Police

Part of Science, Technology and Engineering (Careers Information in Schools) – in the House of Commons at 3:07 pm on 13th February 2013.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 3:07 pm, 13th February 2013

It is a great pleasure to follow the Select Committee Chair, Keith Vaz, and I agree with the vast majority of what he said, as is so often the case.

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.