I beg to move,
That this House
opposes the Government’s cuts leading to over 12,000 fewer police officers across England and Wales;
believes that the 20 per cent. cut to central Government funding to the police goes far beyond the assessment of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary of efficiency savings that are possible without affecting frontline services;
calls on the Government to withdraw plans for American-style police and crime commissioners for which there will be no checks or balances;
and believes that the Government is making it harder for the police to cut crime by weakening the National DNA Database, leading to the loss of 1,000 criminal matches per year;
ending anti-social behaviour orders, increasing bureaucracy on CCTV, creating serious loopholes in child protection and failing to develop any cross-Governmental strategy to cut crime.
This is our fourth debate on policing and crime on the Floor of the House in the past four months. Time and again we have warned the Home Secretary that she is stirring up a perfect storm on crime. Time and again we have warned the Prime Minister that he is making the wrong decisions on law and order, and they are still not listening. The Home Secretary is not listening to the warning words from chief constables across the country. She is not listening to the cries from communities such as All Saints in Wolverhampton, where hundreds of people have signed a petition to keep their local bobby on the beat. She is not listening to the public telling pollsters and researchers that they do not trust her party on crime. As she showed at the police conference last week, she also is not listening to the silence.
The storm we warned of is building. Cuts to police officer numbers are being felt. Front-line services that the Home Secretary promised to protect are being hit. There are cuts to youth services and family intervention projects that were helping to bring crime down. There is higher youth unemployment and poverty is rising. There are cuts to the powers that the police and courts need, and chaos in her policing reforms. American-style police and crime commissioners were rejected by the House of Lords for putting centuries of impartial British policing at risk.
The right hon. Lady speaks of the Government not listening. Will she now listen to the Justice Department, whose statistics show that antisocial behaviour orders do not work? They are seen as a badge of honour, and three quarters of ASBOs are breached. Were Labour to come back into power, would she retract Labour’s claims?
The hon. Gentleman’s concern about antisocial behaviour would be rather more convincing if he were criticising the cut of 250 officers and staff in his area. Antisocial behaviour orders are not right in every situation, but he obviously has not talked to police officers such as those I have spoken to in Wakefield or the community residents I have spoken to in Blackpool, who would tell him of case after case where antisocial behaviour orders have worked, have made a difference and are fighting antisocial behaviour in their communities. They are appalled at the Government’s decision.
When the shadow Home Secretary was in Blackpool, did she join in welcoming the decision by the Lancashire constabulary to increase community policing in Blackpool, as it recently announced?
The hon. Gentleman knows that while every chief constable across the country is trying to do everything they can to get as many police as possible out into neighbourhoods, the Lancashire constabulary is already being hit by cuts to front-line policing. The chief constable has raised his concerns about the cuts to front-line policing, including hundreds of officers and staff in his area.
I am delighted to give way to another hon. Member on the Government Benches, but their points would be more credible if they would tell us that they would put the cuts to police officers in their constituencies on their leaflets at the next election.
I am grateful for the campaigning advice from the right hon. Lady. Does she think one would have to be cynical to be perplexed by the fact that before the general election, her right hon. Friend Alan Johnson was not prepared under any circumstances to name the percentage decrease in the budget for the police, but since the general election he just happens to agree with Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary on a 12% figure? Is that cynical, or does it reflect the fact that the Labour party has no policy on cuts in the police service?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s facts are wrong. In fact, the former Home Secretary set out in November, before the election, areas where he believed reductions in the budget for the police could be made, which would come from efficiency savings. That is why he backed a 12% reduction, which was supported by HMIC, not a 20% reduction, which is hitting thousands and thousands of police officers across the country and putting front-line services at risk right across the country. Senior police chiefs are deeply troubled by chaotic changes to national policing, and police morale is at rock bottom. Members on the Government Benches are deeply out of touch if they think their constituents want to see 12,000 police officers across the country go.
The right hon. Lady references the former Home Secretary’s comments about policing. He also said that officer numbers would fall under the spending programme proposed by Labour. The shadow Chancellor said that there would be reductions in non-uniformed police staff. What cuts and what staff numbers would she envisage under Labour’s deficit reduction plans?
We have been here before. We have had this debate before. There is a clear difference between our plans and the Government’s. We said yes, there would be reductions—[Interruption.]—and that that would mean being able to maintain the number of police officers and police community support officers across the country and being able to maintain, as HMIC said, front-line services across the country. [Interruption.]
Order. It is one thing to make an intervention; it is quite another for Members to carry on shouting once an hon. Member has resumed her seat. There will be plenty of opportunity for Members to take part in the debate if we can make progress.
The noise on the Government Benches conveys Members’ desperation about the cuts being made to police officer numbers in their constituencies right across the country. The difference is that we said yes, cuts of about £1 billion would need to be made over the course of the Parliament; their Front-Bench team is making cuts of £2 billion, with the steepest cuts in the first few years. That is why we are seeing 12,000 officers go and front-line services being hit.
The storm will not go away. It will keep building. The Prime Minister may think he can make it go away by finally making a speech on crime in the next few weeks—his first since the Government began—just to show that he is taking the grip that he clearly thinks the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary lack. But it is too late for tough rhetoric, because communities across the country are already facing a tough reality—12,000 police officers to go.
How can the Government have got so out of touch on law on order? Many people have claimed that the Prime Minister just doesn’t get it—that he is out of touch and does not understand the fear of crime in communities across the country. It is true that crime is lower in Witney than in Wakefield, but one would have thought that the Prime Minister had plenty of experience of antisocial behaviour in his street. Surely the Defence Secretary must be the first candidate for an ASBO after throwing brickbats at the International Development Secretary and the Chancellor. The Business Secretary may need an injunction for throwing brickbats at himself.
The Justice Secretary has clearly been causing carnage wandering unmonitored through the TV studios. The Prime Minister should tag him at least, although Downing street probably thinks he is rather better locked up. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should serve a community sentence, replanting trees, and the Deputy Prime Minister is clearly regarded now as a nuisance neighbour. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is the only one the Government can count on to be supportive—he is only person rather pleased to see the cuts to the traffic cops. The entire Cabinet is in desperate need of a family intervention project. What a shame the Government have cut those!
Time and again we have warned in the House of the serious consequences of cutting 12,000 officers. Let us look at the evidence: domestic violence units cut in Hampshire, officers in sexual offences teams forced out in London, traffic cops cut in Manchester, fire arms officers cut in Nottingham, CCTV officers cut in Merseyside, neighbourhood police cut in Birmingham and—get this—in Kent the police have told us that surveillance officers have been called off their targets after six-hour shifts because of overtime cuts. I presume that as part of the big society the Home Secretary has kindly asked criminals to keep their misdemeanours to office hours.
Will the right hon. Lady at least turn her attention to London, where the Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson, through judicious management of his finances, is on course to increase the number of police officers by 1,000 by next year?
Judicious only until the mayoral election, after which the number will be cut. The Mayor has realised, as Government Members everywhere else in the country seem not to have done, that the public do not like police cuts, so of course he is pretending to put the numbers up, having seen them fall already since the election.
Government Members tell us that all these problems will be solved by cutting bureaucracy, but even the Home Secretary’s most optimistic claims are to save the equivalent of 1,200 police officers in several years’ time. Unfortunately, she is cutting 12,000 officers now. As for the A19s, you couldn’t make it up, with up to 2,000 experienced officers being forced to take early retirement. Chief constables are being put in an impossible position, forced to use A19s to make the savings that their forces need. However, now we see, with the calculations from the House of Commons Library, that when we take into account the lost tax and pension contributions that those police officers and police authorities were making, forcing those officers to retire early will actually cost the taxpayer more. Tens of millions of pounds spent and thousands fewer experienced officers on the beat—how on earth does that fight crime?
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady, who is being generous in giving way. Will she accept that Labour would be cutting £7 for every £8 cut under the Government’s proposals, that it is completely unacceptable for the police, as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has reported, to have only 11% of police officers on duty and available to the public at any one time, and that by cutting bureaucracy more police can be put on the streets, rather than filling in forms in the police stations?
It is right to keep working hard to cut bureaucracy, but the hon. Gentleman is out of touch with the reality of what is happening across the country. In west Yorkshire, for example, the police are now having to go back to their offices between incidents to deal with the bureaucracy themselves because of the scale of the cuts, whereas previously they could ring in with the details of an offence or incident that they had attended. In the west midlands and Warwickshire, time and again police officers are having to do more paperwork and bureaucracy because of the scale of the Government’s cuts.
It is not just the cuts that are causing the problems: the Government are also making it harder for the police and communities to fight crime. As a result of the DNA restrictions, the police estimate that there are 1,000 fewer criminal matches every year, including for serious offenders. It means not holding DNA at all in up to three quarters of rape cases, where charges are ultimately not brought, and we know the difficulties in rape cases.
On CCTV, the new code of practice means a bubble wrap of bureaucracy, with more checks and balances on a single camera than the Government are introducing for police and crime commissioners, yet the Home Secretary knows the benefits that CCTV can bring. They have just installed CCTV at Twyford train station in her constituency. Did she complain then that they had not done an impact assessment on the environment, privacy or disproportionality or introduce safeguards, as her code of practice required? No. She congratulated the station manager, saying that people needed the
“added reassurance that they can travel in safety”.
Too right they do, and they do not want too much bureaucracy to prevent them from getting the reassurance they need.
Before my right hon. Friend moves on from CCTV, I wonder how many Members of this House have had constituents come to them demanding that CCTV be removed? I am sure that every Member has had large numbers of people come to them asking for more CCTV, rather than less.
My hon. Friend is right. CCTV can make a difference for communities that are struggling, such as the community in Blackpool that I talked with a few weeks ago, who told me about the difference that having CCTV installed has made on their estate, where they had had persistent problems. CCTV was helping them to turn it around.
The right hon. Lady may have heard the Justice Secretary say in the previous debate how important it was from the Government’s perspective to prevent people from having to be witnesses and give evidence in court and how distressing that was. Does she therefore agree with me, and I presume with the Justice Secretary, and recognise the role that DNA and CCTV play in preventing witnesses and victims having to go through the trauma of giving evidence?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and I know that he has spent considerable time looking at the issue of DNA. When the police analysed the offences in 2008-09—just one year’s worth of offences—they found that there were 79 matches for very serious crimes, including murder, manslaughter and rape, which they would not have got had it not been for the DNA database. The concern is about not holding DNA for people who are not charged, even though they might have been suspected of a very serious offence and where the reason for not charging may not be that they are now thought to be innocent, but simply that there are difficulties, as, perhaps in a rape case—we know it is sometimes difficult to take such a case through the criminal justice system.
The Government are out of touch with their plans to end antisocial behaviour orders. The Home Secretary has said that she wants to end ASBOs because she is worried that they are being breached, but what is her answer? Her answer is to replace them with a much weaker injunction, with greater delays, which offenders can breach as many times as they like. She is removing the criminal enforcement for serious breaches of ASBOs and removing interim ASBOs altogether, making it much harder for communities, police and local authorities to get urgent action when serious cases arise. No matter how many times an offender breaches the new crime prevention injunctions or ignores the warnings of the police, they will still not get a criminal penalty. They are not so much a badge of honour as a novelty wrist band. How does that help communities that want to see antisocial behaviour brought down?
