I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2013-14 (HC 876), which was laid before this House on
I am very grateful to those hon. Members who have joined me in the Chamber to take part in this debate on the 2013-14 police funding settlement. In addition to seeking their approval of the police grant report (England and Wales) 2013-14, I also want to focus on how we are reforming the police to make them more effective, more efficient and more responsive to local needs.
Before I go into the details of that announcement, it is important to set this debate in context. When our coalition Government came to office in May 2010, Britain had the largest peacetime deficit in our history. For every £3 the Labour Government raised in tax, they spent £4. The gap was being plugged by the Treasury borrowing almost £500 million every single day. It was the economics of the madhouse. Labour has had two periods in office during my lifetime, and on both occasions it presided over a budgetary catastrophe.
I have in my hand a copy of the Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto published in, I think, April 2010. I presume the hon. Gentleman knew what his party was saying at the time. The manifesto says that the Liberal Democrats would pay
“for 3,000 more police on the beat, affordable because we are cutting other spending”.
What happened in those few weeks before the hon. Gentleman became a Minister?
I would be the first to acknowledge that we should have said in our manifesto, “Vote Liberal Democrat and crime will be at the lowest level in recorded history”, but we were insufficiently bold. We were too modest, actually, about the contribution that we would make to the well-being of our country.
The only two conclusions that can reasonably be drawn from Labour’s two catastrophic periods in office in the past 40 years are that we here in Britain have been particularly unlucky to have had especially inept Labour politicians, in which case it seems strange indeed to be enlisting the most culpable Cabinet Ministers from the previous regime to run the show for Labour today, or, more fundamentally, that socialism is completely incompatible with competent economic management. Either way, when we came into office in 2010 there was, in the immortal and shameless words of Mr Byrne, “no money left.”
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we should not have a debate about Government competence, because we would be here all day. Perhaps I could bring him back to the police grant. West Midlands police force is going to suffer another £25 million cut, which is a huge amount to take out of its budget. We have lost more than 900 police officers since the general election. Will he agree to look at the implications for big police forces like those in the west midlands, where there are high policing demands and needs, of the effect that the application of the floors and ceilings has on their budgets?
I am grateful for this early opportunity to tell the House what has happened to crime in the west midlands since this coalition was formed and my party came into government: it has fallen. As I have said in the House before, the two things that seem to make Labour MPs look most glum are finding out that their constituents are more likely to get a job or that they are less likely to be victims of crime. In the past two years, crime in the west midlands has fallen by 13%, which is an extraordinary achievement. If I represented a west midlands constituency, I would be pleased that my constituents were less likely to be victims of crime than they were in 2010. I find it extraordinary that Labour MPs do not seem to take that view.
I bow to no one in my admiration for our excellent West Midlands police service under the leadership of our police and crime commissioner, Bob Jones, and our chief constable, Chris Sims. Can the hon. Gentleman even begin to explain the unfairness of an approach that has led to 814 police officers going in Birmingham but to an additional 257 police officers in Surrey?
As I have already explained, crime has fallen by 13% in the west midlands. The purpose of the police is not to employ as many people as possible but to try to make the public as safe as possible and reduce the amount of crime, and that is what is happening. Since the crime survey in England and Wales began in 1981—I know it seems hard to believe, Mr Speaker, but I was at primary school then—crime has never been lower in England and Wales than it is today. That is an extraordinary achievement.
I will in a bit, but the hon. Gentleman has had a go already.
I was talking about the budgetary context and the hon. Gentleman’s west midlands colleague, the glibly shameless right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, who said that there was “no money left.” I note that he did not say, “There’s just a little bit of money left” or “There’s a little bit of money; I wish there were a bit more but there isn’t.” There was, in his words, “no money left.” That was the reality of our inheritance, and our coalition Government, working in the national interest, is turning the oil tanker around. The deficit has been cut by a quarter over two years, and about 1 million private sector jobs have been created.
However, tidying up Labour’s mess is a difficult and painstaking process that cannot be achieved overnight. In order to deal with the deficit, tough decisions have to be made. I know that Labour Members, who have never made a tough decision in their lives, find that traumatic, but it has to be done. There is therefore less money for the Home Office and less money for the police. As a service that was spending, in total, in excess of £14 billion per year, the police can and must take their fair share of the reductions in funding. As set out in the policing Minister’s written ministerial statement, central Government funding to the police will be £8.7 billion in 2013-14, which is only 1.9% less than in 2012-13. It is important to remember that the police do not receive all their funding from central Government. In fact, the police receive about a quarter of their funding from the police precept component of council tax, which is of course determined locally.
We have sought to protect the police as far as possible. The autumn statement in December included further cuts of 1% to most departmental budgets. However, the Home Secretary decided to protect the police from these additional reductions in 2013-14. She also decided not to pass on reductions relating to the November 2011 announcement on pay restraint in 2013-14, which could have resulted in a further reduction of £66 million in police funding in 2013-14. All this means that in 2013-14 the police will receive the same amount of funding as was agreed in the October 2010 spending review.
Naturally, police and crime commissioners are keen to know what their funding allocations will be for 2014-15, and particularly whether the departmental reductions announced in the autumn statement and the impact of pay restraint will be passed on to the police in that year. We will announce our decision with regard to 2014-15 as soon as we are in a position to do so. The reduction in the police budget has coincided with a small reduction in the number of officers, but ultimately decisions on the size and composition of the work force are for individual chief officers and police and crime commissioners.
Dorset police authority has the lowest level of funding from formula grant per resident of any police force in England and Wales. Given the particular characteristics of Dorset, which is a mix of rural and urban with a night-time economy and many tourists, the police commissioner is very anxious to participate in future changes to the funding formula. What advice can my hon. Friend give me on securing greater involvement for Dorset?
I heard Labour Members sniggering during my hon. Friend’s intervention. Dorset is a county where all the Members of Parliament are from the Government side of the House, but, interestingly, we are not showering money on one area of the country over another because of the political colour of its MPs and councils—something that Labour Members may wish to reflect on. We are keen that the funding allocations are fair, and I will speak about that in more detail later. It is worth also bringing to the House’s attention the fact that in the past year alone crime in Dorset has fallen by 10%. That is another significant achievement, and it means that people in Dorset are safer than they were when Labour was last in government.
Despite the valiant efforts of West Midlands police service, figures for last year demonstrate that 3,684 fewer crimes were solved. I will repeat my question, although it might be a vain attempt to get an answer from the hon. Gentleman as he is speaking from his pre-prepared script. How can he begin to justify 814 fewer police officers in Birmingham but 257 extra police officers in Surrey?
Let me say two things. Fewer crimes are being solved because there are fewer crimes. I will say this again, because the hon. Gentleman obviously missed it the first time. Let me tell him how much progress has been made in the past year alone. I recognise that every crime has a victim and I want to see crime go even lower. I am genuinely pleased that crime is lower now than it was at the last general election, when his party got the second worst result in its history and did well to do as well as that. Crime in the west midlands has fallen in the past year not by 5%, 10%, 11% or even 12%, but by 13%. Surely we can agree, if we cannot agree on anything else, that our constituents being less likely to be victims of crime is a good thing. However partisan Labour MPs are, surely they do not want their constituents to be more likely to be victims of crime just so they can try to score more cheap points across the Chamber.
I want to make a bit of progress and will give way later. I have given way several times to Labour MPs, who all seem to want to make the same point, which is that they are upset that crime is falling in their—[Interruption.] If any Labour MP wants to intervene because crime has risen in their area since the general election, they can get up. Anyone? Go on.
No, it has not risen in the hon. Gentleman’s area. It has not risen in either of those areas. While there has been much debate about the number of police officers—a point made by Jack Dromey—surely the most salient fact is this: crime is falling. While total officer numbers fell by 2.9% between September 2011 and 2012, most recent statistics show a 7% reduction in police recorded crime in the same period and an even bigger reduction in the independent crime survey figures for crime in England and Wales.
I will give way right now to anybody who has seen an increase in crime. To be honest, I think there has been an increase in crime in Devon and Cornwall—I cannot see any Members from Devon and Cornwall here—but that is not true for anywhere else in the country. Every single Labour MP here today has reason to be grateful to the police and to this Government for overseeing the lowest period of crime since the survey began 32 years ago.
I will get to the details, because some Members are actually genuinely interested in police funding, rather than in trying to score party political points. I owe it to them to treat them seriously, so let me turn to the funding settlement details.
In the past 12 months we have heard from policing partners on a number of funding issues, including the police allocation formula, as raised by my hon. Friend Annette Brooke, the process of damping and the community safety fund. There is a widely held view that the police allocation formula should be subject to a full review before any changes are made to the current damping policy. We will commence a review later this year. In the meantime, the current damping arrangements will remain, but a review will be undertaken on whether we can improve the allocation of central police funding.
Linked to the issue of allocation is the matter of the precept—the police element of council tax. Of course, I recognise that there is considerable disparity between force areas in the proportion of overall funding that comes from council tax, but we have to ensure that funding allocations to the police are as equitable as they can be. This is why all forces have received an equal percentage of the reduction in core Government funding.
On community safety funding, in 2013-14 police and crime commissioners will receive funding from a new and un-ringfenced transitional community safety fund, which they can use to invest in tackling drugs and crime or in community safety activities. In 2013-14, that funding will total £90 million. PCCs will have discretion to invest funding from the CSF in their own locally determined community safety priorities, including in existing programmes. This fund provides PCCs with the full flexibility to invest in their own priorities. To ensure that PCCs are able to make an informed decision about how to use their CSF allocations, we will publish details on the Home Office website of the existing drugs, crime and community safety funding streams that are ending. From 2014-15, the CSF will be rolled into the police main grant to give PCCs even greater freedom and flexibility over how they use their resources.
In summary, we cannot afford to continue the borrowing-fuelled levels of spending under the previous Government. The fact that crime continues to fall shows that the quality of policing cannot, and should not, be measured purely in terms of the level of resources put into it.
In Northumbria, the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable are proposing to increase the precept on average by less than 5p per household to recruit 50 additional officers. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that?
That is their decision. That is what they were elected in Northumbria to decide. There seems to be a lot of good news in Northumbria. Let me see, the hon. Gentleman is one of the best parts of the whole country—no wonder he did not intervene earlier. In the two years since his party was chucked out of office with one of its lowest shares of the vote ever and our coalition came in, crime has fallen by 18% in Northumbria. People in Northumbria are safer now than they were before. They are less likely to be victims of crime, and I very much welcome that.
The Minister seems to have had a memory lapse. Every year that Labour was in government, crime fell. We are all overjoyed that it continues to fall, but he must realise that it is the foundation that we laid, and that he now jeopardises, that is the point. In London, his Government are imposing 20% cuts on the Met. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said that anything more than 12% would impact on front-line services. Can he tell me that he is confident that progress will continue to be made?
If the right hon. Lady is accusing me of being too party political, it is worth saying that crime started to fall when John Major was Prime Minister. What is notable is that Labour MPs, when they were in government, used to say that crime was falling because they were spending more money on the police. Now, however, because of their complete fiscal incontinence, we are having to spend marginally less money on the police. We have lower crime than when Labour was in office, and the lowest level of independently recorded crime in the survey since it began more than 30 years ago. Surely that is good news. Let us try to establish that point, and let us see whether Andrew Gwynne agrees.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am also grateful for the fact that I think he acknowledges the point made by my right hon. Friend Dame Joan Ruddock, which is that the crime rate has fallen consistently every year since 1995, including in every year under the previous Labour Government. That fall was not necessarily about police numbers. Does he not recognise that we started to see the biggest fundamental drop in crime under the previous Government when we shifted police resources into neighbourhood policing teams?
