration costs by moving its entire staff recruitment process online. Tesco's has just taken £3 million out of its cost base, simply by rationalising how meeting rooms are booked. Those successful businesses are competitive because they are fit and lean, constantly seeking ways to reduce costs and inefficiencies while giving the best service to the public.
When police forces were inspected for outcomes, often, in terms of reducing crime, they were doing well in those categories, but one area where they did not do quite so well was communicating with the public. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the police should spend more resources on communicating, or should they spend their resources on police officers fighting crime?
I think the police should spend their resources on fighting crime. Communication will follow if they are doing a good job and the public are happy.
My question is this: if the private sector can make those efficiencies while giving better services and products, why can the police not do the same? What exactly are all the extra police we are constantly told about spending their time doing? As we have heard, Home Office figures have revealed that police officers spend more time on paperwork than on patrol-just 14% of police officers' time is spent on patrol, compared with 20% on paperwork. Of the 81,000 officers who patrol our country, including detectives, traffic police and neighbourhood watch teams, just 17,000 will be on duty for an average eight-hour shift. With 14% of their time spent on patrol, only 2,400 officers are out and about at a given time-just one in 58 of a record number of police officers is patrolling the streets at any one time. No wonder Jan Berry, former chairman of the Police Federation, commented:
"People hear about a record 143,000 officers and it sounds a lot, but the reality, as these new figures show, is quite different. The Government obsession with targets and data collection, as well as the failure to provide an effective system to share information, has resulted in officers spending less time on the beat and this can only be at the expense of the public."
Even way back in 2001, a study by PA Consulting for the Home Office found that police officers were spending as much time in the police station as they were on the streets. For five hours a day-more than 50% of the time that the officers were on a shift-they were sat in the station. The study also found that most of the time spent in the police station was spent dealing with incidents and making inquiries; only 17% of police officer time was spent on reassurance patrol; and only 1% of police time was spent proactively reducing crime. The study also unearthed a startling statistic: if the amount of time a police officer spends on the beat could be increased from one fifth to two fifths, the police presence on the streets of England and Wales would effectively be doubled, without a single extra officer being recruited. Clearly, there is considerable scope to free officers to spend more time out on the best, and a massive dividend to be gained from doing so.
The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points about efficiency and productivity, but does he accept that much of the bureaucracy is not in the police station, but in the courts system, which ties our police officers into giving evidence, preparing case files and having a huge amount of paperwork? I recommend to him the argument that more effective liaison with the criminal justice system is essential if we are to get more productivity.
That is an entirely fair point, and I agree, but the focus of this debate and of my speech is on police bureaucracy.
That leads me on to a pledge, which I am sure Labour Members recall, made in 2002 by the then Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett. He promised a "bonfire of the paperwork" to free up more police time, which he said would save 90,000 hours a year. The Home Office then set up a policing bureaucracy taskforce, which published a report with 52 change proposals, which it claimed would
"enable patrol officers to invest the time equivalent of 22,500...in improved quality of service on the streets."
The taskforce said that that would be achievable within three to five years, but today-nearly 10 years later-not a single update has been published nor follow-up audit made available on how many of those recommendations were implemented and whether that was successful.
The reality is that the recruitment of additional police officers and a public commitment to develop neighbourhood policing will have little impact unless the major bureaucratic obstacles facing the police in this country are removed. The annual cost of non-incident-related police paperwork in England and Wales has been estimated to be about £625 million. Police have to produce planning and review team performance improvement reports, more than 100 pages long, every month. Paradoxically, under Labour, while the Home Office increasingly attempted to micro-manage the police from the centre, it showed weak leadership in other areas of policing, where I think the centre has a role to play in driving through reforms and improving collaboration. Huge savings could be made from, for example, ensuring IT compatibility, joint procurement and sharing of back-office functions such as fleet management, uniforms and administrative functions.
That is why I am delighted that the coalition Government are no longer focusing on police numbers-we are not playing the numbers game. Instead, we are focusing on police outcomes, improved by clearing away bureaucracy and inefficient, wasteful practices. Yes-referring to the shadow Home Secretary's remarks-we need a big society, because the alternative to a big society is a big state, and not only is a big state unaffordable, but it infantilises people and discourages them from taking responsibility. It is Labour's big state that leads directly to the sort of horrendous incident that occurred in Manchester in 2007, when two police community support officers stood by as a 10-year-old boy drowned in a local pond, because the health and safety rulebook said they could not intervene. If the coalition is to leave the police forces of the United Kingdom one major legacy, let it be this: it is time once again to allow the police to serve the public, rather than the statistical whims of the Ministers in Whitehall.
I should like to contribute to this debate from the point of view of my constituents and the needs of my constituents. What concerns me about radical cuts to the police service is that we will see the end of safer neighbourhood teams as we currently know them.
Safer neighbourhood teams were introduced in the teeth of opposition from the advocates of traditional policing. The arguments were that police in panda cars, driving around in response teams, were a far more effective way of reducing crime than safer neighbourhood teams. I am not a policing analyst, but my experience suggests that, when it comes to tackling crime, confidence and belief in the police, and the process of becoming connected to one's local police team, are more likely to be more effective than the response teams that we have traditionally seen in the Metropolitan police area. Discussions with my local area commander and with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner have reinforced my fear about the cuts in safer neighbourhood teams. They are easy to cut and get rid of, because they have gone against the trend of policing over the past 50 years.
The hon. Lady knows that earlier this year the shadow Home Secretary talked about making 20%-plus cuts. She says that she does not want to see cuts in safer neighbourhood teams, so will she share with the House where she would like to see the cuts made, and where she thinks priority should be placed on the savings that, unfortunately, her Government's legacy made necessary for whoever were in power?
The shadow Home Secretary has already identified this afternoon where the cuts would be made in the Home Office budget, and we believe that safer neighbourhood teams should be our priority, because our tax-paying constituents want to see that and believe in that. They want to see their police out there on the beat, to know their names and to know their police community support officers.
In 2011, we will see the end of the Mayor of London's financial commitment to PCSOs. What will that mean at that time? The PCSOs were much derided by Conservative MPs and by the press when they were introduced, but they have been a tremendous addition to traditional policing, because, on intelligence gathering, PCSOs have the confidence of local residents and are able to discuss concerns with them. I appreciate the point that Mr Burley made about the mistakes that are occasionally made, but when one brings in any new service or public administration, our urgency and desire to introduce them sometimes outstrips our ability to consider all the options and eventualities. Yes, in the early days of PCSOs, mistakes were made in service provision, but they have been amended and PCSOs are well embedded in our areas.
PCSOs are perhaps most effective in those areas where people are less inclined to speak to the police, and among the groups and communities that are most alienated from the police and from all sorts of Government bodies. That is because PCSOs are more likely to be from an ethnic minority, older and different from traditional police officers. Many people in my community, particularly in Pollards Hill, feel closer to their PCSOs and find it easier to discuss matters with them.
I also say to the hon. Member for Cannock Chase that policing is about not just tackling crime, but community confidence, people's ability to speak to their police officers and a feeling of safety. That involves communication and the police's ability to communicate. The police do not necessarily have those skills, because they go into the job to tackle crime; we-the political we-have to provide them with those skills and with the ability to communicate what they do. However effective the police become at tackling crime, the ability of the media and all sorts of people to decry what the police do can be so effective as to make people unaware of their achievements. They have not only to tackle crime, but to be seen to tackle crime, and that is why communication and communication skills are so important.
In that typical way of new Labour in government, however, did not safer neighbourhood policing panels become very process-focused organisations? The aim of communicating with local people was a laudable one, and we could afford to do so in good times, but it was also a displacement activity, because one only had to talk to most basic command unit commanders to find out that the number of prolific and persistent offenders remained high. Those people were on a carousel in the criminal justice system, and safer neighbourhood teams did nothing about that problem, and nothing, in particular, about antisocial behaviour.
Can I absolutely oppose what the hon. Gentleman says, accept that safer neighbourhood teams were perfect and argue that their shift patterns were always correct? No, of course I cannot. I fought against the balance of shift patterns in my constituency. Are there problems with the fact that shift patterns have to be printed 18 months in advance, and with requests for uniformity among the teams? Yes. But my police teams in each ward in my constituency know exactly who their prolific offenders are, where they are and what they are doing, and their intelligence assists the other, reactive police teams in the division.
The amount of intelligence on, and knowledge of, communities is so much more significant now. That becomes really important in an area such as mine in south London, where population turnover is so huge and quick, and where from all over the world groups of people with different practices and ideas come to live, often becoming the foremost victims of violent crime.
The antisocial behaviour order has not been 100% successful, because no measure is 100% successful, but, on the idea that they should be scrapped because they are breached 50% of the time, I must ask, do we scrap laws on burglary, fraud or anything that we like because there is a recidivism rate? No, we do not. We have to try to find out why people continue to commit antisocial behaviour and deal with them. We are on a journey, and the police are entering an area that used to be occupied by different forces of control, whether they were the extended family, the stronger community or church and religion. Our communities are very different, and the idea that people are going to go out and tackle antisocial behaviour, confront people whom they do not know and put themselves in a vulnerable or frightening position is unrealistic.
We must see the police out there, taking action. They have to be there for people, when they need them and in the way that they need them, but I am absolutely convinced that huge, swift cuts in the police service will reduce the number of police whom we see on the street. A reduction in police on the street means that our most vulnerable constituents will have less confidence in the police, and that fewer crimes will be tackled, and in the end that cannot be what we want.
Our discussions in the House are so different from those that I have with my constituents. I have never met a constituent who has told me that the police have reduced our civil rights; my constituents want to see more effective ways of dealing with antisocial behaviour. I have never met a constituent who wanted to get rid of CCTV; all my constituents want more, because it makes them feel safe and confident. I just do not understand how some MPs can make the speeches that they do. I am absolutely confident that they would not go back to their constituents and make such speeches, because they are so out on a limb when compared with how people feel.
A reduction in the number of police officers is against all our interests, and against the interests of our constituents. I ask Government Members seriously to consider that when the matter comes up on
It is a pleasure to follow Siobhain McDonagh, from my neighbouring constituency, who, as always, does a very good job of defending her constituents' priorities. She said that she has never come across anyone who has complained about their civil liberties being impacted by the police. Well, having spent five hours contained by the police at the G20 protest, I personally feel that on that occasion my civil liberties were infringed, along with those of 2,000 or 3,000 other people who were present at that event.
Sir Gerald Kaufman, who has unfortunately just left the Chamber, was very helpful in telling us what he was going to tell his constituents about what the Liberal Democrats were doing in the coalition Government. I wanted to tell him-he will have to read it in Hansard-what we will be telling his constituents about the economic scorched earth policy that his Government adopted when they were in power. We will also point out to them that he, like many other Labour Members, suffers from the characteristic amnesia that has afflicted the Labour party since the general election.
I was greatly entertained by what was not exactly a leadership bid by the old Home Secretary, but at least a bid to secure his position as shadow Home Secretary in any future Labour shadow Cabinet. His speech may have had some credibility on the Labour Benches, but those in the wider country will perhaps have wanted a demonstration of some humility for the part that he played in creating the calamitous economic car crash that the coalition Government now have to turn around. But of course he made no such acknowledgement of the part that he played, nor of the fact that we have had to borrow £150 billion in the past year. I am afraid that with his rather facile asides he demonstrated the same ingrained-perhaps it is ingrained in his DNA-denial culture that is far too often demonstrated by Labour Members.
I am critical of the previous Government's economic incompetence, but not uniformly critical of their record in power. They achieved some very positive things of which they can be proud. For instance, I support the safer neighbourhood teams. I support the role that police community support officers play and the impact that that has had not only on crime locally but on the perception of crime. I hope that irrespective of what police forces up and down the country will face as a result of the economic circumstances that we are in, they will be able to maintain their presence on our bstreets. Mr Burley did a good job of demonstrating how much can be achieved in increasing police presence on our streets. That does not necessarily require there to be more police officers but simply better use of the available time.
The consultation paper "Policing in the 21st century" sets out where the coalition Government are going. I welcome the debate that they have kicked off in relation to several police and justice issues, whether it be licensing and banning the sale of below-cost alcohol, short-term prison sentences, or the system of temporary bans on legal highs, which we will debate tomorrow. Those are good matters for us to discuss as a Parliament. I welcome the reforms that are set out in that paper.
Prior to the general election, for the Liberal Democrats as a party, the creation of elected police commissioners was undoubtedly the most controversial proposal that the coalition is now taking forward. I want to explain why we are supporting that proposal within the coalition. The key to this is the checks and balances that will be in place to cover the activities of elected police commissioners, and we need to focus our attention on those. I welcome the fact that there will be a strong duty on commissioners to collaborate with other commissioners to ensure that cross-border issues are addressed, because that was one of our fundamental concerns.
As regards the powers that the panel will have, I hope that we can get the coalition Government to move a little further in relation to the strategy or budget that the elected commissioner is to adopt, because those are matters that the panel could have a more decisive say over. Perhaps, similarly to what happens with the Mayor's budget, a two-thirds majority might be required to oppose the commissioner's budget or strategy and for that then to have to be reviewed. The coalition Government should consider that carefully. With better checks and balances, it is possible to ensure that elected police commissioners work and can be fully representative of communities. I hope that there is still time to consider elected commissioners as a pilot project. It is always worth rolling something out in a small way to start with and measuring its effectiveness before introducing the whole scheme, so I hope that even at this late stage that can be considered.
I am pleased to see the Minister for Equalities on the Front Bench, because I wish to raise the question of how we can ensure that the whole cohort of elected police commissioners do not look like me and most of the other male Members in the Chamber. It would be regrettable if the system ensured that the only people who could get elected were white, middle-aged males and there was no representation of any other gender or ethnicity among the commissioners. I hope that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will respond to that point in his summing-up.
Although it is a matter for debate between the Government and the Mayor of London, I should like some clarity on the future of the Metropolitan Police Authority if the Minister is able to give it. There is some confusion about whether it will be abolished, as "Policing in the 21st century" suggests, or whether its administrative functions will simply be absorbed into city hall. Also in a London context, is the Minister entirely happy with elected commissioners being able to delegate their role to another individual? The coalition Government are rightly selling elected commissioners on the basis that there will be one strong person with whom the population can identify, and that people will know who to contact and who is responsible. If their power is delegated to someone else, I believe that link will be broken.
I wish to mention one further issue in the short time that I have left, which is the absorption of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre into the national crime agency. I am sure that the Minister is aware that CEOP has concerns, particularly about its ability to continue to work in a wide partnership with a host of organisations, such as social services. Those organisations may find it difficult to continue the partnership process if CEOP is absorbed within the NCA completely. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance that the situation will be manageable within the NCA and that the strong links and positive partnership that exist will not be damaged.
I am pleased to have had a chance to speak in today's debate. I welcome what the Government have set out in "Policing in the 21st century" on where policing will go in the next few years, but there are still some concerns about elected police commissioners. I hope that the coalition Government will address those concerns to ensure that commissioners are representative of their communities and deliver an agenda that the entire local community will support.
It is always a pleasure to follow Tom Brake, who for a long time was a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I congratulate him on his recent appointment as the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs.
It would be unfair to talk about the Government's record on crime and policing, as they have been in office for only 16 weeks. Quite rightly, therefore, the debate so far has been focused on their reform programme. It is an ambitious programme-I know it, and so do members of my Committee, some of whom are in their places, such as Mr Burley and my hon. Friend Steve McCabe. At every single meeting of the Committee so far, there has been discussion about how on earth we will respond to the Government's crowded agenda on crime, policing and other Home Office issues.