The area that I worry about most is child protection. The Home Secretary has now been advised that there are serious loopholes in her plans—by the Children’s Commissioner, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Children’s Society, Action for Children, the Scout Association, the Football Association, the Lawn Tennis Association and countless other national sporting bodies. Her plans still mean that someone could be barred from working with children and yet still get part-time or voluntary work in a school or children’s sports club and the organisation would not even be told that they had been barred. She really must stop and think again on this or she will be putting children at risk.
Time and again the Home Secretary is undermining the powers of the police and the authorities to fight crime. Time and again she is telling them to fight with one hand behind their backs. Worrying signs are already emerging. In Yorkshire, the police are saying that their figures show that crime has gone up this year. In the west midlands it is the same. Over the 13 years of the Labour Government, crime fell by 40%. The risk of being a victim of crime is now at its lowest since the British crime survey began and there is rising confidence in the police, but people want crime to keep falling. She is putting that at risk.
The right hon. Lady has confirmed that she agrees with the independent inspectorate of constabulary that £1 billion-worth of savings can be made to the police without affecting front-line services. Could she share with the House what challenges she made to the Home Office budget when she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2008-09 to remove this inefficiency?
The hon. Gentleman will find that the Home Office made efficiency savings every year, and we can always rely on Chief Secretaries continually to press for them. Before the election, the then Home Secretary set out in the 2009 pre-Budget report, the 2010 Budget and in the policing White Paper a series of areas where, yes, savings could be made. It is right to make savings, but it is also right to ensure that we give the police enough resources to fight crime and to protect the public in their areas.
The Government tell us that they have no choice. That is rubbish. They have made a choice to put the Tory party’s political timetable for deficit reduction ahead of keeping the public safe. They have made a choice to roll back police officers, because they do not believe in public sector action. They are hitting jobs in the economy, but they are hitting law and order, too.
This policy is driven by ideology, not by necessity. The Government are fighting the police rather than fighting crime, and they are making life easier for offenders and harder for victims of crime. They have turned their backs on communities, they are out of touch on crime and justice, and communities throughout the country will pay the price.
The Opposition’s motion is wrong in every point of fact and wrong on every point of policy. Given that they seem to have so little knowledge or understanding of policing and crime, let me deal with each of their points in turn.
First, the motion says that the Government are cutting 12,000 police officers throughout England and Wales. Of course, that is not Government policy. Decisions on the size and make-up of the police work force are a matter entirely for chief constables to take locally in conjunction with their police authority and, from May 2012, with their police and crime commissioner.
I think the hon. Gentleman asks me how much money is being cut from budgets to police authorities. The average cut this year in real terms from central Government funding for police is 5.5%, but each police force area raises funds through the precept.
I heard Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, complain when I made the point that decisions on police numbers are a matter for chief constables, yet in an interview with the New Statesman on
“decisions will be taken and that is always going to be a matter for chief constables.”
So, she agrees that such decisions are taken by the police authority and the chief constable together.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says in its most recent report that the size of the work force gives no indication whatever of the quality of service a force provides to its community, and that is because of all those officers who are sat behind desks, filling in forms and giving no benefit to the public. What matters is the visibility and availability of officers and the effective use of resources, and many forces are increasing availability.
My hon. Friend Angie Bray made the point about the increased number of police officers under the Mayor of London, an elected individual responsible for policing in London. In Gloucestershire, the police force has put 15% more sergeants and constables into visible policing roles while reducing overall numbers, and by doing that in Gloucestershire it is increasing the number of police officers on the beat from 563 to 651.
There are a number of roles in policing, and we have been absolutely clear about that, but we are absolutely clear also that some of those people working in police force back offices have to spend significant amounts of time filling in paperwork—imposed by the previous Labour Government—which is taking up valuable time and effort. I shall deal with that issue further in a few minutes.
In London, alongside the new recruitment of police officers in the Metropolitan police area, the Met is also getting more officers to patrol alone, rather than in pairs, and better matching resources to demand, thereby increasing officer availability to the public by 25%.
Given that the Opposition are getting their facts wrong, let us look at the real facts.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that, on reflection, increasing the cuts from Labour’s proposed 12% to 20% is a false economy? It will critically impact on the number of front-line officers, and the cost of increased crime will be much greater than the savings to police forces, so should not she go back to the drawing board?
No. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument at all, and in a few minutes I will address exactly that point about funding.
Let us look at the facts. Our police forces understood perfectly well that they would have had to make reductions in staff numbers no matter which party was in power. The Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Keith Vaz, found that almost all police forces were predicting future staff losses by January 2010—months before the election. In fact, 21 police forces—almost half of all police forces—saw falling officer numbers in the five years up to March 2010, when we had a Labour Government.
Indeed, as my hon. Friend Mr Jackson said, when Labour’s last Home Secretary was asked during the election campaign whether he could guarantee that police numbers would not fall under Labour, he answered no. Alan Johnson understood that he could not guarantee police numbers, so why is the right hon. Lady not so straight with the public?
I suggest that, instead of trying to look across to Government Members, the hon. Gentleman asks his Front Benchers why they got this country into such a financial mess that we have had to be elected as a coalition Government to clear it up: two parties, working together to clear up the mess left by one.
The Opposition’s mistake on the first point in their motion is linked to their mistake on the second point. They are simply wrong to suggest that the cuts that the Government are having to make that go further—cuts, let me remind them again, as I just have, that we are having to make because of the disastrous economic position that they left us in—
If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will find that I am about to come on to the point that he made in his first intervention.
There is a police station earmarked for closure in my constituency that is completely inefficient and unsuitable for modern policing. Local alternatives are cheaper and provide more community access, but is it not a sad indictment that such inefficient buildings are still being used, and is it not better to cut inefficient buildings rather than front-line policing?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and the sadness of the Opposition’s position is that they would not be making such very important decisions that can lead to a better and improved service to the public. I commend my hon. Friend’s local force for being willing to make such decisions.
I said that I would respond to Geraint Davies on the difference between the 12% cuts, which HMIC suggested could be made, and the Government’s cuts. He and other Opposition Members who have raised the point in the past, including the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, have obviously neither read nor understood the HMIC report, so let me tell them what it said.
HMIC found that more than £1.15 billion per year—12% of national police funding—could be saved if only the least efficient police forces brought themselves up to the average level of efficiency. Well, the state of the public finances that Labour left us is such that all forces must raise themselves up to the level not of the average but of the most efficient forces. That could add another £350 million of savings to those calculated in HMIC’s report. But HMIC did not consider all areas of police spending. It did not consider IT or procurement, for example, and it makes absolutely no sense for the police to procure things in 43 different ways, and it makes absolutely no sense to have 2,000 different IT systems throughout the 43 forces, as they currently do.
With a national joined-up approach, better contracts, more joint purchasing, a smaller number of different IT systems and greater private sector involvement, we can save hundreds of millions of pounds—over and above the savings identified by HMIC.
Likewise, HMIC did not consider pay, because that was outside its remit, but in an organisation such as the police, where £11 billion—80% of total revenue spending—goes on pay, there is no question but that pay restraint and pay reform must form part of the package. That is why we believe, subject to any recommendations from the Police Negotiating Board, that there should be a two-year pay freeze in policing, just as there has been across the public sector. That would save at least £350 million—again, on top of HMIC’s savings.
I know that being in opposition is difficult, but I really hope we were not as bad as that lot over there during our time in opposition.
Would it not be possible to have a royal commission on police terms and conditions? The police do a wonderful job, and we need to maintain high morale and ensure that they do not bear a disproportionate burden of the cuts that we have to make as a result of the financial mismanagement of the Labour Government.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the behaviour of the Opposition today.
On the proposal about the royal commission, the cuts we have to make and the timetable within which we have to make them means that we have to make decisions now. However, we are not just making those decisions as a Government. I set up the independent review into police pay, terms and conditions under Tom Winsor, who has produced his first report. The proposals from that report are now going through the Police Negotiating Board, and decisions will be taken by the Government once those proper processes have been gone through. At the beginning of next year, he will report on the second part of his review. I felt that it was important for the police that we ensured that an independent reviewer looked at these issues who could fully take into account the impact of all the changes.
I remind any hon. Members who are considering the royal commission proposal that in its report last summer HMIC said, in very stark terms, that there is no time for a royal commission because of the nature of the decisions that have to be taken and the speed at which they have to be taken.
The police represent the best of public services. They work tirelessly, they sign up to no-strike agreements, and they cancel leave at a moment’s notice to deal with murder or any violent crime. Do they not deserve, therefore, to be given a royal commission on pay and conditions and not to be treated as another victim of Government cuts?
The hon. Lady is right. We have the best police force in the world and the best model of policing in the world. I believe that the British model of policing is one that we should welcome, support and applaud. However, if she thinks that there is time for a royal commission, she should consider why, as a member of the Labour party, she allowed it, when in government, to get the finances of this country into such a state that we need to take the action that we do. [ Interruption. ] It is all very well for Opposition Members to say, “Oh no, we don’t want to hear it again”, but if the hon. Lady’s party were in government today, it would be cutting £7 for every £8 we are cutting this year.
Last Thursday, PC Nigel Albuery was stabbed on duty on the streets of Croydon. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have to look at the issue of police terms and conditions, but does she agree that we should consider the results of the Winsor review in the light of the dangers that police officers such as PC Albuery face day to day and the debt of gratitude we owe to them?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we will indeed do that. I take this opportunity to commend PC Albuery, who suffered terrible injuries, as result of which he is in a serious condition. He was doing the job that he signed up to do, which is protecting the public and dealing with criminals. I pay tribute to him and to all the other officers who, day in and day out, go out to deal with instances and incidents that take place not knowing whether they will be subject to the sort of attack to which PC Albuery was subject.
Raoul Moat began his killing spree in my constituency, a mile from my house. Twenty-four hours later, he damaged PC David Rathband to the extent that that man will never see again. Last week, at the Police Federation, he asked the Home Secretary, “Do you think I’m paid too much?”, to which she replied, “I’m not saying to any individual officer that your pay is wrong.” Just what is she saying to all police officers?
I am saying to all police officers that we value the work that they are doing, though it is important that we look at their pay terms and conditions, which have not been changed significantly for some time. We need to ensure that we have a modern, flexible work force in the police who can take us forward in the policing that we need today in the 21st century. That is why I thought it important to set up an independent review. We will look at the results of the proper processes that that independent review report is going through with the Police Negotiating Board.
I have set out a number of areas in which it is possible to make savings over and above those identified in the HMIC report in areas, such as increasing efficiency, IT, procurement, and a pay freeze. Together, these savings amount to £2.2 billion a year—more than the £2.1 billion real-terms reduction in central Government funding to the police. Even that ignores the local precept contribution from council tax payers, which independent forecasts suggest will rise by £382 million, or 12%, over the comprehensive spending review period.
If the Home Secretary is so confident in her savings figures, why does she think that chief constables from across the country, including in Lancashire, South Yorkshire, Kent and Norfolk, are all saying that front-line services will be hit as a result of her cuts, and why are 12,000 officers going?
Chief constables up and down the country are giving a commitment to maintaining the quality of their front-line services. The chief constables of Gloucestershire, Kent and Thames Valley, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, are all saying that they have a commitment to ensuring front-line services.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the chief constable of Staffordshire has reorganised the back office of his operation and organised his local policing units to ensure that no front-line services are cut in Staffordshire? In fact, in Tamworth we have an extra bobby on the beat. That is no thanks to the Opposition, who are forcing us to make these cuts.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. The chief constable of Staffordshire is another chief constable who is committed to protecting front-line and neighbourhood policing and ensuring that he does so in a way that makes sense and introduces greater efficiency in several areas. The problem with the position taken by the Opposition is that they do not want to see any change of any sort in policing, and yet there are chief constables out there who know that a transformation of policing is what is needed in the circumstances that we find ourselves in. In many cases, as has been evidenced by my hon. Friends, we may see an improvement in the service that is given to people.