I am delighted that we have made some progress. The hon. Gentleman says that reducing crime is not necessarily to do with police numbers. We agree with that. However, we have to spend the money that is allocated to the police as well as we possibly can. Let me introduce another brand new concept to Labour Members: value for money in the public sector and spending taxpayers’ money as if it were one’s own—try that. I know that that is an amazing, novel concept, but that is what we are trying to do.
I have given way before, twice. When budgets are tight, it puts an even greater onus on Government to achieve greater efficiencies and value for money—an even greater onus. We recognise the importance of the police.
Although funding reductions are unavoidable, the Government have substantially reformed the police over the last few years, and that reform is working. We have fundamentally changed the accountability framework for policing, introducing direct democratic accountability. Police and crime commissioners were elected in November and are now actively consulting on their police and crime plans and budgets for 2013-14. Those plans will set the scale of their ambition for the future, but already they have begun to demonstrate that they are driving forward innovative and flexible use of their budgets and taking bold decisions.
We have already seen evidence of that bold leadership, with forces looking seriously at how they manage their estate, including the future of New Scotland Yard here in London. We have seen the determination of other PCCs to put more police officers on the street through raising the precept, in some cases; others are restructuring their budgets to secure the future of police community safety officers; and others are looking to push collaboration to new areas to secure value for money for their electorate. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but innovative policy making is taking place to achieve greater community safety and value for money. In the knowledge that they will be held to account directly by the public, PCCs are seeking to take measures to maintain and improve the service to the public within what is, as I have already admitted, a very tight financial climate.
PCCs, their chief constables and the officers and staff they lead are now supported by the new College of Policing. The college will support the fight against crime by equipping the police with the skills and knowledge they need to provide the very best service to their communities. Headed by an outstanding chief constable, Alex Marshall, and with Professor Shirley Pearce as its chair, the college will work in the public interest, supporting the police in their critical mission to cut crime by driving professionalism and integrity in policing.
As the Minister probably knows, the chief executive of the college gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. Will he help me with the budgets of the new landscape? As he knows, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency have been abolished and will now form part of the National Crime Agency. The total budget of SOCA and the NPIA was £865 million, but the NCA’s budget will be £400 million and the college’s budget will be £50 million. What has happened to the rest of the £865 million?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which we considered at length during the Committee stage of the Crime and Courts Bill. The crucial point is that only a small proportion of the NPIA’s budget is being transferred to the NCA. From memory—I do not have the paper to hand—I think the figure is £12 million or £13 million. The functions covered by the vast majority of the NPIA’s budget will not be transferred to the NCA. It is not accurate, therefore, to conflate SOCA’s budget and the NPIA’s budget and say that between them their budgets were bigger than the NCA’s budget, because quite a lot of the NPIA features will not be transferring to the NCA.
Few things could be more directly relevant to public confidence and the British model of policing by consent than the integrity of our police officers. Police officers are citizens in uniform and their fellow citizens must be able to have confidence that they exercise their powers without fear or favour. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced a range of measures to enhance police integrity in the House yesterday. Greater independent investigation of the most serious and sensitive complaints against the police will be made possible by rebalancing resource between the Independent Police Complaints Commission and force professional standards directorates. A publicly available list of struck-off officers will ensure that those who are dismissed for misconduct cannot re-enter the police by the back door. We will significantly strengthen vetting of all officers, particularly the most senior officers, and we will introduce national registers of pay and perks, gifts and hospitality, contact with the media and outside interests.
All that will be underpinned by a code of ethics for the police—a single set of ethical standards by which officers and staff will work. The college will own and develop this and PCCs and chief officers will ensure that it runs right through policing and the careers of police officers and police staff. Accountability, professionalism and integrity—these are the areas where our reforms are focused and on which we are making a substantial difference.
We also rely, however, on being able to continue to attract the very best people into policing. For the avoidance of doubt, outstanding people are already attracted to some of the most difficult and demanding jobs available in our police forces. We need to ensure that we continue to attract the people with the right skills and expertise to forge a force fit for the 21st century. That means opening up policing. We are consulting on three direct entry schemes that will open up the police to a wider pool of talent, so that forces will be able to bring in people with diverse backgrounds and new perspectives. Combined with the strong leaders already working in forces and the improved nurturing of internal talent through the College of Policing, we will have a police force that is even better equipped to fight crime.
There is huge talent in our armed forces, at non-commissioned officer, young officer and senior officer level. Some of these people will be leaving the armed forces, but at the moment it is extremely difficult for non-commissioned officers and junior officers to join the police—in fact, there seems to be a bar. Is there any possibility of encouraging more transfers from our military forces into our police forces?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I would imagine that many people with military backgrounds would be ideally suited to pursuing this career option. In my constituency the week before last, I was talking to a police officer who had previously served with 40 Commando Royal Marines, also based in my constituency, and he appeared to be doing an extremely good job on behalf of the people of Somerset.
We are unambiguous—as are the public whom the police serve—that fighting crime should be the clear focus of our police, and that is why we are working so hard to free up police time to achieve that focus. We have already removed much of the centrally imposed bureaucracy on police forces, such as top-down targets, performance management structures, excessive regulation and inspection, but police officers still spend too much time on unnecessary bureaucracy and not enough time on their core mission of fighting crime. We will deliver transformational change to free up front-line officers’ time and will be focusing on ensuring that police forces understand and implement existing best practice, introducing transformational change for front-line officers and speeding up the criminal justice process. By 2015, owing to all the measures I have described, the police will be recognisably more modern, offering a more accessible service to the public.
The Minister says that he will free up front-line officers’ time from back-office responsibility, but at the same time huge cuts are being made to back-office support services. How does he square those two things? Do they not run against each other? Has he not contradicted himself in that one sentence?
Shall we try again? I attend lots of debates in the House. I attend debates about education, and Labour wants to spend more money. I attend debates about health, and Labour wants to spend more money. I attend debates about whether multi-millionaires should receive child benefit, and Labour wants to give more child benefit to multi-millionaires. So far as I can work out, there is no area where Labour does not want to spend more money, which would be great if it had left us a massive budget surplus, but as the hon. Gentleman might not have heard me say at the beginning of my speech, for every £3 Labour raised in tax, it was spending £4. It was borrowing about £20 million an hour by the time the electorate called time on it. It was completely unaffordable—the economics of the madhouse—and we are now having to cut our cloth to fit. Nevertheless, he will be pleased that there is no precise correlation between spending more money and having better service outcomes. In fact, crime has fallen in his area.
The hon. Gentleman has not seen such an increase. It has fallen by 13%. It is down in all their forces.
Let us move on. I have reached the final part of my speech. In the first two years of this Government, recorded crime fell by 10% and public confidence in the police is rising. This clearly indicates that our police reforms are working. The crime survey for England and Wales also shows big falls, with figures now at their lowest level since records began in 1981. Our remorseless focus on the front line, on value for money and on serving the public provides our motivation for slashing back the red tape that has kept police officers behind desks instead of on the streets. By scrapping targets, cutting paperwork and returning discretion to officers, we have saved 4.5 million officer hours.
I will not.
This Government inherited the largest peacetime deficit in Britain’s history. We are now making the necessary positive reforms. However, the Government can only do so much, and the necessary change will also have to come from the forces themselves. I commend those in the police who have risen to the challenge and shown leadership in transforming the way in which they deliver services and protection for the public. There is more to do, but I am confident that, with our ambitious reform programme alongside transformational change, we will build police forces that are modern, flexible and responsive, fighting crime while delivering value for money for the taxpayer and reducing crime, as this Government have done since we came to office in May 2010. I commend the motion to the House.
Having heard the Minister’s speech, I am surprised that he has not just joined the Conservative party. Whatever has happened to him over the past three years, he appears to have been infected by the Conservative gene and gone completely native.
Let me start on a positive note, however. I want to pay tribute to the policemen and women across the country who do a dangerous and difficult job every day of the week on our behalf. Sadly, in the last year, as in every year, we have seen the deaths of police officers on the streets of Great Britain. They have given us great service, and we should pay them the tribute that they deserve. We should also recognise those police officers who are walking the streets on our behalf trying to keep us safe. Yes, they will help to reduce crime.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Paul McKeever, the late chairman of the Police Federation, who died in January. I was privileged to attend his memorial service in Southwark cathedral on Saturday, along with police officers from across the country and the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper. His integrity and the esteem in which he was held were clearly recognised across the board.
I do not think that we are going to be able to bridge the difference between the Minister and me during this debate.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of those police officers who have lost their lives—we also remember what happened in Manchester—does he agree that if the murderers of Yvonne Fletcher could be brought to justice, however long after the event, it would be most useful for her friends and family? She was shot down while carrying out her duties outside the Libyan embassy. She should not be forgotten, and the murderers should be brought to justice.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that all those who murder police officers are brought to justice. If there is evidence to enable that to happen, it should be presented.
As I was saying, there is a clear difference between the Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition on the proposals before us. The settlement continues on the path that Labour has opposed since 2010, and I shall give the Minister a little hint by saying that we shall do so again today. The proposals will result in a loss of about £2 billion from policing budgets in England and Wales over three years. The Conservatives—and, by association, the Liberal Democrats—are cutting police funding by 20% over that three-year period and 15,000 police officers are being lost by 2015; 7,000 have already been lost in the first two years of this Government. That is a higher number than the experts predicted, and a higher number than Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said would be safe. This is damaging morale in the police service.
The right hon. Gentleman has consistently opposed the Government’s proposals. Will he make it clear what he would suggest instead? What does he think is the right amount of money, and where would he get it from?
I will come to that in a moment. In 2010, in the debate on the policing grant, I was the policing Minister, and I stood at the Dispatch Box where the Minister has just been standing to propose a 12% reduction in police funding over three years. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not here at the time, but the former Liberal Democrat Member for Chesterfield criticised that budget proposal and reminded us that the Liberal Democrats, including the then Member for Cambridge, were going to go into the election promising 3,000 more police officers on the beat. Would the hon. Gentleman like to intervene on me again to tell me how 123 such officers have been lost in Cambridge? Is that related to the 3,000 extra officers or not?
I am happy to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, and I hope that he will answer mine. I am sure that he will be delighted to know that further recruitment of police constables has been announced, and that there will be an increase in the number of police constables performing local policing in Cambridgeshire. I am sure that he welcomes that. He will also know from our manifesto that part of the money to pay for extra police was going to come from savings from the ID card scheme. However, we had not realised quite how much of that money had already been wasted by the Labour Government before the election.
I presume that the Liberal Democrats had also not quite realised how much money was going to be spent on tuition fees or on a range of other things. Let me put it this way: that represents one Liberal Democrat broken promise among many others.
According to House of Commons Library figures, 30,000 fewer crimes were solved this year, including 7,000 crimes of violence against the person. [Interruption.] Mark Hunter cannot have heard what I said. He is heckling from the Front Bench, and asking how much a Labour Government would spend. The Labour Government committed to a 12% reduction in police funding. The current Government, whom the Liberal Democrat Minister supports, are proposing a third year of a 20% reduction in spending on policing. The Minister and the Whip—the hon. Member for Cheadle—stood for election in their constituencies, as did other Liberal Democrats, on a pledge to put 3,000 more police officers on the beat. Will the Minister now intervene to tell me at what point during the election campaign in Taunton Deane he told people that he would preside over a cut in numbers of 345 in his own constituency’s police force?
