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I beg to move,
That this House
notes with serious concern the Electoral Reform Society’s warning that the police and crime commissioner elections ‘threaten to result in the lowest turnout of any nationwide election in British history’ following the Government’s decision to hold the elections on
further notes that the Electoral Reform Society is predicting that turnout will be significantly lower than at the local elections, held in May;
believes the Government’s cuts to 15,000 police officers demonstrates its wrong-headed attitude to policing;
is concerned about the effect this has on police morale;
further notes that Ministers have confirmed that the Government has broken its promise not to cut frontline police officers by taking 6,800 police officers off the front line;
is concerned that Government policy is removing crucial tools for the police to catch offenders and tackle crime in the future, such as restricting the use of CCTV and DNA evidence and the abolition of ASBOs;
and believes that the Government’s decision to hold elections in November rather than in May wastes public money that should be spent on front line police.
First, may I pay tribute to the work of our police officers, and the police staff who support them and work with them? In keeping our communities safe, it is their job to respond to the calls, investigate crimes and keep our confidence in policing high. In the week that we have debated Hillsborough and the failings associated with it, let us not forget the daily work police officers do, with professionalism and commitment, on our behalf.
I had the privilege of attending last week’s police bravery awards, as did the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, whom I congratulate on his appointment to the Privy Council. We listened to tales of outstanding bravery in the face of immense challenges, and the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, and I were astounded by the accounts of police who entered burning buildings, dived into docks and struggled with armed assailants—every day doing the ordinary, but on occasion doing the extraordinary, on our behalf. It was a real honour for us to be there.
It is also important to pay tribute, as we did at York Minster only two or three weeks ago, to those police officers who have died in the line of duty. I must pay tribute to the latest officers killed on duty, Police Constables Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone. They were two bright young officers, whose promising careers were cut short in a most cowardly and reprehensible way. I hope I speak for the whole House in saying we will never forget them or their service.
We are just three weeks away from the elections for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales on
The election did not need to be held in November. The Tories are holding it then for the sake of a political fix with their political friends, the Liberal Democrats—who, at the last count, had candidates standing in only 24 of the 41 police areas. Perhaps they were embarrassed by the fact that at the general election they promised 3,000 extra police officers, yet they have presided over a cut of 15,000 police officers to date.
I make these points because I am worried about the turnout in these elections. I worry for the Minister in having this flagship policy of elections for PCCs on which the Government have done an abysmal job in generating interest and turnout and getting people engaged.
On the question of turnout, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the comments of Lord Blair of Boughton were deeply unhelpful and extremely negative, and that someone with his experience should have known better?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that I will be voting on
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that people should vote Labour on
These elections matter. The PCCs have big roles to play in setting budgets, in setting priorities and in engaging the public.
Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome all the fantastic Conservative prospective PCCs, and in particular the Conservative women who are standing on
I certainly welcome the fact that the Conservatives have a candidate standing in every area, unlike the Liberal Democrats, who voted for the policy but are not seeing it through and therefore are not committed to it. We in the Labour party have put a lot of effort into selecting candidates, and more than a third of them are women, which is very promising.
Further to the intervention from my hon. Friend Steve McCabe, is not what has happened in London particularly instructive in terms of the context for this debate? Mayor Boris Johnson has presided over almost 1,500 police officers being cut and almost 2,000 police community support officers being lost. Is that not part of the Conservative record and to be regretted?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, as that is part of the Conservatives’ record. One of the things that we will be campaigning on outside London in these elections is their appalling record on cutting police throughout England and Wales.
Today’s debate is a chance for us to try to engage the public in these elections to ensure—if this is possible—a good turnout. The Government’s record, to date, has been appalling. Hon. Members should listen not only to me, but to the former chief constable of Thames Valley police and head of the soon-to-be-dissolved National Policing Improvement Agency. He said:
“If you could have constructed a manual on how not to conduct an election, the Home Office have managed to tick off just about every element of it, including holding it in November, which is almost guaranteed to be dark and poor weather.”
“So there are significant problems with getting a decent turnout…If they get elected on a 15% turnout it’s going to be pretty shocking.”
“With a strong democratic mandate from the ballot box, police and crime commissioners will hold their chief constable to account for cutting crime.”—[Hansard, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 708.]
However, only last month, research commissioned by Victim Support showed that 90% of people questioned had no idea what this role entailed or what it did. On Monday, a survey by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners suggested that 85% of people either knew “not very much” or “nothing at all” about this election—nearly two in five knew nothing about it whatsoever. The same survey, only this week, showed that the number of people asked who were certain to vote was 15%. The Minister of State, Home Department, Mr Browne, whom I believe is to wind up today’s debate, even though he cannot be bothered to come to hear the opening speeches—
I should say, in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, that he is, as we speak, disengaging himself from the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which had summoned him to appear before it. So he is fulfilling a parliamentary obligation at the moment.
The Ministers need to establish the facts on these matters. If the relevant Minister cannot reply to the debate, perhaps another Minister, such as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire could wind up instead.
Let us put that aside, because the key issue is that the Home Office Minister responsible for crime reduction, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane, said at his party conference, only two weeks ago, that a turnout of under 20% would not be acceptable. We face these November elections with awareness still at a very poor level, and we also have a new electoral system, one not normally used for these elections. The Electoral Commission has summed up the situation in its most recent briefing in September, where it said:
“It is important that voters have sufficient information about the voting system, the issues and the candidates that are standing in elections…This will be particularly important for the PCC elections because these are completely new elections, for a new role. In addition they are happening at an unusual time of year, using a voting system (the Supplementary Vote) that most people will be unfamiliar with.”
It went on to say that although it will be carrying out its functions in highlighting the elections, its
“preferred option—a booklet with information about the candidates to be sent to voters in each police authority area – is not going to happen.”
The Government have ignored the Electoral Commission’s advice on turnout for these elections, so I would be interested to know from the Minister what sort of modelling the Home Office has done on turnout and what it feels it might be? When we examine every local election since 2006, which were held in May, we find that there was an average turnout of 37%—that is twice what the Electoral Reform Society suggests turnout will be on
“threaten to result in the lowest turnout of any nationwide election in British history.”
If that is the case, the fault will lie with the Minister.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not welcome the fact that the PCC elections will allow local communities finally to have control over the strategy for policing decisions in their areas?
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past 100 years, but police authorities did have elected members chairing those committees.
I will talk about the Labour party’s approach to police and crime commissioner elections, but first let me finish looking at where we are in relation to the election on
What my right hon. Friend is describing is truly shocking—a huge waste of public money through Government incompetence. Does he agree that this is the first time in electoral history that a Government have had to destroy ballot papers before an election?
The Home Secretary said that she delayed the elections not because of the political fix with the Liberal Democrats, but because more time was needed to plan the elections, yet the order for the elections was only laid on
If £350,000 were the only cost, we should be worried but not overly concerned, but the cost of these elections is £100 million. Cancelling the May elections and putting them on
My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that the Ministry of Justice is having to spend more resources and put more staff on its team looking at support for victims, what will be passed down to PCCs and what will not, and what the budget will be. That work has only just started. What a ridiculous waste of money that is, too.
Indeed it would. The former Policing Minister, Nick Herbert, writing in The Daily Telegraph only yesterday, made it clear that the Liberal Democrats tried to sabotage the poll, which is why it is now to be held in November. I think we should send the bill to the constituency office of the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane, and ask him to pay the £100 million cost on behalf of the Liberal Democrats who, I remind the House, are standing in only 24 of the 41 areas.
The Electoral Commission has also said that the central website provided by the Government will not be sufficient because it requires people to access the internet. It is estimated that 7 million adults outside London have not used the internet in the past 12 months, but how do the Government decide to promote their campaign? By putting it only on the website. Which groups are least able to access the internet? People who live in the north, people on low incomes, people over 65, and women. There is disproportionality built in to these elections which the Government should be careful of.
What makes the shambles worse is that we had a referendum in this country on the voting system, yet now we find that the Government intend to use the supplementary vote. Who authorised that?
Indeed. Most people do not know how to use the supplementary vote. That will add to the confusion on
It is no secret that Labour voted against the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. As my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne said, we would have spent the £100 million on 3,000 new police officers instead. But Parliament has spoken and we intend to fight the election hard. In answer to Julian Smith, we have decided to stand 41 candidates in 41 police areas. We are more in favour of the policy than are the Liberal Democrats who voted for it, but we will not stand aside and allow Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates to be elected and to act as cheerleaders for the Government. We have an excellent set of candidates and a proud record, as crime fell by 43% in the years of the Labour Government.
We will fight the elections supporting neighbourhood policing, tackling antisocial behaviour, supporting victims, protecting the operational independence of police, forming local partnerships and opposing the Government’s reckless 20% cuts in policing, which have seen 6,800 officers gone from our front line already. I would be grateful if, in his contribution, the Minister confirmed that 6,800 officers have gone from the front line. If he does, he will be directly contradicting the Prime Minister’s claim that front-line services will not be hit.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to increase interest in the elections in November might be to encourage local discussions about the closure of police stations? It is an open secret in the Met and I suspect elsewhere that we are expecting to see a number of police station closures. This parallels the Mayor of London being forced to release the list of fire station closures last week. Does my right hon. Friend expect the list of putative police station closures to be out before those elections?
As it happens, I was in Gloucester yesterday supporting the Labour candidate in Gloucestershire, and one of the main aspects of her campaigning was to keep policing in touch with local people by maintaining police stations in areas where there are high levels of crime. The same will be true in London. That is because Government Members have forced through 20% cuts in the policing budget. That means the loss of 15,000 officers by 2015, which is a conservative estimate. Ultimately, the number of front-line officers lost in the past two years—6,778—is already more than the police inspector intended to date.
The right hon. Gentleman is bandying a lot of numbers about. We have a candidate standing in the county formerly known as Humberside who spent £500 million trying to close down our regional fire control centres. That would pay for a large number of police. What does he think about that candidate, Lord Prescott?
I have known Lord Prescott for 37 years, since I went to Hull university. I would trust Lord Prescott with any public service provided in Humberside. He is one of the finest members of the Labour party.
If the Minister does not believe me, perhaps he will believe the former chief constables of Dyfed Powys and of Gloucestershire, who have been extremely critical of the policing cuts. We proposed 12% cuts in funding. As the Policing Minister, I took that budget through with my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, but our proposals would have saved £1 billion for policing, which would have been invested in policing, instead of the present cuts.
Right across the political spectrum in Trafford there is concern about the disproportionate impact of police cuts, as we are facing the largest percentage cut in Greater Manchester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the concerns is that the way these job losses are falling is that more experienced officers, disillusioned, for example, by what has been decided about their pensions and their pay, are choosing to leave the force, so we are seeing not only a numbers problem, but an experience problem?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Many superintendents at senior management level, who bring a great deal of experience to policing in this country, are being squeezed and losing their posts. This level of cuts is pushing forward a privatisation agenda, and I feel that we need to say clearly—let us be blunt—that we do not want private companies patrolling the public streets of Britain. We want police officers and police community support officers doing that job. The Government should have learnt the lessons of G4S during the Olympics rather than rushing forward with plans for large-scale contracting out. Although public-private partnerships are valuable, we must ensure that new contracts pass tough key tests on value for money, resilience and security, transparency and accountability, and policing by consent.
My right hon. Friend mentions superintendents. In London we are likely to lose seven borough commanders, with large boroughs, including my own, having to merge and have no accountability at the top in local policing. We have already lost neighbourhood team sergeants. If that is the example being set in London by a cutting Tory regime—that is what we have under the Mayor of London and his new deputy mayor for policing, who has already cut services in my borough—then the rest of the country should take note, because they are simply cuts from the top to the bottom of the police service.
Now that the Boris bung has worn off and the election is over, the people of London face real policing cuts, and my hon. Friend is right to point out the real concerns there will be. It is not just a question of policing cuts, because on top of all that the Government, despite their rhetoric, are actually making it harder for police officers to do their job. They are not only cutting budgets, but removing crucial tools the police use to catch offenders and tackle crime, including reducing CCTV and DNA evidence and abolishing antisocial behaviour orders.