Then what does the right hon. Lady say to the chief constable of Lancashire, who says,
“we cannot leave the frontline untouched and that is because of the scale of the cuts”; to the chief constable of South Yorkshire, who has said,
“we will be unable to continue to provide the level of service that we do today in such areas as neighbourhood policing”; to the chief constable of Kent, who said that 20% is
“a significant drawback into police numbers, both civilian staff and police numbers, and clearly there's a potential impact that crime will rise”; and to the chief constable of Norfolk, who says that given the scale of the cuts,
“Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary…report confirms what we have always maintained, that…the constabulary will have to reduce its front line over the next four years”?
Her policing Minister has said that he likes chief constables who stay quiet. Does she want to gag the chief constables of Lancashire, South Yorkshire, Kent and Norfolk, or does she think they are doing a bad job?
A number of those chief constables, including the chief constable of Kent, have made it absolutely clear that they are going to protect neighbourhood policing. Perhaps the right hon. Lady should reflect on the evidence given by the chief constable of Greater Manchester to the Home Affairs Committee, when he said that an artificial numbers game had been necessary under the last Labour Government, with the result that some officers were being put into back-office roles that need not be undertaken by officers.
Crucially, all the savings that I have set out can be made while protecting the quality of front-line services. At the same time, as I have made clear in response to several interventions, we are reviewing police pay, terms and conditions to make them fair to police officers and to the taxpayer. If implemented, Tom Winsor’s proposals to reform police pay and conditions will help the service to manage its budgets, maximise officer and staff deployment to front-line roles, and enable front-line services to be maintained and improved.
I will complete this point and then I might be generous to my hon. Friend.
Winsor proposes rewarding those with specialist skills, those who work unsocial hours, and those who are on the front line. His proposals are comprehensive, wide-ranging and far-reaching. They are things that the Labour party never had the guts to do. Given that the Labour party would be cutting £7 in every £8 that we are cutting this year, the shadow Home Secretary needs to tell the House where her cuts would fall.
My right hon. Friend is as wise, charming and insightful as ever. However, I think that the Winsor review is a trifle too aggressive on police terms and conditions, and I hope that she will bear those concerns in mind when independently reviewing Winsor’s recommendations.
There is indeed a process that is taking place in relation to the proposals of the Winsor review. The proposals are before the Police Negotiating Board at the moment, and there will be a proper process to consider its decisions. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Winsor review identified significant savings that could be made by changing the terms and conditions, and then proposed to plough half that sum back into improved pay and terms and conditions for the police.
We want not only to manage the cuts that we are having to make, but to make the police service better. The Labour Government spent a lot of money on policing in the boom years, but they spent it all on making simple things very complicated. They made an industry out of performance management and league tables; created a forest of guidance, manuals and pointless paperwork; and hugely increased the number of bureaucrats, auditors and checkers. At the same time, they did nothing to increase police visibility, nothing to increase public accountability and nothing to reform and modernise the service. We are putting that right. We are slashing the bureaucracy that Labour allowed to build up.
Earlier this month, I announced measures that would save up to 2.5 million man hours of police time each year. That is on top of the measures that we have already taken to scrap all Labour’s targets and restore discretion to the police. We have got rid of the policing pledge, the confidence target, the public service agreement targets, the key performance indicators and the local area agreements. We have replaced them with a single objective: to cut crime. I want police officers chasing criminals, not chasing targets. The Government do not put their trust in performance indicators, targets or regulations. We put our trust in the professionals and in the public.
Let me address the third fallacy in the Opposition motion. Police and crime commissioners are not an American-style reform; they are a very British and very democratic reform. The Labour party certainly did not consider democratic accountability to be an alien concept when Vernon Coaker said in 2008, when he was the Minister for Policing, Crime and Security, that
“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.
I could not agree more.
The hon. Gentleman asks what the previous Government did. Well, they did nothing. They said they wanted democratic accountability and then did absolutely nothing about it. I say to him that if democracy is good enough for this House, it is good enough for police accountability.
My right hon. Friend might remember that the last Labour Government did have plans for policing reform. Indeed, they proposed that police forces should merge and spent some £12 million of taxpayers’ money, only ultimately to abort the plans. Does that not show scant regard for the spending of taxpayers’ money?
My hon. Friend makes a valid and important point about the attitude of the previous Government.
Our reforms are based on the simple premise that the police must be accountable not to civil servants in Whitehall, but to the communities that they serve. That is exactly what directly elected police and crime commissioners will achieve. The legislation for police and crime commissioners has passed through this House and has entered Committee in the other place. We will seek to overturn the recent Lords amendment when the Bill returns to this House. Unlike the existing invisible and ineffective police authorities, the commissioner will be somebody people have heard of, somebody they have voted for, somebody they can hold to account, and somebody they can vote out if they do not help the police to cut crime.
We now come to the Opposition’s fourth error. It is complete and utter nonsense to suggest there will be no checks and balances on the powers of police and crime commissioners. We have specifically legislated for strong checks and balances. A police and crime panel will scrutinise the police and crime commissioner. The panel will have several key powers, including the power of veto over the police and crime commissioner’s proposed local precept and over the candidate they propose for chief constable. The panel will also make recommendations on local police and crime plans, and will scrutinise the commissioner’s annual report. It will have the power to ask the commissioner to provide information and to sit before it to answer questions. It will also be able to call on Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for professional judgment over the police and crime commissioner’s proposed decision to dismiss a chief constable.
We have published a draft protocol setting out the relationship between police and crime commissioners and chief constables. The protocol was agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives, the Met and the Metropolitan Police Authority. A copy has been placed in both House Libraries and copies are available on the Home Office website. The protocol makes it clear that commissioners will not manage police forces, and that they will not be permitted to interfere in the day-to-day work of police officers. The duty and responsibility of managing a police force will fall squarely on the shoulders of the chief constable, as it always has.
We will publish a strategic policing requirement to ensure that commissioners deliver their national policing responsibilities, as well as their local responsibilities. A strengthened HMIC will monitor forces and escalate serious concerns about force performance to Ministers. Finally, the Home Secretary will retain powers to direct police and crime commissioners and chief constables to take action in extreme circumstances, if they are failing to carry out their functions.
The Opposition are simply wrong to say that there will be no checks and balances on police and crime commissioners. There will be extensive checks and balances—the Opposition just choose to ignore them. Of course, unlike the current invisible and unaccountable police authorities, police and crime commissioners will face the strongest and most powerful check and balance there is: the ballot box. This should be a concept with which the Labour party is familiar: if they fail, they get booted out of office.
I will turn to police powers. The police national DNA database, which was established in 1995, has clearly led to a great many criminals being convicted who otherwise would not have been caught. However, in a democracy, there must be limits to any such form of police power. Storing the DNA and fingerprints of more than a million innocent people indefinitely only undermines public trust in policing. We will take innocent people off the DNA database and put guilty people on. While the previous Government were busy stockpiling the DNA of the innocent, they did not bother to take the DNA of the guilty. In March, we gave the police new powers to take DNA from convicted criminals who are now in the community.
Rather than engaging in political posturing, we are making the right reforms for the right reasons. Our proposals will ensure that there is fairness for innocent people by removing the majority of them from the database. By increasing the number of convicted individuals on the database, we will ensure that those who have broken the law can be traced if they reoffend. In all cases, the DNA profile and fingerprints of any person arrested for a recordable offence will be subjected to a speculative search against the national databases. That means that those who have committed crimes in the past and have left their DNA or fingerprints at the scene will not escape justice. The rules will give the police the tools that they need, without putting the DNA of millions of innocent people on the database.
Like DNA, it is clear that CCTV can act as a deterrent to criminals, can help to convict the guilty, and is warmly welcomed by many communities. The Government wholeheartedly support the use of CCTV and DNA to fight crime. However, it is clearly not right that surveillance cameras are being used without proper safeguards. When or where to use CCTV are properly decisions for local areas. It is essential that such measures command public support and confidence. Our proposals for a code of practice will help to achieve just that. If the Opposition disagree, as was clear from the speech by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, perhaps they should cast their minds back to the controversy over the use of CCTV cameras in Birmingham in the last year. British policing relies on consent. If that is lost, we all suffer. Sadly, the Opposition do not seem to understand that.
I hope I am right in sensing that my right hon. Friend is moving back from the left-wing, liberty agenda on DNA and CCTV. The police installed 14 cameras in what used to be a no-go area of east Leeds. Within 18 months, that led to crime falling by 48% and burglaries falling by 65%. Will she confirm that that did not restrict anybody’s freedoms, but enhanced them by allowing people to go out at night, which is a freedom that they had been deprived of for many years?
I thank my hon. Friend. As I said earlier, the Government wholeheartedly support the use of CCTV and DNA in the fight against crime. We are introducing not unnecessary bureaucracy but a sensible and measured approach, which will help to ensure that CCTV is used for the purpose for which it was designed—tackling crime.
Will my right hon. Friend say a word or two about Criminal Records Bureau checks? We had a case in Bournemouth in which a teacher from one school was not allowed to drive a minibus for another school, to which her children went, because of CRB checks. That seems a mad situation, and I hope it can be rectified.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and I will come on to vetting and barring once I have covered the issue of antisocial behaviour, because every aspect of the Opposition’s motion is wrong.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have protected the counter-terrorism policing budget, because we recognised the importance of that.
The next mistake in Labour’s motion is on antisocial behaviour. We are giving the police and local practitioners a simpler and much more effective set of tools. The current alphabet soup of powers is confusing, bureaucratic and, far too often, simply not effective. The number of antisocial behaviour orders issued has fallen by more than half, and more than half of them are now breached at least once. More than 40% are breached more than once, and in fact those that are breached are now breached an average of more than four times.
We are introducing a smaller number of faster, more flexible and more effective tools that will allow practitioners to protect victims and communities. Far from making it harder for communities to get action on antisocial behaviour, we will introduce the community trigger, which will give communities the right to force agencies to take action to deal with persistent antisocial behaviour if they have failed to do so. The last shadow Home Secretary said:
“I want to live in the kind of society that puts ASBOs behind us.”
I find it rather concerning that the current shadow Home Secretary does not want to live in the same kind of society as the shadow Chancellor.
The Opposition’s final mistake in the motion is on child protection, and it brings me to the point that my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood raised. There are no loopholes in the programme that we have proposed. If by “loopholes” the Opposition mean that our scheme will no longer require 9 million people to register and be monitored by the state, they are right. We will not put nearly one in six of the entire population on to some enormous, intrusive Government database. We will not stop famous authors from reading poetry to schoolchildren. We will provide an appropriate and proportionate scheme that will give vulnerable people and children the protection that they need, while allowing those who want to volunteer to do so without fear or suspicion. That will make children’s lives better, by encouraging, not discouraging, people to work with them. I am sure that many Members, like my hon. Friend, can give examples of people who have found the whole process difficult and, sadly, been put off volunteering.