What I should have said is, “Vote for me in Taunton Deane and crime will fall by 11% in two years”, but I was too modest to do so. I said in my speech today that the budget for policing was falling by 1.9% for 2013-14, compared with 2012-13, and that the central grant would be £8.7 billion. My hon. Friend Dr Huppert has asked a straightforward question: what would the central grant figure be if Labour were in government today?
We gave a clear indication—[Interruption.] The Minister can say what he likes, but when we were in government, we gave a clear figure of a 12% reduction. We are now two years away from a general election, and we will have to look at these matters again at that stage. I made it clear when I was sitting where the Minister is now sitting that there would be a 12% reduction. Having pledged to introduce 3,000 more police officers, he is now proposing a budget cut of 20% on behalf of the Tory-Liberal Democrat Government. That is the clear difference between us, and I suspect that my right hon. and hon. Friends will recognise that.
If we were talking only about police numbers, perhaps we could have an honest debate, but this Government also are making it harder to get CCTV, reducing the use of DNA evidence to catch criminals and cutting crime prevention budgets. They also spent £100 million of taxpayers’ money on the elections for police and crime commissioners, which attracted a 13% turnout. They are weakening counter-terror powers, with the result that people such as Ibrahim Magag can drive away in a taxi while under a terrorism prevention and investigation measure—[Interruption.] The Minister accuses me of being right wing. If it is right wing to want to ensure that my constituents are safe on the streets, I plead guilty. If it is right wing to want those who commit offences to be put into jail or on community sentences to prevent reoffending, I plead guilty.
I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s defence of a number of measures that the Government have said are not necessary, because, as the Minister has already pointed out, crime has actually fallen. We have swept aside some of the illiberal knee-jerk reactions brought in by the previous Government and crime has still fallen. If such measures are so necessary, why has crime fallen?
One police force where crime has not fallen happens to be that of Devon and Cornwall where, as I recall, the hon. Gentleman is a Member of Parliament. I may be wrong, but I think he is a Member of Parliament in Devon and Cornwall, and that is one area where crime has not fallen. When he stood on his election manifesto for 3,000 extra police officers at the last election, did he think that three years later he would go back to Devon and Cornwall police with a higher crime rate and 415 fewer officers? I do not think so.
Let me continue. The Government are scrapping antisocial behaviour orders and putting at risk crime-fighting tools such as the European arrest warrant. Yesterday in Committee we had a debate about the European arrest warrant and the Minister—who stood on a manifesto saying that he wished to keep that warrant—could not tell me which aspects of it he intended to opt back in to because he was fettered by nine Conservative Members. He has sold his soul to Government positions.
The Minister knows that the Labour party would have cut 12% from police budgets—I am honest about that. We would have cut £1 billion over the three-year period, including the year of this grant, because that is what we said we would do. During a debate before the general election, I recall the Minister debating police numbers with me. On
“People like to see a visible police presence in their communities…I am genuinely astonished that the Conservatives want to make drastic cuts to budgets”.
In the same debate, the Minister spoke about his Conservative council in Somerset:
“The Conservative cut in funding for the police was kept secret before the county council elections in June.”
He promised 3,000 police officers but he is now promoting a 20% cut to the budget. His proposal cannot get much more secret than that.
In response to a debate that set the tone for this three-year budget, the then hon. Member for Chesterfield, who lost his seat at the general election to my hon. Friend Toby Perkins, said:
“Such cuts, should they snowball and continue in the next year or two, will be a tragedy.”—[Hansard, 3 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 340.]
That was the then hon. Member for Chesterfield speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I expect that the Minister will not listen to me and I accept that. We have had honest debates and I have seen more of him in the past three weeks than I have seen of my wife because we have spent lots of time in Committee.
I do not wish to interrupt this pre-Valentine’s day discussion between my right hon. Friend and the Minister, but did the Committee consider the budgets of the various organisations being set up by the Government? Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the sums do not add up? Where has all the money gone, bearing in mind the responsibilities that will be transferred to the new organisations? Did he manage to elicit any more information than I received from the Minister today?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and the Committee explored in some detail the differences between the budgets for the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the National Policing Improvement Agency and the new National Crime Agency. We shed light on the fact that there is a major gap in the funding, but we could not get answers on where that funding has disappeared. I am sure suspect that my right hon. Friend, who so ably leads the Home Affairs Committee, will explore that in some detail over the next few weeks.
The Minister and I will not have a meeting of minds on this matter, but perhaps he will listen to a few voices from out in the community. For example, an individual who shall remain nameless for the moment said:
“I just want the public to understand how tight things really are because I think there’s a feeling out there that it’s OK.”
That was the Conservative police and crime commissioner, John Dwyer in Cheshire, complaining about the fact that he has to bring forward a budget axing 38 police officers and 25 back-office staff.
In a statement this week, Nick Alston, the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Essex, said that the force’s financial position is
“even more challenging than I suspected when taking office just over two months ago.”
The police and crime commissioner for Cornwall, Tony Hogg, again a Conservative party member, said that the Government’s offer of freezing council tax in exchange for a 1% increase in grant would leave the force facing a “fiscal cliff” in two year’s time and an annual shortfall of £1.8 million. He added:
“There would be a critical reduction in pro-active crime reduction, there would be a critical reduction in partnership, community and early intervention…and a critical reduction in police visibility and hence reassurance to the public.”
I look forward to Dan Rogerson, among others, voting for the budget today. The local police and crime commissioner thinks it will cause great difficulties in Cornwall.
In Gloucestershire, the police and crime commissioner—not Labour—said that
“we won’t be able to absorb the cuts the Government expects us to make next year and in subsequent years which could affect frontline services and our ability to reduce crime. If we use our reserves, which has also been suggested…we would have no money to replace…equipment or improve our infrastructure.”
The police and crime commissioner in Cumbria—again, not a Labour member—said:
“It is without question a challenging position with the financial forecasts indicating that £10.2 million of savings will have to be delivered between 2013/14 and 2016/17…in addition to the £12.1 million of savings already achieved.”
Those are police and crime commissioners, not Labour members, and they are all expressing concerns and having to raise money.
Is it not the case that we cannot take this debate in isolation from the next debate on the local government settlement and that a great deal of good work and progress was made by the various crime and disorder reduction partnerships, with local government, housing associations and police forces working in partnership? Is the real danger that all that will be unpicked?
That is absolutely right. The Minister asked how we would reduce crime, and I remind him that crime fell in every year of the Labour Government, as it did in the last two years of the Major Government, and as it has fallen now. Let me put on the record that I welcome that fall in crime and think it is a good thing. I do not want people in our constituencies to face criminal actions—a victim is 100% a victim. The key issue for the Minister to reflect on is that there are crimes that are starting to rise, including acquisitive crime, street crime, burglary, robbery and car theft. Areas of violent crime are starting to rise, and the Minister must recognise that policing is not just about discovering crime but about community reassurance, being visible and accessible, and carrying out many tasks such as football ground management that involve not solving crime but providing a presence and a community resource.
My right hon. Friend will know that we believe one great success of the Labour Government in reducing crime was through the Safer Neighbourhood partnerships and the neighbourhood teams that under Labour were at the strength of one sergeant, two PCs and three police community support officers. Is he aware that the London Mayor is now proposing that such teams will include one PC, one PCSO and no dedicated sergeant? Surely that is a way to reduce community confidence and possibly allow for a rise in crime.
In quoting police and crime commissioners from the Government parties, my right hon. Friend exposes the problems imposed by the Government on police forces the length and breadth of the country, but in the high-crime areas, the cuts are even deeper. Will he say something about how disproportionately the cuts are falling? For example, in the west midlands, which is a high-crime area, the cuts are deeper than they are across the nation as a whole.
When I speak to my chief inspector and the police in my area, they say that resources are being cut and that although crime is diminishing—it is reducing in some areas, but not all—that is only a short-term trend. The trend will be upward, because when the Labour Government introduced neighbourhood policing, we had crime mapping, and there is a latency. Crime maps enabled us to identify serious criminals and low-level criminals, but today crime maps are being eroded, because PCSOs and sergeants are being moved into other jobs. As my right hon. Friend has said, they are being forced to do back-office jobs and cover for other positions. We have a diminishing neighbourhood policing team and crime maps are diminishing, which is why there is a latency. Crime is falling, but soon it will start rising if we do not keep up neighbourhood policing.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. His police force in Lancashire lost 413 officers over that period. [Interruption.] The Minister keeps chuntering from a sedentary position, saying, “What’s the impact of that?” I have told him that I welcome the fall in crime, but the key question that he needs to answer is whether that fall is sustainable and whether it was the result of previous investment. I simply say to him that the trends for acquisitive crime, violent crime, detection rates, recording of crime and maintaining a visible presence are going in a different direction, and he knows it. I genuinely hope that crime continues to fall, but we will have to make that assessment. Our concern is that it will be more difficult with £1 billion taken out of the budget over three years than it would be otherwise.
Given everything the right hon. Gentleman says, I just want to check that he is now committing to taking £1 billion out of other areas of
Government spending—say, schools or hospitals—to fund this area. Surely he is not just making a completely empty speech to get a few cheers from his Back Benchers, but has the figures to back up his argument. We are spending £8.7 billion in 2013-14. If he were in government, what would he be spending? Just a number.
The hon. Gentleman must be—as well as many other things—not listening to what I am saying. This is the third year of a three-year budget proposal. We proposed 12% cuts; he is proposing 20% cuts. Next year and the year after, we will have a further debate—when a Labour Government are returned in two years’ time, we will have a further debate—but at the moment we are talking about a figure for the third year. I have given him a figure—a 12% reduction versus the 20% reduction. He needs to listen and to recognise that.
Rather than returning to that aspect of the discussion, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how long he thinks the delay might be before we see crime going up—his premise is that there might be a delay—and for how many years crime will have to continue going down before he accepts that it is still going down, despite what has happened since 2010?
Historically, crime levels have fallen over many years. That has been continuous since 1995, throughout my time in the House of Commons. The key question for the hon. Gentleman is how we develop that in future. Policing is, in part, about catching criminals and solving crime, but it is also about community reassurance and many other areas—dealing with floods, policing football matches, crowd control and policing demonstrations. None of those is about policing crime. Part of the reason why crime is falling is that the Labour Government did good work in bringing together probation, prisons and policing to look at reducing the number of serious offenders. The number of first-time offenders going into the system fell under Labour, as did the number of offences per person. There are a range of issues; I just worry about potential difficulties arising downstream.
Again, however, the hon. Gentleman does not need to listen to me. Earlier the Minister mentioned the new head of the College of Policing, so let me give him a quotation from the head of the College of Policing, from a BBC News story on
“Hampshire’s outgoing chief constable has warned further cuts to budgets could seriously impact police services. Alex Marshall oversaw a reduction of more than 800 posts” in his force,
“but said more major cuts would be ‘very difficult’.”