My right hon. Friend touches on the important question of police morale and how this will impact on police effectiveness. Does he think that police morale and effectiveness will be improved by the ludicrous suspension of Detective Superintendent Fulcher in Swindon for trying to solve a kidnapping while the victim could still have been alive and for solving two murders? Should he not receive an award for that, rather than being criticised by an out-of-touch judge and hide-bound bureaucrats?
I was also in Swindon yesterday, while campaigning for Clare Moody, Labour’s candidate there, and know that that was a live issue in many discussions. The matter has now been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which will have to look at it, but I recognise my right hon. Friend’s strength of feeling.
On the question of CCTV, the code of practice we expect next year will certainly reduce the number of CCTV cameras and increase the bureaucracy, which in my view will have an impact on fighting crime. If we look at the DNA database and changes that my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson looked at hard, we see that the Government’s changes will make the database weaker, go against the Home Office’s own evidence and ensure that people who would have been caught and prevented from committing murders or serious sexual offences will now be able to commit them. Our own evidence in July 2010 showed that, under the system proposed by my right hon. Friend, 23,000 people each year would have been on the database who, under the Government’s plans, will not be and so will go on to commit further offences. What has it come to when the so-called party of law and order cuts policing, reduces CCTV, stops people—23,000 of them—being caught as a result of DNA evidence and, lastly, removes ASBOs, which are there to help protect communities against antisocial behaviour.
Last year the chief constable of West Midlands police, Chris Sims, appeared before the Home Affairs Committee and made a commitment that his force would be able to deliver continuous improvement in crime reduction at the same time as reducing its budget. The results have borne out his early confidence. We have seen a 13% fall in crime to the year ending June 2012, and at the same time the chief constable has been able to reduce officer numbers by 4% and police staff by 6.2%. I think that is a good result for our taxpayers, who themselves are having to do more for less in the private sector.
Before calling the right hon. Gentleman, I say to the hon. Lady that, first, interventions must be brief and, secondly, I am keen that everyone should get in and so the time limit will have to be reduced later on, fairly soon afterwards, so we really need economy.
I take it from that that the hon. Lady is in favour of 800 police officers being lost from the west midlands police force. I suggest that she go back to Stourbridge and say, “I am very happy to support 800 fewer officers in the west midlands.” Crime fell by 43% during the course of the Labour Government because we had record numbers of police officers catching record numbers of criminals, giving them sentences, ensuring that they served them, and reducing reoffending. She will not find much joy in Stourbridge about what has happened in terms of those policies.
Labour Members believe that the policing settlements for this year, last year and the year before have caused great damage to the communities that we represent, and that next year’s settlement, through the comprehensive spending review, is likely to be much worse. [ Interruption. ] Let me say to the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane, who is heckling from a sedentary position, that, yes, crime has gone down, and we welcome that. Crime went down by 43% during the time of the Labour Government, and today’s crime figures are reaching the stage whereby the Labour Government’s policies are still having an impact. If he cuts 16,000 police officers, reduces DNA testing, reduces CCTV and scraps ASBOs, he will find crime levelling and possibly increasing in future. He will know about that by the time of the next election and will be judged on it in due course.
Absolutely. We support some aspects of the Winsor reforms, as I have said publicly. [ Interruption. ] I am trying to wind up now; I will happily tell the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber what we will support. We support the fitness test, among other things. We have not supported regional pay. There is a whole range of things; it is a mixed package, and we are happy to discuss it. The key point that he should know is that the 12% reduction in funding that we supported and the 20% reduction that he will have voted for is the real difference between us in this debate on policing, and that is the issue we need to take in hand.
This Government are wrecking the police service; they are not valuing our officers and are not supporting the police. They will face some real challenges in this election. If the turnout is as we have so far anticipated, which I hope it will not be, the Government will have to give answers about why they have reorganised policing in such a flimsy, disorganised and shambolic way.
I thank Mr Hanson for his kind words at the start of his speech, and I agree with him about the police. This Government recognise the vital job that the police do to protect the public. The courage and dedication of the thousands of men and women who work in police forces across the country make them outstanding. Police officers risk their lives in the line of duty every single day, and this year, more than ever, we have been reminded of the dangers they face. The tragic deaths of PC Ian Dibell, PC Fiona Bone and PC Nicola Hughes show just how brave our officers can be and the debt of gratitude we owe them all.
This year, with the Olympic and Paralympic games, we have seen the best of policing, but in the response to phone hacking and Hillsborough real questions have been raised about integrity and accountability, and we are determined to get to grips with both.
Before I talk about this Government’s positive agenda for policing to introduce reforms to deliver a more professional service responsive to the public and accountable for their actions, I want to address some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Delyn. He reminded us that his party opposed the introduction of police and crime commissioners—the introduction of democracy into police accountability. This is a fascinating conversion, because when Labour was in power Vernon Coaker, who was then police Minister, said that
“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.
He was absolutely right then and the Labour party is absolutely wrong now.
The right hon. Member for Delyn also had the cheek to complain about privatisation, on which I do not need to quote his Labour predecessors on policing, because I can quote him. In 2009 he said that he was “very relaxed” about police collaboration with the private sector and that the police had Labour’s “blessing to do so”. His remarks should be put in that context; he thought something completely different three years ago.
Will the Minister confirm that the previous Government’s consultation was on whether the whole police authority, not just one person, should be elected? Will he also confirm that it was a proper consultation and that because of the outright opposition of parties of all persuasions in local government the proposals were dropped?
The Opposition, who were then in government, expressed a view, changed their mind and have now changed their mind again. I am fascinated that the right hon. Gentleman did not address the issue of privatisation, which started under his tenure as Home Secretary but which I assume he is now prepared to attack as a loyal supporter of his party’s Front-Bench representatives.
What we have heard so far is the Labour party’s central obsession with spending more money. The right hon. Member for Delyn has made no admission that the Opposition are, in fact, committed to the same level of cuts as this Government, or to any level of cuts at all. There was no honest admission that police numbers would have gone down under their plans, and no expression of regret for the 25,000 police officers stuck in back-room functions under Labour’s top-down management of the police service. Most of all, there was no apology for causing the financial mess that led to these cuts in the first place. We have had no transparency or apology from the Labour party, and just one solution—spend more money. It is as clear as ever that Labour is not learning and is not capable of learning.
We cannot even credit the Opposition with being consistent on that point. As we have heard, the police and crime commissioner elections will deliver accountable policing that responds to public demands. Labour Front Benchers are arguing for both more and less spending at the same time. They complain about what they describe as the waste of money on holding elections, which is an interesting attitude for a democratic party, at the same time as they argue that we should spend £30 million more on publicising the elections. I suppose that they could, with intellectual coherence, hold one or other of those views, but they cannot hold both of them at once, as they appear to want to do.
What is the Minister’s prediction for the election turnout on
I will address the PCC elections in a moment. Unlike the right hon. Member for Delyn, I want to start my speech by talking about policing, which is what this debate is supposed to be about.
At the start of the spending review, the service was spending more than £14 billion a year. It is only right that the police make their contribution to the savings that are needed, while ensuring that the quality of service that the public receive is maintained and, where possible, improved. This can be done and it is being done. By changing the way in which police forces work, getting officers out of the back office and on to the front line and stripping out bureaucratic processes, officers can be freed up to do the job they joined to do—to fight crime and protect the public. This is what forces up and down the country are doing. The House does not need to take my word for it; the independent inspectorate of constabulary has said so.
Not only is the Minister cutting more than 300 police officers from the Leicestershire force by 2015; he is also cutting back-room staff, which will force more officers into the back room. The Minister is a reasonable man, so will he give me a prediction? By 2015, will crime go up or down in Leicester?
I do not need to give the hon. Gentleman a prediction, because I can tell him what is happening to crime in Leicestershire. Crime in Leicestershire is down 5% under this Government and I hope that he will welcome that change.
The inspectorate has confirmed what Ministers have said all along—that the front line of policing is being protected. We know that chief constables are prioritising the front line, because they plan to increase the proportion of officers on the front line from 83% in March 2010 to 89% in March 2015. Protecting the front line does not mean staying exactly the same, it is about the service that the public receive. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that the service is being maintained, and I hope that Opposition Members will have the politeness to listen to it.
As ever, my hon. Friend points out the inadequacy of Labour arguments in Humberside and elsewhere. Since he brings up the subject of numbers, I am happy to tell him that in this Government’s time in office, crime in Humberside has fallen by 12%—a particularly good performance, I think he will agree.
That is all very well, but will the Minister actually answer the question that my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth put to him? How are front line police officers expected to be able to get out on to the streets and be visible to the public if the back-office functions upon which they rely so deeply are being cut?
I would guess from all I know of the hon. Lady that she opposes any use of the private sector in back-office functions, but that is the way to release warranted police officers, who are trained to be on the streets. Her party goes back and forth; in government it was in favour of the use of the private sector, but in opposition it has retreated to its comfort zone and opposed it. Under both the previous Government and the current one, many police forces have shown—
May I finish answering the previous intervention before I come to the hon. Gentleman?
Many police forces have shown that one way to get more officers on the front line is through more flexible and better use of back-office and middle-office staff. Now I have pleasure in giving way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister and apologise for interrupting.
Given the importance that the Minister attaches to the democratisation that comes with commissioners, does he accept that where commissioners have a mandate from the public to oppose certain types of privatisation, whether in the back office or the front office, the Government should respect that?
Yes, I do. We are in favour of democracy, and I accept that it is possible that police and crime commissioners will be elected who will do things with which I disagree. They will be democratically elected and have the mandate to do what they do, and if they get it wrong they will answer to their electorate in four years’ time. That is the point of democracy.
May I make some progress? I am conscious of your warning about going on too long, Mr Speaker.
The Opposition said that because of the cuts, emergency response times would increase, but they have held up. They said that neighbourhood policing would suffer, but there are more neighbourhood officers now than there were in May 2010. Most importantly of all—it is at the heart of the debate—they said that crime would go up, and they were wrong. Crime has gone down by 10% under this Government. That is the situation across key crime types, with recorded violence down 13%, burglary down 7%, criminal damage down 22%, vehicle crime down 15%, robbery down 5% and knife crime down 9%.
Much has been made of the situation in the west midlands. I know that Steve McCabe will wish to know that crime there is down by an impressive 13% since the election. I hope that west midlands Members of all parties will welcome that.
Labour has been proved wrong on all its key claims. Police reform is working, and crime is falling. I am grateful to the Opposition for giving me the opportunity to point that out today. They were wrong to claim that forces faced 20% cuts. No force faces cuts of that level.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to reports by HMIC, so he will presumably be familiar with the concerns that it made clear earlier this year about the future performance of the Metropolitan police, given the cuts that the Mayor of London is likely to push through. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is even more concern, particularly in the suburbs of London, about rumours of significant closures of police stations and custody suites and mergers of borough commands?
The hon. Gentleman has not quite got with the democratic project yet. As he knows, policing in London is the responsibility of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor. The hon. Gentleman had his chance earlier this year to put his arguments against the Mayor of London’s crime policy, but those arguments failed. The people of London voted to re-elect the current Mayor of London, and he has an excellent Deputy Mayor who is dealing with those matters.
No. The right hon. Gentleman should listen to what I say. The claim is, I think, that forces are facing 20% cuts, but no force is facing cuts of that level. As he knows as well as anyone in the country, the police service receives about a quarter of its income from the police precept element of council tax, the exact proportion—[ Interruption. ] I am glad that I am able to educate the Labour party about how the police are funded in this country. That funding is not all from the Home Office; some of it comes from the police precept. As the right hon. Gentleman and, I hope, the Opposition Front Bench know—although there is no evidence that they do—the exact proportion that comes from the precept varies from force to force, and the level at which it is set is, I stress, a matter for individual police and crime commissioners to decide. In short, no force has seen anything like a 20% cash reduction.
We on this side of the House have long argued that there is no simple link between police numbers and crime rates, and I am happy that that view is shared by the Home Affairs Committee. The figures I have quoted show that that view is correct and widely accepted—the one place it has not yet been accepted is inside the Labour party.