Will the Home Secretary respond specifically to the NSPCC’s concern? It has raised the issue of a loophole whereby someone who has been barred from working with children can apply for a voluntary or part-time supervised job with a sports organisation or school, and that organisation will not even be told that they have been barred. Her junior Minister confirmed in the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee that that was the case, and children’s organisations, the Children’s Commissioner and Labour Members are deeply concerned about that loophole. Can she confirm that it does indeed exist?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for mentioning the NSPCC, because it enables me to put the record right and quote its chief executive, Andrew Flanagan, who has said:
“The Government’s amendment is absolutely right. We welcome this wholeheartedly as it will make a huge difference to the safety of young people. We look forward to working with the Government as the new scheme is implemented.”
The right hon. Lady will know that the matter was discussed in detail in Committee, and my hon. Friends who served on the Committee were clear that that NSPCC comment referred to the changes for 16 and 17-year-olds. She rightly listened and made the changes in question. Will she also make a change in the case of someone who has been barred? It might be known that there is a problem with someone working with children, yet they will be allowed to do so again. The organisation that is supposed to be supervising them will not even be told that they have been barred from working with children. Will she look again at that matter? It is very serious.
The issue was discussed in Committee, and the points that were made were very clear. As she said, she is talking about a situation in which an individual will be supervised. In the past she has talked about people with part-time jobs in schools, whose activity will be regulated. The potential for barring will therefore apply. In situations in which people’s activity is supervised, information will be available from the enhanced CRB check.
I accept that throughout, there has been a difference of opinion between Government Members and the Opposition. Labour wanted to put millions of people on to the database, which prevented people from volunteering to work with children and prevented authors from going into schools to read to children. Frankly, the scheme needed to be revised, and the Government are doing so.
We have a clear and comprehensive plan to cut crime. We are empowering the public, cutting bureaucracy, strengthening the fight against organised crime, providing more effective and appropriate powers and getting better value for money for the taxpayer. Those are the right reforms at the right time. In contrast, the Opposition are wrong on police numbers, the HMIC report, front-line availability, police and crime commissioners, DNA, CCTV, antisocial behaviour and child protection. They are wrong on each and every point, and that is why their motion deserves to fail.
Order. I am going to lift the time limit to seven minutes, but if Members start to intervene I will have to drop it again.
I thank my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper for choosing this topic for today’s debate. Rather than consider national matters or the headlines, I wish to discuss what is happening to the safer neighbourhood police teams in my constituency. They were introduced on the basis that there would be a team in each ward with six officers—a sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers, known as the 1-2-3 formation. They were the best innovation in my constituency in the past 20 years. They tackle not only crime levels but the fear of crime, a focus that would otherwise be missing. The lives of people in my constituency are often blighted not by actual crime but by the fear of being a victim of crime.
One of the fundamental points about safer neighbourhood teams is that they make people feel safer in their neighbourhood. People know their police officers and can just walk up to them. They are less alienated from the police and build up a level of trust in them, which makes them more likely to pass on information that they would not give to the anonymous police officer racing around in their Panda car. That change in policing was brought about not by the police or Whitehall mandarins, but by politicians—MPs who understood their constituents’ needs and how best to address them. Safer neighbourhood teams are not perfect, and it was necessary to look at their hours of work and shift patterns. However, they provide increased support and confidence in the communities that I represent, and yet they are under threat, and nobody but nobody is prepared to stand up and be counted on what is actually happening.
I should therefore like the House to give me a few minutes to explain what is happening to my safer neighbourhood police teams. Fact No. 1: my local police are very clear that the current system of ward-based safer neighbourhood teams cannot continue. The Mitcham and Morden Guardian reported it thus: Merton police have
“submitted a plan detailing three possible options…All three present a move away from the ‘one-two-three’ model used by safer neighbourhood teams in all 20 wards”.
That is not just tinkering. The report continues:
“Chief Inspector Lawrence said Option 2, which proposes nine SNTs, was the preferred option.”
Indeed, every report I have seen has made it clear that Merton police want to move away from the 20 safer neighbourhood teams—one in each ward—to having just nine of the current bases. They even told me that in a face-to-face meeting.
Fact No. 2: reducing the number of teams from 20 to nine is supported by Conservatives. For instance, Richard Tracey, our local London assembly member, is reported to have “welcomed these proposals”, and to have said that he had for years advocated adding flexibility to community policing. Moreover, David Simpson, a senior Merton councillor, is reported to be “relaxed” about the SNT shake-up. He added:
“We’re supportive of the nine SNT bases.”
Fact No. 3: in the meeting at which Chief Superintendent Dick Wolfenden, of Merton police, went public with plans to cut safer neighbourhood teams, he cited Government cuts, saying:
“The future doesn’t look great. By 2014 I’ll be operating with 25 to 30 per cent less than I had eight months ago. My life, right now, is all about spinning plates and trying to keep the shop open…I’m fighting battles on all sorts of different fronts.”
Fact No. 4: earlier this year, Merton police told the leader of Merton council that although they are officially
“at full strength for constables and sergeants” they have a smaller number who are
“currently unable to perform operational” duties.
In other words, full strength does not mean having every post filled. The police also admitted to eight PCSO vacancies and a recruitment freeze. Therefore, although there is no official policy of police cuts, the reality is that we do not have the officers that we should have.
The Met’s website states:
“Safer Neighbourhoods teams usually consist of one sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers.”
However, according to Merton police’s website, currently—as of today—fewer than half their safer neighbourhood teams have a full complement of officers. Therefore, the police’s claim that the 1-2-3 system is “usual” seems at least a little exaggerated.
Officers have spoken of being moved to other teams or being given other responsibilities. Individual police officers have written e-mails about “permanent reductions” rather than vacancies “for the foreseeable future”. They have said that as far as they are concerned, each ward will have just one PC, which brings me to my next fact.
Fact No. 5: according to the minutes of my safer neighbourhoods panels, which are produced by the police, there has already been a safer neighbourhoods “team merger” between Pollards Hill and Longthornton. They have even held joint panel meetings, and for several months, only one sergeant covered both wards, which is exactly what one would expect if we were to go from having 20 to nine teams. It is almost as if the police were trialling their new system even before they had been allowed to replace the old one.
As a result, there has been local furore and a lot of media interest. Assistant Commissioner Ian McPherson even had to appear on BBC London’s TV news to deny everything. I wrote to him the next day to reiterate that the merger had taken place and to invite him to come to Mitcham to see for himself that residents really were telling the truth. Unfortunately, he did not reply for nearly eight weeks, and when he did he could not bring himself even to refer to the merger, let alone to deny it. It therefore must be a coincidence that the police announced earlier this month that Longthornton would have its own sergeant after all—a small victory, and perhaps one for the big society, because it shows what communities can do when they try to overturn bad decisions.
Hon. Members might think that getting a post filled is a victory, but my next fact is even more disturbing. Fact No. 6: the police have always said that SNTs are based only in their wards, but a huge number of measures have meant that the teams have been reduced and taken away from their wards. I cannot go into those details because of time, although I would dearly love to—I will write to the Home Secretary.
Policing is fundamental to my constituents and those of other hon. Members. We must tell the truth about what is happening to police on the ground.
May I begin, as I often do, by declaring an interest as a special constable with the British Transport police? A few people might wonder why I do that job. When I was on the Home Affairs Committee, I justified it by saying that I have always felt deeply about policing—that is the reality. That is one of things that brought me into politics. I felt even more deeply about the matter when I became the victim of a burglary myself. I can tell the Home Secretary the effect it can have on a family, particularly when one of the partners is often away from home and young children are involved, to know that someone has been walking around their house with a knife in their hand
In many ways, I am sorry to have to make this speech—it is not even a very well-prepared one—but I have to tell the Home Secretary that I am deeply concerned about some of the directions we are taking. I have a view that might be unfashionable, which is that burglars, rapists, murderers, people who commit acts of violence of any sort and people who sell drugs—there is a family in Monmouthshire selling ketamine to young children in school—need to be taken off the streets and sent to prison. They should not be released early from their prison sentences, and they do not deserve 50% off their sentences, which is why for the first time ever, I think, I was unable to follow the Home Secretary into the Lobby earlier tonight. I regret that very much, but, I will not be part of any Government who want to let people out of prison. I do not think the Labour party did a good job on law and order, but when I hear colleagues say that it banged up more people than we will, I start to question what I am doing here.
Home Secretary, I will find it much easier to follow you into the Lobby tonight, because the Opposition have tabled a motion based on money, and we all know that, frankly, you are in a no-win situation. Labour Members did what they always do—they taxed and spent, they borrowed and they spent, they printed money and left us all with a £1 trillion debt.
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman address the House through the Chair, rather than the Home Secretary?
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I was saying that I have no problem in following the Government into the Lobby on this motion, because it is about money. I understand full well that cuts have to be made, because we do not have the money and because basic economics means that we cannot live off other people’s money for ever.
There is much we could be doing to support the police. Morale in the police is very low. We could be doing a lot about bureaucracy. That has been said for years—of course it has—but I can give specific examples. Officers spend 10 or 15 minutes filling out a stop-and-search form for each person they stop and search. They cannot stop and search the right people because code A relating to section 2 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 prevents them from searching somebody who has committed an offence that is probably non-arrestable when the police do not have direct evidence or anything on them at that moment. For example, at Liverpool Street station, I once stopped a beggar who had a long criminal record for carrying knives and drugs. I wanted to give him a quick frisk—not an invasive strip search, but a frisk—but I could not because although he had 20 or so convictions, I had no evidence that he had drugs on him at that particular moment. Give the police the tools to do the job, and they will do it well.
Public order police officers have one of the hardest jobs going. One minute they are told that they should not kettle people because it is against their human rights, but the next they are told, “There’s been a riot, the Conservative party’s offices have been invaded. We want robust policing next time.” The next time there is robust policing, but then there are more complaints about it from Members on both sides of the House who have never had to stand, outnumbered 10:1, in front of a load of rioting people and had to try to work out which rioters are passing the iron bars, which are throwing them and so on. There is no way that the police can turn round and run because they are in uniform. It is a very difficult and dangerous job, and if they do not always get it right, it is not altogether surprising.
There are things we could be doing to support the special constabulary to make much better use of it, such as employer-supported policing, which I have spoken to the Home Secretary about before. Quite frankly, however, if it comes down to money, there is a difference between me and Opposition Members. I would like more money put into the police force and the Prison Service so that we can look after our people properly. The first priority of any Government should be the defence of the realm and the rule of law. Where I differ from Opposition Members, however, is that I would say to the Home Secretary—even though it is not her decision—that I cannot understand why we are pouring into the third world money that is being spent on Mercedes Benz by dodgy dictators in Africa, while having to cut funding to the police and prison services here, resulting in our people being not as safe as they ought to be.
Let us be honest about this. If we are going to reduce funding to the police force, there will be a cut in service. There is no point trying to pretend otherwise, no matter what reforms we make. I offer the Home Secretary a serious suggestion. I have noticed that on many occasions the police have to waste a lot of money providing translation facilities for people who claim not to speak English. I have actually arrested people who were able to tell me in perfect English that they were not responsible for whatever they were doing—usually bag thefts and such things. They have an amazing level of English, but take them back to the police station and suddenly it has all gone and a translator has to be found at £50 an hour—and no doubt the translator follows them all the way through the court process as well. On rare and happy occasions, these people actually go to prison. When that happens, though, we have to spend money housing in our prisons people who are often illegal immigrants—that involves a certain expense, although not as much as the figures often quoted suggest—and afterwards we have to spend money trying to deport them if their countries will take them.