I should like to begin by welcoming some very important policies that the Government have initiated, because they are all recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee of the previous Parliament. The establishment of the National Security Council, the work on alcohol related crime, the announcement today of the extradition law review, even though we have not yet had a decision on Gary McKinnon, what the Government are suggesting on reducing bureaucracy, the decision to implement the law on wheel-clamping, which the Committee has been on about for the past five years, and the proposals on a fast-track means of banning legal highs are all welcome moves by the Government because, of course, the Committee recommended them in the previous Parliament.
My concern is that the good intentions will be put at risk by the comprehensive spending review. The Government will have serious problems with police numbers. I accept that the law and order and policing debate should not be around numbers, although every Member of Parliament has always told their constituents that they want to see more bobbies on the beat. In exchanges with me and others, the Police Minister has said-indeed, he told the Committee this-that he does not believe that there will be a reduction in front-line policing as a result of proposals in the CSR, but I do not believe that that is possible.
On Monday, at the invitation of another member of the Committee, Mark Reckless, I went to Medway, where I spoke to the chief constable about his statement last Friday, in which he said that if the Government's proposals to cut expenditure by 20% go through, he will see a reduction of £35 million in his budget, which would mean the loss of 1,500 police officers. That is a huge number for a county such as Kent. Therefore, although the Minister feels that he cannot be specific on numbers and the effect that the CSR will have on local police forces, the fact is that it will impact on each and every Member of the House. Will he seek at the earliest opportunity to give an indication to local police forces of how much the cuts will be, because at the moment, an enormous amount of senior police officers' time is spent trying to guess what the percentage will be? The earlier they get a response from the Government, the better. Even a broad indication of the proposals would be extremely helpful to them.
I listened to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, who is absolutely right that the reduction of bureaucracy and the saving of money is a crucial part of our view of policing, but the previous Government started us along that route. Perhaps they did so later than anticipated, but as the Minister may find out, Ministers cannot do everything immediately-things take time. The previous Government initiated the Flanagan review, and Jan Berry was appointed by Jacqui Smith, the previous Home Secretary, who has done some valuable work on the reduction of bureaucracy. We all have an interest in ensuring that police officers are back on the beat and that they provide front-line services rather than waste their time on unnecessary bureaucracy. That is why the Government should give a commitment to keep Jan Berry in post after she delivers her final report in July. It is important that someone who knows about policing acts as an external force, because such a person can deal with the vested interests that try to prevent real change.
However, the Government should also give special attention to good practice. When I was in Kent on Monday, I saw that the local police were doing some excellent work on the reduction of street prostitution and on offender management. When I went to the constituency of my hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson, I saw effective engagement by the police with local people-the essence of community policing is the ability to engage with local people. It is important that such good practice is shared as quickly as possible.
I remember a visit to Burton I made a year ago with the then MP for the area. Staffordshire police had done good work in reducing paperwork from 24 sheets of paper to one, but that good practice has still not been rolled out by the Home Office to other areas of the country, and that would save a great deal of time.
I shall not go into the issue of procurement now, but I am sure that the Minister knows what I mean. Kent police have bought Skodas, but the next-door forces in Sussex and Surrey have bought different makes of car. We cannot have 43 police authorities all buying different vehicles. Procurement is vital. Indeed, it is a no-brainer and I do not know why it has not been done in the last 20 years, let alone the last 13. Successive Governments have failed to get the procurement policies right, but it is time to break down the vested interests and give some clear direction.
The big change will be in the landscape of policing, including in effect the abolition of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency, and the creation of the national crime agency. This is a great opportunity to change the landscape of policing. For the first time, one can achieve policing on a national level with specialist interests. This is an opportunity for the Government to pause and hear the advice of stakeholders before they rush in and create a new organisation. The danger in abolishing existing organisations-which have budgets of £470 million and £430 million, almost £900 million-without thinking carefully is ending up with the problem that the NHS has of almost constant reorganisation. I ask the Minister to pause and ensure that he thinks very carefully before coming to his final conclusions.
Because the Government's agenda is so large, the Select Committee has decided to put together the proposals in a major stakeholder meeting to be held in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase. I hope that the Minister will accept the invitation to attend that meeting, because we seek to bring together the 43 chief constables and other stakeholders to discuss all the issues that are before Parliament and the public. So everybody will have the opportunity to have their say and consult the stakeholders carefully before the Select Committee embarks on the four policing reports that we will undertake. We have decided not to have one big policing report, because that would take too long and we want to keep up with the Government's suggestions.
We need to engage with local communities and stakeholders, and actually ask local people what they want. Politicians can discuss structures until the cows come home, but the issue comes down to the ability of the public to pick up a telephone and call a police officer if a crime has been committed or to see a police officer on the beat. That is what policing is all about, and if the Government engage with Parliament and we do this- as far as possible-on the basis of consensus, we can make a lasting change to our policing structure.
It is always a pleasure to follow Keith Vaz who spoke with his customary expertise and erudition.
This afternoon I feel as if I have stumbled upon the Alan Johnson shadow cabinet hustings speech. It is a shame that the shadow Home Secretary is no longer in his place, but he was performing for a very small audience-the parliamentary Labour party-which will vote in the forthcoming shadow cabinet elections. As Tom Brake said, the right hon. Gentleman demonstrated a degree of selective amnesia. On this side of the House, we will continue to make the point that the reason we have to make any fiscal reductions is the calamitous fiscal situation bequeathed to us by the Labour Government-£157,000 million of public sector debt.
What marks out the contributions from Opposition Members is an opportunistic and, frankly, intellectually dishonest approach. I specifically challenged the right hon. Gentleman about his comments on
The hon. Gentleman is very kind about my constituency. It is true that Labour set out cuts, but since then the coalition has decided to make a further £30 billion of cuts. Those cuts are not economically necessary, but ideologically driven. That is why we have a problem today.
The key point that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, must concede is this: if we are to de facto ring-fence the police budget, it is incumbent on the Labour party to say where the cuts would occur in other areas of Government activity. Would it be social services, transport, health, education or defence? We are not receiving those answers from Her Majesty's Opposition.
The Opposition's collective amnesia, articulated by the shadow Home Secretary, is interesting. He had a bit of a mea culpa moment over the Licensing Act 2003, of which I shall say more later, and which was also a catastrophe. It has created a calamitous situation, and now huge amounts of public resources have to be spent on the consequences of an ill-thought-out piece of legislation that demonstrably increased antisocial behaviour and impacted across public services, as the shadow Home Secretary would concede.
We heard nothing about the botched mergers forced on police authorities in 2006, which led indirectly to the demise of Charles Clarke, the former right hon. Member for Norwich South. We heard no apology for that policy, which took up a lot of time and destabilised local police authorities and forces without any-let us remember this-proper, meaningful consultation with local people, elected councillors or others. So the shadow Home Secretary is gilding the lily by attacking the Government for having the temerity to put forward proposals, with checks and balances, for directly elected officials, who will be responsible for policing and crime in their local areas.
There is also selective amnesia in quoting the Audit Commission. Its most recent publication, "Sustaining Value for Money in the Police Service", stated that
"the scrutiny and challenge of spending has so far been poor. Public debate and political interest has focused more on increasing police officer numbers, with a simple equation that more is better".
On that subject, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Burley on his wise words on the balance between inputs and outputs in policing and crime reduction. The Audit Commission also made a damning indictment of the previous Government's paradigm of always spending more of taxpayers' money without looking at the results:
"there is no evidence that high spending is delivering improved productivity".
It would be unkind and churlish to say that everything that the previous Labour Government did was wrong. There was consensus on many areas-my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary touched on that. Of course, we support the proposal enunciated in the December 2009 White Paper, "Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed", on minimum service standards, gang injunctions, protecting witnesses and communities from intimidation and focusing much more on the victims of antisocial behaviour. Who could disagree with that? But that was after 13 years of judicial activism, legislative activism, more quangos, more reports and a failure to free up police so that they can deliver what they need to deliver.
Would the hon. Gentleman kindly accept that between 1997 and 2010, crime fell by 43%? The coalition Government's measures put that at risk and buck that trend. The chief constable in my area is concerned about the measures about to be taken by this coalition Government-is the hon. Gentleman?
There is not a scrap of empirical or academic evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's views at the moment, although there might be in 18 months. If one asks chief constables, "Are you desperate to spend less money in your police force?" surprise, surprise, they will probably say no. It is a matter of regret that some chief constables are engaging in a political debate, when they should be thinking in more innovative ways about delivering more for the people whom they serve and not debating issues and speculating about hypotheses that are unproven.
If Labour Members were as fair-minded as I have been today- [ Interruption ]-I see the wry smile on the face of Mr Hanson; we seem to cross swords in police debates fairly regularly-they would admit that they had supported many aspects in our radical reform of policing. There will probably be mergers of small police forces based on local agreement, which the Labour party has supported, although it went about it the wrong way. However, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier, we cannot continue with a situation where it takes 11 and a half hours to process an arrest, and where 11 to 14% of the police are on the beat, as compared with the 22% who are processing paperwork in the police station. We have to think about the overhaul of health and safety and its impact on the working conditions and operations of police forces, and about the terms and conditions of police officer enforcement. We have to be more transparent in the way that we involve people.
I pay tribute to the sincerity of Siobhain McDonagh, who is obviously greatly involved in her local community. However, closing the circle or completing the equation, as it were, will also mean having transparency and openness in crime data, and particularly crime figures in local areas, because whether we like it or not, people often do not believe Government crime figures. In answer to Alan Johnson, the British crime survey can be criticised. It is not perfect and, in particular, it overlooks the impact of crime on young people.
We will make a commitment with our directly elected police commissioners, and there will be checks and balances in place, which is important-these are not going to "Rambo" figures. Incidentally, as the right hon. Member for Delyn knows, in my maiden speech, on
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary touched on the impact of the Licensing Act 2003-1 million alcohol-related crimes in 2009-10; 47% of all violent crimes fuelled by alcohol; 6.6 million alcohol-related attendances at hospital accident and emergency; 1.2 million ambulance call-outs as a direct result of alcohol, costing £372 million; and an entire indicative cost of £8 billion to £30 billion. We all see the problem every day in our constituencies. Just this week, a senior judge in Peterborough referred to the carnage in Peterborough city centre caused by alcohol-related violence as the reason why decent, law-abiding people and families did not want to come into the city centre. The problem is not wholly the fault of the previous Government, but they did not tackle the issue as effectively and robustly as they could have done.
Let me finish by supporting the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase and others on resources. We can deliver a better service by sharing resources, leasing premises, and using specialist support services such as management, payroll and human resources services. There is consensus on that. We also have to tackle overtime, but not with the platitudinous undertakings that the previous Government gave. As in so many other areas, we need to take tough decisions as a result of the previous Government's legacy.
Unless the Labour party moves on from the paradigm in which more tax, more spending, more quangos and fleecing the taxpayer can provide a better service, it will not deserve to be re-elected to government or to serve the people of this country. We have a responsibility now, and it falls to the coalition Government to tackle the endemic issues in the police service, so that our constituents can be protected at a cost that they can afford.
I want to concentrate on those constituencies that have suffered from high crime rates over different periods of time. Those high crime rates not only affect the constituents in those areas but have big implications for the rest of the country. Without doubt, my constituency has been one such area. It is good to see in her place the Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, who also represents the borough of Haringey. She will be familiar with these issues.
Tottenham has a history of riots, and there has been deep concern recently about knife and gun crime. We have recently had some big debates about security, and many hon. Members will be familiar with the significant problems at the Finsbury Park mosque, which is on the edge of my constituency, four or five years ago. Because of the nature of multi-cultural Tottenham, the most significant criminal justice issue in the lead-up to the election of the Labour Government in 1997 was the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
I have come to the conclusion that crime largely comes from one thing and one thing alone: poverty. I am talking about poverty of ambition and aspiration; poverty relating to education; poverty of employment; poverty where communities break down; and, sometimes, poverty relating to parenting. The nature of today's debate is hugely significant for people outside this place, and the resources allocated to deal with the problems, not just within the Home Office but across government, will be hugely significant over the next few years.
I am very proud that, when we look back over the past 10 years, we can see the huge progress that has been made, despite the challenges, in my constituency and in similar constituencies across the country. Many people in constituencies such as Tottenham were acutely concerned-even suspicious, frankly-of the Metropolitan police in previous decades, but they now say that, although their experience of policing is not perfect, they have moved from seeing a police force to seeing a police service.
At the forefront of that police service has been neighbourhood policing and the police community support officers. My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh is absolutely right to say that neighbourhood policing has made a huge difference to people's confidence in reporting crime and their ability to relate to police officers, and to our attempts to get officers on to the beat.
Alongside that sense of having a police service must be the presence of the police in the community, and that is why we have all welcomed the extra police numbers. They have been particularly manifest in the London borough of Haringey. The borough had suffered historically because it was an outer-London borough, and inner-London boroughs always had more police officers than we did. Under successive Mayors and Labour Home Secretaries, however, the outer-London boroughs benefited from more police officers. We should be very concerned indeed-and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green should also be very concerned-that the Mayor proposes to cut police numbers in London by 455 over the forthcoming period. What effect will that have on the significant issues that exist in a constituency such as mine?
When we relate this problem to the poverty of aspiration and ambition and to the issue of how we lift communities up, we must also recognise the huge amount of work done by communities, particularly on knife and gun crime. I am thinking of someone like Nims Obunge, chair of the Peace Alliance, which started in the London borough of Haringey and grew to affect much of London and now has influence in different inner-city areas across the country. It is an alliance of civil society, with people coming together to stand up and say no to violent crime-and it is having an effect. I know it is having an effect because the figures are clear. Gun crime was down by 28% in my constituency last year and knife crime down by just under 20%.
That shows the sort of effect it can have when local people take ownership and work alongside the police. What will happen to the funding for projects like that and others such as the "Value Life" project, led by young people in my constituency at the Gladesmore school? They rely on funding, which will be needed for the years ahead if the level of cuts weighed up and suggested by the Home Office come about. What will happen to the statutory services that all local authorities will have to review in this period?
We know what sort of budgets will get cut. I am particularly worried about the funding available to young people beyond school. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Hazel Blears for the work she did when she was responsible for policing. The provision of positive activities for young people, particularly during the summer period, is important, so the money we put in to support young people and ensure that they have things to do is crucial. What will happen to those funds over the coming period?
Some really significant issues of security are at stake. We should think back to those images of the Finsbury Park mosque four or five years ago. What is going to happen to the Prevent fund and to all the work that has gone into turning a mosque like that around and to support the young people and communities within it? What will it all mean for the crime statistics and for ordinary people in this country?
The Government are taking a backward step. The decision to cut the state is ideological and it will have huge consequences. The decision-failing to ensure that Home Office front-line services are protected in difficult economic times-is the wrong one, and we will all suffer as a consequence of it.
No, I will not.
I ask the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to think very carefully over the coming months about these issues, which are critical for constituencies like mine. Such constituencies rely on Home Office funding. They rely on supporting, not cutting, police numbers. They rely on community policing, not the diminution of such policing. They rely particularly on supporting young people who, in the absence of proper and effective community policing, are vulnerable to being seduced by various threats.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on a subject that is so close to my heart, as I served for eight years in the Lothian and Borders police. I am happy to follow Mr Lammy, who spoke with so much passion, and I agree with much of what he said. Neighbourhood policing is an aim that we share; we differ only in the way in which we seek to deliver it.
When I first expressed an interest in joining the police 25 years ago, the general reaction was "Well, you've got the height for it", as if being tall were the defining characteristic of a good police officer. Other stereotypes also do nothing to help the debate on policing. Dixon never actually policed Dock Green, and Sam Tyler did not actually go back to 1970s Manchester. [Hon. Members: "Really?"] No, he really did not.