The Minister’s Government have just appointed that person to the College of Policing, so it is not just me and Conservative and Labour police and crime commissioners who are raising those concerns. It is professional police officers as well.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the West Midlands chief constable was pressed by the Select Committee on Home Affairs on whether there would be an adverse effect on the police force and police services in the west midlands, he had to agree? The cut over four years or so is somewhere in the region of
26%, and a number of senior and experienced officers have been forced to resign under regulation A19. We are facing an acute problem in the west midlands arising from the cuts. That should be recognised by the Government.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me what Chief Constable Chris Sims has said. I have mentioned the former chief constable of Hampshire; let me turn to the chief constable of Kent, who has said:
“The cuts, if they are 20%, will take us back to 2001…that’s…a significant drawback into police numbers. Clearly there is a potential impact that crime will rise.”
“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory”.
The chief constable of Lancashire has said:
“Let me be…clear. With the scale of the cuts…we are experiencing…we cannot leave the front line untouched.”
The chief constable of Dyfed Powys, Ian Arundale, said last year that we are approaching a cliff edge on policing. These are serious people. [Interruption.] The Minister again shouts, “Where’s the money coming from?” I have explained to him, very clearly, the difference between 12% and 20% cuts in policing. This Minister is supporting a 20% cut in policing, having gone into the election arguing for 3,000 more police officers. This Minister is taking 15,000 police officers off the streets of Britain, when he promised at the election to put 3,000 more police officers on to the streets of Britain. I will let the British people judge on that in due course and we will argue about those issues in due course. [Interruption.]
If the Minister wants to have a discussion about Eastleigh, I can tell him that John O’Farrell, the Labour candidate, will certainly be able to campaign strongly, given the 295 police officers lost because of the votes of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members today. I look forward to the Labour campaign in Eastleigh focusing on crime and punishment. I also look forward to reminding the people of Eastleigh that the Liberal Democrats proposed 3,000 more police officers, along with no rise in tuition fees and various other issues that they have broken their promises on. [Interruption.] The Minister appears to have been injected with something over the last couple of hours, because he is really quite frisky. He seemed to be hyper throughout his contribution; now that he has sat down, he still seems to be hyper. I do not know who will win the by-election in Eastleigh; the people of Eastleigh will choose their next Member of Parliament. The key question they need to ask is: who is going to stand up against the coalition Government? I suspect that neither a Liberal Democrat nor a Conservative MP will do that. Let the people of Eastleigh make that judgment.
I think the hon. Gentleman has had his fair share. I always like to give way to Members, but if he will allow me, I will try to finish and allow other Members to have their say.
There is much we can talk about, but one thing is clear. This settlement will damage policing yet further. It will damage the ability of police officers across the country to serve their communities. It is the wrong settlement—it is the third year of a very damaging settlement. I want to stand up for policing and for our communities and to fight and reduce crime. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject this tawdry settlement from the Government.
May I begin by associating myself with the remarks of Mr Hanson about Paul McKeever? I had the pleasure—and it was a pleasure—of working with him when I was the shadow policing Minister, and he was a very effective representative for the federated ranks, and one of nature’s gentlemen. He represented many brave police officers—men and women—and we should never forget that in the context of funding settlements and reforms to pay and conditions. We honour and respect what police officers do each day on our behalf.
It is worth saying something about the headline figures for the police settlement that we are considering today. The Home Affairs Committee calculated that there was a real-terms increase of 20% in police funding in the decade up to 2008. That was something that the Conservative Opposition supported and voted for, and it had the result of making the British police force one of the best resourced in the western world. So when we look at reductions in spending—which we are doing in this settlement, as no one doubts—we have to see it in that context. It is coming off a very high base.
The figures for 2013-14 represent, in total central Government funding—that is specific Home Office grants, the police core settlement grant, the Department for Communities and Local Government revenue support grant and other bits of money—£7.8 billion, which is only a 1.9% reduction. These are not staggering figures, and I repeat that the reduction is against a backdrop of very high increases, which we supported, in the decade to 2008.
I pay tribute to Dorset police in my constituency for the wonderful work that they do. My hon. Friend was talking about the relatively small reduction, but Dorset is at the bottom of the heap and that small reduction over many years will actually be a massive reduction. If we had even the national police funding average per capita in Dorset, we would have an extra £16 million, which would mean an extra 50 officers on the beat. For us, even a small reduction has an enormous effect.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. My local constabulary area of Suffolk is not dissimilar to Dorset. People who were on the police authority and senior serving officers have made exactly the point that he has just made, which is why I am delighted to draw attention to the fact that the Home Secretary has announced a clear intention to review the formula that churns out the grants for each authority. However, she wants to do that once police and crime commissioners are bedded in, so that they can be consulted on how the formula can be tweaked. I would certainly hope—like my hon. Friend—that rural forces such Dorset and Suffolk will get a better deal and a greater acknowledgement of the particular challenges of a police service that covers very strung out areas. I see that my hon. Friend Dr Coffey is in her place, and I know that she endorses that point too.
Should I presume from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that he has an expectation that the review to be undertaken by the Home Secretary will lead to a further shift in resources from high-crime areas, which have already been hit the hardest, to low-crime areas? I am a great fan of Dorset, which is a wonderful part of the world, but it is not exactly the crime capital of England, is it?
I am not suggesting that we do anything quite as crude as that: I am suggesting that those of us who represent rural seats think that sparsity factors are not being taken into account sufficiently. Clearly, the process must not direct resources willy-nilly. The needs of high-crime areas must be reflected in the formula, but the formula does need to be looked at, as the right hon. Gentleman will know as a senior Minister in the last Government. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Delyn will also know how incredibly difficult it is to strike the balance. Damping was a very controversial policy, but it was the best that one could do in the circumstances. We can have a serious debate about a review of the formula, but I—and other rural Members—will put our case for better and more equitable shares for rural areas.
We also need to thank the Home Secretary—at least those of us on the Government Benches who take an interest in law and order—for the doughty way in which she has fought the police service’s corner. She has been able—in a committed and forceful way—to ensure that the further 1% of departmental reductions that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his December autumn statement would not apply to the police budget for 2013-14. She has also commuted the reductions that would have flowed from the Chancellor’s statement in November 2011 on public sector pay restraint, and she has protected the police budget from those strictures.
We are not saying that this settlement is the one that we would have liked: of course we would all like more money for the services that serve our constituents. But we cannot let this debate pass without saying once again that there is a national economic crisis—I shall not be party political about how it arose—and whoever was in government now, Labour, Conservative or any possible combination of parties in coalition, would have to make reductions. It is undeniable that in the modern age Governments need to do more with less. They need to get better results with constraints on public service budgets. That means not just worrying primarily or solely about the amount of money put into a service, but about how that service is organised. That is why the Home Secretary should be thanked, again, for the shot of adrenaline she has given to radical police reform—getting more for less.
My right hon. Friend is in the fortunate position of being able to do this at a time of falls in crime—it was declining under Labour and continues to decline under us, notwithstanding the tight budget settlements to which the police have been subject.
In Hull, we will lose 220 police officers off the beat. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that will mean criminality on the street? Is not this debate about priorities?
I do not accept that simple, direct correlation, as I shall explain.
In the 12 months to September 2012—the latest period for which crime survey figures are reported—we have seen an 8% decrease in overall crime against adults in England and Wales. We also have figures in that survey that show that since 1981 the lowest chance of being a victim of crime was in the 12 months up to that date. It should be a truth universally acknowledged that the effectiveness of a police force does not directly depend on the number of staff, but rather the way in which they are deployed.
We have already heard that the Home Secretary has scrapped central targets and energised the drive by chief constables to reduce unnecessary process—not just fewer forms, but a change in the way officers do things. There have been some encouraging examples of what the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz— I see him in his place—and I looked at: the so-called four-force pilot of a much quicker and sharper incident reporting regime by officers on the beat. We have seen a rolling back of statutory charging in respect of more triable either-way offences, giving more discretion to the charging sergeant in the station so that he or she does not have to hang around on the telephone or wait for a Crown Prosecution Service solicitor to fetch up to give the charging authorisation. There are other examples, but we know that as a result of this crackdown on bureaucracy, memorably reported on by Sir Ronnie Flanagan in the second half of the last Parliament, progress is being made. The results are already there for us to see.
The number of police officers in front-line roles is projected to increase by 2% between March 2012 and March 2013. The proportion of officers in front-line roles is expected to increase from the 83% we inherited in 2010 to 89% in 2015. I found another statistic through research. According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—fairly objective data there, I feel—in March 2010, 17% of officers were in non-front-line roles, while the Government are forecasting that their announced policy measures could bring this down to 10% by March 2015.
From my experience in the armed services, I know that the so-called backroom boys and girls who were members of the armed services in my day were very useful to call upon in times of trouble. While I quite accept that backroom boys and girls should be reduced to a certain degree, getting rid of all serving officers in those roles would mean that there is no reserve when, dare I say it, the proverbial hits the fan.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but we should resist the temptation to believe that a Home Secretary or a policing Minister in Whitehall can make decisions about the mix between uniformed back staff, who would be able to perform at short notice the kind of reserve and back-up on the front line that my hon. Friend describes, and pure civilians. This has been a long-running debate in the world of police reform, but we know that it is for the chief constable to decide and to make dispositions accordingly. Whether or not my hon. Friend accepts that, any Government would have to have in mind reducing the number of the uniformed work force in non-front-line activity.
Let me repeat the statistic. According to HMIC, in March 2010 17% of uniformed officers were in non-front-line roles. It is our intention that measures put in place to reduce that will mean that only one in 10 of uniformed officers are in non-front-line roles. I would have thought that the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn, who I thought was a worthy and dedicated policing Minister in the last Parliament, would acknowledge that that should be a policy objective of Governments, chief constables and police commissioners.
I want to talk not just about reducing bureaucracy as part of police reform, but about getting more bang for our buck by doing more with less. That relates to what are undoubtedly difficult and controversial reforms to pay and conditions—the Winsor reforms. I remind the House that when we talk about funding settlements for the whole of the police service, a massive 80% of expenditure for most police forces in England and Wales goes on pay. Yes, we can mandate collaboration, which this Government are in the process of doing to make efficiencies in procurement, information technology, uniform, traffic and so on. But those and other heads of spending amount only to 20% of what a police force spends; 80% is spent on people. It therefore seems to me that it is incumbent on any Home Secretary, whether Labour or Conservative, to look afresh at how we can get a modernised pay system, crucially linking pay progression—the former Government indicated that they supported this concept—with higher levels of skills and with those who have undertaken higher professional training. This is not performance by results, but linking pay to the skills that officers have, paying less attention to progress up the pay ladder simply as a result of age.
The Winsor proposals are, of course, more complicated than that. Chief constables will have flexibility—and it is they, not Ministers in Whitehall, who will make these managerial decisions—and this will be done in conjunction with the locally elected police and crime commissioners. It will be for them to ensure they have the proper mix of ability within the uniformed ranks and they will also have to make decisions about civilianisation in regard to the allocations laid before the House today for each police force area, and make that money go further.
I close by saying something about accountability. This money will be voted for by Government Members, and I think the right hon. Member for Delyn suggested that the Opposition will vote against it. We must get away from the idea that Ministers will be held personally accountable. We vote for the money, and I want the message to go out that police and crime commissioners will have the prime job of driving through change to get more value for that money.