The Home Secretary should take some of the money that is meant for the third world in the third world, and use it on people from the third world who are over here breaking the law—not all of them are, of course, but some of them do.
Yes, I appreciate that I quite often put my arguments across in a clumsy fashion—although from what I have seen, that is no barrier to high office in this place—but I have one priority in mind: the safety of our people.
The other day I was talking to somebody who was brought up in a mining village—I can tell the Home Secretary who it was afterwards. That person was a Conservative party agent—a true working-class Conservative of the sort who put in people such as Margaret Thatcher and John Major. She was not just a member of the Conservative party, but someone who went out and campaigned, and had been an area chairman. However, she has now left the Conservative party because she feels that we have abandoned people such as her on issues such as crime and immigration. I have the utmost respect for the Home Secretary—far more, in fact, than for many other members of the Cabinet—and I will happily follow her through the Lobby this evening. However, I very much hope that working-class Tory voters—and perhaps even working-class Labour voters—will be voting Conservative at the next election, and will not feel let down and betrayed. I have canvassed many houses in my lifetime and met many people who said that they would vote Conservative. Not one of them has ever said to me, “I’m voting Conservative because I want you to let more people out of prison.” Let this not be the message from the Conservative party if we ever want to win an election again.
Let me start by saying how offensive I found some of the remarks that David T. C. Davies made. [ Interruption. ] I will leave it at that.
Let me say how important policing, and crime reduction and prevention are in my constituency, as they are in many others, as we have heard. As we have also heard, the British crime survey showed that during Labour’s Administration, helped by record numbers of police, crime fell by 43% to a 30-year low. Violent crime fell by 42% and burglary by 59%. The risk of being a victim of crime was the lowest since 1981, when the BCS began. Under Labour, there were record numbers of police—nearly 17,000—and more than 16,000 police community support officers.
This Government’s public spending cuts have meant that every police force in England and Wales faces a 7.5% real-terms cut this year and an 8.7% cut in 2012-13. That means that in the run-up to the Olympics, when there will be pressures on all forces, and when the Home Secretary says that there is an ongoing terror threat, forces will face a 15% cut in the next two years. By 2014, that figure will have risen to 20%. Contrary to what she said earlier about Chief Constable Fahy’s comments to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, let me point out that he said that £76.6 million would be cut in total over the next two years, and that because 86% of the budget is spent on the work force, that equates to—these are the figures that he quoted—nearly 1,400 police officers and 1,600 civilian staff posts being lost.
I am enjoying the hon. Lady’s use of statistics, but I implore Members on both sides of the House—and we have a lot of intelligent people here this evening—to get away from this fetish about the numbers of police, and instead talk about the results. We all knew that we would have to make cuts; let us talk about where those cuts should fall and what the rights numbers are to guarantee safety.
I am happy to come to that, but it is important to set out the statistics that I have just given, which show that there has been a cut from a level that enabled the police force to work effectively.
We have also heard about the recruitment freezes, and about some police forces using the legal loophole in the police pensions regulations forcibly to retire police officers with over 30 years’ experience; they are some of our most experienced officers. Another issue is the Government’s fixation with what they call front-line or visible policing. We must not forget the important role that specialist units play in domestic violence and child protection cases. They are important areas that also need to be valued.
What most people cannot understand, however, is why, at the same time as putting communities at risk with cuts to the police force, the Government are proposing to spend more than £100 million on 42 elected police commissioners. That is the equivalent of 600 full-time posts. It just does not make sense.
In last year’s manifesto, Labour made a commitment to maintaining the then police staffing levels, with a three-year assured programme of investment. We were going to make tough choices elsewhere, in procurement, IT and overtime.
I am terribly sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, because we are about to hear where exactly she would make cuts. We all look forward to that. She speaks assuredly about the number of police officers under the last Labour Government, but many of my constituents tell me that they never saw a police officer on their streets during that time. How many more police officers would she offer, in order to give assurance to my constituents?
I am talking about the situation that we have now, with the hon. Gentleman’s Government in power. I had thousands of petitions presented to me during the by-election specifically on the subject of cuts in police numbers. I must also remind him that the Deputy Prime Minister promised to increase police numbers.
The effects of the cuts have already been noted by the Conservative chair of the Association of Police Authorities, who said that they would ultimately put at risk progress in reducing crime. In my constituency, the Oldham division of the Greater Manchester police has expressed concern not only about the direct effects of the cuts on police spending but about the cuts to the local authority budget and the abolition of area-based grants, all of which will have significant effects. The partnership working between the police, the local authority and the voluntary sector has had immense benefits for crime prevention and community safety—for example, in target-hardening measures such as alley-gating. There is strong evidence that such measures have a significant benefit for vulnerable properties. Other measures that have brought benefits include youth programmes and offender management.
I have been contacted by nearly 50 local police officers living in my constituency. Not only are they fearful for their jobs but the recent Winsor review and Hutton report will have significant implications for their terms and conditions and for their pensions. Sergeant David Donlan asked me:
“How many people have to go to work in body armour, routinely putting their lives at risk to protect our communities, and yet have imposed on them where they can live, who they can associate with or even marry? We can’t join a union, let alone strike.”
I am committed to working closely with the police on reform, but I think that the Government have mishandled this review process and treated police officers poorly. The Home Secretary pre-empted the final report and has attempted to paint the police as inefficient and not interested in reform. I urge her to reconsider the question of the royal commission. The discussions that I have had with local police officers make it clear that they want to see modernisation, but it must be fair. I know that we will be debating pensions soon, but the point for this debate is that, in addition to major changes in terms and conditions and cuts to the work force, the changes to their pensions are yet another hit for the police.
My final point concerns the long-term consequences of the Government’s cuts. In addition to the short and medium-term impacts on crime, I am worried about the long-term effects that these ideologically driven cuts will have on the social fabric of our society. Last week, we heard how pay disparities between the UK’s highest and lowest paid workers were taking us back to Victorian times. There is strong evidence that the increase in socio-economic inequalities will not only result in widening differences in life expectancy between the rich and poor but be associated with higher levels of crime and disaffection. The trust that underpins community cohesion and positive relationships in a multicultural society is once again being eroded by a Tory Government who are determined to drive their disastrous cuts through.
I have been a Member of the House since 1997, and I still naively expect this Chamber to be a place of rational debate. However, there has certainly been no evidence of that from the Labour Front-Bench contributions today, either during the previous debate on sentencing or during this one on policing. There is no recognition of their share of the responsibility for the significant cuts that the coalition is having to make. They are tougher than we had expected because the finances we inherited were deteriorating faster and the international climate was tougher for countries that were not tackling their deficits.
There is no willingness from Labour to demonstrate how the £7 of savings it was going to make, as opposed to the £8 that the coalition is having to make, would safeguard police numbers. Indeed, Labour Members are not even listening to their own party leader, who said in his speech to the Progress conference on
“There will be those who say it is enough for Labour to hunker down… I hear it quite a lot: let’s be a louder… Opposition”, but he then went on to say:
“But to think that it is enough is to fail to understand the depth of the loss of trust in us and the scale of change required to win it back. We must recognise where we didn’t get things right”.
Their leader is asking Labour Members to adopt a more honest and considered approach, but they do not listen to their leader, as we found out during the AV campaign when he said, “I’m right behind it” and half of them walked off in the opposite direction.
It was the Opposition’s choice not to have a debate about what is achievable from an efficiency savings point of view and what is achievable in police numbers. We heard in an intervention that police numbers in Staffordshire had been maintained.
I met the chief constable of Cambridgeshire constabulary this morning and he told me that the budget can be managed so that there will be no reduction in police constables at all, and perhaps even a small increase. It is being done by greater efficiency and by greater collaboration with other forces. Will my hon. Friend suggest that other police authorities follow that excellent lead?
Indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Clearly, a number of forces around the country are adopting approaches or policies to ensure that police numbers are maintained. Another good example is Cleveland, where by working with Steria the force has been successful in achieving savings of £50 million over a 10-year period; it has been able to achieve 20% reductions in the areas on which they are working by focusing on cutting bureaucracy, increasing mobile access to make the police more effective when they are out in the field, and improving case file preparation, which no doubt leads to more successful prosecutions. When the will is there, much is achievable in making greater efficiency savings and focusing on police numbers. The Government are right to tackle the issue of police terms and conditions. It has been on the agenda for many years, but has never been tackled. It was time for the Government to grasp that particular nettle and progress is now being made.
It was also the Opposition’s choice not to debate one of the most effective ways of tackling crime, which is by cutting reoffending. Community sentences were mentioned in the earlier debate. With community sentences, 51% of people reoffend as opposed to the 59% who reoffend after being given a prison sentence. These are comparable groups of offenders: in one case, with a community sentence properly enforced, there is only a 51% reoffending rate; when a similar group of prisoners are sent to prison for one year or less, 59% reoffend.
Is the hon. Member aware that that report also showed that anyone sentenced to more than 12 months in prison had the lowest reoffending rate of all? Is not the lesson we should draw that long prison sentences are more effective than anything else?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am drawing on one part of the report; he is drawing on another. It is very clear that community sentences, for people who would otherwise have been given a short prison sentence, actually reduce reoffending. That means fewer victims. Surely, if we are having a rational debate, that must be a matter of interest to all Members.
For community sentences to be effective, I underline the importance, as stressed to me by User Voice, of ensuring that rehabilitation is retained within the community sentence scheme. In its view, those sentences are more effective than prison sentences because the rehabilitation component is there. I hope that that will remain part of the community sentences that are going to be issued.
Work in prison is also important. It is effective in tackling reoffending because it gives prisoners skills that they can use, as well as providing—according to the Howard League, which published a report today—something like £17 million that can go into the victims fund. I am sure that everyone would welcome that as well.
Volunteering in prison is potentially just as effective in reducing reoffending as work in prison. Last week the Prison Reform Trust launched a very successful scheme at High Down prison drawing on the skills of listeners, and I am certain that the reoffending rate among former prisoners who have participated in it will be less than that among those who have not.
The Opposition did not, of course, choose to call a debate about the most cost-effective ways of solving crimes. Today I was fortunate enough to visit Crimestoppers, which happens to be based in my constituency. What it is achieving at a cost of £4.5 million has been valued at £120 million. Last year it helped to solve 50 murders. It favours payment by results, because it believes that it has a very successful model. By using the public as a resource, it is able to bring cases to court much more quickly than it could have done had it followed the normal court and police processes.
The Government have set out in a concrete and substantive way what we believe will be effective in tackling crime and what we believe is necessary to deal with inefficiencies in, for example, the back office. I feel that it was incumbent on the Labour Members who tabled a debate on this subject to set out what their alternative would have been, but I am afraid that that has been totally lacking this evening.
Order. If I am to be able to call all the Members who wish to speak, I shall have to reduce the speaking times to seven minutes.
The debate raises some really big issues: how we can make policing effective, how we can increase professionalism, and how we can tackle new challenges such as internet-related crime, which continues to grow.
Further issues arise from cuts that are too deep and too sudden, and, in the case of the police, made even more painful by being front-ended. We also face an upheaval as the Government press on with their plan to establish police and crime commissioners for each force in England and Wales—apart from that in London, which strikes me as an odd omission.
If the Government are truly confident that theirs is the right approach, they would have been well advised to pilot the idea, because the devil will be in the detail of relationships. The wholesale implementation of the Government’s proposals in 41 forces at a time of massive cuts, wholesale retirements and the serious demoralisation that arises from pension changes can only be described as truly courageous.