In fact, every day police officers not only deal with crime, but fulfil the role of part-time social workers, youth workers, marriage guidance counsellors, tourist information officers, crime prevention officers, licensing officers and, yes, dog-catchers, a role that has become tragically relevant in recent weeks. All those roles are important to the general public, as they are performed by those whom the public would describe as "beat bobbies". Survey after survey shows that many people's top priority is to see more bobbies on the beat, but where is the evidence to show that that is effective? Scotland's police numbers per capita are roughly average, but it unfortunately suffers from a higher-than-average level of crime. The simplistic argument has been that if crime numbers are to be reduced, the number of police must be increased, as if a direct proportionality existed-a point ably made by my hon. Friend Mr Burley.
It was a policy with which I did not necessarily always agree. I have argued long and hard-Members will not find my words in Hansard, but they will find them in other places-against the use of the term "bobbies on the beat" as a catch-all silver bullet that would solve every crime-related problem, because it simply will not. The problem is far more than that, as I shall explain shortly.
That simplistic argument confuses the presence of police with what should be our real aim: the absence of crime. Labour Members have argued today that a decrease in police numbers will inevitably and necessarily mean an increase in crime, but that simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Belgium has more police officers per capita than Scotland but has a higher crime rate, while Switzerland has fewer police officers but a lower crime rate. The three European countries with the lowest number of police per capita are Sweden, Norway and Finland, which could hardly be described as crime-ridden countries. According to figures published today in The Scotsman, the detection rate has not moved by a single percentage point in the last year despite the presence of a record number of police officers. Instead of focusing on the number of officers, we should pay more attention to how those officers are used and deployed, and how their priorities are set and monitored.
When I left the police 13 years ago, there was much talk of cutting bureaucracy, freeing up police officers' time, and using technology to enable more efficient working. Thirteen years on, however, the HMIC report that has been quoted so extensively today states that the "visibly available" police level is still, on average, only 11%-although in some forces it has fallen as low as 6%-and that as little as 13% of the time of those who are available is spent patrolling. The report also states that those police officers are still tied down by mountains of paperwork and central directives. In 2009 alone, 2,600 pages of official guidance on aspects of police work were issued, at an estimated policing cost of £2.2 billion per year. Moreover, the report states that the police are involved in dealing with any one crime on an incredible 40 occasions, from point of arrest to conviction. That does not sound like progress or efficiency to me. This then is the opportunity: not the simplistic position of some Opposition Members that if there is a problem we throw more money at it, but that we find a better, more efficient model for deploying existing resources. The involvement of local people in setting local priorities and helping to achieve them is key to this change.
I will save my views on the specific issue of police commissioners for another debate, but I believe that the direction of travel is the right one. Indeed, many police services are already moving in this direction on their own. In my home force of Lothian and Borders individual police officers are assigned to areas mirroring council wards and a divisional superintendent sits alongside council departments in partnership to set priorities. We should contrast that with the official model of priority setting: the police board for Lothian and Borders covers five council areas and the chair of that board represents only a small section of one of those authorities. How can local priority-setting come from a model like that?
West Midlands police has reorganised itself along council boundaries, and Sussex police cars are marked as "Brighton and Hove", "Eastbourne" and "Lewes", but this is still piecemeal reform and it will not deliver the savings needed or the increased localism wanted in the years to come.
We need to have proper reform to create larger, more efficient, professional police forces. That must, of course, be done by local agreement, and there must also be the ability within these forces for day-to-day operational decisions to be devolved down to a much lower level and to be made accountable through stronger and more transparent ties with local elected officials. Big police services do not have to be distant from public opinion and priorities.
In Scotland, we are already beginning to think the unthinkable: we are considering having a national police service with 32 operational divisions matching local authority boundaries, where local priorities are set in association with locally elected officials. That would be a far more efficient model that could deliver significant savings and a locally focused service as well as allow a national joined-up response to areas such as serious organised crime and national security. I hope we in Scotland will go down that route, and perhaps it is time for other Members to consider such a system for England and Wales.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate addressing issues that affect every one of our communities, and it is a particular pleasure to follow Mike Crockart, who gave a thoughtful analysis, particularly in respect of big organisations not necessarily having to be remote and the possibility of their being underpinned by responsive local units, which is interesting in terms of policy development.
In common with many Opposition Members, I am disappointed and frustrated by the Government's decision not to protect the funds for front-line policing. It has frequently been said today that, if Labour had won the election, we would have had to make cuts, and that is absolutely right, but the shadow Home Secretary was very clear that the cuts in the Home Office would have come from changing overtime patterns and from looking at procurement and issues such as effectiveness, productivity and efficiency, and that they certainly would not have come from neighbourhood police teams, police community support officers and all the other things every one of our constituents values. This Government need to think long and hard before cutting the number of police officers and PCSOs, who are the backbone of our police service at local level.
I want to say a few words about the Home Secretary's recent speech at Coin street, in which she declared that it is time to move beyond the antisocial behaviour order. I understand that this Government are desperate to paint everything they have inherited from Labour as unfit for purpose, but I think that in respect of ASBOs they are putting politics before people. Over the last 13 years as Member of Parliament for Salford and as Police Minister and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I have seen at first hand the damage that antisocial behaviour can cause to communities, with gangs thinking that they rule their estates and are the rule of law, and with innocent and vulnerable families being intimidated and harassed. The whole quality of life of a community can be brought down by the actions of a few.
I well remember the days when the police would turn up and officers would simply say, "I'm really sorry, but there's nothing I can do. I haven't got the powers to be able to deal with these 'low-level, petty' crimes, so there's nothing I can do to help you and your family." That is exactly why we introduced ASBOs in the first place-so that they could be part of a range of tools to tackle what were becoming intolerable pressures on communities.
The Home Secretary has talked about antisocial behaviour orders being a top-down, centralised mechanism from Whitehall, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Home Office guidance actually says,
"It is for local agencies to decide on the most appropriate intervention for tackling antisocial behaviour based on...what will work best locally."
Local agencies do use ASBOs in very different ways: the approach is sometimes very different in inner-city areas, such as my constituency, from the approach taken in some rural areas up and down the country, and that is as it should be. Local agencies, including the local council and the probation service-all those people who work together-should be asking, "What is the problem? What range of tools do we have to deal with it? Where can they most appropriately be deployed?" In some cases, that will involve acceptable behaviour contracts, exclusion orders or parenting orders. We have introduced a good set of tools to tackle these problems, so to try to pretend that ASBOs are some kind of top-down, Whitehall-imposed mechanism is simply wrong.
In Greater Manchester, extensive use has been made of these powers and the result has been very impressive; we have brought safety and security to people who felt that they had been abandoned by the police in the past. In Salford, the level of antisocial behaviour has fallen year on year; since 2006, it has reduced by 22.6%, which is a massive shift. Crime and antisocial behaviour was the biggest issue facing my constituents, but in the past couple of years more people have moved into Salford than have left, reversing a trend of the past quarter of a century. One of the fundamental reasons why people are now moving to the city is that they feel safe and secure. It is a great place to live, and businesses and families are coming to it. Without the powers on tackling antisocial behaviour, we would not have reached that point.
Of course, I would be the last person to say that those powers are a silver bullet or the complete solution, because they are not and they have their flaws. The breach rate is pretty high, but that is going to be the case because ASBOs are often used on people who are out of control, people who are prolific offenders with hundreds of incidents behind them and, as the shadow Home Secretary said, people who have reached the severe end of punishment after many other approaches have been tried. Even so, more than 40% of ASBOs are not breached-the antisocial behaviour stops. Let us also look beyond the headline figures. When action is taken after a first breach, 65% of people stop their antisocial behaviour. The figure is 86% in respect of a second breach and, provided action is taken, after three breaches nearly 95% of people say, "Okay, enough is enough, we are going to start behaving reasonably." So we have to persevere and we have to give ASBOs a chance to work. In conjunction with the range of other programmes available, including family intervention projects, which have been one of the most innovative things that we have done, bringing all the services together to tackle the underlying problems of antisocial behaviour, ASBOs have meant that we have been pretty effective.
Protecting people so that they can live in peace and safety in their communities has to be the top priority of any Government, and the Home Secretary has to live up to that challenge. If her desire to re-examine the powers on tackling antisocial behaviour is about making things easier and simpler, and about stripping out the bureaucracy, sorting out the criminal justice system and making sure that we are not mired in all of that difficulty, she will have my support in doing that. If, however, it means that we are going to water ASBOs down, diluting them, making them more difficult to obtain and putting obstacles in the way of the police and local authorities, I will oppose that tooth and nail, because our responsibility is to protect the communities that we serve.
We have heard a lot today about the further regulation of CCTV. I am none the wiser as to what "further regulation" means, but I know that CCTV, in my city and up and down the country, has made a huge difference to protecting local people. Anna Soubry confirmed that she wanted less CCTV, whereas other Members have said that they do not want that. I am not sure what the coalition view is, but this is beginning to sound like a jigsaw of policies to me and I would welcome some clarity.
In March, an incident in Eccles was caught on CCTV. Six violent males with a huge history of prolific offending were involved in a stabbing, and the information was collected on CCTV. Two of the men were seen in possession of large kitchen knives, waving them around and going into a store. A stabbing took place and no complaint was made-the person who was stabbed did not want to co-operate with the police-and the only possible evidence was from the CCTV. As a result, a prosecution was brought. They were charged with section 18 wounding, violent disorder and possession of an offensive weapon. They were sentenced to two years in prison and received ASBOs on conviction that prevent them from associating in the future. None of that would have been possible without access to the information from the CCTV.
The right hon. Lady will know that I said that I want fewer CCTV cameras. That should be the aim of everybody in this Chamber, because people should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of crime and from actual crime. That should be our ultimate aim. She makes a big mistake if she thinks that CCTV is some great panacea. In my experience as a criminal barrister, in many cases involving CCTV evidence, I have had clients who have told me that they went down that alleyway to commit the offence because there was no CCTV. The danger of CCTV is that it pushes criminality down the alleyways into other places. The real solution is to tackle the causes of crime.
Well, I wish the hon. Lady the best of British luck when she goes to her constituents and says, "We'll do nothing for years and years; we must tackle the issue of the causes of crime." Of course we must, but if she wants to stand up in front of her voters and say that she wants to see less CCTV in her community, I wish her all the luck in the world in putting forward that argument-it certainly would not wash with my constituents in Salford.
The Government's policy on DNA is an absolute mistake. The shadow Home Secretary has gone through all the detailed evidence on that and the overriding factor for me is the fact that in Scotland the Scottish police want to change to the system that we were promoting. They see that it makes sense, that it is evidence-based and that it will result in the capture of more serious murderers and rapists. Some 10% of the 800 people who were caught through DNA would have escaped under the Government's proposed system and the prospect of having 80 murderers and rapists roaming the streets of this country who could have been brought to justice is one that I would find difficult to defend.
The list goes on. Not only will we have cuts to funding, but we will have cuts to police powers on antisocial behaviour, CCTV and DNA. I want to say some words about the most serious threat that faces our communities and about counter-terrorism. What happened on
We have talked about the cuts in police numbers. I understand that in Greater Manchester that would lead to something like 300 fewer police on our streets, which would have a huge impact in our city.
My final point is about coherence. When we were in government, we did not do everything perfectly. I am sure that we did not succeed in everything that we wanted to do. However, we had a strategy to tackle every level of crime in this country, from antisocial behaviour to crimes against the person, serious and organised crime and terrorism. I do not feel that under this Government we have any kind of coherent strategy in place at all. It is about cuts, about pandering to this lobby and about caving in to this bit of populism. I genuinely feel that, if we are to protect the people of this country and to meet the highest responsibility of Government, we need a proper strategy. We will have less money, fewer powers, less effectiveness, more crime and less safety for the people whom we represent.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate because before the general election earlier this year I gave my views in Great Yarmouth on the importance and benefits of a directly elected police commission. I appreciate the chance to speak about that today. I also want to touch on the fact that I agree with a point made by one of my hon. Friends earlier: it seems somewhat surreal, having sat through the opening speeches today, to have been part of what felt like a hustings for the shadow Cabinet.
We have listened to the way in which statistics are rolled out, which can be useful in looking at the history and in planning, but what I am interested in and what I like about the Government's policy at the moment is that it is considering how we move forward to deal with issues in the future. Policy needs to move forward with the times. It is important that we look forward and understand the situation that we are in, as some of my hon. Friends have eloquently pointed out. We have an economic inheritance that we have to deal with and, as has been acknowledged by Opposition Members and as my hon. Friends have said, even a Labour Government would have had to make substantial cuts. With the comprehensive spending review coming up, the Government are going to have to take tough decisions, but I hope that they will, as the Budget made clear, be fair and allow us to retain important front-line services.
In my time as a candidate and in my days as a relatively new Member of Parliament, I have found it enlightening to see and understand how the police work, particularly the police in Great Yarmouth. Many of us in Norfolk have long felt-I know that other Members have made this point before me-that because we are a rural community, because the county is not seen as being a high-crime area and because the police authority is small, our area has not had as much funding as it should have had. We have almost been left to our own devices and we feel left out in a way. However, we in Great Yarmouth are fortunate to have an excellent superintendent who has been considering out-of-the-box ideas about how to move forward and who has been working with the community to deal with and to prevent crime, helping to bring it down. That superintendent is still in place and is doing fantastic work.
When one looks at some of the work that is going on with community groups such as the Kickz project, which works with the police, local authorities, the local community and Norwich City football club, one sees that it is providing phenomenal opportunities to young people and is dealing with some of the antisocial behaviour. If my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has time in the near future, will he come to Great Yarmouth to see at first hand the phenomenal work that the Kickz project is doing, including very good work in really deprived areas? It is a very good example of how crime can be dealt with, of how the police are working with the community and of some of the things they can do. What interests me about releasing the police from some of the bureaucracy, red tape and tick-box culture that they have had is what a police team such as mine in Great Yarmouth will then be able to achieve, given what it has been doing already. I am excited about the opportunities and the benefits that will come when the team is really let loose to deliver.
When I did a night shift with police in Great Yarmouth, what really stuck in my mind was not just the plethora of paperwork that I had to sign and that they had to deal with on a daily basis for every little part of their job. One officer made a joke as an aside, but I understood his point, that there is even a form for them to fill in if they want to use the bathroom. The most important point that they made to me was about the time that they have to take away from being on the beat to deal with any single issue. The example they gave was that, if someone broke a window after a night out in Great Yarmouth, to arrest them and to deal with the paperwork and telephone calls could take two officers off the beat for up to seven hours. Let us strip away that kind of bureaucracy and let the police get on with doing their job more efficiently and effectively. I fully support keeping more officers visibly on the beat, doing their job and fighting crime, which is what they want to do, what they are trained to do and what they do so well for us, rather than filling in paperwork back at the office.
I was interested to hear an Opposition Member mention the changes that are coming to the Audit Commission, particularly after yesterday's exchanges. I must make a similar point to one that I made in the Chamber yesterday: losing that input from the Audit Commission can only be good news for the police, as it is for our local authorities, because they will be able to do more about servicing their residents and keeping the streets safe if they have to worry a little less about ticking a box for an appointed quango such as the Audit Commission.
Like other hon. Members who have made this point, I like the idea of police authorities moving over to having directly elected commissioners because of the transparency that will bring and the clear signal it will send about who is responsible. In the past few years, one thing that I have found that frustrates residents is not knowing who, across Government Departments, is responsible or accountable. One thing that we have suffered from more than anything in this country is the ability of the Government simply to move accountability away, through different layers of bureaucracy, red tape, agencies, quangos and different bodies. People feel that police authorities fall into that category because they generally do not know who the chairman of their police authority is.
I am fortunate that we have a good chairman, who will no doubt love the fact that I am talking in favour of police commissioners, given that we had a disagreement about that before the general election. That person is a councillor appointed by the county council, so he has political power behind him-the appointment is effectively political. It will be a real step forward, however, if we give local communities the direct ability to say who they want. If that person does a good job, they can then be brought back but, more importantly, people will know who is responsible and accountable, and there will be no hiding behind a Government quango, an appointed county council body or any other authority. In my experience, the police understand that that will not affect their day-to-day operational power to do their job. The proposal could therefore mean that there would be little practical change to their operational work compared with the situation under the police authority. The big advantage of the proposal will be clear and transparent accountability for the public, the importance of which we should never underestimate.