I know it is early days, but my experience so far of the elected commissioner in Suffolk, Councillor Tim Passmore, has been positive. He has put together a draft set of priorities; he has gone to the trouble of speaking to and meeting all the Suffolk MPs; and he has taken amendments to his first draft. My own view—I think most police and crime commissioners should look at this—is that a target should be set for the percentage of time that officers are visible to the Suffolk public. I think, too, that an objective should be set to move towards the 10% of uniformed officers—and it is only 10%—who should be on non-front-line activities, which as I outlined is the national objective, by March 2015. These commissioners should hold themselves to account by explaining—in my case, to the taxpayers of Suffolk, but to others in police force areas up and down the country—what they are doing to reduce bureaucracy, to get a higher percentage of officers on the front line and to ensure not only that there are more of them on the front line, but that during their shifts they spend a higher proportion of their time visibly out and about so that the public can see them.
I thank my hon. Friend and Suffolk neighbour for allowing me to intervene. I, too, pay tribute to Tim Passmore. Not only is he already sticking to his mandate of no rise in the precept, but he is applying a different perspective by opening cupboards and managing to understand where the money is going. I note his praise for operational police officers, but I also note his recognition that some external professional discipline can produce more for less—especially from the huge property estate, which he is working closely with the county council to try to rationalise.
I think my hon. Friend’s point applies to every one of us whose area has a police and crime commissioner. The essence of localism, which I think, in its broadest sense, is supported by both major political parties and by the Liberal Democrats, is that we cannot for ever say that it is the Minister’s fault. We cannot keep on saying that the man or woman in Whitehall knows best. Those on the ground, the elected police and crime commissioners, must explain what they are doing in their forces, with their chief constables, to bring about greater visibility of policing—with manifestly constrained resources—and, if they are not able to hit their objectives, they must explain why.
Some people may think that we are doing ourselves out of a job—that we are just voting for the money and telling people to get on with it. That would be a crude gloss on what I am saying, but I think that the thrust of it is absolutely correct. We need local people, whether in Humberside, Suffolk, Dorset or the west midlands, to stand up and be counted. We need people to know how many hours have been saved in cutting red tape, because more red tape can certainly be cut: it can be rooted out. Assets are underemployed—estates are badly managed, for instance—and we need to get more value from those assets.
We face reductions throughout the comprehensive spending review period during the current Parliament, but I repeat that we started from a high base—a 20% real-terms increase over the 10 years of the Labour Government up to 2008—and the cuts should be seen against that backdrop. We do not support the cuts because we want to be beastly to public services, or because we think that the police should become more efficient and should therefore be paid less. We should all like to be in a position to look again at what we spend on the police once the economy starts growing again at trend or above, but in the meantime we must press on with reform.
We have had more resources over the past 20 years, but we have not had the reform that should have gone hand in hand with those increased resources. Under the current Home Secretary, that area of policy will not be neglected, because she knows that it is not just more money but the way in which we use our police that will enable us to reduce crime levels and keep our constituents safe.
Order. The winding-up speeches will begin at 4.6 pm. Five Members are trying to catch my eye. May I ask them to show time restraint in the speeches that they are about to deliver? Meanwhile, I may well introduce a time limit in order to protect Back Benchers and ensure that they are all able to speak—following the speech from Mr Keith Vaz.
It is a real pleasure to follow Mr Ruffley. He speaks with enormous knowledge about policing issues, and, as one who has attended many debates on the police grant —both in opposition and supporting the Government—he has always come to the Chamber with good and fresh ideas. It is a mystery to me why he is not in the Home Office doing the job, because he knows so much about it.
I must say that I was a little disappointed by the Minister’s opening remarks. I like the Minister, who has appeared before the Home Affairs Committee and who is always very robust, but in a debate of this kind there is no need for knockabout stuff, because we are dealing with extremely serious issues. I am still a bit puzzled about why the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice was not here to open the debate. He may have other important business to deal with, but I should have thought that he would be able to open a debate of this kind, as he has done in the past. Obviously a deal has been done on the Front Bench, however, and we are happy to hear the Government’s view.
I, too, was present at the memorial service for Paul McKeever, and, like the shadow Policing Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, I want to express my appreciation for a life that was dedicated to public service. He was the policeman’s policeman. Hundreds of people turned up at Southwark cathedral on Saturday, including the Home Secretary—who read the lesson very eloquently—the shadow Home Secretary, the policing Minister, the shadow policing Minister, and the entire hierarchy of the police service. That was because Paul McKeever was very special as an advocate of what the service does throughout Britain. I think it right for us to start our debates by paying tribute to the work of the police force in this country.
Let me now make some remarks about the new landscape of policing, and about the reduction in the overall police grant and how it will affect some of the important institutions that the Government have created.
Let me say first that I am a great fan of what the Home Secretary is doing in reforming the landscape of policing. I am attached not to particular organisations, but to the services that are provided for local people. However, as we approach the halfway point in those changes in the landscape, I am not entirely convinced that at the end of the day we shall meet the Home Secretary’s original objective. When she started the process in 2010, her aim was to unclutter the policing landscape, but I think that we may well end up with more organisations rather than fewer.
Secondly, I should like to know what is happening to all this money. Of course there cannot be an immediate transfer from one organisation to another. However, the Home Affairs Committee has been studying the matter for the last two years, and in the course of our latest inquiry, into leadership and standards in the police, we have been looking at the organisations that are being abolished or reformed and the new organisations that are being created. I am afraid that the sums do not add up.
Evidence was given to the Committee by the former policing Minister, Nick Herbert. When I asked him what the budget of the new National Crime Agency would be, the Home Office director of finance was sitting next to him, and he did not know what it would be. We do know that the combined budgets of the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency amount to about £860 million. We also know that the budget of the National Crime Agency will be about £400 million. Yesterday, in his assured evidence to the Committee, Alex Marshall said he would have a budget of £50 million and a staff of 600.
I am not very good at maths. I will not reveal my GCSE grade to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that you did better than I did. However, I think that we are about £315 million short. We are not talking about a few bob here and there; we are talking about a lot of money, and in the context of the overall reduction in the police grant over a number of years, it is really serious money. I am not trying to put the Under-Secretary of State on the spot—I do not know whether he will be winding up the debate—but it would be great if those sums could be confirmed, either today or in writing to me or to the Committee.
Is not one of the downsides of all these budget cuts, particularly in constituencies such as Dorset, which contains vast rural areas, the temptation to bring all the officers in from the rural areas and to close local police stations? I think that there is a loss of confidence, not in what the police are doing but in their ability to do it, because there is no one out there.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Because of his profession, he knows about these issues. I am sure he is an assiduous Member who works tirelessly on behalf of his constituents. One of the public’s first concerns is whether they can see their local police officer—the bobby on the beat—walking around, and whether they can go to the local police station and report crimes and feel safe as a result. Not all of us can have a Dr Who-type TARDIS—I certainly do not—but it is important that we give that visibility in respect of both the physical building and police officers.
Where responsibility for counter-terrorism will lie is not yet settled. The Government are ring-fencing its £563 million budget, and I support that, but there is to be a new landscape of policing, and a decision needs to be made soon as to whether it will stay with the Metropolitan police or move to the National Crime Agency. My distinguished colleague from the Home Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Winnick, will correct me if I am wrong, but I think we recommended in one of our reports that it should go to the National Crime Agency, as counter-terrorism is a national issue.
Another Select Committee member, Dr Huppert is also present, and he is nodding in agreement. We suggested that in part because we were worried the NCA might not have enough to do, which is, indeed, the case at present. It has very few staff and it is not yet established to the satisfaction of the Government and the Select Committee. We need to have a decision on this matter soon, and we were promised a decision after the Olympics. I do not know whether the Minister wants to answer that question now, but if not, I am happy to wait until the winding-up speeches.
I am also concerned about the huge amount of money currently being spent on historical investigations. The Select Committee has asked witnesses about that on many occasions. At present we have Operations Alice, Elveden, Weeting. Tuleta, Pallial, Yewtree and Herne. We heard only yesterday from the Home Secretary that Herne—which has been under way for the past year, with a number of police officers involved, and at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.2 million—will now be taken over by the chief constable of Derbyshire. That operation deals with important issues involving undercover agents and the recent public revelations, and a lot of money is being spent on these matters. I calculate that £44.8 million is currently being spent on the police investigating other police officers who have failed to come up to scratch. A lot of money is going to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, too, to deal with past errors by certain police forces, such as at Hillsborough. In discussing the reduction of the grant to local police and crime and commissioners, we need to consider all the money currently being spent on all these operations.
The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds is the spokesman on good procurement in this House, and we have had many discussions about the matter. I welcome the decision of the deputy mayor of London, Stephen Greenhalgh, to take a careful look at how the Metropolitan police have spent their procurement budget. He took evidence from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe on the issue. When we commission companies to act if the public sector cannot act, we must choose only companies with a good track record. Only yesterday it was announced that G4S was going to have to hand back to the taxpayer about £70 million. We should take into account the expenditure from the police budget that goes on companies such as G4S. The Select Committee was very clear that, as a result of the big mistakes G4S made, it ought to have handed back all its management fee of £57 million plus all the other money it ought to have spent. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North became an internet hit with his famous “humiliating shambles” soundbite. He will always be remembered for uttering those words on the Select Committee—and for many other words uttered, too, of course—because it was, indeed, a humiliating shambles. As the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds has said, we ought to be very careful about dispensing public money to private companies that do not come up to scratch.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the need to carry people with us. The Minister, who has responsibility for security matters, is an avuncular type who seeks consensus. We will see that when he comes to the Dispatch Box. I will not say he is the most courteous of the Home Office Ministers as the others might get upset if I were to do so, but he does not pick a fight. The current Home Office policy is, in effect, picking a fight with the people who have to implement the changes, however. Now is not the best time to be cutting police officers’ pensions, forcing them out under rule A19 and cutting their pay retrospectively—although I perfectly understand why we might need to make changes for new recruits.
I remember my last conversation with Paul McKeever on this subject. He passionately supported treating police officers with the respect, courtesy and dignity they deserve. My only real row with the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Brown, was about police pay. He was quite robust with me when he asked me not to go on a demonstration under the last Labour Government in support of the police who were having their pay cut. I said to him then—and I say to the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers now—that we must carry the work force with us. If we say we have the best police service in the world, the only way to express our admiration for what the police have done is to treat them with proper respect—to have a dialogue with them, to stop cutting their pay and conditions, to speak to them because they know best day in, day out. As we have seen recently in Manchester and other parts of the country, they lay down their lives for us. They go out in the morning and they do not know whether they are coming back at night, unlike all of us in this Chamber today. If we do not carry them with us, the world-class brand reputation that we currently have will be damaged for ever.
I want to begin by joining many other Members in paying tribute to Paul McKeever. He was an impressive man and it was a great pleasure to work with him. He had a real sense of energy and great commitment to his cause. He was a great man, and it was a huge shock when I heard he had passed away. I look forward to working with his replacement, Steve Williams, and I hope he will bring similar energy to the task and articulate the police officers’ case for a long time. I also want to pay tribute to all the other police officers and the police staff, who do such a great job.
The report is detailed, and anyone who wants to know how complex Government funding formulas can be should take a look at it. There are some charming delights, including hyper-accurate figures that do not necessarily equate with reality—but that is how the formula works.