Let me turn to the elections for police and crime commissioners. On this side of the House, we are getting behind our candidates and campaigning hard to ensure that the elections are a success and that the public get the PCCs they deserve—hard-working, dedicated people who want to deliver for their communities and improve policing. Opposition Members should decide whether they support or oppose the elections. I assume that they support them, and I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Delyn has said that he does. A huge number of former Labour Ministers are standing, determined to make
The confusion on the Opposition Benches is summed up with a pleasing touch of nostalgia by a dispute between Blair and Prescott. Prescott is having an argument with a new Blair, Lord Blair, who is arguing that people should not vote—I think that is disgraceful, and I hope the Labour party will agree that to tell people not to vote in a democratic election is deplorable. [ Interruption. ] I am glad that the right hon. Member for Delyn disagrees with Lord Blair. I hope that will continue and that everyone in the Labour party will condemn Lord Blair for what he said, not least because, as we have seen in recent articles, Lord Prescott is—of course—campaigning in his unique and energetic fashion around Humberside.
The introduction of PCCs is the most significant democratic reform of policing ever. It will introduce greater transparency and accountability to a service of which we are all rightly proud, but which can sometimes be too distant from the public it serves and fail to reflect adequately their concerns and priorities. As I told the House in a debate last week, only 7% of the public know what a police authority is. That figure represents a huge failure in democratic accountability, because it is the job of a police authority—as it will be of a PCC—to spend the public’s money in a way that guarantees that the police in that area are doing what the public need. It is impossible to do that when 93% of the public do not even know what police authorities are.
I am spoilt for choice but I think that the hon. Lady has had a go, so I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend will speak later in the debate, and can no doubt speak for himself. Up to now, and until next month, the public have been unable to do anything about the failures of police authorities. PCCs will have a clear incentive to perform better than that, because if they fail to represent their communities, engage properly and deliver on their priorities, the public will tell them what they think at the ballot box.
Policing matters to the public and people want their forces to respond to their concerns. The advertising campaign the Home Office has been running this month will be seen by 85% of the public. It tells them how to get more information—[ Interruption. ] Labour Members have problems with people getting information online, but people can get information online at www.choosemypcc.org.uk, and anyone who wants a printed booklet can get one by calling the freephone number from the advert. Everyone registered to vote will also get the number on a polling card through their door, and the Electoral Commission is writing to each household with information on how to vote. Whatever the Opposition want to say, no one who wants information in the elections will be denied it.
As the website goes online only tomorrow, it will be quite difficult for people to phone now. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, nominations closed only this week, and the final day for people withdrawing from the election was today, so the candidates will have their information out only tomorrow.
Many hon. Members have asked how many people will turn out to vote. We do not know, but however many do so, every PCC will have more legitimacy to make important decisions on what the police do and how the local budget is spent than unelected, unaccountable and largely invisible police authorities.
The number of chief constables and ex-chief constables who face criminal investigations is going into double digits—I am thinking of Grahame Maxwell in north Yorkshire and the problems in Cleveland. Will chief constables be held to account much better under the new regime?
It is extremely important that chief constables are held to account, but equally important is the transparency with which they are held to account. That will now be the job of visible, public and democratically elected figures. Among the many bodies to benefit from this advent of democracy will be senior police officers. Many institutions in this country have had to become more transparent in recent years—not least the House. In the long run, it does the institution good to be held to account more publicly.
The policy fits in to wider police reform. For too long before this Government came to office, the Home Office interfered too much in local policing and cared too little about national threats. The introduction of PCCs is a step along the road to reversing that trend, and the creation of the National Crime Agency to focus on serious and organised crime nationally is another. That did not exist under the previous Government, but it should have, and it will exist under this Government. PCCs will not just focus just on their local area, but will have a duty to co-operate in dealing with national threats under the new strategic policing requirement, which this Government also introduced.
We are determined that the police will have the powers they need to tackle crime. That includes enhancing professionalism with the creation of the new college of policing. We have today announced that Chief Constable Alex Marshall of Hampshire police will be its chief executive. Key to the college’s work will be the sharing of best practice and research into what works at a local level.
We believe in local solutions to local problems and a departure from the central direction and edicts of the past. The antisocial behaviour order was typical of the previous top-down approach that too often failed communities. Fifty-seven per cent. of ASBOs issued up to the end of 2011 were breached at least once, and more than 40% were breached more than once. It simply did not work, which is why we have set out new proposals in our white paper, “Putting Victims First”, for faster, more flexible and effective powers that will provide a real deterrent to perpetrators and better protect victims and communities.
We also believe that a balance must be struck between enabling the police to use vital modern investigative techniques, such as DNA and CCTV, and protecting the rights of innocent members of the public not to be under constant and unregulated surveillance. That is why, through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, we have put in place a series of sensible and proportionate controls on the use of those techniques. But we are not weakening our response to crime. We are not restricting CCTV—it is an important tool but not the only one—and we will continue to take the DNA of the guilty, including, for the first time, of prisoners, rather than that of innocent people. So we are taking a balanced approach that protects the public and punishes the guilty.
Overall, our reforms add up to a realignment of policing in this country that will free the police from central targets and bureaucracy and will place power back in the hands of local people. The introduction of PCCs will make policing more accountable and responsive, while driving forces to become efficient and to improve continually. The end result will be a trusted, responsive and professional police service that will be continually improving to cut crime.
The motion is backward looking. It could have been written by the Labour party in 2005. Its approach to fighting crime amounts to spending more money, tighter control from Whitehall and ever more interference by the state in the lives of ordinary, decent people. It did not work when they were in government, and that is why this Government are working for a more accountable, more transparent and more professional police service. This is what will lead to further falls in crime, and that is why the House should reject this ill-conceived motion.
Order. An eight-minute limit will apply to each of the first two Back-Bench speeches, and thereafter, in the interests of trying to accommodate the level of interest, the time limit will fall to six minutes.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, Damian Green, whom I welcome to his new position, finished his speech by saying that Labour’s policies did not work in government. I remind him that we were the only Government in the modern era—going back to the first world war—who presided over a reduction in crime. That is to say that the amount of crime was less when we left office than when we assumed office. Indeed, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, who was an excellent Policing Minister, understated the case. The Home Office statistics published in July 2010, from this Government, showed that overall crime fell by 50%, violent crime by 55% and domestic violence by 64%. The chances of being a victim of crime fell from a peak of 40% under the Tory Government to 21.5% under us. The murder rate in London was the lowest since I was wearing a tank-top and flares in the early 1970s.
Indeed; It was a retro week.
We can now all celebrate that success. The Conservative party—I do not include the Liberal Democrats in this criticism—argued year after year that the statistics were wrong. I remember the Prime Minister standing at the Dispatch Box in opposition saying that crime was not falling but rising, and that when they came into power they would change how the statistics were correlated, but they have done absolutely nothing. They have changed the name of the British crime survey to the England and Wales crime survey, but the statistics are collected in exactly the same way.
That is why the Prime Minister was able to celebrate a 6% fall in crime this year in his tribute speech to that great woman, “Laura Norder”, on Monday. That figure was based on exactly the same formulation of statistics that he once criticised. We should recognise that the momentum of falling crime seems to have continued into this Government, whereas crime doubled under the previous Tory Government between 1979 and 1997, with violent crime increasing by 168% and burglary by 405%. The downward trend has been maintained. It is crucial that all our constituents understand why that has happened and how we can ensure that crime and disorder continue to fall.
When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, he held a meeting with civil servants in the Home Office. They told him that if the economy was successful, crime would increase, and that if the economy was unsuccessful, crime would increase. No matter which way the economy went, people believed that it would inevitably rise. That counsel of despair convinced successive Home Secretaries until Michael Howard’s appointment that rising crime was an inevitability. The economy is weak now but crime has continued to fall, just as it did in the 2008-09 recession when it went down by 9%. We can compare that with the recession in the ’90s, when it went up by 16%. There is no doubt that advances in technology have helped. Car thefts have reduced dramatically thanks to computerised security systems and CCTV has been an effective tool—it is of course not the whole answer—as has the DNA database.
Police reforms have made the biggest contribution to the dramatic reduction in crime. People trot out the tired old phrase, “The police are the last unreformed public service,” but anyone who has been a Member of this House over the past 20 years will have seen a huge change in policing. The principal change has been the move away from a reactive force, whose main preoccupation was to respond to crimes that had already been committed, to a force with a role more in keeping with Robert Peel’s original concept of a police force, whose primary objective was the prevention of crime and the maintenance of what he described as “public tranquillity”. It was the “Life on Mars” culture of the 1970s that took police away from communities and off the streets and challenged the Peel ethos, whereas the introduction of the dreadfully named crime and disorder reduction partnerships and neighbourhood policing—a huge change in how the police operated—did the most to restore it.
Over 15 years, we have moved from a police philosophy that stated that antisocial behaviour and low-level crime was nothing to do with them to a recognition that the police have an important role to play in working with other agencies to tackle such behaviour, which has a far greater impact on people’s perception of crime than some more high-profile offences. We have moved from an era in which domestic violence was considered to be nothing to do with the police and to be a matter for the adversaries to sort out to its being a major focus of attention for police forces across the country. Plenty of evidence suggests that that concentration on domestic violence has had a far wider impact on the reduction in other crimes.
In that context, I believe the Government have made a mistake in cutting the number of warranted officers. The work the police do on crime prevention in schools, in homes, as part of family intervention projects and in youth clubs and hostels will suffer as a result of those cuts and the partnerships that require the police to work together with local authorities, the NHS and the voluntary sector to tackle the underlying causes of crime will be placed in jeopardy. I predict that such cuts will eventually feed through to the crime statistics, to the detriment of our constituents across the country.
The Minister mentioned privatisation, and in the context of what is happening in Lincolnshire, the west midlands and Surrey I am bemused and amazed that the Home Office has not stated categorically that the tasks of patrolling our streets, the investigation of offences, and arrest—together with the use of firearms and the control of public disorder—must remain with police officers. Of course there can be co-operation with the private sector in other spheres, but that is what the police want to see and the reassurance has not been given.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the four Yorkshire forces could do much more to share and reduce costs? In his role as a local MP, will he call on those four forces to get their acts together?
Yes, I do. I completely agree and that was in our White Paper when I was Home Secretary in November 2010. I also believe that there are too many police constabularies. Charles Clarke tried and failed to reduce the number of constabularies, and we need to do it.
The late, great Conservative head of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, said that through the police and crime commissioners the Government were introducing
“a parallel and potentially conflicting system with a competing mandate”.
I believe that is true. I do not agree with Lord Blair, but I think that the public will register their disquiet by failing to turn up at the ballot box. I sincerely believe that after November’s elections, the Government will need to rethink the question and that part of the solution might be to recreate a form of machinery to run the police authorities that represents all parts of the patch. That should not be done by only one person and, if we elect anyone, we should elect the chair of that organisation. I also think that there should be closer working on prisons, probation and fire services so that there can be joined-up accountability for a wide range of these issues.
I genuinely welcome the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to the Dispatch Box. I think he is a good Minister. He had an unfortunate experience with the police a few years ago, which always reminds me of the Tom Wolfe quote:
“A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.”
The right hon. Gentleman has a huge role to play in improving the relationship between the Government and the police. It is in a terrible state, and I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman works hard, with all the charm for which he is famous, he could make a great contribution to dealing with crime and disorder in this country.
The motion before us makes the typical Labour mistake of looking at inputs rather than outputs, and looking at the process rather than what the process is designed to achieve. It does not mention that crime is coming down or that there are fewer victims of crime. The shadow Minister gave a fulsome tribute—I think correctly—to the men and women of our police services; indeed, the Minister did, too. The motion, however, fails to give police the recognition they deserve for the way they have delivered crime reduction—by doing more for less.
Let me start with a significant police success. Crime in England and Wales has fallen by 6% compared with last year. In my area, North Yorkshire, it has fallen by 10%— a fantastic result. Of particular note is the 27% reduction in robbery. I would therefore like to put on record my praise and thanks to the members of North Yorkshire police who have delivered this reduction.