When the new licensing laws came in, I was excited about having the ability to start getting to grips with the pub culture in the area that I represented as a councillor, so I was hugely disappointed when we discovered that nothing could have been further from the truth and that it was almost impossible to curtail even the opening hours of some public houses. Changing the licensing laws will allow local authorities to do what most residents think that they can do: create policy and start to map out sensible ideas on controlling licensing hours and licensed premises in their areas. That can be only a good thing, which is why I fully support the Government's proposals.
We have a major hospital in Great Yarmouth, so I have seen the impact of alcohol-related crime in an accident and emergency department. Alcohol also has knock-on effects throughout the health service, as hon. Members have said, and it can result in costs to the community and the health service directly. If our new policies can address that problem, we will make huge economic savings and communities can move forward. We could also make progress on dealing with the teenage pregnancy problem in Great Yarmouth because that is something on which alcohol clearly has a huge impact.
I look at the situation from the point of view of what my residents want. I want them not only to be safe on their streets and in their homes, but to feel safe on their streets and in their homes. If they know who is responsible for decisions about local policing and see police officers working on the street to solve crimes, rather than dealing with bureaucracy and a tick-box culture, it will be a great step forward. From spending time with the police and seeing the extent to which their work is intelligence-based, I know that they are a huge asset to our community, so if our community is able to see more of them because they are doing less paperwork, that can only be for the better, which is why I fully support the Government's stance.
If local people in Islwyn and others throughout the country were to draw up a wish list, I am sure that a request for more police officers would be at the top of it. If police officers are seen on the beat, the public not only are seen to be protected, but feel protected.
It is an absolute duty of the Government to protect the public through investment in our police service and by building strong and secure communities in which the law-abiding majority are supported and the vulnerable protected. That is why I worry about the message that the Government send to the general public when they talk about cuts in police numbers. Cuts affect not only police numbers on the ground, but the organisations that have been set up to combat crime and antisocial behaviour.
In Islwyn, the Safer Caerphilly community safety partnership scheme works with local partners to reduce crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour, substance misuse and the fear of crime. I was worried when the Home Secretary said that we lived in a high-crime country because what message does that send to people who are fearful of crime? The big issue is not so much crime itself, but the fact that people are afraid of walking down the street and becoming a victim, however real or imagined the risk is.
Our partnership has improved local policing and community safety since it was set up five years ago. The scheme has been hugely successful, especially at reducing crime and antisocial behaviour. I have no doubt that such schemes were instrumental in the 43% reduction in crime between 1997 and 2010. I know that not everything was perfect under the Labour Government, but even the most sceptical or cynical person would say that that is an impressive record of which we should be proud.
The Safer Caerphilly community safety partnership faces an uncertain future because of fears about funding. Gwent police authority has made it clear to me that the planned cuts in police funding would significantly impede the police's ability to maintain the high standards for which they are renowned. Senior police officers in my constituency are adamant that if funding for the Safer Caerphilly community safety partnership scheme is pulled, the ability of local officers to keep a grip on criminal and antisocial activity and maintain community relations, which is so important, would be severely hampered.
Gwent police have already reduced their budget by 8% in the past 12 months through efficiency savings. Of their current budget, totalling some £120 million, staff costs account for 83%. Tinkering with cost outlays such as uniforms, patrol cars and everything else that goes with policing would not be enough to meet the Government's spending reduction targets. Inevitably, cuts would have to be made to police numbers. It is clear that a reduction in funding would make it operationally almost impossible for police authorities to maintain their current effectiveness in areas such as prevention of crime, civil disorder, terrorism and antisocial behaviour and the promotion of community cohesion. The question we must ask ourselves is: how will the budget deficit be tackled-surely not by risking the safety and, indeed, the lives of the law-abiding majority who play by the rules? Officers have also expressed to me their dismay at the Government's plans to scrap the policing pledge-a policy introduced in 2008 that is widely seen as having driven up standards, as well as accountability and public confidence in the police nationwide.
At the same time as the cuts, the Government are setting up a hugely expensive plan for the introduction of popularly elected police commissioners. Essentially, that will make a politician head of the police force, with the same mandate as we have. I am sure that they will follow policies that they think are popular, however short term they are and however damaging they may be. It seems nonsensical to me that, on Monday, the Government introduced a Bill that aims to reduce the number of politicians in this House, but they want to create more jobs for politicians. Police authorities around the country have condemned the proposal. Fortunately for all of us here, we live in a climate where there is little public appetite for more elections, but unless the policy is seriously thought out and Ministers put some meat on the bones of the policy this evening, we run the risk of seeing the election to key positions in public life of wholly unqualified maverick extremists whom we all know in our local areas.
Furthermore, elected police commissioners would require significant and costly staffing assistance. Such staffing is not provided for in the Government's plans. That is why I am asking for more detail. Perhaps I am being cynical, or perhaps that is an example of a lack of serious thought being given to the proposal. I am worried-the policy is truly radical, yet no information is coming down to us. It is important, not just for us as politicians, but for police authorities and superintendents, to know what elected police commissioners will do. In August, members of Gwent police authority told me that they had received no information-they do not know how the police commissioners will be established.
The Government have provided no evidence for why the reform is necessary, or why the current system is in need of change. None the less, they seem intent on carrying out a costly and untested reorganisation of policing in England and Wales. Bringing politics into day-to-day policing and law enforcement is nothing short of a dangerous move. It is my serious fear that the sensitive and emotive nature of criminal justice will, in many cases, lead to reactionary, short-term populism from a police commissioner who has his eye on his next election.
What the hon. Gentleman says is somewhat surprising to me. Surely, by his logic, any election could produce an extremist. I do not believe that the British people would vote in that way. The idea of having an elected commissioner is to ensure that there is a local person accountable to the local population that the police serve.
On the question of accountability, the point that I am driving at is that we will be electing a politician, and I envisage-indeed, I am sure-that only political parties will be able to fund a campaign for the post of police commissioner. I cannot see an ordinary person from the community having the money or the resources to become a police commissioner, so the measure will only introduce politics into policing.
That point brings me on to another, because we could see a situation in which certain groups spread fear about others for the simple purpose of electoral advantage. Young people might be demonised, as they are all the time in the press, and that has no place in modern society, so I urge the Government to look again at the proposal and give it some serious consideration.
I have tried to be brief, and in closing I must say that people want to feel safe. They want to know that, should they become a victim of crime, they can look to the police to protect them, so I say to the Government, do not risk the safety of the public by introducing such swingeing cuts.
I have spent a lot of time in my constituency since being elected three or four months ago, and during the recess I managed to meet and have a good discussion with two chief constables. Indeed, I am very lucky to have two very good chief constables residing in my constituency. We have some tough times ahead, as they know, but they struck me as two powerful individuals who know where they can make a difference in their forces.
We will have to make cuts of 20%, but the two chief constables struck me as business people who realise that times are bad. This is not the first time that we have been in this position, and those cuts have to be made. Some 85% of the police budget goes on people, so there will inevitably be a reduction in numbers, but just because there is going to be a reduction in police numbers and in recruitment, that does not necessarily mean that crime will go up. They went through in detail how they were planning and hoping to limit the effect on front-line policing.
I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's conversation, because I am sure that many Members have met their local chief constables. He mentioned that they would be able to limit the effect of the reductions that we will have to make, but did they explain what they would have to do? Will the hon. Gentleman touch on what they said they would no longer be able to do? I am interested to hear that they did at least admit that the cuts would affect the service that they are going to provide.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interruption. They went on to talk about backroom staff and how they can reduce significant labour costs among the back office, civilian staff whom the police employ. They also discussed putting back on to the beat those policemen who, for whatever reason, undertake back-office duties.
Unnecessary paperwork also keeps front-line police officers in the station, and the two chief constables talked about ways of reducing it, as the House has discussed over the past few hours, and ensuring that officers return to front-line services. I do not try to paint a pretty picture, however, because there are some difficult decisions to make. Those chief constables have to make them, but they are going to do their utmost to ensure that front-line services are not affected.
I come from a business background and have personal experience of trying to cut costs while adding value and ensuring that, at the front end, customers do not see the consequences of those cuts. The police are in a very good position to do something similar. Time will tell, but I hope that it bears out my belief that the situation is not gloomy as some people say it is. However, there are some difficult decisions to make.
Having spent some time with the two chief constables, I visited Runcorn police station, where a new inspector was in town. He told me that he was bringing a new broom out of the cupboard and going through the police station. He had managed to increase the clear-up rate in that area by 20% within a few short weeks. I asked him what sorts of things he did to enable him to achieve that, and he said that he had found that there was misinterpretation of correct procedures and of who are the best people to clear up the casework. I was struck by the fact that there are examples of best practice that can be shared between divisions and, indeed, police forces. Many police forces do not communicate with one another. If cases of best practice were communicated between one constabulary and another, efficiency savings could be made.
A lot of it can be down to leadership and management. A sergeant in Runcorn who had been in the Cheshire constabulary for 25 years told me that he had spent most of his career arresting members of the same family. I found it quite disturbing that one could spend a 25-year career arresting the grandfathers and fathers of the same family. I cannot help feeling that we do not go to the core of the problem of continuous crime. Antisocial behaviour orders have a lot of merit. However, unless we get into to see the families who have blighted the community of Hazel Blears, and so many communities in my constituency, and stop them repeating these crimes, it goes and on and on, with three generations of the same family being unemployed, facing social deprivation, and causing unnecessary and disproportionate problems within their communities. If we could get into these families, one by one, their communities would not have these problems.
Of course we must keep our eye on the public sector deficit, but I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in celebrating the fact that the Gloucestershire constabulary will end up with more policemen out and about as a result of reforms driven by the recent expenditure announcements. That is good news for the good people of Stroud, Dursley, Cam and elsewhere. There are more policemen out and about compared with last year, which is great news.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's contribution.
If we keep on arresting and dealing with the same families within the same communities, we will keep on going round in circles and having these conversations time and again in years to come.
I pay tribute to some of the good work that was done by right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches during their time in government, with measures such as Sure Start, which gets into families at a very early stage to try to give them the best start in life, so that as the children grow older they should become responsible citizens. In my experience as a police officer, and when speaking to the police officers in the Cheshire constabulary, I have found that too many young people go off the rails too soon. That is why I would like some of the good work of Sure Start to be followed up. Other agencies, working with the police, need to get involved in getting individuals off drug and alcohol abuse. Jobcentre Plus should get involved with these people to try to get them making a proactive and genuine contribution to the communities that they have blighted. I appreciate that this is a long-term thing that was started by the previous Government during the past 13 years, but an awful lot of work still needs to be done in certain communities in my constituency. In my experience as a police constable, I have worked in these communities.
I will be supporting the amendment, because something has to change. Directly elected commissioners may or may not be a good idea that may or may not work. I have seen that the Cheshire constabulary are doing a good job, but I believe they could do better, and I would like directly elected commissioners to be given at least a fighting chance.
I open by saying that I agreed with much of the contribution of Graham Evans. It is interesting that both he and Brandon Lewis talked about good practice being carried out by police officers in their communities. On that basis, it is clear that the Labour Government have not totally prevented good practice over the past 13 years.
As my right hon. Friend Hazel Blears and other colleagues have said, we would never say that everything is perfect. There will never be a perfect way to tackle crime, as my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman said. However, when it comes to challenging crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities, the cup is half full, if not even more. There has been a change in attitudes towards law and order over a number of years.
I welcome the examples of best practice that have been given, and they have occurred partly because of the direction that the Labour Government provided. We were more focused on community policing and on the police working with other organisations, whether they are local authorities or, as the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth said, football clubs. In making important changes, we recognised that tackling crime and disorder in our communities could not be the preserve of police officers alone.
As a former Home Office Minister, I feel frustrated about the challenge of making best practice more mainstream. I was interested when I listened to my hon. Friend Chris Evans, because as a Home Office Minister back in 2003 I visited Wales. That was some years ago now, but I saw there examples of the type of community and neighbourhood policing that we have thankfully seen in England in recent years. There was an attitude and approach in parts of Wales that was not being picked up elsewhere at the time. Although I have the greatest regard for many people from the Association of Chief Police Officers whom I have met over the years, I believe that it has failed as an organisation to see best practice and say, "This is what we should have more of".
I link that point to one about accountability. I would not like Government Members to characterise Labour Members who are passionate about tackling crime in our communities as being anti-accountability, or as believing that the current structure of police authorities is perfect. I have said in previous contributions that I am not a cheerleader for the idea that everything is absolutely great.
If we are to talk about the big society, we need to consider how we can give our communities information about best practice so that they have the power to demand more of it. A bogus argument is sometimes made that communities are somehow so different from each other that nothing can be learned. I do not believe that, and I do not believe in reinventing the wheel. Communities should look to other areas to see what has worked and what has not. Yes, they should make the service bespoke for their area if they need to, but for goodness' sake, they should seize best practice with both hands. If they want to rebrand it, they can get on with doing so, but they should not be so paternalistic and parochial about their own patch that they cannot see the wood for the trees.
I hope that in our discussions in the months ahead about the accountability of the proposed elected commissioners, we will think beyond simply what such a commissioner can do and consider how to ensure that there is accountability, because chief constables also have to be held to account. I attended a lunch a few months ago, before the recess, at which Sir Paul Stephenson spoke. What he said about a number of issues was interesting, and I was intrigued by what he was prepared to admit. When it comes to bureaucracy-I put my hand up and admit that those in government can always do more about it-he said that too often, he had seen his colleagues at the most senior level add layers of bureaucracy over and above what the Government were asking.
The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth, who has now left the Chamber, talked about officers having to fill out a form to use the bathroom, but I can say with pretty much 100% certainty that that was not a diktat from central Government, even if it somehow emerged in his police force. Although we must consider Government bureaucracy, we must also examine ways in which the forces themselves create bureaucracy. That is clear in procurement, with forces being parochial about having their own design of car or uniform that is different from those elsewhere. I wish the coalition Government the best of luck in dealing with that, because it is not easy. There are incredibly strong vested interests in all areas of public policy, including crime and law and order.
I might be out of sync with my Opposition Front Benchers on this, but whatever went wrong, it was a shame that the previous Government did not get to a better place on creating larger police forces. I absolutely agree with Mike Crockart, who talked about a larger force for Scotland while at the same time having local units based on local authority boundaries. I sign up to that. In the last policing debate in which I spoke, I said that people in Doncaster are more interested in what Bob Sanderson is doing-he runs our local police-than in what the chief constable is up to down in Sheffield. The local police force is what counts.
On accountability and neighbourhood policing, I am pleased to report from my experience in Doncaster that although the monthly meetings between the police and members of the community-councillors are also often involved-on how neighbourhood policing teams can best focus on what people are most concerned about had a bit of a rocky start, I am now getting feedback from the police, the public, councillors and those working for local authorities that they are starting to gel and to work. Those meetings are an important part of local accountability, and they are important in ensuring that the police and agencies who work with them understand local policing concerns.
We have heard much discussion of police officers. Departments and outside agencies will face cuts not of 20%, but of anything between 25 and 40% cuts, and we know that 70% of the police budget is spent on paying officers' wages, so it is impossible that there will not be substantial cuts in police numbers, which I am very concerned about. The Government's solution-or part of it-is that we should recruit 50,000 additional special constables. I do not know where that figure comes from, but there are currently 15,000 special constables, so expecting an additional 50,000 volunteers is ambitious. The Government also expect those unpaid, part-time volunteers to replace full-time, professional police officers. I worry about that. Special constables make a great contribution, but they are not a substitute. For one thing, they have only to work for a minimum of 16 hours a month, but for another, they must fit their police hours around paid employment and family life. They cannot be required to turn up for work at particular times or on particular days as part of an organised strategy to bear down on the different sorts of crimes that are committed in our neighbourhoods. The truth is that chief constables cannot plan their forces around volunteers.