The key issue is the total sum and how it is allocated. The Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr Browne, outlined well that the sums are what was agreed in 2010. I share his pleasure at the fact that the cuts that have had to be made since in other areas of public expenditure have not been passed on to the police. We would, of course, like to spend more on policing. As with so many areas of the public sector, it would be great if there was more money to spend on everything, so this is a very easy thing to say. Would I like more money in Cambridgeshire? Yes, please.
Mr Hanson read out a number of quotes from chief constables saying that they would have more money—that is a shock! I would be concerned about any chief constable’s future if they were to say publicly, “I don’t want any more money. Frankly, I can’t think of any way I could possibly spend that extra cash.” We would all like to see more money in this area, but we know that we are in straitened times. We know that there was no money left when this Government took office and that of every £4 being spent £1 was being borrowed—that simply could not continue.
The right hon. Gentleman argued in favour of 12% cuts as opposed to 20% cuts. It is worth highlighting the fact that those figures apply to the amount of money that goes from Government to the police and do not take account of the amount generated locally, so the actual effects are rather smaller than that. Disappointingly, what he did not do was to answer my repeated question about where he would get the money from. If I had an extra spare billion quid, I, too, would love to spend it on a range of things. We could have a fascinating debate about how to spend it. He simply said that he was going to spend it without saying where he was going to take it from, and that is a cheap thing that should not be done by an Opposition.
I used to be leader of the opposition on Cambridgeshire county council. I insisted that we put together a costed budget and take it through the same scrutiny process as the administration’s budget, and Councillor Kilian Bourke has done that incredibly well this year. It would be fantastic if the Opposition in this place were to provide fully costed proposals and subject them to the same scrutiny as the Government’s proposals, so that one could see where they are just coming up with fanciful sums. I was disappointed not to hear that answer from the right hon. Gentleman.
We also have to deal with an issue about the future. It is fantastic that crime has fallen almost everywhere in the country, and everyone in this House should celebrate that, but it is easy to sound the alarm and to say, “It is a bit worrying. In the future it might go up.” It might do, because nobody knows exactly what will happen, but if someone does not put some sort of time scale on how long they think this will take—this was the point of my question to the right hon. Gentleman—they can keep saying that for ever. They can keep worrying people for ever that things might get bad. If they want to make a genuine prediction, they need to have some sense of when they would accept that they have not seen the level of crime going up.
Times are tight, so we have to prioritise spending on policies that reduce crime and achieve the goals of the police. The key is how we spend the money we do have. I am pleased that we are cutting spending on a list of things that the right hon. Gentleman was concerned about that. I am pleased that money is being saved by not having CCTV cameras across the entire country, with so little regulation. I am delighted that we are spending money on an excellent commissioner on surveillance cameras, who will make sure that CCTV is used only where it is useful and genuinely proportionate. I am extremely pleased that we are cutting the money that was spent storing the DNA of innocent people—in some cases, people who had never been even accused of any crime. I am very pleased that we are saving money in respect of internal exile without trial and on identity cards. I wish that we had saved more of the money that went on identity cards and that it had not all been blown.
I would still like money to be saved in other areas. I am very concerned about the increasing spread of Tasers. I am in favour of Tasers as a replacement for firearms—as a step downwards. However, if we believe in policing by consent, having more and more non-firearms officers having Tasers risks escalation. There are huge concerns about the use of Tasers, which, as hon. Members will know, have been misused in a number of cases.
This Government have made proposals in their draft Communications Data Bill and plan to spend £1.8 billion on them. They have already spent £400 million and the previous Government spent a huge sum on all its attempts to have the intercept modernisation programme—billions of pounds that could have been spent on more useful projects. I hope that no party in this place will spend money willy-nilly, without looking at how it is being spent and what the benefits might be.
In order to have better prioritised spending, we could do a lot about transparency. We need to be careful that the move to police and crime commissioners does not reduce that transparency. We could also learn a lot more, and I am pleased that the College of Policing is being established. The Liberal Democrats have a policy to go slightly further and have an institute for policing excellence, which would be linked with universities, to try to find out the best things that we could do. I hope that we will see a strong link between the College of Policing and universities, in order to find out what is happening, because we have many expert researchers. For example, Professor Larry Sherman, at the institute of criminology in Cambridge, is a world expert on how to police effectively and efficiently to achieve the goals that we want. Such an approach would allow us to find out how police time is spent and make sure that it is actually used effectively and efficiently. I am in favour of visible policing, but that is not measured by how many police officers are on the books; it is also about how much time those officers can actually spend out on the streets, rather than having to do all the bureaucratic work they have been doing when I have been to visit them over the past few years. They spend far too much time struggling with IT systems and with paperwork, whereas we would like them to be out on the streets delivering visible policing, just as they would.
We could make improvements in a number of other areas. I still believe that this country’s drugs policy does not make the best use of police time. It sucks up vast amounts of police time for very little benefit. We spend more than any other country in Europe but the incidence of drug use is among the highest. There are better alternatives, such as the Portuguese model. Earlier this week, I was talking to the chief superintendent in Brighton, Graham Bartlett, at the launch of “Breaking the Taboo”, a film by Sundog Pictures, which I recommend right hon. and hon. Members have a look at. He is doing some extremely good work in Brighton, reducing crime by having a far more enlightened, semi-Portuguese approach, and I recommend that to many.
There is also a lot to say about the police’s role, not just in detecting crime, but in stepping in much earlier. I have spoken in this place before about a police officer who was in my patch when I was a county councillor. He was then PC Nick Percival, but he has been promoted significantly since. He had a very effective approach, which he developed, whereby he used e-mail to chat to people and tell them where he was. People got the visible policing by getting a weekly e-mail from him saying where he had been and what he had been up to. He also focused on working with young people, who were often bored during the holidays, and set up a brilliant scheme of giving vouchers during the holidays to children who were seen by a police officer or a police community support officer playing well. Whichever class got the most vouchers got a £15 voucher for the local shops. The effect in the area was that kids were playing on the grass hoping a police officer would see them. That made for a better relationship between young people and the police, and it reduced the amount of crime. In his first year on that beat, PC Percival reduced the amount of crime and antisocial behaviour by 50%. He did not detect very much and he did not arrest many people, but he halved the crime rate. That is the sort of thing we want to see.
Far more can be done about information sharing with other agencies: We could get non-confidential information shared between hospitals and the police, a matter that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has examined before. We could provide public access to local crime statistics, so that local knowledge can be used. We could get neighbourhood watches more involved—more plugged in—and we could share some of the information with universities.
We could also share information and co-operate on a broader scale, too. I am very concerned about some of the Home Secretary’s proposals on opting out of co-operation arrangements with the European Union. On that, I do share the concerns of the right hon. Member for Delyn. I do not always agree with the Association of Chief Police Officers, but it has said that opting out of those arrangements would lead to
“fewer extraditions, longer delays, higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety.”
I hope that the Home Office will reflect very carefully on that advice.
Good policing and policing by consent is not always just about the total amount of money—we should not always just throw more money at a problem. For example, stop and search was a huge issue under Labour. From 2008, an officer in the west midlands was 28 times more likely to stop and search a black person than they were to stop and search a white person, and there are similar figures for Greater Manchester and the Met. An officer was 10 times as likely to stop Asian Britons as they were to stop a white person. That was a big project. It was a bad project. It put a lot people off and it created a lot of hostility, and it was expensive. The level of stop and search under terrorism legislation fell by 90% between 2010 and 2011 under changes that this Government made. We restricted it, and that saved money and improved relationships. We do not want to do things that cost the police time and money, and turn young people against the police.
One key measure is that crime is down, and I hope that that will continue for many years to come. I hope that the money will be spent effectively. There was some discussion earlier about the Liberal Democrat manifesto, and I am delighted that so many hon. Members have read it. I only wish more of them adopted more of it. Its section on crime started off by stating one simple aim:
“We will focus on what works to cut crime.”
That is what we said then and that is what we will do now.
I hope to keep my remarks brief and not to trouble the time limit that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, might impose.
I refer first to the National Crime Agency. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz rightly highlighted concern about budgeting, following the change in the landscape that he described. In our Committee discussions, it seemed clear that there would be a nigh-on halving of the total funding for the NCA to discharge its functions in relation to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the UK Border Agency. That needs further attention, and I am sure it will not escape my right hon. Friend’s notice.
I very much welcome the tone of recent exchanges in the debate; it is a marked distinction from some of the opening remarks. I do not want anybody to think that I, as a new Member, or anybody else on the Labour Benches has anything but the greatest respect and admiration for our police force, or that we want anything other than to celebrate the reduction in the crime rate. It has been established during the debate that since the days of John Major’s Government the trend is for a continued decline in the crime rate, but we stand by our record: we were the only Government in modern history to leave office with lower rates of crime than when we came in. Perhaps we can nail that issue and celebrate the reduction in crime, although we must for ever be on our guard.
It would be remiss of me not to thank the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane, for the welcome assurance he gave in Committee about the preservation of regional organised crime units. I was concerned that the intelligence and successful operation of those units could have been lost in the changing landscape. I am very much aware of the success of my own regional organised crime unit in recently bringing to account a significant class A drugs crime ring.
For some time, the Opposition have been warning the Government that cutting police budgets by 20% will have an adverse impact on front-line policing. To say that such cuts can be imposed without impact is simply unrealistic. In Cleveland, the number of officers lost between March 2010 and September 2012 was about 234, reducing the total number of police officers from 1,724 to 1,490. According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, that translates into about 15,000 police officers nationally, which will result in the lowest number of police officers for more than a decade. As at September 2011, 11,500 officers had already gone.
All of that necessarily has an impact on the ability of officers to respond to emergency calls, and will result in less visible policing in our communities and on our streets. I took on board the comments of Dr Huppert, who said it was not simply a question of numbers, but I respectfully suggest that it is self-evident: if the critical mass of police officers is too low, it will bite into effectiveness.
The people of this country do not expect politicians to go about their business by reducing the number of police officers. That is evident from the manifestos at the last election, which were couched in completely opposite terms. The Government will plead that crime is down, so the reduction in the work force is manageable, but that does nothing to address the fact that fewer crimes are being solved: 30,000 fewer crimes are being brought to justice, including 7,000 offences of violence against the person. This is the wrong moment to relax and take our foot off the gas. Pressures building in our society may lead us to regret scaling back our state of readiness.
The reduction in grant has consequences. In my constituency, the police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger, is doing what he can to mitigate the impact, but it still necessitates asking council taxpayers to pay more. None the less, the commissioner is determined to ensure that every community in the four districts retains its neighbourhood police team. That is a very welcome commitment.
The Government’s offer, which is equivalent to a 1% precept increase for the next two years, will only defer problems and pose significant financial problems down the track. The Cleveland commissioner advises:
“We know that we will be facing a potential funding gap of over £5 million by 2015-16. Finding the further savings…will be a tough challenge…if we were to take the grant for the next two years, it would mean that from 2015-16 onwards there would be a further shortfall of over half a million pounds…that’s equivalent to 11 police officers or 18 Community Support Officers.”
Total Government funding for police was reduced from £9.74 billion in 2010-11 to £8.66 billion in 2013-14. That is a cash reduction of nearly £1.1 billion, equivalent to 22,000 police officer posts. In Cleveland, the result is that savings of £24 million will have to be made. If there are then plans to cut a further £2 billion from police budgets over the next funding period, as discussed today, that is equivalent to 40,000 police officers. In my area, that would track down to a further impact on the
£24 million savings figure. That is nearly 20% of the money Cleveland receives from all sources, and would be the equivalent of 480 police officer posts. Mention was made of where funding comes from; it is not all from a single source. It is interesting to put that into perspective. We would be talking about an increase in precept of between 90% and 95% to make up for the loss.