I do not want to become bogged down in numbers, but newer Government Members may be unaware of the disastrous record of the last Conservative Government and the way in which the ground was recovered during the subsequent years of Labour administration. It is vital that the Government and the commissioners—if the other place allows their introduction—fully understand the importance of a partnership approach to cutting crime. When Robert Peel set up the first police force, he stated clearly that cutting crime and preventing offending was the key role of the police. I am pleased to acknowledge that both the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and the Home Secretary underlined those words when they appeared before the Home Affairs Committee. That belief, however, needs to be supported in practice and in substance, through partnerships linked to a clear and objective analysis of why, when and where crime happens.
I am also pleased that the crime reduction partnerships which I introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 are to continue, with some new titles and rebranding. That is fine: refreshing the model is an entirely appropriate move by Ministers in a new Government. However, this Government need to make sure that they build on the cuts in crime achieved under the last Labour Government and squeeze out the further gains in crime reduction that are there to be made. That requires a clinical approach and an engineering approach to crime. My favourite example in that regard is the violence reduction strategy in Cardiff, led, as it happens, by a medic—Professor Jonathan Shepherd—which has resulted in a cut of now well over 40% in the number of victims, as measured not by arrests or reports to the police but by the reduction in the number of people needing treatment at an accident and emergency unit following a violent incident. Such results do not happen by accident. Intelligent analysis, partnership and ambition are what drove that improvement, and we need that approach everywhere. The result is savings to courts, to prisons and to the NHS. There are therefore benefits for all those who are part of a partnership approach.
My second example relates to youth crime. The numbers in residential detention have come down as the youth offending teams have focused on the challenge of cutting youth crime. Police are involved in what is an inter-agency approach. Again, I have no objection to that approach being renewed and refreshed, but I urge Ministers not to abandon a strategy that is working. We need police engagement in the work of reducing youth crime, rather than having them always chasing after the offenders.
My third example is about police community support officers. I commend the Welsh Assembly Government who have just come to office for putting in place additional PCSOs to support the work of the police in Wales. That is essential for truly effective policing because we must connect with local communities if we are to be successful.
My final example is to do with internet-related crime. This is a growth area, but the police will never have the resources to keep on chasing around the whole of the internet. The work of the Internet Watch Foundation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre show what can be done. They have succeeded in tackling child abuse over the last few years. It is important that business too is linked in and works in partnership on internet-related crime. I commend to Ministers the example of e-Crime Wales, driven by a partnership between the Welsh Assembly Government and the police in Wales.
We need the police to do all the heavy lifting of detective work, making arrests, being visible, engaging the public and policing our town and city centres. The Minister is well aware of the challenges that our success in building up Cardiff as a real capital has presented to the police in policing successive activities, but as the Justice Committee report on justice reinvestment showed, most of the services and resources that make a difference in cutting crime, and therefore in protecting victims, are outside the criminal justice system. Partnership is therefore not just an extra; it is not an option that can be dropped if time is short and the pressure is on. It is crucial and central to enabling the police to be successful in their work, and I hope Ministers will encourage the continuation and growth of partnership working.
I want to talk predominantly about closed circuit television and DNA, because I still feel that, despite the Home Secretary’s best efforts, the Government are going in the wrong direction on these issues. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about what I believe to be the misuse of CCTV, such as for local authorities to snoop on what people put in their bins; I am talking about the use of CCTV for the detection of crime.
A Scotland Yard study of the effectiveness of surveillance cameras revealed that almost every Scotland Yard murder inquiry uses their footage as evidence. In 90 murder cases over a one-year period, CCTV was used in 86 investigations. Officers said it helped to solve 65 cases by capturing the murder itself on film, or tracking the movements of the suspects before or after an attack. The recent case in my constituency of the “crossbow cannibal”, who was convicted of murdering three prostitutes and dumping their bodies in the river, provides a good example, as he was caught only because there was CCTV in the block of flats where he was committing his crimes.
CCTV evidence is not only a valuable tool for the police. It is invaluable in courts on two levels: to convict the perpetrators of crimes, and to acquit those who have not committed a crime. CCTV footage provides conclusive and unbiased evidence, devoid of anyone’s spin or recollection bias, which not only saves courts’ time and money, but prevents witnesses from having to go through the often stressful and unpleasant ordeal of giving evidence in court. Equally, CCTV can prove that someone is being wrongly accused of committing a crime, as was the case with Edmond Taylor. His conviction for dangerous driving was quashed on appeal when CCTV footage showed that a white man had actually committed the offence—Mr Taylor is black.
Another useful tool that we should be promoting is automatic number plate recognition. It was through the use of ANPR, and that alone, that PC Sharon Beshenivsky’s killers were caught. On
“revolutionary tool in detecting crime.”
When a 2005 Home Office report on public attitudes towards CCTV asked what people thought of the statement “Overall the advantages of CCTV outweigh the disadvantages”, 82% of those surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed.
People use “civil liberties” as an argument to support the case for reducing such technology. What I fail to understand is how footage of someone taken by CCTV cameras on a public street in the public domain invades their privacy or civil liberties. If someone has chosen to walk down the street, people can see them doing it whether they are recording it on a phone, observing what they are doing or watching it through a CCTV camera. Those actions are clearly not private.
These civil liberties arguments seem to be used against the DNA database too. I believe in real freedoms, and the fact that someone’s DNA is on a database does not prevent that person from going about their daily lawful business and it does not impinge on their freedoms in any way whatsoever. During the application for judicial review of the retention of DNA in the divisional court, the now Lord Justice Leveson stated that
“the material stored says nothing about the physical makeup, characteristics or life of the person to whom they belong.”
These civil liberties arguments about DNA and CCTV are bogus.
As a result of the Government’s proposals, murderers such as Ronald Castree would be free to roam the streets and potentially kill again. Castree stabbed 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in 1975 when she was on the way to the shop to buy bread for her mother. Stefan Kiszko was wrongly convicted and was jailed for 16 years for the murder until 2005 when Castree’s DNA was taken after he was arrested but not charged over another sexual attack.
It is a fact that many violent criminals have been jailed only because their DNA was taken when they committed a minor offence. These criminals include Dennis Fitzgerald, who was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for the rape of a woman in November 1987, and Nasser Mohammed who was jailed in 2008 for raping a woman in 2002 after his DNA was taken when he was picked up for a minor offence. Often, a DNA match is the only thing that finally brings people to justice.
Figures from the National Policing Improvement Agency state that in 2008-09, 32,209 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available or played a part, and the latest annual report on the national DNA database concluded that six in 10 crime scene profiles loaded up to the database were matched to a subject profile. In addition, 147,852 crime scene sample profiles could be solved if we had a national DNA database—these are instances where a sample has been taken at the crime scene but there is, as yet, no match.
The DNA database can also be used to acquit the innocent. The very first murder conviction using DNA evidence, in 1988, proved the innocence of a suspect. Richard Buckland was suspected of separately assaulting and murdering two schoolgirls in 1983 and 1986, but when his DNA sample was compared with DNA found on the bodies of the two victims it proved that he was not the killer. Colin Pitchfork was later arrested, having been one of the villagers who had their DNA taken and a match was found.
Unless the Government change their stance on DNA and CCTV, they will be doing a huge disservice to people in this country. Their approach will lead to more unnecessary victims of crime and will further tarnish our reputation in the field of law and order.
The debate is on policing, but I shall touch on the economics of the situation, which are raised so often by Government Members. The Opposition are not in denial about the deficit, but we do not accept that we caused it—[ Interruption. ] Members on the Government Benches can snigger and laugh, but they could say that we caused the deficit only if no other country with a similar economy had had the same problems. All those countries had the same problem with their economic and banking systems because of the recklessness of the bankers, the sub-prime mortgages and the fact that some banks had balances that were bigger than the GDPs of many countries. They were reckless. We saved our system and as a result we managed to save half a million people becoming unemployed.
I will give away on another point, not on this one.
We recognise that there are financial difficulties, but we must ask what we will achieve when we save money. We must ask whether if we save £10 in one area, we will end up paying £20. That will happen with the police cuts and the changes to the police more than with the changes to any other service. Staff numbers might be cut in the Department for Work and Pensions without repercussions elsewhere, but when front-line police officer numbers are cut that is a false economy.
There has been discussion in the House about imprisonment and long-term sentences and, in some cases, long sentences deter people from committing offences. What really stops people committing offences, however, is the fear of being caught, being prosecuted, being convicted, going to prison and having their liberties taken away. When somebody sees a police officer on the street, they will not commit a crime. When they know that there are a number of police officers in a particular area, they will not commit a crime. We will save the money that is spent when someone is arrested on prosecuting them, on lawyers’ fees, on our prison services, on prison officers, on probation officers and on all the different agencies that work in the criminal justice system. Of course, let us not forget the poor victim who suffers as a result of the criminal offence. If we put together the cost of all that, we must ask whether it is worth making that £10 saving when we will end up spending £30 to deal with the problem that the saving causes.
I urge the Government seriously to consider how cuts should be made in a Department such as the Home Office, given that we will have more problems in the long term. I know that Claire Perry said that we must not blind the House with statistics, but everybody always bandies statistics about and it is right to emphasise what my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams said about the fact that crime, including violent crime and crimes against properties, fell considerably during the 13 years of Labour government. That did not happen miraculously—the Labour Government invested in the police, spent money on community support officers and gave more money for fingerprint analysis, DNA evidence and technical support. The combination of those things caused the crime rate to fall. Government Members can tell us not to quote statistics, but that is the truth: crime fell under Labour and it fell for the reasons I have given.
It is not just me who says that crime will rise. The chief constables of South Yorkshire and Lancashire have said that that will happen if the numbers of front-line police officers are cut. It is inevitable—it is common sense—that more crimes will occur if police numbers are cut, so I urge the Government to reconsider this false economic measure.
One of my regular Sunday penances, more fool me, is to read The Observer. I do that neither for the quality of its journalism nor for the need to read Will Hutton’s economic “wisdom”, but because I am keen to get my head around what the Opposition are thinking so that I can better understand why they say the crazy things they say. This weekend’s editionwas particularly interesting: it printed a column in which it bemoaned the death of political discourse because of the quality of the Opposition’s response to what happened last week over the Justice Secretary’s comments. Nothing that I have heard today in the two debates I have sat through has given me any cause to decide that the quality of political discourse in the Chamber is improving. With a few honourable exceptions on both sides of the House it has been profoundly dispiriting.
Far more spiriting was my experience of attending the civic Sunday service yesterday in Poulton-le-Fylde for the new mayor of Wyre. Next to me on the pew sat the divisional commander of the northern section of Lancashire constabulary, whom I see occasionally at the odd event and who has also been a senior policeman in the adjacent Blackpool area. We had a fascinating discussion about some of the policing challenges he faces such as the role of domestic violence, with some 36% of violent crime within the northern division occurring within a family dwelling. We had a good-natured debate about the need for, or his arguments in favour of, minimum pricing for alcohol. Our discussion brought home to me a point that Alun Michael was trying to make earlier—that partnership working is a good thing. We have very senior policemen who have a very good understanding of the social problems in the communities they seek to serve.