Although this is a Home Office debate, we need to touch on penal policy, responsibility for which has been split off to the Ministry of Justice, because punishing crime is an important part of effective policing and dealing with crime in our communities. It is a complicated matter. Prison has many functions, of which rehabilitation is one, but that has not always been carried out as effectively as it ought to have been. However, prison also protects the public from serial and dangerous offenders. We have only to ask police officers to find out about the respite that a community can get if, say, a serial burglar who has committed 40 crimes in a few months is put in prison after everything else has been tried.
We should have an informed debate on policing-it is too important for a back-and-forth debate. I believe that we last had a commission look at the role of the police in 1962, so perhaps it is time to think about another commission. The debate is about more than the deficit; it is about creating a 21st century police force.
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Flint and if I may return a compliment that she was good enough to pay to me before the recess, I hope that it is not too long before she makes the journey down from where she sits today on to the Front Bench. It would be stupid for me to stand here as a criminal barrister of 16 years standing and say that nothing was achieved by the last Administration in 13 years. Many of the things that were done were different, new and effective. But between the two sides of the House, there are some fundamental differences of approach that stem from a difference in the philosophies that drive us to our political parties.
Those differences were exemplified for me by the speech by Mr Lammy. He said, with some pride, that under the last Government we had established a police service as opposed to a police force. I could not disagree more with that policy and all that was done to achieve it. It has been hugely harmful not only to the police, but to our society, that we now have police officers who are confused about their role. They should be a police force-a presence on our streets-and not part of social services. In some instances, yes, some officers work beautifully and properly with, for example, youth offending teams, and add something to the process. However, as any parent knows, what stops children from doing something that they should not do is not the fear of what might happen to them if they are caught out, but the fear of being caught out. If people do not think that they will ever be caught, they will carry on doing what they should not do. That is why I want to see some fundamental changes in our police force.
I want the police force to be a police force and a presence. They are public servants, paid for by the public and accountable to the public, but I want them to be on the streets making their presence and their force known.
I respect the manner in which the hon. Lady makes her remarks, but will she acknowledge that my remarks were particular to certain communities and incidents? She will be well aware of the various inquiries and reports that established that the black community in particular was some way from experiencing a police service.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and, in due course, I will touch on my hopes for a much improved police force.
As a criminal barrister, I could speak forever about this subject, but the clock is against me. I am pleased that one of the first things that the coalition did, to enable our police officers to get on and do the job that they want to do, was to allow our custody sergeants to charge some minor offences. I would like custody sergeants to revert to having the decision about charge on all matters, working in co-operation with the Crown Prosecution Service. They should take the responsibility that they always used to have for the charges that the accused should face. Changes can always be made as more evidence is gathered and leading counsel and other counsel can also play their part.
We all want to see less form filling and bureaucracy. Opposition Members have to accept that for ordinary police officers-whom many of us have dealt with on almost a daily basis in our working lives-that is a true and real frustration. It holds them back from doing the job that they want to do. We have to restore and build confidence, not just in some of the communities to which the right hon. Member for Tottenham referred, but across Britain. We have to restore the confidence of the public in our police. How many times have Members gone along to a residents' meeting, or knocked on a door while canvassing, and someone says, "You know what, there's a real problem with kids hanging around outside the Co-op."? It is called antisocial behaviour, but it is actually often low-level criminality. One hears that complaint and asks, "Well, have you rung up and complained about it?", but then one hears the riposte, "Well, what's the point? The police never come out, and if they do come out, they won't do anything about it, and if they do do anything about, it won't get to court." And so it goes on. We have to break that cycle, and that sort of work has to start now. By reducing the form-filling and bureaucracy, we will begin at least to make our police more efficient. However, we have to stop this idea that there is no point in contacting our police because they do not have the time or will to do the job.
When it comes to the police and what they give back, I want to see some big changes in how they think and operate. When police officers commit offences, whether like the assault on Ian Tomlinson that lead to his death or like the case in which a police officer recently received a custodial sentence of six months, I want police officers prosecuted fairly, vigorously and swiftly, just like anybody else. There should be no bounds, and the police must be prosecuted properly.
I also want police officers to be prosecuted when they give perjured evidence in court- [Interruption.] I see hon. Members nodding. I know of the work of Karl Turner. Like many in the criminal justice system, we have sat in court and heard officers on oath tell lies. That has happened, and we know of it. We also know that they have never been brought to book. That has to change. There is a duty on the Crown Prosecution Service, judges, counsels and solicitors to make those complaints and for them to be taken up, if we are to restore confidence in our police service.
When police officers fail to do their job-I suspect there might be a few more nods of agreement from hon. Members-when they fail to disclose material, as they are statutorily obliged to do, when they fail to seize the CCTV or, if they have seized it, to view it rather than destroy it, or when they fail to disclose it to the defence or put it on to the schedule of material to be disclosed to the defence, those are important matters that should not be left to rest, but must be taken up by the police and acted on in order to restore confidence in our police.
I do not want to sound overly critical of the police, because I have real sympathy for many police officers. In my previous work, I dealt with them on almost a daily basis.
New police officers have a two-year probation period, during which they have to prove themselves to be hard-working, conscientious individuals, and if they get things wrong or do not work hard enough, they can be asked or forced to leave the force. However, after that two-year probation, it is very difficult to remove police constables from the police force, so some police officers can-how shall I put this?-work less hard than others. Does my hon. Friend have a view on that?
Absolutely. That concerns me. I had a case in my constituency involving somebody whom I thought had been wrongly removed from the police force. He quite rightly said to me, indeed, I knew from my own experience, that many officers had done far worse than him- in my opinion and, more importantly, the opinion of others-but had retained their jobs.
I am concerned about the training of police officers. Why are all police officers not at least taught keyboard skills? Those of us involved in the criminal justice system know that it still takes two police officers to take a section 9 statement. In this day and age, that is bonkers. There must be a better way. Think of how many police hours would be spent back on the streets or doing other work, if it did not take two police officers, in most instances, to take a written statement. There must be better ways of doing that.
I am concerned that so many cases are no longer investigated by an officer of the right rank. I was involved in a prosecution case-unusually, because I did not prosecute much-involving a section 20, grievous bodily harm offence. The investigating officer was a police constable who had only come out of his training two years before. I have defended people accused of rape where the investigating officer was a detective constable. I know I sound the age I undoubtedly am, but in my day-many others would say this-a detective inspector always investigated the offence of rape. No disrespect to the many detective constables I know, but what happened in those cases was quite wrong. Rape is a serious offence and it requires a senior officer to investigate it. I am concerned that serious offences such as section 20s are no longer being investigated by properly trained detectives, but by the uniform branch, to use that term. I am far from convinced that things are being properly investigated; in other words, that justice is being done to everybody-victims and those accused.
Let me turn briefly to what underlies this debate, which is the cuts. It is disingenuous of Labour Members not to face up to the reality of their legacy and the situation that we have been left with. Even if they had won back in May, they know in their hearts that they, too, would be faced with a deficit and would have had to make the sort of decisions that the coalition is now making. That would mean chief constables being placed in a position, as they all are, of having to make serious and long-term cuts in their budgets. I have been to see my chief constable. She has spoken to me frankly and we have discussed the situation. I have no doubt that one of the consequences in my county will be a reduction in police stations. That does not please me, but a clever, thoughtful and resourceful chief constable will use this situation as an opportunity to say, "How can we improve the service that we give to people? How do we become a better police force in this county? In facing these cutbacks in our budget, we could actually be brave and radical in how we operate."
I know that the clock is against me, but I have to respond to what has been said about CCTV cameras and to bundle in something about ASBOs. I have no difficulty with the concept of ASBOs, but I support much of what my hon. Friend Mr Buckland said. They have been used effectively, like CCTV, as a sort of sticking plaster. Let me refer hon. Members briefly to a case that I have in Stapleford, a town in my constituency. We have a problem with antisocial behaviour, and there are those who, if I may say so, do not really think outside the box who say, "Put a CCTV camera up. It'll solve the problem." However, it will not, because the trees are overgrown, and even if there were a camera, it would not catch the street. However, the real point is that a CCTV camera will only move the problem on. The real solution, especially to so much youth offending, is to do what we have said we will do, which is look at the causes of crime and begin to tackle the social problems that have led to this increase in criminality.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady's thoughtful speech. She is right to say that there is a difference in analysis, but none the less, she brings her experience to bear and it was a pleasure to hear it. However, after listening to her speech and many of the other contributions that we have heard, I also felt that there was a bit missing. She says that she has spoken to her chief constable and she is in no doubt that there will be fewer police stations, but with the cuts that we are talking about, the reality is that we will have fewer police officers. Some 80% of the police budget goes on people. We will not save that money simply by shutting a few buildings down. When she says that an excellent chief constable will look at the current situation and create a better service with less money, she is indulging in a myth. It is really unfair to the people in our communities, who rely on the Government and the police to keep them safe, to continue to allow them to believe that the police will be able continually to achieve more with less.
When the hon. Lady says that Labour would have had to face the same choices, she is not quite telling the truth, because the Conservatives have chosen to double the speed with which the deficit is paid off. Now that they have made that decision, we will have extra cuts. The shadow Home Secretary made it absolutely clear that there would have been cuts; he listed some of them for the second time, for the benefit of the Home Secretary, who had missed them the first time round. He was quite specific about them.
We also put in our manifesto that front-line policing would be protected, and that is key. A Government's first duty must be to do all that they can to keep their citizens safe, and that is a duty that Labour understood well. It was demonstrated by the 17,000 extra police officers-compared with 1997-who are now patrolling Britain's streets, 350 or so of them in Derbyshire, and by the 16,000 police community support officers introduced by Labour. The PCSOs have moved from being scorned by the press to being greatly valued by the public, who can see the contribution that they are making. As the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice admitted yesterday, the Labour Government were the first in history to preside over a consistent reduction in crime.
In addition to fighting serious crime and tackling the new threats of more complicated terrorist networks, more sophisticated paedophile rings and increasingly complex international drug and crime cartels, the Labour Government also gave the police far more significant powers to reduce antisocial behaviour than ever before. It was interesting to hear the Home Secretary claim that one of the problems was that the police had too many different powers. She implied that they were like joiners with too many tools, standing by a wall unsure which hammer to use, and that the extra powers at their disposal were somehow slowing them down and preventing them from getting on with policing. That was a rather strange thing to say.
The antisocial behaviour powers gave the police the ability to deal in a different and more effective way with the low-level antisocial element that exists in every constituency in the country. The Home Secretary showed us a window into her mind earlier, when she said that there was an increased perception of antisocial behaviour in poorer communities. Was she suggesting that, in regard to antisocial behaviour, the only difference between a poor community and a wealthy one was that poor people felt as though they were suffering as a result of it, and that if the millionaires took the trouble to look out of their castles, they would see all the terrible things going on outside the castle walls? Her reference to the perception of antisocial behaviour was quite revealing about her mindset and her view of the job that she has come into.
Like me, the police I have spoken to were staggered by the Home Secretary's decision to abandon the antisocial behaviour order powers. They say that those powers have done much to help them to work with community groups, with tenants and residents associations, and with local councils to clean up the streets. It seems incredible that the Government should choose to strip the police of a power that is clearly working, at a time when all parties are concerned about reoffending rates. About 65% of recipients of an ASBO did not reoffend, and 93% desisted after their third one.
We have also heard a lot of talk about the effect on communities of antisocial behaviour orders. My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy spoke of the situation in his community. Chesterfield has a different environment, but our antisocial behaviour problems also lead on to low-level crime and, if those problems are not tackled at an early age, people can go on to become serial offenders who will be found guilty of much more serious crimes. I know that that is the experience of Members on both sides of the House. People have been driven out of their homes by vandalism to their car, for example. Every morning, when they come out to go to work, they do not know whether their tyres will have been let down or their wing mirrors smashed, or whether a big scratch will have appeared on the bonnet. Those might be considered lower-level crimes, but if they are not dealt with, the perpetrators will decide that they are above the law and one thing will lead to another and their crimes will become more and more serious.
We need real honesty in this debate about what we expect from the police. My right hon. Friend Caroline Flint made the important point that we now have an opportunity to reconsider the role of the police and decide what we want them to do. With the level of the cuts that are coming, the role we expect of the police is going to change drastically. There is no point anyone pretending otherwise.
The Home Secretary said that she wants to strip all the targets away so that the police have just one basic target-to cut crime. That fails to acknowledge the many different aspects of police work where no crime has been committed. If we see a man on a bridge who looks as if he is going to throw himself down on to the motorway, we are going to call the police-but no crime has been committed; it is just a man stood on a bridge. I would like to think that the police of the future would still turn up at such an incident. If not, we would be living in a very strange world.
When I was out with the police, they explained to me another problem they have with the mental health wing of a local hospital. There is a secure unit there and patients from it are sometimes given a pass to go out. The pass might be for three, four or 24 hours. At 23 hours and 59 minutes, there is no problem, but at 24 hours and a minute, the police are called out to find a missing person. Again, no crime has been committed, but the police are called.
We need to be sensible in this debate about what to expect from the police. I would certainly like to think that all Labour Members would join me in assisting the Police Minister in fighting his corner to get recognition for the message he wants to send out about what we want the police to do. Road traffic accidents provide another example. A huge amount of police time is taken up attending them, but no crime has been committed in most cases. If the responsibility of the police is only to stop crime, they might stop going out to road traffic accidents. Again, this shows the simplicity of the message; it might be attractive to the readers of tabloid newspapers, but it does not reflect the complexity or reality of what the police do. I am not advocating that the police should not turn up to road traffic accidents or should not turn up when a man is about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. What I am saying is that if we take the Home Secretary at her word, we need to think about the sort of service that we will end up with.
The hon. Gentleman, in making his point attractively, risks missing the point of the scenarios he has described. I can think of a number of crimes that might have been or could be committed in the circumstances he describes, particularly in the case of road traffic accidents-starting with dangerous driving, to name but one. Frankly, he is not making a good point; if he has any better ones, I would like to hear them.
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman could understand the basic point I am making-that the police do a hell of a lot of work that does not actually involve cutting crime. I simply gave a number of examples.
We also need to look at what some of the backroom people do in the police service. I would not pretend that if we spoke to 100 police officers, none of them would complain about bureaucracy. I have spoken to senior police officers and I know that they do complain about it. Equally, however, I have not met a single police officer who believes that 25% cuts to the budget can be made by cutting the forms. That is not realistic. Much bureaucracy falls outside the Home Office remit and, as some of my hon. Friends said earlier, much of police bureaucracy arises from the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS requires such high evidential standards before it will take cases to court that the police have to provide a tremendous amount of evidence to back the service up. A lot of it takes up time. If we are going to remove such bureaucracy, we will have to accept that the police are likely to achieve fewer prosecutions. The CPS might have to take more cases to court, but that might increase the justice budget, so we would be saving on the one hand and losing out on the other.
My hon. Friends have also referred to other back office functions-the massive amount of work done on counter-terrorism, for example, or on breaking international drug rings and international crime syndicates. The police also have people whose work is dedicated to the reduction of domestic violence. What often happens there is that the police put in a great deal of work to get the evidence together to achieve a prosecution, only to find that the victim of the violence has subsequently patched up the relationship and decided not to prosecute. The police have specialist teams dealing with child sex abuse. Such people may not be considered to be front-line police officers, but I should like to think that in any civilised society they would continue to work in the police force, and I believe that the narrowness of the new police target will be counterproductive. Far from being a Whitehall diktat, the policing pledge was put together by senior police officers who wanted to specify the standards of policing that people could expect wherever they lived.