In conclusion, I urge the Government to think and pause. There is a real risk that the cuts will lead to problems in the months and years ahead, and that may challenge our front-line police officers too far. I urge the Government to revisit the Opposition’s proposal to limit the cuts to the budget to 12%, which Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary thought workable without damaging front-line services.
Before I begin my contribution to this important debate, I pay tribute to a WPC Fiona Bone and WPC Nicola Hughes, both of whom were officers in the Greater Manchester police force, which is my local police force. They went to attend a routine burglary call at short notice, and they were both shot. It is a perfect example of what my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz said about police officers who, perhaps unlike any other professionals, do not know what they are going to face when they leave home. We therefore owe them a great duty of responsibility to ensure that their best interests are looked after.
The Minister says that crime is falling. We agree: it is falling at this moment in time. If I understood him correctly, he is, in effect, trying to take credit for that, but crime began to fall just before 1997, when a Labour Government came to office. When we did so, the morale of the police force was at an all-time low. The Labour policy of increasing the number of front-line police officers; introducing thousands of bobbies on the beat, police community support officers and neighbourhood policing units; the record investment in rehabilitation centres for people addicted to drugs and alcohol; the fact that we funded various youth services and increased the number of drug rehabilitation centres; the policies of diverting young people from the criminal justice system: collectively, all those things led to a significant fall in crime. While crime was falling, no Opposition politician at the time, whether Liberal Democrat or Conservative, who appeared on television or radio or in the print media, ever acknowledged that crime was going down. In fact, every time they appeared on radio and television when Labour was in power, they argued that crime was rising. I am glad that finally that mindset has changed and that they recognise the true state of affairs.
We have been told that a 20% cut in the police budget will save money and decrease the budget deficit. However, figures show that that is not working. The deficit is £7 billion higher than it was in the same period in the previous financial year, which shows that austerity measures, which have been criticised by the International Monetary Fund, a conservative institute, are not working. Let me help the Minister: we should make cuts if, in the long run, we save money—to use a modern phrase, we should make smart cuts. What often prevents people from committing crime is the sight of a police officer, and what reassures people is the sight of a police officer. Many Members while knocking on doors in their constituency have heard their constituents say that they want to see more visible policing, as they are reassured when they do so.
Government cuts have already led to cuts in the number of police officers. For example, in the north-west region, in March 2010, police numbers were 19,649. In September 2012, they were 17,708, with a reduction of 1,986 police officers. Those cuts will continue for the next year, so by 2015, there will be 2,951 fewer police officers. I am sorry, but no one can convince me that that will not have an impact on policing and crime.
May I put to the hon. Lady a question that I put to Mr Hanson? Let us say that next year crime is still coming down, and the year after that, it is still coming down. At which point will she accept that crime is, in fact, continuing to come down and looks like it will keep going for a while?
Let us see what happens in the next few years, because many austerity measures are under way. The cuts have only just begun to hit, and, in the next few years, they will really hit people. Everyone knows that because of economic difficulties certain crimes will rise, including lesser crimes such as breaking into vehicles, stealing small items and selling them for quick money.
Although crime is falling, fewer crimes are being resolved. This aspect has not been touched on. In the north-west, at least 2,296 fewer offences of violence against the person have been solved. Previously, a much higher number of such offences were resolved. In the coming years, once the cuts in police numbers are implemented and the full impact is felt, a rising number of crimes will be left unresolved.
The Minister boasted that recruitment was not a problem and that the Government were doing everything they could to encourage recruitment and create a better police force, but that is not the impression that I get from police officers on the front line. Let me tell the House about Police Constable Turnbull, who came to see me in my constituency office. He said that he had joined the police force many years ago, full of hope and with a high level of dedication to duty. I know that he will continue in that way, but he said that morale in the force, especially among younger police officers, was at an all-time low. Officers are unhappy with all the cuts that are taking place.
In particular, the constable talked about the police pension, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East referred. New recruits know the terms and conditions on which they are coming in, and can decide whether to join the police force on that basis, but to take away people’s pension rights retrospectively, when they have spent 10, 15 or 20 years contributing towards their pension, is plainly unfair and will not help police morale. Morale affects performance—if people are happy, they perform better; if they are demoralised, their performance may be affected. I hope that will not happen, because we have an incredibly good police force, one of the best in the world. Sometimes we do not give the police enough credit for all the good work that they do.
“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory”.
Things will only get worse, not better, so imagine what it will be like next year and the year after. Steve Finnigan, chief constable of Lancashire constabulary, has already been quoted, but it is worth reminding Ministers of what he said. As the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on police performance management, he was asked whether he would be reducing front-line policing in order to meet the Government’s budget cuts. He replied, “I absolutely am.” He has also said:
“Let me be really clear. With the scale of the cuts that we are experiencing . . .we can do an awful lot of work around the back office . . .but we cannot leave the front line untouched.”
Finally, I ask the Minister to consider this. Labour’s plan for cuts of 12% over the Parliament is a proportionate response to deal with the deficit. This is confirmed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, who said that this, as well as the work of the previous Government, would deliver front-line services without a great deal of impact on them. Like my hon. Friend Andy McDonald, I ask the Government to re-examine their proposed course of action and to consider the Labour proposal.
This has been an interesting debate. I share the view of my hon. Friend Andy McDonald that the contributions to the debate improved once we got beyond the opening contribution from the Minister, who described himself as the very model of a very modest Minister. It was rather more vaudeville than a serious contribution to what is a serious political issue: how safe and secure people feel on the streets and in their homes across all parts of the country. It is a serious issue that deserves a serious debate. To be fair, I think that all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have since contributed to the debate recognise its seriousness, and there have been some excellent contributions.
Crime rates are down, which is to be applauded. As Members have said, crime rates have been going down for many years, from the end of the Major Government, throughout the lifetime of the Labour Government and into the current coalition Government. That is to the credit of all those Governments and the actions of politicians. Most importantly, it is to the credit of the police and their partnerships with other people to ensure that the effect of their work is to make people more secure.
It is pleasing that not only are crime rates going down, but people’s sense of being safe and secure is going up, as my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi has just said, so the fear of crime is falling. That is certainly the case in the villages and towns in my constituency. That does not mean that people do not have concerns, because they do, and sadly they still suffer crime, which ruins lives and affects people badly, but the overall level is coming down, which is to be applauded and welcomed.
Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Scunthorpe, I have been privileged to spend a lot of time with the local police. I have gone out with the traffic police and I have seen the partnership work going on at Shelford house on the relationship between drugs and alcohol and antisocial behaviour and crime. I have seen the police and the local authority working together, targeting crime and reducing it across the patch. I have also seen the work of the integrated offender management system, led by the probation service but supported strongly by the police and other partners, whereby high offenders are targeted effectively to reduce the impact of their behaviour on the community, thereby reducing the level of crime as well. I have also spent time in Scunthorpe town centre on a Saturday night seeing how the night-time economy is effectively policed. That involves partnerships between the police, the door personnel across the town and the street pastors, who do a fantastic job in that work.
Finally, I have spent time going out with the respect van, which is aimed at reducing the number of young people involved in crime in the area, and that, too, has been very effective. In particular, the respect courts, which are managed by Sergeant James Main and his team, are working with the magistracy locally to see how that has effectively impacted on the behaviour of young people involved in crime, reduced it and moved them away from criminal behaviour. Indeed, the quality of that work has been recognised nationally.
In all the examples I have given of having the privilege of being alongside the local police, it is important to recognise that none of the cases involve the police acting alone; they are acting in partnership with others. It is that partnership work, which has been built up over time, that has had a significant impact on the level of crime and the fear of crime across the piece.
As has been pointed out in the debate, it is not just police budgets that are under pressure. After this debate we will move on to look at the pressure on local authority budgets. We also know that health and social housing budgets are under pressure. The cumulative effect of all those budgets being under pressure is to put at risk the partnership working that has been built up and led to the great strides forward for policing in our country. It would be unwise to say that that is not a risk. I hope that in my local area and across other parts of the country, the imagination, energy and commitment of everybody working together will find a way to maintain the good quality partnership working, rather than imperil it, which can be tempting for people when they begin to look at budgets in silos. Let us hope that that will not happen.
I have regular meetings with the chief superintendent for North Lincolnshire and I am very impressed by the way in which he and his predecessors have led their team across the patch. He told me in our last meeting that cuts of 12% have now been made across the police force in the area. He said that it had been a challenge and tough, but that it had been doable without impacting directly on front-line policing. I asked him what would happen as a result of these further cuts. He looked quizzical before answering that it cannot be guaranteed that front-line services will not be affected by further budget cuts.
It is interesting, is it not, that the 12% cuts that have been made so far are in line with those that Labour said it would make and with those that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary identified as doable without affecting the front line? That is the point we have arrived at, but we need to look forwards, rather than backwards, because this debate is about further cuts that run the risk of having a really negative impact on policing and the safety of the neighbourhoods and communities that we represent. There are already 227 fewer police officers in Humberside and there will be fewer still when the cuts are made.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are coming together to vote in favour of further police budget cuts of £2 billion over the spending review period. In effect, that means that 15,000 officers will be cut, but real cuts are already running ahead of that estimate, because 11,500 officers had already gone by September 2011. Those are significant reductions in police numbers.
We are already seeing fewer crimes being solved. The sanction detection rate is down, with 30,000 fewer crimes brought to justice, including 7,000 offences of violence against the person. It is interesting that, certainly locally, violent crimes are on a slightly upward trend. Trends in crime are complicated and it is a mixed picture. Although the general trend is down, within it there are spikes in neighbourhoods and in the type of criminal activity.
It is not just members of the public and Labour politicians who are expressing concern. As my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, the shadow Minister, has said, Conservative police and crime commissioners have spoken publicly about the need to raise their precepts to stop Government cuts harming their area. Many admit that despite precept rises, further officer reductions are likely. In the words of the Essex Conservative PCC, Nick Alston:
“Ultimately, there must be a risk that continued cuts in the number of police officers will make Essex more vulnerable to crime.”
Those are the words of people who have picked up the baton. They have looked at the books and the issues and that is what they are saying, because they are concerned to do a good job.
The danger and risk is that the cuts will mean fewer front-line officers, fewer officers responding to 999 calls, and the police being less visible and available under this Government. As my right hon. Friend said, police visibility and availability are very important commodities. They help to reassure the public, and they are essential to the health and well-being of individuals and communities across the piece.
Strangely, the figures are already worse than Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary had predicted. They are part of this Government’s ill-thought-out reforms to policing that are making it harder to become a police officer and less rewarding once people have done so. That is a real worry, because we all recognise the great work that police officers do on our behalf. As my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz pointed out, we need to have these people with us and support them so that they continue to do a great job for us into the future.
We have had an interesting debate, and I will run through some of the speeches.
Mr Ruffley made a very fair speech in which he talked about the need for more effective procurement and noted Labour’s investment in policing. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, spoke as thoughtfully as ever about a number of matters. He raised the key issue of funding for the new National Crime Agency and dealt with the important subject of police visibility. Dr Huppert said that he wanted less CCTV and more transparency, and hoped that police and crime commissioners would not hinder that.