While we are on North Yorkshire matters, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the excellent work of a police charity based in Harrogate. I refer to Police Treatment Centres, a charity with two treatment centres—one in Harrogate and the other in Auchterarder in the Ochil and South Perthshire constituency—where serving and retired police officers can recover from illness or injury by receiving care and treatment. I know we all remember that our policemen and women do brave things, which can sometimes mean getting injured and needing more care. The charity serves the forces of northern England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, plus the British Transport police, the Civil Nuclear police and the Ministry of Defence police, and looked after nearly 4,000 people last year. I have visited the Harrogate site several times so I have seen their first-class facilities; they do a fantastic job. I was very pleased to see the Government recognise the importance of the charity’s work earlier this year, with the award of a £500,000 grant for the refurbishment of part of the Harrogate site. I thank the Minister for his support.
We are, of course, in a period of significant change in our police services, and one of the changes is the arrival of police and crime commissioners. I support the arrival of police and crime commissioners. I do so because they deal with the invisibility and lack of accountability of the police authorities that they replace. Law and order is an issue that matters hugely to voters, but with police authorities voters did not get their say. The police and crime commissioners will be voices for the public, for victims and for the vulnerable; they will be strong local voices empowered to deal with important local concerns. Our PCC candidate in North Yorkshire is Julia Mulligan, and I know she has had a successful track record in business and community work, which I think makes for the right qualities for a first-class commissioner.
The motion says that the Electoral Reform Society is worried about voter turnout in the PCC elections. I would say to Opposition Members that the Electoral Reform Society is not always a source of wisdom. For example, it was strongly in favour of the yes vote in the referendum we had last year. It is fair to say that there is not yet huge, widespread awareness of these elections, but that is always a feature of new things when, by definition, people have no experience of the benefits they can bring. A TV advertising campaign will boost that awareness, and there will be candidates out on the doorstep and campaign teams out delivering leaflets. The more these elections are talked about, the better the turnout will be, so at least something good may come from this debate.
I thought that Lord Blair’s intervention over the weekend was misguided. He said that people should not vote in these elections because the areas that form the geography for the police and crime commissioners were too large. However, they are the same areas as those that are served by a single police force led by a single chief constable. I suspect that Lord Blair was really saying that he did not want the public to have much of a role in policing—that being a commissioner was too complex for people. I think that is absolute nonsense. I also think that the more he talks about the elections, the more he will boost turnout by ensuring that they are in the news.
As I said earlier, the motion is typical of the Labour party in that it refers to how much the Government spend rather than to what they achieve. In policy area after policy area, year after year, Labour defines success as spending more. We do not have a £1 trillion debt because a Government could not find ways in which to spend public money. The problem is that there is always a way of spending public money, and defining success by how much is spent leads to pressure to spend, spend, spend. The motion perpetuates that mistake.
I do not often agree with the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke—especially given his remark that he could visit Harrogate in order to spend some time on the beach—but I agree with what he said on one occasion:
“We need to look beyond police numbers alone. The debate should be about what you do and how you do it, not just how many of you there are to do it.”
The key measure of police success is falling crime. In our country the chance of being a victim of crime is the lowest for 30 years, which suggests that the Government reforms are right. Resources are being taken from back office to front line, and the proportion of officers who are involved in front-line roles has increased from 83% to 89%. We are seeing the scrapping of targets and bureaucracy. I am sure that, over the past few years, we have all spoken to police officers who have been keen to tell us about the bureaucracy that they face. It is estimated that the cuts in bureaucracy will save 3 million police hours a year.
The Government are also helping the police forces to work together. Shared procurement and IT can save millions. In my area of North Yorkshire and the Humber— which is also represented by the former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson—the police forces are working together on a shared vehicle procurement and management programme. That alone is saving £7 million.
My main point, however, concerns the way in which the links between the police and the public are being rebuilt. We see that in the arrival of the democratic accountability of police and crime commissioners, and we see it in the increase in the number of police community support officers and police delivering neighbourhood policing. The numbers have risen by 2,300 in two years. I have met almost all the PCSOs in my constituency, and I have been impressed by their work. I know that they work and communicate well with local communities, and that they are popular figures on the streets of Harrogate and Knaresborough.
I think that this is a period of change, but I also think that it is an exciting time for our police. On the key measure of success, they are performing well. They deserve our support, and they certainly have mine.
Order. The six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches applies from now on.
Let me begin by congratulating the men and women of West Midlands police on the great achievements that they have made despite very tough economic circumstances.
I think that the problem with the cuts argument is that neither the public nor the police believe the Government on the issue. The constant denial about numbers in the face of people’s own evidence means that the Government cannot be believed. Earlier today, we saw the Minister dance on the head of a pin when discussing the percentage scale of the cuts. People know fine well that he is wriggling.
I believe that, in fact, the public are with us on the issue. They think that the Government are going too far and too fast. They are going too far in opting for 20% cuts when the safe level, which we would have supported, was 12%, and they are going too fast in front-loading the cuts, which means that the potential for efficiency gains over a number of years has been wiped out. That has been compounded by the application of the formula under which Surrey, which has the lowest crime levels in the country, suffers a third of the cuts that we suffer in the west midlands. The position is made even worse by a funding approach which means that the funds for the West Midlands force are capped at £25 million a year below the amount provided for by the Government’s own formula, while Surrey receives £6 million a year more than the formula suggests that it needs. The previous police Minister promised to review that, with the hope of actually bringing about some change. I hope that the current Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will take on that challenge and try to bring a bit of fairness into the application of the formula.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he will respect democratically elected police and crime commissioners, because in the west midlands not a single candidate who responded to the Police Federation questionnaire—in fairness, the ones who responded are the ones most likely to win—said that they would support the Government’s present privatisation agenda. Bob Jones, the Labour candidate, has made it absolutely clear that he will not support the present business partnering arrangements that West Midlands police have been looking at and that he will not give any juicy contracts to G4S.
What has gone wrong is that the Government have failed to recognise things on two fronts. First, they are sapping the morale of ordinary police officers. Let us forget about what the Police Federation is saying: ordinary rank-and-file officers are stopping me in the supermarket and at meetings—indeed, anywhere in the constituency—to tell me how fed up they are and how much they think the Government are against them. The Government are sapping morale with a constant-change agenda that looks as if they are against the police. Simultaneously, the Government are talking up the rights of what are rapidly becoming private monopolies. Companies such as G4S, Capita and Cerco are running around gobbling up public sector contracts and smaller businesses. Those companies are becoming too big. They are unregulated private monopolies. The combination of that and the constant attacks on the police is sapping police morale. I say this to the Minister: the figures might look good now, but we cannot go on like this.
I was also a bit surprised to hear the Minister trumpeting the demise of antisocial behaviour orders. He has been successful—in the west midlands there has been a 90% reduction in the first six months of this year, compared with 2010—but there is nothing being put in their place. Things are getting worse. Let us look at what the public are saying. Thousands of people responded to my survey in Selly Oak. Antisocial behaviour is their concern. They want the police and the courts to have the powers to tackle it. What the Minister has succeeded in doing is creating a vacuum.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I am enjoying his speech immensely. Yesterday Birmingham announced that it is looking at a huge number of cuts, in many ways mimicking Stoke-on-Trent and the huge cuts to our local authority. Does he agree that as local authorities lose their resources, there is a knock-on effect on the work that the police are able to do in tackling antisocial behaviour and other issues?
That is absolutely true. The danger is that partnerships are being weakened rather than strengthened.
I would like to finish on a slightly more generous note to the Minister. I am pleased to see that the Government have moved somewhat on the question of police and crime commissioners. It is right to broaden the brief so that we think more about victims and the delivery of justice, rather than the narrow management and control of the police, which was more prevalent during the passage of the legislation. As police and crime commissioners develop that work, I hope that they will not be constrained by unnecessary direction from the centre or the imposition of financial controls that make it impossible to do the work, because in that respect the Minister is on to something that the public probably support.
It is always a pleasure to follow Steve McCabe. It was good to hear him end on a positive note as well.
If the official Opposition had had their way, this would have been a debate about my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. Events have moved on, of course, but I would like to pay tribute to him for the work he did as Secretary of State for International Development. He was a truly outstanding and inspirational DFID Secretary. He spent five years in opposition preparing for that brief, and when he got the brief in government, he was a huge, huge success and admired throughout the world.
I want to focus briefly on Norfolk constabulary, and pay tribute to the police officers across the county. Although they are facing difficult times, they have turned themselves into an incredibly effective small police force, which is now probably better placed than most other forces in the country.
There has been a reduction in the number of officers. On
Crime has fallen. In the last year—2010-11 to 2011-12 —burglary crime was down 20%, robbery was down 11.4% and vehicle theft crime was down 26%. Had serious sexual offences not gone up by 20%, overall crime would have come down by much more than 2.4%. In the year to date, 2011-12 to 2012-13, serious sexual offences have fallen 24%, theft of motor vehicles is down by a staggering 29%, robbery is down 31% and priority criminal damage is down 37%. We are therefore on target to reduce crime by almost 13%. That is an extraordinary performance.
The point that those things underscore is that it is possible to reduce the number of police officers in a time of great austerity, but they do not have to be taken out of the front line. It is not necessary to undermine in any way the integrity of the front line. Norfolk constabulary has reduced bureaucracy and the number of officers in back-up or admin jobs. It has got more officers into the front line and it is reducing crime. I want to pay tribute to all the police officers who have contributed to this excellent record, and in particular Chief Constable Phil Gormley. He is leading a force that now has high morale, in spite of the changes that are taking place.
Another important part of our strategy is collaboration with Suffolk constabulary. The shadow Minister, Mr Hanson, talked about the reforms during Charles Clarke’s tenure at the Home Office. They did not succeed because they were too large a step forward at that time. In Norfolk, there has been a steady, pragmatic, common-sense approach to collaboration. At regional level, there has been sensible collaboration through the eastern region special operations unit. A joint structure has been put in place with Suffolk for collaborative policing, covering protective services, justice services and business support. The total cost is now £44.5 million. To put that in context, the total amount spent by Norfolk constabulary is £120 million and Suffolk spent £92 million. Some 502 officers are now working on this collaborative project, and there are 48 civilian staff.
In protective services, there are now six major units covering serious and organised crime, forensic investigation and intelligence, as well as the major investigation team, specialist operations and the vulnerable people directorate. In justice services, Norfolk and Suffolk now have a fully collaborative unit comprising criminal justice services, custody services and a new custody investigation unit. There is also a joint Norfolk and Suffolk criminal justice board. In business support, £9.8 million has been saved across the forces. There are now joint departments covering estates, ICT, procurement and human resources.
Are the public pleased with the performance of Norfolk constabulary? Norfolk constabulary has the 17th lowest budget in the country, yet it has the fifth highest detection rate, the second highest overall value-for-money rating and is third in the country in terms of public satisfaction.
I support the changes and the election of police and crime commissioners. I wish the new PCC all the best. He or she will take over a force that is in excellent heart.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, as I am keen to put on the record my concern about the misguided and cavalier approach of this Government to matters of policing and public safety.
I speak as a London MP, and I want to draw attention to the significant impact that this Government’s policing policies could have on law and order in the capital. Since the coalition came to power, the number of police officers on London’s streets has fallen by 463. Many more support staff have been cut, and we know that between now and 2015 a further 1,000 officers are likely to go. London is not an easy city to police; the Metropolitan police have a tough job, and it is being made harder by the coalition Government. I believe that we are wasting money on electing police and crime commissioners when we would be better off spending it on preventing crime from happening in the first place.
In the past six months, I have met the parents of children who have died on the streets of London as a result of knife crime. So far this year, seven teenagers have been murdered in the capital, and I have met the parents of three of them. Nathaniel Brown and Kevin Ssali both tragically lost their lives in my constituency this summer—both were fatally stabbed—and earlier this year, my 17-year-old constituent Kwame Ofosu-Asare was murdered in Brixton. My corner of south-east London is, by and large, a safe place to live, and I recognise that progress is being made by the Met’s new gang crime command unit, but when I sit with parents who have just lost their child I know that there is so much more to do to tackle the challenges presented by knives and violence.
That is why I just do not understand why we are wasting nearly £100 million on elections for police and crime commissioners when that money could be used to tackle serious youth violence. Why are we spending money on elections that few people want and few people really understand? Why do we not use that money to fund police officers or, better still, to fund projects that have a track record of preventing young people from turning to violence or getting caught up in gangs in the first place? Why do we not use the money to ensure that those involved in lifestyles that can have such tragic consequences have a way out?