I referred earlier to Liberal Democrats' contribution to the policing policies pursued by the present Government. People ask what the Liberal Democrats are doing, but in this context their influence is clear, whether it involves their wish to get rid of ASBOs, their opposition to the DNA database-without which, as we have heard, 26 more murderers would be out on the streets-or their justice proposals, which mean that yobbos and criminals would not go to prison, but would be out on the streets as well. It is hardly surprising that someone who was on the run decided that it was well worth supporting the Liberal Democrat party financially: he may have felt that there was some benefit in doing so.
I wonder what happened to the Conservative party. I suspect that Lord Tebbit is turning in his crypt at the current Tory policies. The Tories seem not to understand, as he did, how poorer communities and people in deprived areas have been badly affected by crime. The Government are showing a lack of honesty about what will be faced by people on the streets if cuts of this magnitude are made, and a lack of awareness of what it is like to live in a deprived community that is under pressure from criminals. They do not seem to understand what it is like for people to wake up not knowing whether their properties will be left alone that day, or to go on holiday not knowing whether their properties will be broken into.
The current lack of vision about the best way in which to spend police resources leaves our police force, our communities and the value of a law-abiding, decent society dangerously exposed. I urge the Government to think again before pulling the rug from under the feet of our police.
I congratulate Toby Perkins on what was, as always, a sometimes political but nevertheless thoughtful contribution.
The debate has focused on a number of issues, notably accountability and cuts, but I want to talk about the situation in my constituency. I want to talk about what has gone wrong, the cost of crime and some of the solutions. I accept that great strides have been made in fighting antisocial behaviour, and that major reforms and successes have been achieved in Harlow. Recent operations have succeeded in targeting the few prolific offenders who cause the majority of the problems. Nevertheless, the town still suffers from the highest violent crime rate in Essex and from a high rate of burglaries and car thefts, and in terms of crime and disorder, some of its estates suffer from the worst 10% of deprivation in the British Isles. We also have serious problems in specific areas such as the town centre.
Although crime in those areas is not always reported to the police, I find-like other Members-that local residents often contact me about it, and mention it to me frequently in surgeries. That is why I consider this debate to be so important. We have some very effective police officers in Harlow and some good leadership in Essex, but I believe that in the wider United Kingdom there has been a breach of trust between the police and the public. The umbilical cord has been cut. Raymond Chandler, the American novelist, said:
"Crime isn't a disease, it's a symptom."
It has already been said that Tony Blair promised to be tough on the causes of crime, but the last Government approached prevention in a chaotic way. For example, sadly, they rewarded family breakdown by penalising couples in the welfare system, and they also failed to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price.
We see this elsewhere, too. There has been much comment in the debate about closed circuit television. I am in favour of it when it cuts crime, but the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend James Brokenshire, came with me a few years ago to visit a company in Harlow called Rotatest which trains people in how to use CCTV. It has shown, through using Home Office studies, that about 80 or 90% of CCTV in this country is not fit for purpose either because it does not comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 or it is not operated properly or the machinery is not working properly. In 2006 alone we spent about £250 million on CCTV that was not working in the way that it should.
Only a couple of years ago, the deputy chief inspector of the Met, Mick Neville, said the system was an "utter fiasco", with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using security cameras. Although Britain now has more cameras than any other European country, he said that "no thought" had gone into how to use them. We must have CCTV, of course, but I would like us to prevent more crime so that we need fewer CCTVs. It is not that we do not want CCTV; rather, we want to prevent crime so it is not needed in the first place.
Another problem is the micro-managed target culture of the previous Government and the bureaucracy, in part driven by David Miliband when he was head of Tony Blair's policy unit. The Opposition talk about cuts, but three years ago when they were in government they established a National Crime Reduction Board and then gave it no budget. They talk about cuts, but for all their spending they left England and Wales with double the crime rate of the European average. The Home Secretary said earlier that there were about 900,000 violent offences in 2009. The House of Commons Library has shown that that rose from 618,417 such offences in 1998, so there has been a huge rise in violent crime.
The Government's reforms are urgently needed for Harlow, because there is not just the social cost of families blighted by crime, but there is also the huge cash cost, which is hurting the recovery. Labour Members have talked about cuts and expenditure, but they must accept that their policies led to crime now costing more than £3,000 for every family in the UK each year. Given that there are about 40,000 family households in my constituency, the cost to Harlow could be in the order of £120 million a year.
During the election campaign, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice visited with me a newsagent in Nazeing village that had been robbed three times in three weeks. This shop was just one of many whose profits were suffering because of crime. When we legally oblige police constables to spend 50% of their time on paperwork, we deny people the power to shape local policing and this is the sad result.
What are the answers? First, I would like to congratulate chief superintendent Mr Simon Williams and chief constable Mr Jim Barker-McCardle, as despite the challenging economic situation they have no plans to cut the number of front-line police officers in Harlow and intend to keep the police station in Harlow open for 24 hours a day. They are demonstrating that a smarter public sector can deliver more for less, even when it spends 80% of its budget on people. Earlier this year, before we entered government, Essex police had to cut £2.5 million from its budget, and it did so without any effect on front-line services.
We must also restore the trust between the wider public and the police, and the umbilical cord between them. That is why I am a passionate advocate of the Government's policies to reconnect the police with the communities that they serve, which include having the direct election of a police commissioner. I cannot understand the opposition of Labour Members to making the police more accountable to the communities that they serve. We also propose reducing police paperwork and bureaucracy, so that constables can spend more time on the streets; introducing regular beat meetings, so that residents can hold the local police to account; and publishing more detailed local crime statistics.
We also propose to have more specials, and it is tragic that their number has declined by 6,000 since 1997. I completely disagree with the comments made by Caroline Flint about specials. There is scope for greater community involvement in policing. For example, Essex has one of the largest forces of specials in England. In early-day motion 520, I welcomed the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice that there is a "huge untapped potential" for recruiting more specials, and I suggested transforming them into a Territorial Army-type force. That would enable specials to cover more policing duties and would offer excellent value for money. Specials are also a genuinely local force and a valuable source of community intelligence.
I am not asking for extra money, but rather for the Government to refocus their resources to incentivise special constables, so that they can work more hours and develop professionally. Following many tragic fatalities on the railways near Harlow, I have called, including in my early-day motion 598, for a similar volunteer force of special rail guards to be established to improve safety on train platforms. In a time of scarce resources, special constables offer a big society answer to the crime problems we face, not only in Harlow, but across the country. I am talking about having fully trained constables with real powers who give a few hours a week to their local neighbourhood. We already have 600 in Essex, and let us hope we have more soon.
I am saying completely the opposite. I am saying that for the special constables we should create a model similar to that of the Territorial Army. We should have a special constable force and its officers would be paid for the hours that they do, in the same way as TA people are paid.
In summary, I think that we want to move away from the big state and bureaucratic policies on crime to an approach based on accountability and community. That is why I oppose the Opposition's motion.
I am in favour of volunteers, but not as a substitute for the real thing-that is the danger of the position taken by Robert Halfon. One of the lessons that Labour learned from the Conservatives in the 1980s and early 1990s was the importance of the law and order agenda. That had a profound impact on the Labour party, and the tragedy is that the coalition has forgotten that lesson. This Administration seem to have the wrong priorities.
I would have liked to have been party to the coalition talks and to have discovered how no priority was given to basic safety and security when they sat down to plan this great document. How did the Administration arrive at the conclusion, based on all their experience of their manifestos and the election outcome, that the electorate wanted to prioritise spending on international development and health above all else? I would like to see that put to a referendum or discussed in one of the Deputy Prime Minister's question and answer sessions around the country. When I talk to voters, they tell me that the Administration have got that wrong.
I am saying exactly that. I would not prioritise those two things above basic safety and security.
I was about to say that we have already seen a cut in this year's core funding for the police. Most chief constables and police authorities anticipated that and they have taken some steps to prepare for it. That is what Programme Paragon in the west midlands is partly about; it is a reorganisation of the police to get better efficiency and use of personnel. Now, we are faced with even more severe cuts on top-cuts to magistrates courts, to police, to probation, to prisons and to the entire criminal justice system. There is no area where the axe will not fall. It is inevitable that that scale of cuts will lead to a rise in crime and public alarm. That is a given.
One of the areas where this Administration are falling down and could learn lessons is that Labour listened to professionals and to the public about their concerns on crime. That is why crime was down when we left office-we listened and we took on board the concerns. The danger here is that the Administration are not listening and that we will all pay the price further down the line.
I want to make it clear that I accept the argument for cuts. I do not happen to revel in them-unlike some of the people on the Government Benches-but I accept the argument. There should be savings and cuts-I have no problem with that. I think it was Mr Burley who said that he wanted to see some savings in standardising equipment purchase and in national procurement. So do I, and that is why they were in the White Paper that Labour produced. If I remember correctly, that White Paper also contained our pretty ambitious plan to cut police overtime, something that the coalition has taken on board.
I have no problem with trying to make such savings and I think, frankly, it is utterly dishonest of the people opposite to pretend that we are saying anything else. We can argue about the scale of cuts and about the impact on the economy, but to stand there and try to pretend that we are not saying that is downright dishonest.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with a Government seeking greater efficiency, but it is a question of numbers and scale. I happen to agree with Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission that cuts in excess of 12% will affect the capacity to police our streets. It is as simple as that. Sir Paul Stephenson has made it clear that the scale of cuts being planned will mean a much smaller force in London as we prepare to police the Olympics. I am not sure that anyone has given sufficient consideration to what that might mean.
I personally think that we will see two effects from the Government's actions. First, we will see a freeze on recruitment-that is already happening in the west midlands-and a freeze in promotion. Ultimately, that will drain morale and lead to a stunted, unbalanced and defensive police organisation. We will also see the reverse of civilianisation-the very opposite of what the Home Secretary claims that she wants.
Civilians, who are obviously easier to sack than police officers, are going to be forced out, and police officers will then have to be redeployed to take on some of those civilian tasks. Rather than seeing crime fighters, we are going to see trained police officers back on front desks acting as receptionists. They will be answering phone calls about minor matters and carrying out back-office admin tasks. They will not be out on the streets but be back in the offices reverting to doing simple typing tasks. Reverse civilianisation will be the effect of sacking civilians because they are easier to dispose of, and their work will still have to be done by police officers. That will be the consequence.
I am concerned that eventually chief constables will be driven, probably in despair, to use what is known as regulation A19 to sack officers who have completed 30 years of service. Perversely, that makes sense at force level because those people draw some of the highest salaries; it has an immediate impact on the budget because salaries are the largest part of the budget. However, the consequence is getting rid of some of our most experienced police officers. That means getting rid of the people who contribute most to the job while the public still have to pick up the tab for their pensions and any pay-off arrangements that were made in persuading them to go. That approach makes no sense in the long run and is a classic short-term economy with long-term ramifications. I understand that the West Midlands police force, which is admittedly the second-largest force in the country, is looking at losing about 2,000 police jobs as a result of what is planned. To give an idea of scale, about 14,000 people are employed by the force.
It is easy to trade statistics in debates such as this, and we have heard one or two already, but I want to draw attention to one that has caught my eye. Cardiff university recently demonstrated that there were 64,000 fewer violence-related attendances at accident and emergency departments in 2010 compared with 2001, which represents a fall of 15%. We should pay attention to that independent research, because it tells a story about violent crime and it rather contradicts some of the myths that we have heard recently. I commend it to the Government and I hope that they will be willing to follow it up. There is also the British crime survey, which is not so popular with the Government, certainly not since they were rebuked by Sir Michael Scholar for misusing statistics. I often wonder how long it will be before we hear a statement that the UK Statistics Authority is to be abolished in the interests of Government efficiency.
As I have said, one reason for Labour's successes in law and order was that we paid attention to the concerns voiced to us by the public and professionals. That is the real story behind why we introduced antisocial behaviour orders. We recognised the need for a measure that would address the types of antisocial behaviour that the police and the public were telling us they were powerless to deal with. ASBOs are not perfect, but they are better than nothing. What we need is a measure that allows people who are constantly on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour and are not being helped by their police or local authorities to go directly to court and ask for something to be done. That would be much more effective.
The bureaucracy that the Home Secretary worries about is not inherent in ASBOs. The problem is the bureaucracy and dilatory behaviour of councils such as the Lib Dem-Tory coalition authority in Birmingham. That is why it takes so long to deal with antisocial behaviour. It would be much better if the Government put some energy into tackling that bottleneck, rather than taking away one of the tools that people generally feel is making a difference. Deciding to abolish ASBOs without a sensible alternative is like turning one's back when people are suffering the worst kind of torment. It suggests that the coalition is already out of touch. I am sure that if Ministers had spoken to people about this, they would not be setting out such a proposal.
It is good that we use technology to tackle miscarriages of justice and to catch people who thought that they had got away with it. I worry that the Government's position on DNA is pseudo civil liberties posturing and doubt that it is reasonable or rational. I am not against a review of CCTV, and given some of the points made about Project Champion in Birmingham, there might be a good argument for a review. However, if the Government seriously think that ANPR and CCTV are not needed in the fight against crime, they are totally and utterly wrong. On CCTV, we should, if anything, be worrying about how we will find the resources for the next generation of cameras. Addressing that point in conjunction with regulation would be much more useful than simply going along with the wheeze that we can get by without them.
The Government talk a great deal about freedom, but I detect a certain degree of intolerance and authoritarianism behind the mask. The Audit Commission might cause a problem-abolish it; the Association of Chief Police Officers might be awkward-emasculate it; police authorities might not play ball-scrap them. The Government talk about localism and the big society but move in the opposite direction. They are destroying the links between ordinary people and the criminal justice system, and their obsession with cuts that go beyond economic sense will destroy neighbourhood policing.
I spoke at a charity event in Worcester the other week along with Harriett Baldwin. I invite hon. Members to ask her privately-not in the Chamber-what a largely Tory audience thought about elected police commissioners. I will tell hon. Members why we will have such a short consultation on that: because the Government know that the proposal does not make sense. It is a fix, just like the Deputy Prime Minister's boundary review, that will not work.
The Government have a lot to learn about what people really want from policing. Unfortunately, they plan to learn on the job using the British public as their laboratory.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House. I hope that I shall not use my full allocation of time because I know that several hon. Members still wish to play their part in this wide-ranging debate. The shadow Secretary of State went through the gamut of policy in general, talking about not only policing but wider issues of criminal justice, and I shall be as faithful as possible to the parameters that he set in his opening speech.
The preceding speech made by Steve McCabe was revealing in the sense that he said that the Labour party learned a lot about what people wanted during the '80s and '90s. However, it seems to me that Labour learned a lot about what tabloid headlines demanded rather than about what was happening on the ground. The Labour Government's increasing distance from the reality of people's lives was reflected by their culture of legislative incontinence and increasingly centralised control that must have made police officers-from chief constables down to those at ground level-feel that at times they were being made to revolve on the spot. The consequences of the lack of clarity-the ever-changing parameters set for the police-were manifold. I shall concentrate on several that were worrying.
The first casualty of the previous Government's obsession with centralism and targets was trust in the ability of constables and more senior police officers to take decisions-decisions on the priorities that they wanted to set in their localities, on the appropriate responses to complaints of crime, and on whether a suspect should be charged. One of the most fundamental powers available to the police was rudely taken away from them, and I am delighted that the new Government will restore in part that discretion to the police. I take this opportunity to agree with my hon. Friend Anna Soubry in urging the Government to go further and to restore the power of charging completely to police officers. Let me tell the House why I believe that.
In recent years, there has been an increasing obsession with the need for the investigating authority to get everything precisely in order before the decision to charge. That fad-that obsession-has led to debates in this House, before the election and since, and in the media about detention periods prior to charge. We have hotly debated the subject, here and elsewhere, with wildly and dramatically conflicting views expressed about civil liberties. I am left wondering why we have ended up in that position. Why is there that obsession with the need to delay everything before the decision to charge?