My hon. Friend Andy McDonald said that he had the greatest respect and admiration for the police force, as we all should. He also noted the downward trend in crime and hoped that it will continue, as we all do, although there is no room for complacency. My hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi rightly paid tribute to PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone. She also made a passionate defence of Labour’s record on crime when we were in office. My hon. Friend Nic Dakin welcomed the long-term downward trend in crime. He clearly speaks with some authority on these matters given how much time he has spent out and about with his local force in Scunthorpe.
We are all constituency MPs, and we all hear those whom we represent say that local people want to see local police on their local streets. No wonder, then, that at the last general election the Prime Minister promised to protect front-line police officers. Less than two years ago, he told this House:
“There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line police officers.”—[Hansard, 30 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 335.]
The Home Secretary said in October 2010:
“Well what I’m saying is that we know that it is possible for the police to make significant reductions in their budgets without affecting frontline policing.”
We have heard Ministers say countless times that front-line services will be protected despite budget cuts of 20% per cent, but they cannot cut budgets by 20% and expect those cuts to be found in administration. The Government have the fantasy that police stations are packed full of pen-pushers instead of police officers. If they cut costs, they have to cut staff, and those staff are the police officers the public rely on to keep them safe.
In preparing for this speech, I was bemused to find that in response to a freedom of information request last March asking what was the definition of front-line policing, the Department said that it could not define it because
“There is no formally agreed definition”.
Never mind that the Government cannot deliver on the policy: apparently they do not even know what it means.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the people who do not work on the front line do a vital job and that those on the front line would not be able to operate without them, yet this Government talk about them as though they can be discarded without any regard whatsoever?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments.
The line now taken by the Government seems to be that it does not matter how many police officers there are. As some Members have noted, that is a far cry from the general election campaign, when Liberal Democrats were promising to recruit 3,000 extra police officers. We might be getting a little immune to the Liberal Democrats breaking election promises, but this one, like so many others, was not worth the ink on the “Focus” leaflet it was printed on. I will be interested to see the “Focus” leaflet in Eastleigh, where I am sure they will be explaining why there will be 295 fewer police officers on the streets in Hampshire.
We have heard from a lot of Members today, but it is also worth reflecting on the views of those we have been sent here to represent. Last month, ComRes conducted polling for ITV news that shows why there can be no room for the complacency that I fear we are seeing on the Government Benches. In the poll, 38% thought that crime had got worse in their area in the past three months and just 6% thought that it had got better. On antisocial behaviour, 22% thought it had got worse in the past three months, while just 8% thought that it had got better. We should all be concerned when more than one in five believe antisocial behaviour has got worse and more than one in three believe that crime has got worse in their neighbourhood. If the public express their concerns and believe that crime and antisocial behaviour are rising, we have a duty to reflect those concerns.
Last week, I spoke to a senior police officer who told me that the thing the public tell all of us that they value most—the bobby on the beat in our communities—is becoming harder and harder to provide. He said:
“The policing pledge forced us to up our game. Things like the requirement to spend at least 80% of time on the beat”—
I still have not been given an answer to why that pledge was scrapped—
“and responding to non urgent messages to the neighbourhood team within 24 hours—when we did that our satisfaction rates went through the roof. That customer focus has now gone.”
He went on to say:
“Our first job is to keep people safe so the police service has fallen back to its core service. Neighbourhood policing has fallen back. The 999 stuff is still okay. The neighbourhood stuff, the fact that the community know us and who the local bobby is—that’s gone. You deal with demand, withdraw to your statutory responsibilities, but issues like antisocial behaviour where you need to build trust and confidence, you need people to know you so you can nip things in the bud—that’s gone. At the moment we are just ending up with bigger and bigger control rooms. We’re not doing the bobby on the beat stuff and that is storing up problems for the future.”
Like many in this House, I hear horrific tales from my constituents. Last week I received a letter from a constituent who told me:
“we have suffered…with antisocial behaviour around the property we live which is causing great unease and discomfort. We understand that staffing levels are low and they have to prioritise the workload”— but that by the time the police arrived
“all of the offenders had left the area so no action was taken”.
My constituent went on:
“we now feel totally alone in dealing with this situation and think this is totally unacceptable”.
Police solved 30,000 fewer crimes last year as the number of officers was slashed. Detection rates fell for the first time in more than a decade. Fewer crimes are being solved, fewer criminals are being caught and fewer victims are getting justice. The police are needed to provide a reassuring, visible presence in our neighbourhoods. Have any Members been approached by a constituent and heard the words, “Thank you for cutting the number of police officers on our streets”?
As the hon. Lady has mentioned it, I have had a number of people coming up to me in the past two and a half years saying, “Thank God we have a Government who are willing to get to grips with the appalling deficit left behind by the previous Labour Government.”
This is a debate about the police, but I will say this: borrowing is up.
The question today is: do we want to vote for budget proposals from the Government parties that guarantee the lowest number of police officers in a decade, or do we want to listen to the public and the police and call on the Government to change course and rethink next year’s police budget cuts and stop letting communities down?
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for participating in what has been a lively debate on the police funding settlement. I recognise a number of the points about reductions in funding, but we are confident that they are manageable. The police are making the necessary savings and have transformed how they deliver the service to the public. That has been achieved along with reductions in overall crime.
We inherited the toughest fiscal challenge in living memory and are having to take tough decisions, but I recognise, as do the Government, that the police do an incredibly important and challenging job. Our reforms recognise and build on that. As right hon. and hon. Members have highlighted, this year again we have seen many examples of professional, selfless and brave front-line policing to keep the public safe and to fight crime. As Yasmin Qureshi highlighted, our thoughts are particularly with the families, friends and colleagues of Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes.
I would also like to recognise the work of the late Paul McKeever, with whom I had the pleasure of having a number of meetings and exchanges. He would have said—and I would agree—that we have the best police force in the world, and I pay tribute to the work they do, day in, day out, to keep us all safe. I also pay tribute to the work of our chief constables and senior officers in achieving savings, driving efficiencies and cutting crime.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has challenged forces to drive through efficiencies and has shown that about half of the savings required nationally can be achieved just by forces raising their performance to the average of their immediate peers. There are other areas, however, where the police can make, and are making, further savings, without affecting the level of service to the public—for instance, by adopting an increasingly national approach to buying equipment and services. My hon. Friend Dr Huppert made the point about how efficiencies can be secured through such routes.
Forces are rightly prioritising front-line delivery. The number of officers working in back-office roles fell by 20.3% between March 2010 and March 2012, and we are encouraging forces to consider options for reforming support services, including collaboration. HMIC has stated that forces have plans to deliver 87% of the required savings by March 2015, indicating that police forces are working well towards the savings that need to be made. Its report also stated that the proportion of officers in front-line roles is due to increase to 89% in March 2015. Furthermore, its report found that, as well as crime going down, victim satisfaction was up and response times to emergencies had largely been maintained.
We have also made changes to how the police procure their goods and services. We estimate that the police can save up to £200 million per year by 2014-15 on commonly purchased police goods and non-IT services. We have continued our reform of the police. PCCs have now been introduced and are holding the police to account, while ensuring that the public have a say in how policing is delivered in their community. As we have heard, the College of Policing has also been introduced and the package of measures announced by the Home Secretary yesterday will further enhance the integrity of the police.
A number of important points have been made today, particularly by my hon. Friend Mr Ruffley, to whom I pay tribute for the work he did in opposition. He continues to highlight the need to focus on freeing up police time. The Government are clear that the police should be focusing on fighting crime, not paperwork. The work we have done to reduce bureaucracy could result in up to 4.5 million hours of police time saved across all forces every year—the equivalent of more than 2,100 officers back on the beat.
I welcome the way in which the Minister is conducting the debate from the Dispatch Box. Will he clarify one point in respect of the Home Secretary’s very good statement yesterday? Will the register of second jobs that police officers are now going to have to declare be held by HMIC or by the College of Policing?
That is one of the details relating to the most effective way to deliver on the type of register that is being established. I am sure that, given the very good scrutiny that the Home Affairs Select Committee provides, the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee will follow through on the important issues that will follow from the well-received announcement from the Home Secretary yesterday.
I want to comment on some of the points that have been raised today on the arrangements for damping and on the police allocation formula. The Government will conduct a fundamental review of the formula, as the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr Browne said earlier, and we will seek the views of police and crime commissioners across England and Wales. Determining how funding should be allocated to the police is a complex and important matter. It requires careful consideration and it will take time. In that context, it is important that that work should be undertaken before we can consider the arrangements for damping.
Keith Vaz highlighted the question of the National Policing Improvement Agency budget. He focused on the funding for the College of Policing but, in addition, the Home Office will be engaged in funding relating to the provision of Airwave and to the Police ICT Company Ltd. The right hon. Gentleman was trying to connect one element of funding to another, but there are other elements involved. I hope that this is a helpful explanation.
A number of points have been raised about police pay and conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds said that pay accounted for a large proportion of police spending, and that the police pay bill was a key issue. Our aim has been to have pay and conditions that support forces in driving out costs and making the best use of their resources. That is why we have asked the police, along with the rest of the public sector, to take a two-year pay freeze, and subject to any decisions by the Police Negotiating Board and an agreement on staff pay, we expect the Government’s policy for public sector pay restraint also to apply to the police. We have also taken forward proposals relating to the Winsor review. The reforms from part 1 will save about £150 million when fully implemented and will give chief officers greater flexibility in how they deploy their officers and shape their work forces.
I was interested to hear the assertion from the Opposition Front Bench that Labour would be looking for 12% savings. However, the Opposition apparently also support reforms to overtime and shift patterns, the pay freeze and the police arbitration tribunal’s decision on police pay. They must therefore be talking about 12% plus all those elements. When we analyse that, we find that they are in substantially the same position as the Government, although they did not accept that. If they are saying that they would implement 12% savings, which of those elements do they not accept? They will need to consider that question carefully, and it is interesting that they have not responded to that question today.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East asked me whether the counter-terrorism element should be part of the National Crime Agency. He and his Committee highlighted that point in their recent report. I can tell him that there will be no wholesale review of counter-terrorism policing arrangements in England and Wales until after the NCA is up and running. We judge that to be the right time to look at that issue, although we recognise that it needs to be examined in the context of the changed landscape for policing. On the point about rural policing, the formula distributes funding based on relative work loads in an area, and apportions according to population sparsity to address the specific needs of rural forces.
Andy McDonald highlighted regional organised crime units, and in many ways he touches on the important issue of collaboration. I had the pleasure of going to the east midlands special operations unit last year, and I saw how special operations come together and how collaboration can make an important difference. The Government strongly support that model of forces coming together in that way.
Nic Dakin highlighted a point about partnerships, and I am sure that police and crime commissioners will focus on that when considering how they apply the community safety fund and budget. Yes, there is still more to do, but we are confident that with a clear focus on making the necessary changes, the police will continue to provide the service that the public deserve, alongside delivering value for money for the taxpayer. I pay tribute to the work of the police in doing that, and to their success in cutting crime and keeping our community safe, and I commend the motion to the House.
I now have to announce the results of Divisions deferred from previous days. On the motion relating to the draft Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013, the Ayes were 276 and the Noes were 196, so the Question was agreed. On the motion relating to the draft Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2013, the Ayes were 284 and the Noes were 190, so the Question was agreed.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]