I have had another spiriting encounter recently—at one of my street surgeries on the day before that service. As I stood on the street corner under my Conservative umbrella in the pouring rain on the Fylde coast, a local resident and I discussed long-term antisocial behaviour. I tried to persuade that house owner, who was an elderly gentleman, that it was worth reporting a crime to the police, that he should not just assume that he would be ignored and that he needed to have a bit more confidence in the police. That encounter brought home to me once again the fact that there is a fundamental disconnect. We can have as many PACT—police and community together—meetings as we like, but they do not achieve much if they are not attended. We can have as many well-paid members of police authorities as we like—promoting themselves all of a sudden to make sure they have a future—but if people do not know who they are and do not see the role they play, as people have not recently, then they are not the ones to reconnect with ordinary people. That is why I strongly support the decision to introduce police commissioners.
I speak as a Member of Parliament who is fortunate, as I mentioned to the shadow Home Secretary earlier. I know that the chief constable of Lancashire has an awful lot to say for himself but he has some excellent divisional commanders who have been working on trying to accommodate the budgetary changes in Lancashire. In Blackpool, the police have been able to increase the number of neighbourhood policemen on the beat or, to use that wonderful phrase that the Opposition love so much, on the front line. My constituents will benefit from that and I welcome it. More importantly, I welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s pledge, if I heard her correctly, to maintain police numbers as they are. I am so grateful to her for writing all of my election leaflets between now and the general election. When I get my Hansard tomorrow I will be able to say quite confidently that Labour would cut policing in Blackpool because they would take it back to where it was before we had the improvements in neighbourhood policing.
My main concern, which I would like to raise in the final minute, is that last year Lancashire police’s total external income was £310 million, less than for 2010-11, but still £2 million more than for 2009-10. However, more than 30% of the increase in the police authority’s council tax precept has gone not on front-line policing, but rather on plugging the growing gap in police pensions. I know that there is much concern in all parts of the House about changes to police terms and conditions, but it is important to look at the matter, as the Home Secretary has said, from the point of view of fairness to taxpayers as well.
By 2011 the subsidy from the taxpayer to plug the gap in Lancashire police authority’s pension scheme had risen to £23 million, up from £13 million just three years ago. I firmly believe that the police should get a fair pension and a fair deal, but taxpayers also deserve a degree of fairness. The systemic underperformance of police pension funds must be resolved because the burden falls, in the end, on all of us.
The Home Secretary was good enough to meet six police officers from the west midlands—six outstanding officers whom I know well. They included Tim Kennedy, described by one of his colleagues as one of the most brilliant forensic detectives anywhere in Britain, with an outstanding track record of detection; Sergeant Dave Hewitt, an outstanding community police sergeant, with a team of police officers with a first-class track record of keeping their community safe; and Detective Constable Tony Fisher, a man who specialises in the detection of serious crime, ranging from detecting the individual who was robbing pensioners at knifepoint at cash points and putting him away for 13 years, to the action that he took to track down somebody who was responsible for leading a gang carrying out robberies with a machete, putting him away for 17 years.
There was also Martin Heard, a police constable and an outstanding community police officer in Wolverhampton. As his community said on ITV only last week, “He was always there for us when we needed him. Now there’s no one there in his place.” He was forced out as one of the A19 officers. To add insult to injury, he then received a letter asking, “Do you want to come back as an unpaid special constable?”
Even in some of the most sensitive areas of policing, we are seeing cuts. In the west midlands 16 counter-terrorism officers are being forced out under regulation A19—nine constables, three sergeants, two inspectors and a superintendent. This is madness. It is the abrogation by Government of their first duty, which is to ensure the safety and security of our communities, and it is utterly indefensible, yet the Government seek to mount two defences.
The first defence is the “Not me, guv” defence that blames the police. The Home Secretary cuts the police, then blames the police for the cuts, in circumstances where, by the scale and speed of the cuts that she has offered up to the Chancellor, she leaves chief constables in an impossible position. The second defence is the assertion that there are only 11% of police on the front line at any one time. That simplistic nonsense fails to understand the nature of modern policing.
Inspector Mark Stokes, one of the police officers whom the Home Secretary met, is an expert in designing out crime. At the 4 Towers estate, crime fell by 98% as a consequence of his work on the front line, but also in the middle office. Typically, the great bulk of the work to detect individuals guilty of domestic violence is done by way of a multi-agency approach, the multi-agency risk assessment conference, not on the front line, and it is devastatingly effective in protecting women against assault.
Offender managers work through the multi-agency public protection arrangements, managing offenders on the basis of risk—sex offenders, for example, such as the case in the west midlands of an individual who had served 28 months in prison because he had assaulted young children. He came out, applied to become a referee, became a referee, and was detected as a consequence not of detailed work on the front line, but of intelligence work that discovered what was happening, moved against him and raised the matter with the Football Association, leading to a sex offender order and that individual no longer having any access to young children. I could go on. So much of the work of intelligence and surveillance officers, for example, is not done on the front line, but it is absolutely key to successful policing.
What we are seeing is a devastating reversal of the progress made over the past 13 years. What we saw over those years was on the one hand our police learning the painful lessons from the mistakes of history, and on the other hand massive investment by a Labour Government, leading to 17,000 more police officers, 16,000 police community support officers, a 43% fall in crime and a model of community policing that is held in high regard worldwide and valued by our communities. Now in the west midlands we are seeing crime rising: 2,200 more vehicle crimes, 2,500 more burglaries and robbery up by 25%.
In conclusion, the Home Secretary spoke earlier about policing by consent, and I agree with her, but there is no consent in my constituency for what she is doing. There is dismay because no politician now on the Government Benches went to the people last May and said, “Vote for me and I will cut the police.” There is dismay because 2,400 will go from the West Midlands police service, and because those brave men and women with 30 years’ service, some of them 48 or 49 years old, are being forced out just when the community needs them most. The Home Secretary must realise that the Government have got it wrong and that they have to think again.
This has been an illuminating and important debate for understanding the policy differences between the coalition Government and the Labour party. I would like to make a few observations, but first I will do as other Members have done and pay tribute to the work of the police, both nationally and in my constituency. They serve our communities well and occasionally put themselves in harm’s way, and we must never forget the demanding environment in which they work. That said, reform is long overdue.
I am pleased that the coalition Government are finally grasping the nettle and looking at restructuring, saving police officers’ time, simplifying how crime is recorded and freeing officers to focus on cutting crime. That is in contrast to Labour’s approach, which can be summarised as shifting power away from communities and back to Whitehall, introducing too many target-based systems and taking officers away from the front line. I listened carefully to the speech made by the shadow Home Secretary, for whom I have a lot of respect, and read the speech she gave to the Police Federation, but I still see no evidence—perhaps it is too early at this time—of any concrete ideas for reform.
On the subject of the Police Federation, I would like to digress briefly and mention the reception given to the Home Secretary last week, which I thought—I choose my words carefully—was unedifying, unfortunate and unnecessary. We are in difficult times and whichever party was in power it would have to make some tough decisions. Communication is very important, and we must respect the appointment. There are consequences of showing disrespect when a Secretary of State speaks to a federation, whether it relates to education, health or the police. It is important that that relationship is kept strong and that we do not get to the situation, as we see with the Health Secretary, where they decide no longer to speak to the full federation, but to smaller groups instead. I just want to put those points on the record.
I have a couple of observations to make on the Home Secretary’s speech itself. I have made the point about Criminal Records Bureau checks. I am fortunate to come from a family that is full of teachers, who feed me information about their problems and frustrations when trying to organise school events, take trips and provide the children with a bit of exposure beyond the school itself. Their frustration is the result of the red tape that they have to go through and the amount of paperwork required when organising those trips. I gave the example of one teacher in one school requiring a separate set of checks simply because her child went to another school where she wanted to drive a minibus. I am glad to hear that the coalition Government are going to address that issue.
Another aspect is antisocial behaviour, and I intervened on that point, but the Opposition did not make it clear whether they will move away from ASBOs or are still proud of what is considered a badge of honour. It is clear that among certain age groups three quarters of ASBOs are broken. They are breached, they do not work and we need a different form of reform which looks into the deep-rooted reasons why such ASBOs are broken.
There is also the aspect of late-night drinking. It is fair to say that Bournemouth has a vibrant nightlife, as do most towns nowadays, but one issue that the Home Secretary raised was the importance of the visibility of policing. The visibility of policing in Bournemouth has been tested, because of late-night drinking—the 24-hour drinking culture that the previous Government introduced. It has placed huge pressure on the police. They are no longer overstretched from 10 o’clock at night until 1 or 2 in the morning; they have to go until 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning in order to police the streets, because that is when the antisocial behaviour really kicks in.
Then, there is the amount of red tape affecting our police officers. In 2009-10, more than 52 guidance documents came from the Home Office, each one averaging 100 pages—far too much interference from Whitehall. That needs to change. That is why only 15% of any police officer’s time seems to be spent on the front line. Instead, they are pulled away to do the paperwork that the previous Government promised to tackle.
This has been a helpful debate. I am pleased to see that after 13 years we are starting to tackle some of the difficult decisions that face our police forces and our country. We need to reform the police, to reduce the red tape that exists among our forces and finally to grasp the difficult nettle of pay and conditions. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on taking on those issues—issues that were sadly ducked during 13 years of Labour.
The thin blue line on the Government Benches is pretty thin for fairly obvious reasons: they do not have a decent alibi for making these savage and unnecessary cuts. The alibi that the Home Secretary feebly provides is that it is all the deficit and all Labour’s fault, but we all know that at least two thirds of that deficit was created by the bankers.
The British taxpayer has been robbed by the bankers, and in reality the deficit was the price paid to avoid a depression. If the Labour party and my right hon.
Friend Mr Brown had not intervened, we would have been on our knees, and that investment in the banks will be paid back many times over, because the share prices will go up. Admittedly, one third of the deficit was excess investment over income to grow our economy, but there are no apologies for that.
Given that there is a deficit that the international financial community created, what should be done about it? Should we go down the Home Secretary’s path and clear the deficit in just four years, or whether we should halve it in four years? The other question is, whether we should get rid of the deficit in four years just through cuts to public services and benefits, or use three mechanisms: first, economic growth, such as notably the Germans and the Americans are using; secondly, make the bankers pay their fair share; and thirdly, yes, make manageable savings over time.
In the case under discussion, that would mean 12% cuts instead of 20%, the difference between front-line cuts and no front-line cuts. As I said in an intervention, the Government’s policy is a false economy, because the extra 8 percentage points, which will go purely on man and womanpower, will increase crime and the public will bear the cost in property or in damage to people. There is a clear choice, and the Government’s policy is the wrong choice.
We have seen it all before. Under the Tories last time, crime doubled; under Labour, crime went down 40%. Not only are we seeing the means of tackling crime reduced by cuts in police, DNA services, CCTV and ASBOs, by making sentences easier and by giving the wrong signals to rapists; we are increasing demand by cutting education, cutting jobs and increasing drug-taking essentially—[ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary seems bemused, but in reality if there is less education and fewer police, more children will go on to take drugs. That is certainly the testimony that I have heard from the police. The basic economics of the situation are completely absurd.
On top of that, we have this structural change costing £200 million—the introduction of elected commissioners, whose incentive will be to go for votes in middle-class, low-crime, high-voting areas. They will go along and say, “Yes, we’ll have some more community policing down here in this middle-class area”, but they will not do that where there are no votes and higher crime. There will therefore be a direct contradiction between the motivation of the elected commissioner and the operational chief constable who is supposed to be independent. The whole thing is absolutely farcical. What we need, clearly, is a pause. We have seen a number of pauses from this Government, including on the NHS and the woodland fiasco, and it is time to push the pause button again and do a complete reversal. In a nutshell, these changes are unnecessary, unfair and counter-productive.