Time and again, when police officers made the early decision to charge, it provided the key incentive to the investigating authority to get on with the job of investigating the case thoroughly, preparing it for trial and making sure that victims and witnesses were not kept waiting. Then, the decision to charge was removed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The advice before charge system involves an often experienced police officer having to telephone a CPS lawyer, probably located some distance from the police station, and reinvent the wheel by explaining everything to that lawyer, only to be told that the lawyer was not seized of all the necessary information and the key decision to charge would have to be put off. That has led to real frustration, not only on the part of police officers, but also, and crucially, on the part of witnesses who, having made their statements, have been asked to wait for months-sometimes for more than a year-before giving evidence. What effect does that have, first, on the ability of the witness to remember events clearly and, secondly, their enthusiasm to come to court? Those are fundamental problems that I saw at first hand, time and again, during my years in practice in the Crown court.
Another consequence was the culture of clear-ups-the driver whereby the police had to resolve unsolved crimes. It did not seem to matter what the crime was; what was important was getting that clear-up. The outcome was essential. It did not matter if the crime was serious; as long as the box was ticked and it was moved off the system, everything was okay. That is not a reflection of public opinion or public confidence, or of a Government who are learning the lessons and listening to people. It is a complete negation of what the public interest is and what the public really want.
If that point is juxtaposed with the other part of the Government's plan to have democratically elected leaders of local police authorities, if a candidate stood on a manifesto of clear-ups and won, would such a policy be allowed?
Obviously, there will be a distinction between police commissioners getting involved in day-to-day operational duties and their other role, but I think it will be perfectly in order for candidates to debate that question and how we deal with the clear-up issue. That is a matter of legitimate public concern and debate, so I do not see any problem with dealing with that. It would be a different matter if on a day-to-day basis, a particular case were in some way influenced by a commissioner. In terms of the remit of that elected official, that would be to stray into the wrong territory.
There was a rather absurd reversal of roles, whereby senior Ministers-a succession of Labour Home Secretaries-wanted to outdo each other in order to sound tough on crime. Alan Johnson is not in his place, but he described his era as a golden age: a year of broad sunlit uplands, peace and tranquillity, as he stood with a shining sword in hand, on his way to the new Jerusalem. Juxtaposed with that, senior police officers increasingly sounded like politicians and had to defend the indefensible. Their language became more and more obscure, and they did not sound like police officers anymore or like the representatives of a police force-a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe made and I strongly support. Something was rotten in our state, and, if this Government had not acted quickly to recognise that, something would continue to be wrong.
I shall not give way at this point, because I need to develop this point. I am delighted that in place of that rotten rhetoric, we have a sense of honesty and reality when it comes to addressing what is going on at the coal face of the criminal justice system.
A major part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was on antisocial behaviour, but by assuming that there will be a wholesale abolition of the structure, an assumption that other Opposition Members repeated, an Aunt Sally has been set up. When the Home Secretary in her paper described the process of moving beyond ASBOs, she meant development and improvement, rather than wholesale abolition.
I shall propose a few sensible simplifications of the system. The criminal ASBO, or CRASBO, is a waste of time and should be removed. At the end of a Crown court trial, when a defendant has been convicted, punished and has received his sentence, an application is made, almost as an afterthought, for a criminal antisocial behaviour order, which is often poorly drafted, ill thought-out, unworkable and unenforceable.
I shall not give way at this point, because I have only four minutes left, and the couple of points that I want to make are rather detailed.
When it comes to the rest of the ASBO structure, we have a system of "Thou shalt not", a prohibitory system telling the subjects of those orders what not to do. There is a case for allowing the greater use of mandatory orders. They encourage positive behaviour and particular steps that an individual should take to improve their behaviour, rather like what was done with antisocial behaviour injunctions under the Housing Act 1996, the year before Labour entered government, which was amended in later years. I met representatives of my local authority in Swindon during the recess to discuss those issues, and I am grateful to them for their constructive submissions in this respect. The authority has a very proactive antisocial behaviour team, and it will make submissions to the review in due course.
I turn to my other concern, which I share with the local authority. The Government have rightly said that the rather lengthy and cumbersome process of obtaining ASBOs in court must be streamlined. There has been a discussion about whether the forum for the imposition of ASBOs should move wholesale to the county court, but I agree with my local authority that we should urge caution. I would suggest that the magistrates court is a quicker, more effective and better forum for the resolution of a lot of antisocial behaviour orders. If new, streamlined procedural rules need to be developed, then that can be done.
My fundamental point is that we need to move away from what has been a tendency by authorities to reclassify crime as antisocial behaviour. The whole thrust of the legislation passed by the previous Government was what one might call the Heineken approach-to refresh the parts of our social problems that the criminal law could not reach. I am afraid that the principle has been undermined to a worrying degree as a result of the target culture and the need to avoid "criming"-that is a dreadful word, but I have heard it used many times; I do not accept that it exists in the English language-particular complaints, driving them down the antisocial behaviour route.
That is not the approach we should adopt. We should use ASBOs as a bolt-on to the existing criminal justice system. They should be used judiciously and carefully-not with a scattergun approach-to try to deal with a range of wholly unsuitable scenarios. Local authorities such as mine in Swindon use many stages before they resort to ASBOs. I encourage that approach across the country, while recognising that in each different locality local bodies should be free to make decisions based on their own priorities.
I did not recognise in any way the remarks made by Steve McCabe about centralist authoritarianism as regards the new Government's approach to dealing with crime. I oppose the motion and commend the Government's approach.
I was not going to participate in this debate, but I was struck by the absence of discussion of a particularly important issue that is of the utmost concern to my constituents: the problem of serious youth violence, gun and knife crime, and the gang culture that still exists in some of our major cities.
During the election, I spoke to many mums and dads who told me that while they recognised that serious gang members had been taken off the streets, they were still very fearful for the safety of their sons and daughters. My concern about the Government's proposals to reduce police numbers and the amount of resources that are available to our police forces across the country is that our police will not have the same ability to tackle this very important and serious problem in many of our communities.
About three days ago, I received an e-mail from one of my constituents, and I thought that I would share it with Members of the House. He said:
"The other day my son was threatened at knife point and had his phone taken on the very street where we live. To my absolute horror the police knew all of the gang member's names, their street names and they knew they all carry knives and guns."
My constituent went on to tell me that he had discovered on YouTube links to this particular gang-videos with hours of footage that, in effect, act as recruitment videos for the gangs. One video had 15,925 viewings, and I was appalled by some of the imagery contained in it.
I take this opportunity to ask the Government to set out in more detail what initiatives and plans they have to tackle this very important issue in our constituencies. I appreciate that it is not all about the police, and that organisations that can provide positive, accessible role models to our young people are critically important. It would be remiss of me, as the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East, not to bring this incredibly important issue to the attention of the House and to ask Ministers present here today to provide some assurances about what their Government will be doing to tackle this problem.
Those were the only points that I wanted to make. I had not planned to make an intervention in the debate, but as the issue had not cropped up, I thought it was very important to put it on the record, and I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to do so.
At the heart of this debate is a single issue: what would we all cut? How would we all approach the difficult dilemmas that we face? Police budgets are, by definition, an emotive subject, as anyone who has sat in the Chamber this afternoon can appreciate. Every one of us wants to have the maximum possible number of police. However, health, education, defence, justice and all the other matters that we have to address are also emotive. To look at the police budget on its own without considering other issues is naive and does not approach the full problem.
The simple question is this: is anyone above budgetary cuts? I do not believe that we are, or that the police are. All the police officers whom I speak to-I have done nine murder trials and spent the best part of 20 years working with officers-accept that things have to change. We do not have to explain that in terms of class or Thatcherism. Those things do not apply, because it is simply about maths. As we all explained up and down the country, if someone spends £400 but earns only £325, the maths simply does not add up. I see no problem in approaching that problem by saying, "This must change."
Seeing as the hon. Gentleman has set up his contribution based on the economy, he might choose to reflect on the fact that there is a fundamental difference between our parties. The Labour Government proposed to reduce the deficit, but not by nearly as much as the new Conservative Government. Because they are increasing the pace at which we are repaying the deficit, they will have to cut more and there will be fewer police on the beat and more crime. That is a fundamental difference in approach.
I disagree totally, because we are tackling the deficit earlier and will not have the problems that we would have had if Labour had kept delaying the cuts and spending as though there were no tomorrow. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that
In Hexham, the police have already taken a small budgetary cut. I walked the beat with them barely three weeks ago. They are doing an amazing job of looking after their area and are perfectly able to cope with the difficulties that they have had thus far. Who knows where the future will ultimately lie? However, they understand and appreciate the problems and they know that there are ways forward. As the assistant to Barack Obama put it, "We should not waste a crisis." It is often in the difficult times that we can re-evaluate who we are, assess what we are doing and review what we are going to spend our money on in future.
I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr Burley and by Mike Crockart in his excellent speech. The latter spoke with great eloquence, having been a police officer himself until nine years ago. He indicated, for example, that higher police numbers do not necessarily equal less crime. The example of Belgium is well known. There are very significant numbers of police-the highest numbers in Europe-yet the crime level is massively increased.
I hope that the Government will consider the fact that in a constituency such as mine, which is 1,150 square miles, the vital issue of rural crime has been treated very differently from other crime over the past 13 years, and I hope that things will improve. That point encompasses why I oppose the closure of the magistrates court in my constituency. The proposal is that we will have no magistrates court in our 1,150 square miles. I do not believe that that is the right way forward, hence my strong opposition to such a measure.
My final point is this. I ask myself why Alan Johnson, the shadow Home Secretary, gave the speech that he gave today-it has been mentioned this afternoon on several occasions. Some described it as an application to the post-election shadow Cabinet, but I am not sure that it was. I take the view that he expressed amazing reverence for Lord Michael Howard. He seemed to disregard all Home Secretaries between Lord Howard and himself, when we reached, as others described it, the delightful sunlit upland of "the year of Johnson", as he called it. That was very eloquent. According to him, the world went from the "prison works" policy of Michael Howard to him, but he disregarded the ASBO age of John Reid as Home Secretary and the CRASBO-criminal antisocial behaviour order-age of Charles Clarke, and indicated that we simply arrived in the year of Johnson when everything was sunlit and perfect.
I thought that the Howard-Johnson alignment had a future, but then I remembered that that was the name of a rather dodgy hotel chain in America that provides a kind of cut-price service. Lord knows where we could go with that. I support the Government, and I urge people to reconsider their approach. I accept that there are contrary arguments-police budgets are always emotive-but the Johnson alignment is not the right way.
The ability-indeed, the right-of people to live in security is the most fundamental achievement of society, and Government Members who too often give the impression that public is bad and private is good should remember that only the public sector can deliver a police force in which the public have confidence.
Like many hon. Members, I do not have an intimate knowledge of the police, which is why I was pleased to have the opportunity to go on patrol in Newcastle with Northumbria police a few days ago. I was taken to Newcastle's Bigg Market by a local police sergeant and a police community support officer. For those who are unfamiliar with Newcastle, all human life is in the Bigg Market, from those who beg and sing for their supper, to the better-heeled student visitors and tourists, and all those for whom alcohol and entertainment form part of a good evening out. I was struck by the difference between the policing that I experienced then and the policing that I experienced during the Thatcher years.
Police Community Support Officer James Maguire and Sergeant Michelle Jahangiri had a deep understanding of the needs of the Newcastle community and of Newcastle's priorities. They told me how neighbourhood meetings, which my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint described so eloquently, enabled them to understand better the community's priorities. I also saw for myself how the balance between PCSOs, who liaise directly with the community, and other police officers, means that the latter have more time to address the more pressing policing issues. That balance is important to successful policing.
Anna Soubry, who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, spoke of wanting a police force, not a service. I believe very strongly that the people of this country want both. Policing is a service. Force alone will not resolve the kind of policing issues that we face today, when it is the respect and trust of the community that is so important. The hon. Lady spoke of how children require the knowledge of supervision, but those who elected me are not children. They require a police force, but they also require a partner in the policing of their streets. That is why the changes that Labour and the investment it made in policing as part of a community service have been so important in Newcastle and across the country.
The reduction in crime under Labour is clearly related to improved and increased policing, but it is also related to our actions elsewhere in Government-in the economy and in social services. As several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, everything was not perfect. There was still much to do, especially in the area of mental health care. The events in Newcastle before the summer showed how closely related effective mental health care provision is to the demands on our police. But the plans of the coalition Government will increase enormously the burdens on the police while cutting the resources that they have available.
Cutting the area-based grant, for example, will mean that in Newcastle we may lose our taxi wardens, who have been so successful in reducing violence at taxi ranks. Cutting the future jobs fund will inevitably lead to more unemployment, which will in itself increase the burden on the police, as well as leading to increased crime. Abolishing antisocial behaviour orders will not only take away from the police an important tool that they can use, but will take away a form of reassurance from our communities, in some of the most deprived areas of our cities.
More generally, risking a double-dip recession, which will inevitably lead to higher unemployment, will present our police with huge new challenges. At a time when the police will face an increased burden, it is recklessness taken to extremes to propose cuts of between 25% and 40%. It is understandable, perhaps, that the Liberal Democrats should be liberal with our security and fail to consider the consequences of a free-for-all on our streets. But the British public would expect that the Conservatives would do all that they could to conserve crime-free streets. This betrayal of our security will not be accepted. For that reason, I support the Opposition motion.
I declare an interest in that I spent this morning, as a member of the Kent police authority, working with the chief constable on getting cracking on finding these savings. He has bravely set out his plans to find a 20% reduction, which is his assumption, and he is working towards that target. There is one element of the motion that I welcome, and that is the recognition from Labour Members that it may be possible to reduce spending on the police by up to 12% without affecting the front line. However, that raises the question why they did not do that.
In Kent, we have been working to do that, and have the second-lowest precept in the country. We heard from my hon. Friend Robert Halfon. We are collaborating with Essex: we have a single command for all serious and organised crime, and we have a single IT system and single purchasing. Unlike a lot of areas of the country and the regional talking shops introduced by the last Government, we work to find those savings. There are a lot more savings to be found in bureaucracy as well, for example, through not always having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service to charge, and working with the CPS, the probation service and prisons, and perhaps trying to make them more responsive locally and get people working most efficiently.
The best thing we can do to help with the savings is introduce directly elected police commissioners, who could deliver efficiency and give the public the necessary savings. Every year, the police authority in my area receives perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 pages. The formality of that process should be replaced with a single individual working with the police efficiently to deliver what the public want. That is how to deliver better policing and to find these savings. Opposition Members failed to do that, and did not deliver in government. This Government will deliver.
We have had an interesting debate, and the level of interest in crime and policing provision has been demonstrated by the fact that 22 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken. That is a significant number of people who have expressed an interest in the concerns before us.
I would like to start be reiterating the Opposition's central charge against the Government's proposals to date. The record of the previous Labour Government was one of achievement and one of which Labour Members can be proud. It drove forward changes that I am proud of today and introduced cultural changes to the police service, but it will be put at risk by the Government's actions in the next few weeks and months. In particular, that record will be put at risk-this is the major charge in the motion-by the proposals to cut the resources of the police service. That proposal, which was actually encouraged by the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice-they did not fight the Treasury-will mean that we will face potential major reductions of 20 to 25% in the police service budget. That will create major difficulties in the future- [Interruption.] The Minister says, "How do you know that?" I know it because it was stated in the pre-Budget report and indicated to police forces across England and Wales. I hope that that does not happen, but I expect it to do so.
I am talking not just about funding issues, but about the policy choices that the Home Secretary and the Minister are making over CCTV, DNA, domestic violence protection orders, control orders, the direct election of police officials and penal policy. That will all put us on a collision course-it has the potential to drive crime up and to lose us the record that we have had to date. I am proud of what the Labour Government did. My hon. Friend Chris Evans, my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman, my hon. Friend Steve McCabe, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) all praised the work of the previous Government.