Between 2011 and 2013, £18 million has been committed by the Home Office to tackle knife, gun and gang crime —a fifth of what is being spent on the elections for police and crime commissioners. How does the Minister justify that to the families I have met whose lives have been devastated by knives? Sadly, I have made these arguments in this place before and the Government have refused to listen. I believe that they have got their priorities wrong, and so we find ourselves where we are today.
This is not just about what could have been done with the money being wasted on police and crime commissioners; it is also about what is happening to existing police budgets. The speed and severity of cuts to the police in London are being felt by the community I represent. These cuts have not just resulted in fewer police officers; they have meant also that budgets are being squeezed for the sort of work being carried out by community projects that can make a real difference to the problems I have been talking about. Two weeks ago, I visited XLP, a charity based in my constituency and operating across London to tackle gangs and violent youth crime. Its people told me of budgets just drying up, both within the police and within local authorities, yet the need for their work has not reduced. When I speak with young people in my constituency, I am often struck by the seriousness of the concerns they express about their own safety. Some talk about just not going to certain parts of London because they “will get stabbed”. If I quote falling national crime statistics to them, they look at me as if I am mad—it is so far removed from the reality of their lives.
Before I conclude, I want to say something about the huge financial challenge facing the Met police. An HMIC report in the summer suggested that the Met needs to find a further £232 million-worth of savings by 2015. That is not an insignificant sum. Since this Government came to power, the number of safer neighbourhood team sergeants in my constituency has been almost halved. Those were the police officers I met out in the community—not sergeants sat behind desks, but a visible and valued presence in our neighbourhoods. I am worried that the financial challenges the Met faces will result in less visible, less accessible policing and fewer people feeling safe. We know that some police stations are threatened with closure and that some boroughs are having to share commanders. The Met wants to introduce its so-called new model of local policing which, we are told, will put police back out on to the streets, but given the halving of the number of sergeants in my neighbourhood, I am not convinced.
The Met police do an incredibly difficult job and, on the whole, they do it very well. It is wrong that this Government should make their job so much harder when so many people’s lives and livelihoods depend upon them.
It is a pleasure to take part in this afternoon’s debate and to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi
Alexander). I acknowledge that different parts of the country face different challenges. Some of the issues she outlined have been with us for some time, and some police authorities some time ago took a more long-term view of the likelihood that resources would start to decrease, rather than continue to increase. Wiltshire police, in which police authority area my constituency sits, took some difficult decisions a few years back, and although, like the rest of the country, the force is having to bear its share of a reduction in income, it is right of me to point out, with some pride, that its commitment to neighbourhood policing remains unabashed. In fact, the number of police community support officers, who form a key part of the delivery of neighbourhood policing, has increased in the past year by 14.2%, or 19 officers, which is testament to Wiltshire police’s commitment to neighbourhoods such as the one in Swindon that I represent.
Mr Hanson, who is no longer in his place, mentioned his visit yesterday. I am sure that he heard those encouraging statistics and would join me in paying tribute to the work of the police authority, one of whose members, Angus Macpherson, is the Conservative candidate in the police and crime commissioner election next month. I have been working hard with that candidate to get the message across about the importance of the elections and to give as much information as possible to local residents about what the new commissioners will do—not just dealing with police strategy, but commissioning services that I believe will lead to greater use of crime prevention and diversion techniques. I hope they will also lead to the extension of the principles of restorative justice further into our communities, on which much work is already being done in the Swindon area, although time does not permit me to speak at length on that subject today.
I rise primarily to raise a case that has already been mentioned—one that resulted last Friday in the conviction and life imprisonment of the murderer Christopher Halliwell. He murdered Sian O’Callaghan in Swindon last year, after picking her up in his taxi outside a nightclub. He has been dealt with properly for that heinous crime, and I pay tribute to Sian’s family for their dignity throughout the proceedings and for the way in which they coped with the awful reality confronting them after Sian’s abduction and the subsequent discovery of her body.
The case does not end there, however. During the course of the police investigation, a second murder was disclosed by the defendant, Christopher Halliwell. He has not been brought to justice for that murder because of errors made in relation to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 guidelines to be followed by all police officers during criminal investigations. That means that the family of Becky Godden, whose body was discovered by police officers during the search for Sian O’Callaghan, have not received justice or any degree of closure and are facing that awful reality day by day.
I will not comment on the conduct of the individual police officer. He is a senior officer. There is an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry into his conduct. Putting myself in his shoes for a moment—putting aside my legal hat, having been a criminal barrister for 20 years—I can entirely understand that in the heat of the moment, when it was thought that Sian O’Callaghan may still be alive, that officer thought he was acting in the best interests of the safety of Sian and in the interests of finding out more from Halliwell.
In the light of the grim experience of this case, it would be timely for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, code C in particular, which applies in this case, to be looked at again by the Home Office to make sure that it is fully up to date and has taken into account developments in technology that could well have assisted the police in the conduct of the investigation of the case. The codes of practice are not tablets of stone. They are regularly updated in the light of experience, and I believe that after this particularly serious case with serious consequences not only for the family of Becky Godden, but for the wider community who are so concerned and were so traumatised by what happened, it is time that we had another look.
I pay tribute to Becky Godden’s family for their dignity, and I pledge my support to them to do whatever it takes to make sure that they can find justice for the loss and the murder of their daughter.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this important debate. It is always a pleasure to follow Mr Buckland, who speaks with conviction on behalf of his constituents and with great knowledge, as a fellow criminal lawyer.
This week we have had another non-announcement from the Prime Minister—“tough but intelligent” on crime. Surely it goes without saying that we need to be tough on crime, but I have not seen anything intelligent from this Government to support their claim. Does the Prime Minister think it is intelligent to take 16,000 bobbies off the beat while crime against the person has increased, despite crime falling more generally? In Humberside, domestic violence has rocketed in recent years. I wonder whether the Prime Minister thinks it intelligent to take 440 police officers away from Humberside when levels of domestic violence are very definitely increasing. Does he think it is intelligent to sell off parts of the police force to companies such as G4S, which so monumentally failed to deliver for the Olympics?
There is nothing intelligent coming from the Government in terms of police policy. They have been terribly incompetent. The alleged “I’ll have your job” comment from the former Chief Whip now seems somewhat ironic, given recent events. I wear with pride today my new cufflinks, “Plebs” and “Toffs”—[Interruption.] I am pleased to say that I consider myself to be a proud pleb, despite what Andrew Percy is shouting from a sedentary position.
Policing is a public service and should not be for sale. There is no place for shareholder profit-making in policing. Policing decisions should be based on reducing crime and must not be taken in the shadow of shareholder profit. The Policing Minister has been encouraging forces to consider the value of private sector partnering to save money, and the Government justify this drive because of reduced budgets, yet it is the Government who are reducing budgets to dangerous levels. G4S clearly did not cope in the summer. That smashes any false belief that the private sector is always more efficient and effective than the public sector.
Not at the moment.
In the time remaining, I want to concentrate on police and crime commissioners. Despite my reservations about police and crime commissioners, I am reassured that Labour has chosen so strong a candidate as my predecessor, the right hon. Lord Prescott, who I know will definitely act as a final line of defence against privatisation.
Not at the moment.
Lord Prescott is worried about the fundamental changes to policing and considers them to be extremely alarming. It is unacceptable to put private security officers in areas where police have responsibility. Lord Prescott was quite right to point out recently that private employees will not be accountable and will be responsible only to private employers.
In conclusion, there are serious concerns about creeping privatisation in the police service. The Peelian principles of policing with the consent of the community must be upheld. I am absolutely sure that Lord Prescott will not only do that, but raise awareness of the campaign in Humberside. I am convinced that he will be duly elected.
It is a pleasure to follow Karl Turner. I start by paying tribute to our brave police officers and staff up and down the country for the work they do, and particularly the work of Bedfordshire police. I will read briefly from a letter published recently in the Dunstable Gazette describing just one example of what our police officers do day in, day out:
“My elderly parents… were the unfortunate victims of a burglary at their home in Dunstable on July 5. I live in Norfolk, some 130 miles away, so was unable to get to their home for several hours. During that time they were visited by two officers from Dunstable Police Station who not only took control of the situation by reassuring my parents and contacting me, but also called the paramedics as they were concerned that my mother was going into shock. By the time I arrived they had cleaned up as best they could, removed the broken glass and mud from the kitchen, made them tea and tidied the bedrooms. They did not leave until the premises were secure and someone was with my parents. I must say thank you for the professional and compassionate approach taken by these officers. In these difficult times it is good to know that there are people like them who are prepared to do that bit extra.”
Is not it fantastic that we have police officers up and down the country who will go to those lengths to look after our constituents?
We have a goods news story in Bedfordshire: crime has fallen by 10% in the year to June 2012, according to the independent Office for National Statistics. That is better than the 6% fall nationally, better than nearby Essex and better than neighbouring Cambridgeshire. Bedfordshire police have done extremely well, and they have had to do that with a reduction in their grant funding. There has been a 5.6% fall in the money the police authority receives, although there was a slight increase in the money it got from the council tax precept.
The Government have to save money because the previous Government continued to spend money we did not have year after year. Despite that, we are increasing money for the health service, honouring our obligations to the poorest of the poor and maintaining cash to schools. We have to save money in other circumstances to ensure that this country does not return to the financial mess we are rescuing it from.
On budgeting, I ask the Minister to look again at damping, which has already been mentioned. Bedfordshire police suffer from the use of damping as an accounting policy within the Home Office. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to go back to the Home Office and request that this issue be reconsidered, because at the moment it is not fair.
Our excellent new chief constable in Bedfordshire, Alf Hitchcock, has, in effect, managed to add 92 officers to those involved in neighbourhood policing work by rearranging the shift patterns. Many officers used to work from 8 am to 4 pm, but that is not when the burglars and criminals were generally out and about, so he reordered the shifts to make sure that more officers were out on the streets during evenings and weekends. In addition, the Home Office’s scrapping of form filling has saved the police 4.5 million hours of police time, which is equivalent to 2,100 extra police officers being out on the streets.
Bedfordshire police went even further when they introduced a novel police station exclusion zone policy, led by excellent officers such as Inspector Frank Donnelly. This meant that any officer found in a police station, particularly during the winter evenings when most burglaries take place, would be challenged by a senior officer as to why he or she was there and not out on the streets. Such policies show that it is possible to reduce crime even with a reduced budget caused by having to deal with the deficit left to us by the previous Government—and all credit to Bedfordshire police for showing the way.
Police stations are very important and we do need them, particularly in Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable; I have been clear with the chief constable about that. I am not wedded to any particular building, and I leave to the police the decisions as to which are the most appropriate for them to use. I also pay tribute to Bedfordshire police’s pioneering use of technology. They were one of the first forces to make sure that all their officers had BlackBerrys so that they are kept out on the streets on patrol where we need them.
I pay tribute to those who have in the past served as members of police authorities up and down the country. In Bedfordshire, Peter Conniff has done an excellent job as the chair of the authority, as have long-standing members such as Councillor Peter Hollick, one of my constituents. They have done a good job. However, the election of a police and crime commissioner means that that individual will have a mandate from the people and will be accountable back to the people. That will sharpen up the oversight role of the police, and that is important. In Bedfordshire we have a candidate, Jas Parmar, who is a former police officer. He has the necessary experience and credibility with the police because he will not ask them to do anything that he has not done himself.
It is incredibly important to look forward to the work of the College of Policing as from
Mike Crockart is here to man the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—perhaps he has drawn the short straw—but he and I are, to a certain extent, tourists in this debate as we both represent constituencies in Scotland. It is interesting to listen to people’s concerns about police reform in England and Wales. In Scotland, we are moving towards a single police force from the early part of next year. At the last Scottish Parliament elections, the hon. Gentleman’s party was against that and my party was in favour. It is often argued that the scale of the efficiencies that can be achieved will help to make it a sensible thing to do. However, I note that today the chief constable-designate of the new Scottish police force, the current chief constable of Strathclyde, highlighted the fact that there will be a £140 million gap in his budget over the next two years as a result of establishing the new Scottish police force.