Finally, I want to put in a good word for the Swansea police, particularly Chief Superintendent Mark Mathias. They are doing an absolutely fantastic job. For example, they are meeting up with retail traders to talk about the relationship between antisocial behaviour and economic growth and linking up with communities. However, they are not helped by the fact that one hand is being tied behind their backs and they are not given the support that they require.
The view of the police, which is reflected among the public, was shown by the complete silence that met the Home Secretary when she spoke to them. If she does not have the confidence of the police, how can she hope to succeed? These polices do not make sense economically, socially or in terms of crime, and I urge her to think again.
This has been an interesting debate with many contributions. I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friends, to a man and woman, have put forward the message that what we are seeing is very damaging to each and every one of our communities. My right hon. Friend Alun Michael and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) pointed to the real damage that the budget cuts are doing to policing in their areas, highlighting the impact of the fight against crime on other important community services.
Interestingly, the unity among Labour Members was not matched by Government Members, many of whose interventions and speeches pointed to the fact that the Government are in some difficulty on this whole agenda. David T. C. Davies, who also spoke about himself, eloquently explained at some length the damage being done to the Government’s law and order credentials on sentencing and issues relating to policing. Mr Walker, who is not in his place, asked his own Home Secretary to look at the disproportionate impact of the cuts on policing. Philip Davies pointed to the potential harm done by the bureaucracy surrounding CCTV, ANPR and DNA. However much the Home Secretary tries to pretend that all is well and everything is going just swimmingly, it is clear that there are tensions and problems.
With regard to all this, it sometimes seems to me that I live in a parallel universe. I am struck by what the Home Secretary said at the Police Federation conference and by what she has said to the House. There was not a sliver of doubt in what she said—not one jot or iota of movement to suggest that maybe, just maybe, there might be other people who have a point, or that if she is not totally wrong, perhaps she needs to trim a little bit. Everybody who has opposed the Home Secretary, and indeed the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, is regarded as wrong, and their views are rejected. The view from Government Front Benchers is this: “We will plough on. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says—we are going to carry on.”
I say to the Home Secretary that the Government are out of touch on crime. They are taking big risks with the cuts to police numbers. The Prime Minister, who prides himself on being in touch, has not made one major crime speech since becoming Prime Minister. There is no cross-Government strategy to cut crime. Crime went up under the Tories before. If the Home Secretary, the Policing Minister and other Ministers carry on like this, they are at risk of that happening again, and it is communities across the country that will pay the price.
The Home Secretary tells the House that there is no choice but to slash the budget by 20% and to lose 12,000 police officers and 16,000 staff. I say to her that that is a choice the Government have made. There is an alternative, but the Government do not want to pursue it. I will not use the example of aid that was given by the hon. Member for Monmouth, because we support that money. The Government have protected certain budgets. The schools budget is protected. The health budget is quite rightly protected. The Defence Secretary fought for the defence budget and secured changes to it. Where was the Home Secretary when it came to the police budget? Where was she when she should have gone to the Prime Minister and demanded that he give the police the budget they deserve? She was nowhere. Why was that not a priority? The police suffered a disproportionate cut to their budget, which is forcing chief constables up and down the country to make cuts.
I do not blame the chief constables, as the Home Secretary has done, for cutting police numbers. The blame for that lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of this Government, who have made the decisions about the budgets. It is not the chief constables who should be blamed, but the Home Secretary and her Ministers.
As well as police numbers being cut—some of the most experienced officers have already gone—the front line will be affected. I guarantee to all Government Members that if they speak to police officers in their constituencies, they will say that it is impossible for what is happening in their area not to impact on the front line. [ Interruption. ] Angie Bray says that she does not think that that is right. I tell her to put that on her website. I will check it in the next couple of days to see whether it is on there.
I will give way in a moment, because I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will put out a press release on what he says. It will come out how the loss of officers and staff in Cambridgeshire is impacting on the front line there. I was in Cambridgeshire yesterday, and I spoke to front-line officers who told me that that was the case.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is a shame he did not have the courtesy to say that he was visiting Cambridgeshire. I spoke to the chief constable this morning—the hon. Gentleman would know this if he had been here earlier—and there will be no loss of police constables in Cambridgeshire. The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong.
Before the hon. Gentleman gets on his high horse, I should say that I have not heard of the new rule that one has to let an MP know every time one visits friends. I went to see friends of mine in Cambridgeshire who happen to be police officers, and they told me what the impact on front-line officers will be. If I had to choose between Dr Huppert and front-line police officers in Cambridgeshire to tell me about the impact on the front line, I know who I would trust.
Policing Minister, to my hon. Friends or to Government Members, “We’ve got far too many CCTV cameras in our area.” I do not have people queuing up in my constituency to tell me that. They are not saying, “Actually, our civil liberties are being undermined tremendously”. They say that they want more CCTV, because they understand that it supports the police and helps them fight crime. It reassures people and enables crime to be tackled effectively.
I will not give way, because I have only a couple of minutes. I normally would, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
A point that has not yet hit home is that supported housing, domestic and sexual violence services and youth services—the community services that people depend upon—are all being cut. When specialist housing support, sexual violence officers and the specialist domestic violence services provided by local authorities or voluntary organisations are no longer in place, people will instead dial 999 and ask for a police officer, who by their nature will try to attend. That will be a real problem for the police, because demands on them will go up as there is contraction in other services.
The Home Secretary spoke in absolute terms about what police and crime commissioners would do, but said not a word about the defeat in the House of Lords. She spoke as though the vote there had never taken place. There was no reference to it at all, no slight heed paid to the fact that the Government’s plans might need to change.
I will have a look at what the Home Secretary said, but I think all of us know that she is just going to plough on regardless of what the House of Lords has done.
We have a Government who are playing fast and loose on crime, and who say that they know best but are out of touch on law and order. It is about time that they got a grip and made the right choices for the country, the police and communities. If they can U-turn on forests and the NHS, we need a U-turn on the police. It will be interesting to see whether the Home Secretary and the Government do that.
We have had a typical debate on policing this evening, in which Government Members have spoken with knowledge about policing in their local areas and offered constructive suggestions on how policing could be improved and, as usual, Labour Members have simply sought to play politics, as they have in every debate that they have called.
I begin by mentioning what I believe all of us should agree about—the value of the police in our country, the contribution that they make and the need for us to support them. I note in particular the tribute that my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell paid to PC Nigel Albuery, who was stabbed on duty last week serving the Metropolitan police. His service, and what he went through, reminds us of the importance of the job that the police do, which we must recognise is frequently difficult and dangerous. Police officers, of course, cannot strike. It is therefore important—I say this in response to hon. Members on both sides of the House—that we treat police officers properly and value their service. However, none of that means that the Government do not have to take the difficult decisions that it is necessary to confront at the moment.
I agreed strongly with my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies on criticism of the police, which was levelled, for instance, in relation to the disorder in London in past weeks. He made the point that the police are so often damned if they do and damned if they do not. This Government have sought not to join in with that criticism; instead, we have offered support for both the leadership of the police and the officers who did their job on the ground in difficult and trying circumstances. Many of those officers were injured, and we believe that criticism should be levelled at, and reserved for, the people who perpetrated that violence. It is simply wrong-headed to criticise the police for the action that they took.
I am afraid that Opposition Members continue not to accept the fact that we must deal with the deficit, which means that we must take tough decisions. It is quite clear that Opposition would be simply unwilling to take those decisions—meaning decisions on the public sector. Do the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Policing and Criminal Justice Minister really think that it helps to criticise chief constables as they seek to take the inevitable and difficult decisions to protect front-line services and restructure their forces? That does not help those chief constables at all.
The Opposition pretend, both to the police and to the public, that their policy would be completely different from ours, but as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, their policy is to cut, this year, £7 of every £8 that we would cut. As the shadow Home Secretary has been forced to admit, the Opposition would cut £1 billion a year from police budgets. She must be the only person in this country who thinks it possible to cut £1 billion from police budgets without any reduction in the work force. How on earth does she think such savings can be realised?
Of course, there will be savings from reducing the work force. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary was quite clear that cuts would be made across legal and investigation services, and in estates, criminal justice, custody, training, intelligence, business support and community policing. That is where HMIC said savings must be realised. Why do the Opposition believe it possible to reduce spending on the police by £1 billion a year—their policy—and yet pretend to police officers and staff that not a single job would be lost? Frankly, in taking that position, they are not being straight with police officers and their staff about what would happen.
That is very different to the position taken by the former shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson. When he was Home Secretary, he at least had the honesty to admit that Labour could not maintain numbers. He admitted that, but the current shadow Home Secretary will not admit it. The truth is that she has absolutely no idea how that £1 billion of savings would be achieved. Let me give her an example from the HMIC report. The inspector talks about the importance of making savings from collaboration. He says:
“Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces anticipate savings of”
“from joint work on scientific support, major crime, firearms, a single dog unit and a single professional standards department.”
I am not going to give way. [Hon. Members: “Give way!”] No. I gave way to the right hon. Lady last time, and she abused that privilege. I am not going to give way to her again. How does the right hon. Lady think that Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire could make these savings other than by reducing the number of people?
Those forces talk about a single dog unit. Does the right hon. Lady think they are just cutting the number—[Interruption.]
With only a few minutes to go, I will not give way.
The Labour party does not wish to admit to police officers and the public that it, too, would be cutting budgets, staff and police pay. In her speech, the right hon. Lady criticised a police force that was having to cut its overtime bill. What does she think a cut in overtime is if not a cut in police pay? Frankly, the Opposition’s position is one of nothing more than shameless opportunism. Government Members know exactly what we have to do.
Incredibly, in answer to my hon. Friend Claire Perry, the right hon. Lady said, “We have had this debate before”. Yes we have, and she has called it before, and several times she has come to the Dispatch Box and repeated her constant claim about police cuts, but in all her speeches what has she actually said about policing policy? What has she said on any of these issues?
The right hon. Lady has had her opportunity already because she has called three debates, but what has she said about policing policy? She has said nothing about serious organised crime. She has said nothing about procurement and IT, on which we argue that savings can be found. We say that nearly £400 million of savings can be made through better procurement and IT. What is the Opposition’s policy on that? They are silent. They have nothing to say on that.
The right hon. Lady has never mentioned it in her speeches. She opposes the two-year pay freeze that we are asking the whole public sector to apply, and which will save a considerable sum in policing. Why is she opposing the two-year pay freeze and then arguing that we have not identified how to make the savings? Of course we have.
It is the responsibility of the Member on his or her feet to decide whether, and if so when, to allow an intervention.
The Labour party, and particularly the shadow Home Secretary, have absolutely no credibility on policing policy, because they have nothing to say about it. What is her position on the Winsor reform proposal that police officers should be paid more for working antisocial hours? Is she in favour of or against that? She will not say. What is her policy on the Winsor proposal that police officers should be rewarded for the skills they show? She does not know, she has not said, and she will not say, because the Opposition have no credible policy on policing issues. What has she said about bureaucracy? Absolutely nothing at all. We know that Labour created it, and we are determined to sweep it away.
The Government are determined to fight crime, and we are determined to support the police. We are determined to give the police and others new powers to fight antisocial behaviour. We will create a new national crime agency to strengthen the fight against serious crime. We will cut targets and trust professionals by giving them the freedom to do their job. We will sweep away the bureaucracy that Labour imposed.