We should remind ourselves of what my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson said. The crime survey has shown that crime has fallen 43% since 1997, confidence in policing is up, violent crime fell by 42% in those 13 years, overall personal crime fell 41%, household crime fell 44%, vehicle crime fell, convictions rose, there are more people in prison and we have longer sentences. As a result of that, crime is down by 43% overall, as I said. I am not saying it was perfect, because it was not. If an individual is subject to a crime, to them it is 100% crime. [Interruption.] I am being heckled about reoffending rates, but those actually fell by 20% under the Labour Government. The number of new entrants into the criminal system also fell under the Labour Government, because we made the required investment in many areas.
Members on both sides of the House have mentioned that we have record numbers of police officers-143,734 police officers and 16,000 police community support offices. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden and my right hon. Friend Hazel Blears mentioned that they value the fact that PCSOs provide that service on the streets, giving reassurance. Those officers were not there, in any shape or form before the previous Labour Government came to power. There are also 17,000 more police officers now than in 1997. That investment has made the difference in reducing crime. I simply put that on the record, because although what we did was not perfect, it shows that we made a difference for people in constituencies throughout the United Kingdom by reducing crime.
We did that not just because we put resources into policing and police community support officers, but because we also did what Tony Blair said we would do, which was try to tackle the causes of crime, as well as crime itself. The past three years have seen the youth crime action plan, putting money into prevention work across the country and supporting after-school activities, weekend initiatives and a range of measures to help tackle crime and the causes of crime; putting money into antisocial behaviour initiatives, with the thresholds that we set until March this year to try to encourage local councils to have minimum standards; and looking at issues such as family intervention projects and Sure Start. Indeed, the word "gobsmacked" came to mind when I heard a Conservative Member say how much they welcomed and enjoyed Sure Start. My hon. Friend Karl Turner-in a sedentary intervention, albeit a prescient one-said, "Aren't the Conservative Government pledged to abolish Sure Start?" We will see in due course.
Tackling the causes of crime and putting resources into policing and police community support officers made a difference. Crime fell under the previous Labour Government. However, that is not to say that we would not have made savings had we been re-elected on
Those efficiencies included reducing the overtime bill by £70 million-the hon. Members for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) made points about that-and developing national procurement standards for police officers' uniforms, beat cars and air support, thereby saving resources in what our 43 forces do; standardising procurement of body armour; cutting stop-and-search paperwork; piloting the transfer of Crown prosecution powers to the police for lesser offences; and looking at encouraging voluntary mergers, with a £500 million fund that I put in place as Policing Minister for that purpose. Government Members raised the question of exposing and developing good practice. The Quest programme, which we supported, did just that; indeed, it extended it, including in Weaver Vale, Cheshire, Runcorn and Warrington. In total, savings of more than £1.3 billion by 2014 were identified by the then Labour Government.
Those savings would have been seen through by the Labour Government, but the choice that the Conservative Government are making is to go beyond that. They are doing what my right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned, which is cutting public spending because they believe in cutting spending, not because they need to tackle the deficit now. That is the choice that the Conservative Government have made. Every right hon. and hon. Member on the Labour Benches went into the election with a commitment to maintain health, education, and policing and crime expenditure. We were elected on that basis- [ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary indicates that that is not correct, but that was in our manifesto, upon which we were elected. I confess that it did not reach the hearts of all parts of the country, but it secured us the mandate to argue today for that expenditure for the future.
What have we seen from the coalition Government? In July, we saw cuts of £125 million to a budget for this year that they agreed in February and which we proposed when we were on the Government Benches as Ministers. We are now seeing cuts of potentially 25 to 40% in the number of police officers, which, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Leicester East and for Salford and Eccles, and my hon. Friend Toby Perkins said, will damage the ability of police officers on the streets. I happen to contend that, funnily enough, investment in police officers and community support officers has meant that crime has fallen accordingly. The chief constables of Humberside, Gwent, Kent and Cambridgeshire have all predicted deep cuts that will have a profound impact on the crime-fighting abilities of their forces.
As if that were not enough, we find that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is starting to dismantle some of the policies that have made a real difference on the ground in our communities, including tackling antisocial behaviour through the use of antisocial behaviour orders. I am extremely surprised by that. I grew up in the 1980s, and I believed that the Conservatives were the party of law and order. That is what they told us, every week and every month. That is what they told us all the time. Now, antisocial behaviour orders have been shown to make a real difference on the ground in stopping antisocial behaviour, with 65% of recipients stopping offending when the ASBO is put in place, and 95% stopping after their third order has been issued. However, the Conservative coalition is going to dismantle that system.
The policing pledge, which sets minimum standards of service for the communities that we represent, is also going to be thrown out of the window by the Conservative coalition. The ability to use DNA to bring criminals to justice is also to be thrown out of the window, despite the fact that, in the debate on the Crime and Justice Bill before the election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported proposals under which people who had not been convicted of a crime-but who could potentially have been criminals-would not have their DNA stored. I look forward to a day that could be disastrous for the Government, if people are committing crimes when they could have been prevented from doing so. People could be killed, injured, raped or attacked, but individuals- [ Interruption. ] I say to the deputy leader of the House, Mr Heath, that there are balances to be struck in this regard. An individual might have been caught by the police but not charged. His DNA might have been collected. In 90% of cases, according to our current research, such a person could potentially commit a crime in the future. I look forward to being able to say that we could have prevented some of those crimes from being committed.
The domestic violence protection orders, which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did not oppose in the Bill in February, are now to be ditched by the Home Secretary.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving me this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that we have not ditched domestic violence protection orders. We have deferred their introduction to ensure that, if we take the decision to carry on with them, they will be the most effective way of dealing with the issues that we all agree need to be dealt with. They have not been ditched.
We must look forward to the fact that two pilot schemes are being held back when they could have been developed.
On the issue of CCTV, there is certainly a need for regulation, but individual Government Back Benchers have said- [ Interruption. ] Well, when we were in government, we were considering proposals for regulation. The fact is, however, that the present Government believe in reducing the number of CCTV cameras and in ensuring that they are not deployed to the extent that we believe they should be. Hon. Members have given their views on that as well.
At the same time, a massive reorganisation of the police service is now pending, which will result in police forces taking their eye off the ball when it comes to fighting crime. The introduction of directly elected commissioners will cost £50 million. Nothing has yet been said about their roles and responsibilities, about who will set the precept, about qualifications or about staffing. The Government are developing a whole range of issues that will ensure that the police focus on reorganisation and not on their core business of fighting crime in the community at large.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles mentioned control orders, the fight against terrorism and the Prevent budget. These are serious issues, but the Government are setting the needs of what they view as civil liberties against the need to protect the community at large. Again, I look forward to examining those issues in detail, so that we can hold the Government to account on the issues of terrorism, international crime, drug running and regional crime.
The Labour party would have maintained the resources for fighting crime and developing policing. We would have increased the efficiency of the police service and allowed the police to look outwards to the public they serve. We would have strengthened the police authorities and ensured that crime continued to fall, as it did during the 13 years of the Labour Government. I look forward to taking on the Government on these issues. We will expose their softness on crime while ourselves adopting the position of the party of law and order. We shall expose their failings over the weeks, months and years ahead.
Let us start with what is agreed on both sides of the House. We agree about the importance of tackling crime. Hon. Members of all parties have spoken about the importance of dealing with crime in their constituencies and of making their communities safe. We also agree about the importance of the police in tackling crime and the need to support them. We should all join in thanking the police for the work they do.
Beyond that, however, agreement ended, and we heard two kinds of speeches, reflecting the divide in today's politics-the divide between this coalition Government and the Opposition who are stuck in the past. It is a divide between the realists and the reformers on this side and the deficit deniers and big spenders on the other side. Government Members understand the importance of, and the responsibility to deal with, the deficit. We understand the importance of organisations, whether they be in the private or the public sector, spending their resources wisely.
We heard good speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) and for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), reminding us that it is not just the number of police officers, but what they do, that matters. How available are they to the public? We should all be sobered by the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, issued just a few weeks ago, telling us that only 11% of the police-about a 10th-are visibly available to the public at any one time. We should ask ourselves the question why. Why is there not greater efficiency in our police service; can the money be spent more wisely? The report also said that higher spending forces are not necessarily better than other forces and it proposed savings by greater use of civilian staff-some forces are doing that; others are not. As the Chairman of the Select Committee recommended, we need better procurement; we also need more effective collaboration and more back-office savings.
The right hon. Lady has not understood the new world, has she? We want to move beyond targets. We do not believe that public services are improved by the targets of which she was so fond.
That issue was reflected in the second group of speeches, which called for more spending. Never mind that we spend £14 billion a year on the police-50% more over the lifetime of the last Government. These speeches-not least the right hon. Lady's-called for more authoritarianism. Never mind about civil liberties: to hell with those, and who cares about the deficit? That was the substance of the shadow Home Secretary's case.
No, I will not.
The shadow Home Secretary said that we should not cut, that we should not make any savings in respect of the police and that we should protect the police, but take no action to protect civil liberties or reform police accountability. That was his contention. Let us deal with those matters in turn.
In his winding-up speech, Mr Hanson said that the Opposition would have maintained resources for policing, while the Opposition motion says that the previous Government would have maintained core funding. Yet, on
Just a few weeks ago, we know that Labour Members voted against a reduction in police spending, which this Government had to make in order to deal with the deficit. That reduction was by 1.5%, but Labour Members voted against it.
How, then, can we take seriously the shadow Home Secretary's contention that he would have cut by £1 billion? The truth is, as we know, that the Government who left office bequeathed to the country £44 billion worth of unspecified spending cuts. Those were cuts that they were going to make. They would not say how, but we know that they were in the order of 20%.
I thank the Minister for giving way. It will give him a chance to get his breath back.
I have said this consistently, and I will say it again very slowly. We set out in the November White Paper, the pre-Budget report, the Budget and other public documents savings of £1.3 billion over the next four years. That is about 12% of the Home Office budget. The HMIC report, to which the Minister referred, said that with a lot of effort it was possible to save 12% without affecting front-line services. That is the argument.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he would have protected police spending. So which budget would he have cut more deeply? Would it have been health? Would it have been defence? Of course Labour Members will not tell us, but we do know that HMIC has said that £1 billion a year-12% of the budget- could have been saved through better and wiser spending. We will not know the availability of resources until the outcome of the spending review on
When he was Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman would not guarantee police numbers. Perhaps that is not surprising, because we know that police numbers across the country were starting to fall on his watch. He knew that he could not guarantee the funding, and he knew what was around the corner.
The second part of the shadow Home Secretary's contention was that we should make no attempt to protect civil liberties. His entire attack was based on what we planned to do in relation to the restoration of those liberties. The Labour party's position is straightforward: the DNA that is taken from innocent people should be retained. The shadow Home Secretary based that on the argument that crimes would be solved, so why should he stop there? If the end justifies the means, why not take DNA from everyone? If the Labour party is suggesting that all people are potential criminals, they should believe that that would deal with crime. In fact, the end does not justify the means. Labour, the party that proposed 90 days' detention without trial, still does not understand that if we undermine liberty and erode public confidence in law enforcement-if we take away freedom-we do not make people safer at all.
The third part of the right hon. Gentleman's contention was that we should not accept the need for reform of policing. The Government believe that we must replace the bureaucratic accountability and top-down targets of which the last Government were so fond with democratic accountability, rebuild the bridge between the police and the public and reduce Home Office interference, so that we can give local people a real say over policing in their areas.
Labour Members raised various spectres. Chris Evans spoke of the risk of politicians being in charge of police forces. Who else should be in charge of police forces, other than elected people? Police forces must answer to someone, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it might be right and proper for them to answer to democratically elected people. The shadow Home Secretary raised the spectre of extremism. That is a constant cry from the Labour party. The British national party won just 2% of the vote in the last election, but it suits Labour's argument to suggest that extremists will be elected. We on this side of the House say, "Let us trust the people when it comes to who will be elected to these positions." The people will decide who should represent them and hold the police to account.
We are determined that local authorities will still have a role on police and crime panels, and are determined to press ahead with this reform. The shadow Home Secretary said that the reform simply was not necessary. Why? Why, in 2003, did the then Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett, propose directly elected police authorities? "For many people", the Labour Government said then,
"the question of who is responsible for what in terms of keeping communities safe is simply unclear. We must rectify this. Strong, transparent accountability is vital for community confidence."
In 2008 the Labour Government made the same proposal for introducing a form of direct elections into the governance of policing. The then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said:
"We are...committed to introducing a stronger link between those responsible for delivering policing and the public they serve. We will legislate to reform police authorities, making them more democratic and more effective in responding to the needs of the local community."
Do Opposition Members think these arguments have changed? If they were right in 2003 and 2008, why are they not right now? Indeed, Alan Johnson simultaneously said we should reject further restructuring-his motion says that-and proposed a third reform. He suggested just a few hours ago at the Dispatch Box that we should have directly elected police authority chairs. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, "Three strikes and you're out. You've reneged on your promise to reform police authorities twice; why should we believe your latest back-of-the-envelope proposal to do it again?"
We, however, are determined to drive forward with our programme of reform, and it is reform that does not end at the greater accountability of local police forces. It includes measures to deal with serious and organised crime, the creation of a national crime agency, and placing police forces under strong duties to collaborate so they can cut costs and tackle crimes that cross force borders. It also includes a serious programme to tackle bureaucracy and to give the public more information through crime mapping and information about crime that is really happening in their streets-not statistics, which, frankly, the public no longer believe. It includes, too, proposals to reform the pay and conditions of police officers, and we start from the position, as we do across the public services, that we trust the professionals. That is why we want to return charging decisions to police officers, as was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and for South Swindon (Mr Buckland).
The reforms move beyond policing, too. There are reforms of the licensing laws to deal with the problem of 24-hour drinking and reforms to the toolkit of antisocial behaviour measures to ensure the police and local authorities have the ability to deal with that problem.
We do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's rose-tinted view of the years of the last Government. We do not accept what he described as the "glorious year of Johnson". Where did that glorious year end up? It ended up with 10,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour every day, 100 serious knife crimes every day, 26,000 victims of crime every day and 1 million victims of violent crime a year. That is not a glorious record. Five million to 10 million crimes a year is not a glorious record; that is not a record about which the Labour party should be remotely complacent, yet Labour Members rise from the Opposition Benches and suggest nothing more needs to be done to deal with crime other than the ineffective remedies they proposed before.
What did the Labour Government spend their time doing? They spent it wasting money by amalgamating forces, creating bureaucracy with reams of guidance, introducing a policing pledge and spending £6 million a year on doing so, and, of course, creating new laws: 50 Acts of Parliament and 3,000 new offences, and not just offences that would help deal with crime. After all, did these offences make people safer? No, they did not. With their new laws, the Labour Government introduced 24-hour drinking and the so-called café culture, and they downgraded cannabis. They also released 80,000 offenders early under their end-of-custody licence scheme, which, of course, they scrapped just before the election was called. Above all, they spent and wasted industrial sums. They are in double denial: they created the deficit and they are failing to deal with it. We say that we cannot go on like this, spending more than three times the entire budget of the criminal justice system-that of the police, courts and probation service-on debt interest every year. We are determined to deal with the deficit and it is our responsibility to do so. That is the difference between the two sides-we are driving radical reform and they are stuck in the past.
Question put (
Question accordingly agreed to.
The Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House notes the appalling fiscal deficit left by the last Government and reiterates the urgent need to restore the nation to economic health; recognises that the police will need to play their part in reducing that deficit; and welcomes the Government's proposed policing reforms, which will deliver a more responsive and efficient police service, less encumbered by bureaucracy, more accountable to the public and, most importantly, better equipped to fight crime.