I want to make three brief points. First, in the past few weeks I have spent some time in a couple of places in England—Manchester and Corby, for obvious reasons—and I have knocked on quite a few people’s doors and spoken to them about quite a lot of things. Other Members have spoken about people’s awareness of the PCC elections, and it struck me that there is in fact a stunning lack of awareness. I am very concerned—not from my own perspective and that of my constituency but on behalf of others in this House—that there will be a big problem in getting a decent turnout in the elections. The fact that very few people seem to have heard that they are happening underlines the serious problems that exist and what is likely to transpire.
Secondly, I am in the middle of taking the police service parliamentary scheme, which I am sure other hon. Members present have either taken or will wish to take in the future. I have found it a tremendously useful experience in understanding and appreciating the variety of things that rank and file police officers do and the circumstances they deal with. That has been valuable, because the things that we in this House and policy makers talk about and how they get translated into the on-the-ground reality are not always one and the same.
As well as having the delightful experience of being in the centre of Glasgow on a Friday and Saturday night and seeing what the police have to deal with, it struck me that the morale of many of the police officers was quite low. Some of the issues under discussion may not be directly related to them—policing is a devolved matter in Scotland—but I was struck by their feelings on the wider issues of how they thought the Government feel about policing and on the Government’s attitude to the police. These people have been doing the job for a number of years and are very proud of what they do, but they sensed that the Government were not always batting in their favour.
The third issue that I want to address is not a devolved matter—police pensions and police pension commutation. The Minister of State might not be able to respond in detail—the issue probably comes under the brief of his colleague, the Policing Minister—but I would be grateful if he or his colleague responded to me in writing. One of my constituents paid into the police pension scheme for 30 years, but as the result of a misunderstanding by the Government Actuary’s Department he has lost out on thousands of pounds. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that, under the Police Pensions Regulations 1987, GAD had an implied duty to undertake reviews of the commutation factors used in the police pension scheme but, because of what the previous Policing Minister described in a written answer as a mistaken understanding of this duty between the early 1990s and late 2006, those reviews did not take place. As the mistaken understanding has been described as one of a historic nature, my constituent is not entitled to a pension under the re-evaluated commutation factors introduced in 2008. Understandably, he is aggrieved by that.
I appreciate that a number of cases have been raised with the pensions ombudsman and legal avenues, but I hope that the Minister will consider the issue again, because a number of people have been disadvantaged through no fault of their own. This is important to those former police officers. If the Government are behind policing and want to demonstrate that, they would send a powerful message by considering those important issues on behalf of former, as well as current, police officers.
This has been an interesting and measured debate. Some Opposition day debates can get somewhat heated, but we are discussing a serious issue that affects all our constituencies. That is worth noting. It is also worth noting that the Humberside force is particularly interested in the police and crime commissioner elections—interest in the area is considerably higher than that in some other areas—which might have something to do with the Labour candidate, Lord Prescott, who has been mentioned a number of times.
In my 20-odd years as a councillor before entering the House, antisocial behaviour was guaranteed to be the one issue raised time and again on the doorstep and through calls from constituents. Heidi Alexander has said that it is still a major problem in her constituency. Clearly, there are pockets in all constituencies; it is a significant problem. There is no doubt that partnership working, which is particularly strong in the south bank of the Humberside force area, has been a major factor in combating it. Austin Mitchell and I have regular meetings with our local commander. They are always very useful and balanced and we both benefit from them. We see the problems of the police, and of course we take our issues to them. There is no doubt that in both north and north-east Lincolnshire there is particularly strong liaison between the police and local authorities, which is significant.
Elections are what give our public services vitality and dynamism. Ideas are put forward, and they provide an impetus and drive that can often be missing in the public sector given its non-profit element. Elections also bring accountability. Our public sector, whether it be social landlords, local authorities or the police themselves, can often be insensitive to the needs and priorities of residents, and the police commissioner elections will give the electorate a direct route to help determine the priorities of their local force.
Of course, PCCs are about not just actual policing but fighting crime. Those of us who have served as councillors or Members of Parliament know that whenever there is a public meeting about policing—police liaison meetings and the like—people say that they want more visible policing. Of course, that is always difficult, because the professionals say, “Ah, yes, but don’t forget that a lot of investigations are carried out behind the scenes.” That is true, but the public have a right to the reassurance and safety of a police presence. It has to be said that police community support officers have made a considerable contribution in that regard.
There have been fears about low turnout in the PCC elections. It would be foolish to assume that it will be higher than at local elections, which of course is essentially what they are. However, the candidacy of John Prescott in Humberside has certainly upped the publicity, and the local press in my constituency are covering it in considerable detail. When our excellent candidate Matthew Grove was in Cleethorpes a week or two ago and we had a street stall there, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of knowledge among the residents. They are a particularly bright bunch in Cleethorpes, of course, and there is no doubt that they have taken a great interest. What they want to do is to stop the Labour candidate above all else.
We are approaching the elections with certainty that whoever is elected throughout the country will have the confidence of the electorate, unlike the unknown police authorities that have administered policing for many years. They have done so competently and diligently, but without any real accountability, which is what a body such as the police needs. I look forward to the elections, and I am confident that our candidates will be successful.
Order. Six Members still wish to participate in the debate, so I shall reduce the time limit on speeches to five minutes, starting immediately.
Last year, I had the privilege of spending several days shadowing police officers and staff across Greater Manchester. In those 12 months, I spent time on the beat with front-line police and with kidnap negotiators, call handlers and firearms officers. I also managed to provoke a minor public incident when I tweeted that I was policing a football match, only to have to reassure concerned members of the public in my constituency that there were also qualified police officers available, and that the big society had not yet quite extended to the Member of Parliament for Wigan being let loose with a horse to keep order and fight crime single-handedly.
On a more serious note, I was amazed and impressed by the range and breadth of skills that police deploy on a day-to-day basis in all those different functions. They seek to enforce the law with the consent of the community—my chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, often talks about policing by consent—and with determination and passion. That determination and passion is set against a difficult backdrop, and in my area of Greater Manchester astonishing cuts of 30% to police budgets have meant the loss of 1,200 staff. Such cuts affect not only those front-line PCSOs and police officers who have been lost over the past year, but vital functions that are not classed as front-line services such as call handlers—the face of the police to the public—and essential back-office functions such as IT which, if not properly run, can impede the ability of the police to do their job. That is compounded by cuts to other agencies such as health care, social services, the UK Border Agency and voluntary organisations, and the police are the one organisation that simply cannot walk away when problems arise.
The impact on morale has been immense, and I am baffled—as is our candidate for police and crime commissioner in Greater Manchester, the former Member for Manchester Central—that at a time like this, the Government should see fit to spend £100 million on new police commissioners when police officers across the area are facing such enormous cuts. I have great respect for my local police force. It has reduced crime in very difficult circumstances—because of its can-do attitude and despite, not because of, the actions taken by Ministers who are supposed to represent them.
It is hard to overstate the concern felt among the public and the police at all levels, and there is a general feeling among the police that Ministers neither understand nor value the unique role that they play. When police officers walk out the door every morning and say goodbye to their families, they simply do not know whether they will be coming back, which places an enormous toll on them and their families and friends. We recently saw how great that cost can be with the tragic murders of PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone in the Greater Manchester area, and I pay tribute to them. Those two young women exemplify the bravery and commitment to public service that the Conservative party does not understand or value.
Policing is not just a job but a vocation, and the current combination of cuts and changes to the police sends a strong message that that good will is being exploited, which could have dangerous consequences. A combination of the Winsor review, changes to pensions, pay and conditions, and concern about the raising of the retirement age for police officers who do a difficult, gruelling, physical and emotional job every day, creates the sense that Ministers are not listening to front-line police officers and their families, and do not respect that unique role. When that is coupled with the recent row over the comments made by the former Chief Whip, and the Prime Minister’s refusal to sack him, there is a sense that not only do Ministers not respect the role and work of the police, but that they do not respect police officers themselves.
Finally, if Ministers do not respect police officers who do that difficult job in communities, day in, day out, they do not respect the public and the high priority placed on law and order in this country. I urge Ministers to think hard about the changes they are making, and to listen to police officers on the front line—as I have done over the past 12 months—which I think would lead them to a different set of conclusions about where their priorities lie.
It is a delight to follow Lisa Nandy. She made a thoughtful speech and although I did not necessarily agree with everything she said I have an image of the hon. Lady on a horse singlehandedly fighting crime in Wigan. I hope it will not come to that but, if it does, I am sure she will do a wonderful job.
The elections for police and crime commissioner are incredibly important. When the proposals were first suggested I was a little nervous about them because of the cost involved in putting the elections together. However, as the campaign developed—a very vigorous election campaign is going on in east Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire at the moment—I became sold on the reforms for a number of reasons.
I was interested in comments by the shadow Minister, Mr Hanson, who said, I think, that if turnout is low, we should perhaps consider revisiting the issue and look at whether we should abolish the proposals. If that is the case, I simply point to low turnouts in European parliamentary elections—I would support the right hon. Gentleman were he to propose abolishing the European Parliament on the basis of turnout alone. I do not think, however, that we should necessarily read too much into the turnout figures, and there are plenty of councillors up and down the country who were elected on a low turnout. Given the timing of the elections, I believe there will be a reasonable turnout in the former county of Humberside area. As my hon. Friend Martin Vickers said, there is appetite for the elections in our area.
Replacing the police authority had become necessary. In 10 years serving as a local councillor, I never served as a member of the police authority, and nor did my Labour or Conservative ward colleagues. Therefore, the residents of the ward I represented never had a direct link into the Humberside police authority. Some people were fortunate enough to have a councillor who happened to be on the police authority, but the likelihood of that happening was minimal.
Similarly, police authorities could not be held to account at the ballot box, because most members were not elected members of local authorities, and independent appointees and people from the Home Office were also members. I never bought the idea that the police authority was electable. I suspect that many more of the good burghers of Brigg and Goole can name the candidates for the PCC elections than can name the last chairman of the police authority.
That is partly owing to the fact that Lord Prescott is doing what the Government want—he is ensuring a high-profile campaign in Humberside. I have found a good appetite in east Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire for the elections. People want to know why somebody who spent £500 million trying to close our regional FiReControl should get the job. They want to know why somebody who spent £60,000 on foreign trips should get the job. They want to know why somebody wants the job when, in the Yorkshire Post in August this year, he described his current job in the following terms:
“The House of Lords is a bit like a job centre, you have to go down there to get paid expenses, and it just gets totally tiring.”
I can understand why the people of Brigg and Goole want to know why that man should have the job.
My hon. Friend raises some good points. He is absolutely right that interest in the candidates for the election is very high. Many of my constituents want to know why the wife of the former Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire, who campaigned specifically to abolish to Gloucestershire constabulary, is now standing to be the police commissioner for that very force. Does my hon. Friend agree that some curiosities are emerging?
All I can say in response to my hon. Friend is that you literally could not make it up. It gets more ridiculous by the day.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes has made clear, Conservatives have a very good candidate. They have lit the touch paper on the campaign locally with an exciting idea to charge drunks for wasting police time—that very good proposal needs to be explored. The shadow Minister talked about raising the turnout. I do not want him to come to Brigg and Goole, but he should visit my website, where he can learn of the vigorous campaign in the area. We have had a lot of street surgeries in Brigg and Goole, and many of my constituents have received four or five communications in the past few months. We are finding that there is a lot of interest, and we have a responsibility to try to get the turnout up.
The right hon. Gentleman might find—because of the high-profile Labour candidate and the exciting ideas of the Conservative candidate—that there is an appetite for the campaign. It might not manifest itself in an 80% to 90% turnout on
As I have said, I served as a local councillor for 10 years in my area. In some ways, the previous Government’s record on crime was very good. I was a bit nervous about the introduction of PCSOs and wondered what would happen, but it was a very good idea. I pay tribute to the previous Government for their work on PCSOs. However, it is not quite as has been presented. As I pointed out in an intervention, there was a reduction in police numbers in the Humberside force area back in 2007, but we did not see a single Labour Member locally campaigning against it. Labour Members now campaign against reductions in police numbers, but in 2007 they made the case for removing police officers and replacing them with civilians.
Although good things happened on crime under the previous Government, there was a 400% to 500% increase in the local police precept. The good people of east Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire could not hold anyone to account for that directly. When they get a police and crime commissioner, they will at least be able to hold to account the person who is charging them for their local policing.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Percy.
