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.