I would like to pay tribute to the police officers, police community support officers and staff at Greater Manchester police, who are doing a great job in increasingly tough circumstances. Like my hon. Friend Tom Greatrex, I took part in the police service parliamentary scheme in 2007, and I found the experience invaluable. Sadly, I know how tough a job policing can be, because my home borough of Tameside recently saw the shocking murders of PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone—two dedicated police officers merely going about their normal duties on what appeared to be an ordinary day on an ordinary street in Tameside.
My hon. Friend Lisa Nandy passionately outlined the difficulties facing Greater Manchester police and the impact on policing across the Greater Manchester county. That is why I am glad to be supporting Tony Lloyd, the former Member for Manchester Central, as our police and crime commissioner candidate in Greater Manchester. I wish him well in his campaign and—I hope—his successful election on November 15. This weekend, I joined a huge Labour team out on the doorsteps of Dukinfield in my constituency to campaign for Tony, and over the summer recess I was delighted to campaign in both Denton and Reddish against police cuts with both Tony and my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, the shadow Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. Tony is right to focus on community policing, because he recognises that in Tameside, Stockport and across the whole of Greater Manchester, effective crime fighting has improved the quality of life for residents.
In the brief time I have, I would like to turn to a local issue that is a running sore: the closure of public police desks at police stations. That has happened at both police stations in my constituency, and I know from constituents who have contacted me that it concerns them greatly. The police desk in Denton police station closed in May, and the desk in Reddish closed in January, meaning that the nearest police desk to report crime for my constituents in Reddish is now in Stockport central police station, and in Denton my constituents must now travel to Ashton, making the service far more remote from both these communities. These are not back-office cuts; they are front-office cuts. My constituents consider the police stations in their communities front-line services.
We should take into account some of the other innovations put together by the previous Labour Government. We have excellent local crime and disorder reduction partnerships in both Tameside and Stockport taking a multi-agency approach to tackling crime. Among others, they include the local council, housing associations, the police, the NHS and third sector bodies. They have helped to reduce the rate of reoffending, especially in respect of key crimes, such as burglary, car crime and antisocial behaviour, and they have successfully utilised tools, such as antisocial behaviour orders and antisocial behaviour contracts.
Now, however, we find that community safety funding, which is allocated to every local authority in the country to tackle the causes of crime, has been cut by a massive 60% in just two years. I do not want to see all the progress undermined or even going into reverse. I fear that almost all these joint initiatives—patrollers and street wardens, CCTV, alley-gating and other projects—will be severely reduced or stopped altogether. We cannot afford to regress into a silo mentality, with the police pushing costs on to the NHS, councils and housing association, and councils pushing costs on to the police or other agencies. Total Place, an idea led by the Labour Government, ensured a holistic joint approach across agencies, and it worked.
It is clear that the Government are letting all their policies be driven by short-sighted cost considerations. As I said at the start of my contribution, the police officers and staff in Greater Manchester police and all across the country do a great job in increasingly tough circumstances. Surely it is only right that we give them the proper finance, resources and tools to do the job well. That is what our communities want, it is what they demand and it is what they deserve.
This summer, during the Olympics, we heard very often about the armed forces and how they stepped in at short notice, but many police officers also stepped in at short notice and had their summer holidays cancelled for the second time, having been called in for the riots the previous year. We should pay tribute to the work they do with very little publicity.
I also welcome this debate. Those on the Opposition Front Bench have moved quite a way since I made my maiden speech on this subject. At that point, Labour appeared to me to be against elections full stop. The party that I had thought took its democratic instincts from the Chartists and the Levellers had become the party of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. That position has changed gradually and Mr Hanson suggested the direct election of police authority chairs, which would of course be as expensive as the direct election of police commissioners.
Initially, the line—I think this came from the APA—was that we should not have those elections because they cost money and that democracy was bad because it was expensive. The line has changed once again with this motion, however, and it seems that Labour Front Benchers object not to the principle or even to the cost of elections but to the cost of holding additional elections in November rather than May. At least some of us on the blue side of the House would have some sympathy with that view. I also congratulate the Labour party on putting up twice as many candidates in the election as our coalition partners.
In due course, these directly elected individuals will be entrenched as the figure of authority to whom members of their local community believe that they can go and through whom they can make a difference to their police. We did not have that in the past; we had anonymous police authorities and very little changed. I was delighted to hear from Lisa Nandy; the image of her policing a football match on horseback is very striking. She would be the perfect candidate for the enhanced specials that Craig Mackinlay, our candidate in Kent, is campaigning to introduce after the elections on
We need a single figure who is accountable, who can set policy, who can reflect what the public want and who can ensure that policing, like other democratically accountable public services, delivers on the ground what the people in the area have the right to expect. We need to move on from a system under which national policing policy was set not so much by the Home Office but by an entirely unaccountable and private company, of which Sir Norman Bettison was vice-president until earlier today—that is, ACPO. I am afraid to say that ACPO is fighting something of a rearguard action against the Government’s proposed changes. We recently heard that Sir Hugh Orde believes that it needs to carry on. He thinks that it could be renamed the police leadership executive board—PLEB. That was an unfortunate suggestion by Sir Hugh.
The principle is that policy should be set by people who are elected and accountable. Each chief constable should report to their police and crime commissioner, who is elected. To the extent to which there is national policy, we look to the Home Office, to Ministers and to the Home Secretary to set it, through the National Crime Agency where appropriate. We will also look to the professional body for policing—the college—that is about to be introduced. Half of that body’s leadership will be civilian to ensure that it is properly accountable and reflects public desires and so that a group of senior officers do not go off on their own and try to carve up senior appointments, as recently happened—I believe—in the case of the head of the UK Border Force. I am glad that the Home Secretary has put a stop to that and that there will be a proper process.
Once we have elected police and crime commissioners, it will not be Buggins’s turn and ACPO will not be making the decisions. People with a democratic mandate will set policing policy in our country on behalf of the public. I hope and believe that that can now be welcomed on both sides of the House.
I begin by paying particular tribute to the officers of Bedfordshire police force who police my Luton constituency, and to the officers who police this place, too. We see so many of them that we sometimes forget to acknowledge them. There are serving police officers putting themselves on the front line to protect us even today in this House. They should be properly respected, but also properly resourced.
I think it was Churchill who said that we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us. I, for one, having been a Member of Parliament for the last two and a half years, have been incredibly proud to sit in this Chamber. I do not believe that it should be rebuilt in some kind of circular fashion. I believe there is something fundamentally decent and good about the way in which we do our governance in this country, whereby we sit on one Bench and the Government sit on the other, and we try to assume their roles, as they will one day assume ours. That, however, should not be our model for understanding how to do something as complex and as important as policing.
I deeply regret the politicisation of the police, and I deeply regret the fact that we were unsuccessful when we marched through the Division Lobbies to try to defeat those proposals which, in my view, represent the worst of all possible worlds. We are where we are; I acknowledge that. In a moment, I will say a few words about the context of Bedfordshire and the choices people face as they go to the polls on
I fundamentally believe that there is something problematic about taking this route to politicise the police in this manner. Why do I say that? The other day, I met my area’s chief constable, who is called Alf Hitchcock—we had some sniggers earlier, but that is genuinely his name. He is a fantastic chief constable. I went to see him to talk about contemporary policing issues, and it was stated that the election campaign would begin to skew our view and our public statements on the quality and standard of policing. This applies not just in the run-up to the election—many of us across the House will have made the link in our own thoughts—but after the election, too, for the subsequent three and a half years. We will start to view our policing through that lens, based on who has been elected and who has not. I hope that we can aspire to a greater place than that in our political life. The reality is that the rules, like the buildings, are shaped and then they will begin to shape us. This model of doing policing will change how we approach policing locally. I deeply regret that.
I regret it, too, because of the door that is opened. Those who are ideologically committed to pushing through the reforms have now fled the scene—on foot or by plane to California. They have taken the view that by putting these reforms in place we would get good-quality independent candidates, but the reality is that with a deposit set at £5,000, that will not happen. In my Bedfordshire police authority area, we have an English Defence League candidate who was arrested this weekend, yet he will still be on the ballot paper because he is out on bail. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that brings us to that stage, when we are dealing with the people who—day in, day out—defend us and defend the most marginalised in our communities.
To deal briefly with the Bedfordshire context, there are two clear and pressing issues. Others have talked about the impact of 20% police cuts. I believe that we should not elect someone who is a cheerleader for those cuts. I believe we should elect candidates right across the country who say that they will work collectively to put pressure on the Home Office to realise the folly of what it is doing. We should not elect candidates who are simply willing to outsource everything as a solution to those cuts. In Bedfordshire, Olly Martins is the Labour candidate, a fantastic candidate. He has pledged publically that the option to outsource back-office functions to G4S—the same organisation that got us into such difficulty with the Olympics when the police had to be brought in to bail them out—will be off the table if he is elected. He will stand against the Tories’ 20% cuts.
I want the House to be clear about what the hon. Gentleman is saying about police delivery and police expenditure. In the county of Gloucestershire last year, costs went down by 4% and crime went down by 4%. Would the hon. Gentleman prefer to say to my constituents, “We want to see expenditure up, crime up and your council bills going up as well”? Is that the message he would like to give out?
My answer to that question is very simple. Public safety always comes first, and chief constables are having to make impossible decisions, but I think it reprehensible that the decision to put something as important as policing in the hands of private companies is being forced on chief constables.
Olly Martins is running against a Conservative candidate who has said:
“It is not the be-all and end-all if people don’t see a policeman for five years.”
“What people do not want is bobbies on the beat.”
I fear that, if a vote is cast and a Conservative candidate is elected, that is exactly what will happen.
This is a high-stakes election, and we know that there will be a low turnout for it. I want to encourage everyone in my constituency to vote, but I fear for where we will end up as a result of these reforms.
I Regardless of how we voted on the question of the introduction of police and crime commissioners, all Members on both sides of the House agree that we must do everything possible to ensure that there is a reasonable turnout on
In my constituency, people fear that there could well be a cut of some 20% in police funding over the next few years. They want to see more, not less, neighbourhood policing. They are also deeply worried about the lack of consultation on the closing of front desks in police stations: they want to see consultation on whether resources are being used effectively. They are also worried about the antisocial behaviour that still blights a number of our communities.
Only the other week, I attended a public meeting in a community called Graig-y-Rhacca. Those decent, hard-working people are still blighted by the activities of a relatively small number of persistent offenders, and they want to see more policing in their community, not less. Those issues have been brought to my attention because I am the local Member of Parliament, but they have also been brought to the attention of the excellent Labour PCC candidate, Hamish Sandison, who is doing a very good job in travelling around the Gwent police area as much as possible.
We all know that the Electoral Commission is sending pamphlets to every household in the country, and that is commendable. However, I fear that the Home Office website will be very limited, and that it will not be supplemented by other information disseminated directly to individual households. As we have heard, some 7 million people will be excluded from getting that information directly because they do not have access to the internet.
The Government have produced advertisements over the last few weeks. I hope that they increase awareness, but it must be said that there is concern about the way in which they depict young people, and also that they are giving some people the impression that the PCCs will have more powers than will actually be the case. We know that the PCCs will have no responsibility for operational matters, but will make the chief constables accountable for them, and will themselves engage in wider strategic and funding issues. However, the advertisements do not make that clear.
I now want to focus on the fiasco—for it is a fiasco—of the bilingual ballot forms, partly because it is important in itself but also because, I fear, it is indicative of the wider, ham-fisted approach of the Home Office to the elections. The Opposition said some 12 months ago that there was a need for a statutory instrument—a piece of secondary legislation—to come before this House to enable bilingual Welsh and English ballot papers to be provided for the elections. Our advice was ignored. The result was that a few weeks ago the Home Office suddenly woke up to the fact that it could not have English-only ballot papers in Wales and belatedly introduced a piece of secondary legislation. However, it is not absolutely certain that there will be enough time to get it through. Therefore, all the authorities in Wales have been told that there should be two sets of ballot papers—one in English and one in English and Welsh—at a cost of £350,000 extra. The cost will be paid by the Government—it will be taxpayers’ money—which is a total waste of money. It is the first time that ballot papers will be thrown in the bin before an election.
That, I fear, is indicative of how the Government have approached this whole election—a lack of planning and a lack of strategy. I very much hope, even at this belated moment, that the Government will provide more resources for the elections, so that more people are aware of them and will come out and vote.
We have had an interesting debate this afternoon on policing and the flagship coalition policy of police and crime commissioners in the 41 police authority areas outside London. It has been noticeable that we have heard only from Conservative and Labour Members of Parliament in this debate. No Back-Bench Liberal Democrat MP has spoken. Liberal Democrats seem to be standing in only 24 of the 41 police authority areas, despite their voting for the policy, but then perhaps they are still making up their mind on whether they support it or not.
There have been some excellent contributions to the debate, with many from the Humberside area. It is good that the Labour candidate in Humberside, the noble Lord John Prescott, has had so much publicity this afternoon. It is noticeable that the Conservative candidate does not seem to feature very much at all.
Let me turn first to the contribution made by my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, who spoke with great authority as a former Home Secretary. He reminded us of Labour’s achievement in government. He spoke about the reduction in crime levels, including the 64% reduction in domestic violence that we saw under the Labour Government, and the focus on that particular crime, which for many years had not been seen as a matter for the police. He also talked about the important role that the police play in partnership working and how important it is to ensuring that crime continues to fall.
My hon. Friend Steve McCabe raised the important issue of funding levels and the inequity of Surrey seemingly receiving more money than forces in areas such as the west midlands. My hon. Friend Heidi Alexander spoke about London policing, with 463 fewer officers already in the Metropolitan police. She talked about knife crime and the concerns of young people in the capital. My hon. Friend Karl Turner challenged the slogan used by the Prime Minister on Monday—“tough but intelligent”—in his speech on crime, which I think is the first he has made since becoming Prime Minister. My hon. Friend focused on the lack of intelligence in that slogan and in the policies that the Government have been pursuing over the past two and a half years. He also declared himself as a “proud pleb”.
My hon. Friend Tom Greatrex spoke as a Scottish MP, but from the perspective of someone with fresh eyes looking at what was happening with the elections. He talked about the fact that many people do not know that the elections are happening and about his experience with the police parliamentary scheme. My hon. Friend Lisa Nandy said that she had been amazed and impressed during the time she spent with the police. She talked about the important concept of policing by consent and the impact of cuts in her constituency.
My hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne spoke about his experience on the police parliamentary scheme and, again, the effect of cuts in his constituency. My hon. Friend Gavin Shuker spoke about the complexities of policing and the politicisation of the police through the policies that the Government are pursuing. My hon. Friend Wayne David talked about the shambles in Wales with the ballot papers and the cost that the taxpayer will have to pick up because of the Government’s failure to count days again, which seems to be a running theme.
Let me turn to the policy of having police and crime commissioners. As my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson stated, the elections will cost £100 million, plus the £350,000 that will have to be paid to put the ballot papers right in Wales. This flagship policy must be set against the backdrop of the fact that £100 million would pay for 3,000 new police officers. This is at a time when 15,000 police officers are to be cut by 2015, and when we already know that 6,800 police officers have been cut from the front line in the first two years of this Parliament, which is more than experts had predicted would be cut the whole of the Parliament. There is real concern, too, about the headlong rush into mass privatisation, and the failure to learn the lessons from what happened this summer with G4S.
Over the past four weeks the policing story dominating the airwaves has been a senior Cabinet Minister swearing at police officers and reportedly calling them “plebs”. In the past two and a half years, the coalition has made the job of being a police officer much harder. It has restricted the use of CCTV and DNA, it is weakening antisocial behaviour orders and it has cut funding to work with communities, and young people in particular.
Labour opposed the police and crime commissioner model for very good reasons, but in the coming election we cannot leave policing to the Tory candidates alone, who we know are cheerleaders for cutting front-line police officers. The issues are far too important for us to stand aside. We are opposed, however, to these elections being held in one of the darkest and coldest months of the year. Can the Minister explain why we are having these elections in November? Is this a deal that the Liberal Democrats did because they did not want an election in May, when they were going to do so badly in the local council elections?
For the record, let us be clear: the Liberal Democrats voted in favour of setting up the PCCs, with all the associated election and salary costs. Labour voted against that. Labour would much rather spend the money on front-line policing and cutting crime further, not cutting police numbers. The Liberal Democrats promised 3,000 extra police at the 2010 general election, in full knowledge of the deficit. When does the Minister expect to deliver on that promise?
At the end of 2009, the Liberal Democrats released some research that said the Government should recruit 10,000 more police officers. Their leader, Mr Clegg, said if that were done, an “extra 82,265 crimes” would be solved each year. He said:
“The Liberal Democrats are the only party who wants to catch more criminals by putting more police on the street.”
Given their record and what they have said, it is unsurprising that the Liberal Democrats have chickened out of standing in many of the PCC elections.
“cunningly placed during Downton Abbey” and “The X Factor” will ensure that people go out to vote. How naive. When I was in Nottingham earlier this week with our excellent candidate Paddy Tipping knocking on doors and talking to individuals, nobody knew about the elections. I am very sceptical about the comment of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice that 85% of people will see these advertisements. I repeat the comment of senior police figure Peter Neyroud on these elections:
“If you could have constructed a manual on how not to conduct an election, the Home Office have managed to tick off just about every element of it”.
The Electoral Reform Society has warned that this threatens
“to result in the lowest turnout of any nationwide election in British history.”
We are holding the elections in November when holding elections is much more expensive than at other times of the year. Doing so will also drive down turnout, and the elections are unpopular with the public in any case. Instead of a free post or a Government-backed booklet with information about the candidates to be sent to each voter, individuals can only go on to the Government website. Some 71% of over-75s have never used the internet, and neither have almost 20% of people in Wales. At a time when we want to encourage people to vote, the Government are immediately putting electors at a disadvantage. Belatedly, we are now told that there will be a telephone number voters can call to ask for information to be sent.
What level of turnout is the Minister looking for to make these elections a success and give legitimacy to his Government’s flagship policy? As we have heard, the Minister said at his party conference that 20% is his aim. Is that correct? Interestingly, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice did not give him much support when he was challenged on this during his opening speech, so it seems that the coalition are split, again, on this matter.
In conclusion, Labour wants to accelerate progress in cutting crime, not make that more difficult. Under Labour, we had more police with more powers, and we sent more criminals to prison. The streets became safer and crime fell by 43%. The coalition has been rowing back on police numbers and police powers. Worse still, the coalition is going to squander £100 million of taxpayers’ money on this shambles of a PCC election, so I ask hon. Members to support the motion.
I am grateful for the opportunity to conclude this debate. You have doubtless heard, Madam Deputy Speaker, of a khaki election, and we have the green and brown of the khaki coalition looking after police interests in England and Wales. It is ideal for me to have the opportunity to respond to the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House during the debate and to what I see as the four main criticisms made of Government policy in the Opposition motion. They are as follows: first, that the Government are not spending enough money—a recurring theme; secondly, that we are insufficiently authoritarian when considering the right balance between the power of the state and the liberties of the individual; thirdly, that we are too hasty, as a Government, in our enthusiasm for greater transparency and public engagement in policing; and fourthly—this is an overarching theme—that we are too enthusiastic overall about reform of the police service.
I shall go through those criticisms in the short time available. The first is that the Government are not spending enough money—this is what the motion describes as the “wrong-headed” pursuit of greater efficiency and value for money. It is, of course, always relevant to remind the House that the previous Government, having promised to abolish boom and bust, ended up presiding over an economy that went bust. The new Government came to office with our country looking down the barrel of a gun—we had a bigger deficit than Greece when we took office—and we had to make some difficult decisions to get to grips with that deficit. We have reduced the deficit, but this country is still borrowing a billion pounds every three days. Against that backdrop, it is just not credible to carry on spending money—borrowed money—with reckless impunity. The Government have no choice but to deal with the deficit, and as a service spending £14 billion a year, the police can and must make their fair share of the savings needed.
Underlying Labour’s analysis is a fundamentally flawed case, and I will sum it up for hon. Members. According to Labour, “The more money you spend, the better the results you get”—never mind cutting bureaucracy or getting good value for the taxpayer; it is spend, spend, spend. The problem is that the results do not bear out Labour’s analysis. Last week, the most recent independent crime statistics were published. I am sorry to disappoint Labour Members, but crime has fallen. It has fallen by 6% over the past year and by 10% in the two years since this Government came to office. It has fallen by 12% in the last year
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I was just reminding the House that the Government have presided over a 10% fall in crime in the past two years. The latest figures show that crime is lower in England and Wales than at any time since the official survey started in 1981. Chief constables are rising to the challenge of making efficiency savings and providing greater value for money. As Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said:
“The front line is being protected”.
Police reform is working. We have swept away central targets and reduced police bureaucracy. That shows that how the police are deployed, rather than their absolute numbers, is the key to cutting crime.
Before I give way, let me put it like this to Labour: the best way to measure the success of a service is not whether we have spent more and more money on it, but whether we have got better and better results.
I think that what matters is what one does with the police. The team that wins the premier league is not the one with the biggest squad; it is the one that gets the best results, and that is what we are trying to do in policing.
We see a hallmark of old Labour, new Labour and the exciting latest version that is somewhere in between in the second criticism in the motion: the casual authoritarianism of criticising the Government for
“restricting the use of CCTV”.
Yes, we do believe that there should be some restrictions on CCTV. We are striking the right balance between enabling the police to use modern investigative techniques such as CCTV and DNA evidence, and the police are using those techniques to great effect, but at the same time protecting the right of innocent members of the public to not be subjected to constant and unregulated surveillance.
Labour’s third criticism reveals hostility to the idea of having democratically elected commissioners to increase accountability and give the public greater say in the policing of their community. That was a recurrent theme of the debate. That hostility, it must be said, is not shared by many Labour ex-Ministers, including two recent MPs, Tony Lloyd and Alun Michael, or by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Prescott. If Labour Members are concerned about the election turnout, perhaps they should start by getting those three to pull their fingers out, get campaigning and explain the rationale for their candidacy. Every Member of this House, elected as we are, should want election turnouts to be strong, and I am delighted that the profile of the elections is rising in Cleethorpes, Brigg and Goole, and Denton and Reddish. I believe that it will rise across England and Wales in the coming weeks.
Labour has to make up its own mind. During the debate, we have heard criticism of the Government on the one hand for spending too much money on PCC elections, and on the other hand, for not spending enough. Whatever the turnout, the House can be sure of this: the new PCCs will have a stronger mandate than the police authorities they are replacing. Many police authority members from all parties have done sterling work on behalf of their communities. We recognise and applaud that, but with the best will in the world, police authorities were hardly delivering public accountability and transparency: in the most recent survey, only 7% of the public were even aware that police authorities existed. We should not be fearful of giving the public a say, and parties in this House should not be discouraging people from participating in a democratic process. I hope that people will find out more and that they will vote.
In the area where I stood for election, I got 49% of the vote, and I hope the figure will go up next time, but we will see; one can never take anything for granted. Labour got 5% in my area, which is 1% more than UKIP.
The final theme that runs through the Labour motion is deep, cautious, conservative resistance to fresh thinking and change. Beyond spraying around more and more borrowed money, we see no ideas, no imagination and a closed mind to reform. It is easy for Opposition parties to lapse into idle oppositionism—we have all been there—and in many ways Labour today reminds me of what the Liberal Democrats were like before we became a serious party of Government. The House may be interested to know that that trait is not new to Labour in opposition. Let me quote what a previous shadow Home Secretary said when his party was last out of government. I shall reveal the name: Tony Blair—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could use your good offices with the maintenance department of the House. The most important lift in Portcullis House has been out of commission for more than a month, which impedes our ability to get to votes and to work and meetings on time. It should not be impossible in a modern, 21st-century Parliament to get a lift repaired in less than a month.
I am eternally grateful that I am not responsible for maintenance in the House of Commons, so strictly speaking that is not a point of order. The Leader of the House has heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments and I am sure that he will take the matter further. I should also say to the hon. Gentleman that the last Division was not exactly unexpected in its timing. I am sure that Members bear such things in mind.