Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 1:44 pm on 10 February 2015.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 1:44, 10 February 2015

I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2015–16 (HC 930), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.

I announced that the provisional police grant report had been laid before the House in a written ministerial statement on 17 December, so that there would be plenty of opportunity for it to be read and analysed before today’s debate.

It is an honour and a privilege to be the Minister responsible for what I often say—and I should often say—is the greatest police force in the world, and it is a great honour to be here today. Policemen and women, and back-room staff, do a fantastic job for us every day, keeping us safe in our homes and tackling crime. I now want to outline the way in which policing has been transformed under this coalition Government in the last four and a half years, and to describe the fantastic work that the police are doing and the innovation that we are seeing on a daily basis. The funding settlement reflects the difficult economic times that we are still experiencing as a result of what we inherited from the last Government, but the police have done a simply fantastic job in reducing crime by 20% over those four and half years, and I think that the whole House should applaud them for that.

The police have been responsible for some unbelievable achievements in the United Kingdom. I am thinking of, for instance, the G8 summit which was held in Lough Erne, in Northern Ireland, when I was Northern Ireland Minister of State. I know that it is not relevant to today’s debate, but I have to say that that excellent summit could never have taken place without the mutual aid provided by police forces that came to Northern Ireland from all over Great Britain to provide their assistance. Last September, that same mutual aid was an integral part of the NATO summit in Wales. I also pay tribute to the members of the intelligence services who ensured that we were safe at those summits, and who keep us safe on a daily basis.

Reforms have been made in difficult economic times during which the funding for our forces has been cut, and I believe that some of the innovation that we have seen would not have been possible had it not been for those difficult times. I recently had the privilege of visiting Hampshire, where I met the police and crime commissioner, the chief constable, and many of the officers who are doing such a fantastic job in the county. I was amazed to discover that what I, an ex-fireman, had assumed was a fire station was actually a joint fire and police station, something that I had not seen before. The two forces had come together to share their facilities and keep their costs down. I went to the police building at the bottom of the old-fashioned drill yard—as a former fireman, I still call it that—and met members of the armed response unit and officers who were based at the fire station as part of Hampshire’s police authority.

Photo of George Young George Young Conservative, North West Hampshire

I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying about the Hampshire police force, which is one of the most efficient forces in the country, but which receives one of the lowest per capita grants. Will he ensure, as he reviews the formula, that authorities such as Hampshire are not penalised for being efficient?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My right hon. Friend has raised an important point, which I discussed in depth with the chief constable and the PCC, Simon Hayes, during my visit. The 2016-17 formula is under review. As I would expect, a great deal of discussion and negotiation is taking place, involving chief constables, Members of Parliament and PCCs around the country who are all trying to make their case. I emphasise that they should be sure to submit their views to the consultation so that we can examine carefully the way in which the original formula was drawn up. I am determined that the new formula should not merely tweak the old one, and should represent the type of policing that we need in England and Wales today.

I wish not merely to echo what has been said by my right hon. Friend, but to pay tribute to the front-line officers in Hampshire, and to the bravery of one of them in particular. A uniformed female sergeant whom I met had been beaten so severely that she had become unconscious, after about the third time that her head was banged on the kerb. We know that her head hit the kerb about six more times, because the body-worn camera that has been piloted so brilliantly in Hampshire provided the evidence, and the person responsible then got the conviction that that person deserved. It was a real pleasure to see that brave officer back in uniform and back on the front line.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Police officers in Devon and Cornwall are doing a great job with fewer resources, and I am very pleased to hear about the review of the funding formula. Can my right hon. Friend assure me about the costs of policing tourism and students? We are very pleased to have universities in my constituency, but of course they bring policing costs. Will those extra costs be borne in mind in the review of the funding formula?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I know lots of colleagues from across the House will be standing up today and asking whether, as part of the review, there could be extra money for their constituencies. I fully understand that, but I also need the House to understand that policing in many parts of the country has fundamentally changed over the years. The demands and needs are now completely different from before, particularly in rural forces. As I suggested in response to the intervention from my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, we must put the arguments together into the consultation, which will be taking place across the summer, so that, although I am not sure everybody will be happy, the 2016-17 formula will be much fairer than the current system.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

It is encouraging that the review of the formula will bear in mind the need to ensure that more efficient police forces, such as those in Hampshire, are not penalised for their efficiency. What does my right hon. Friend think about the recent survey carried out in Hampshire which showed that more than 70% of respondents would be willing to pay more and see an increase in the council tax precept to 1.99% because they value the services they get from the constabulary?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

When we introduced PCCs, who are elected by the local people, we gave them the ability to make local decisions. Where PCCs have decided to raise the precept to a level below the need for a referendum, I fully understand and respect that. There is at least one force area at the moment—Bedfordshire—where the PCC is looking to go beyond that, so there will be a referendum there. If it goes ahead, it will be held on the general election date.

I do not want to talk only about Hampshire—although a couple of colleagues from Hampshire have intervened so far, and it was a pleasure to be in Hampshire only the other day—as I want now to touch a little more on the changes that have been taking place within the police in England and Wales.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I would like to pay tribute to Cambridgeshire constabulary, which has seen a drop of 21% in recorded crime in the last five years. Will my right hon. Friend look in his ongoing review of funding at the impact of demographic change on policing? He will know that Operation Pheasant, which was tackling illegal gangmasters in the fens in northern Cambridgeshire, was a great success story, but that costs money so will he bear in mind the need for good funding streams for local police forces to deal with these demographic and population issues?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Cambridgeshire is also doing a fantastic job under the Conservative PCC, who I had the pleasure of knowing before he was PCC. So that I am not being too party political, may I say that fantastic jobs are being done around the country by PCCs of all political persuasions, including independents? They are not shy in coming to my door and explaining their areas’ needs. As PCCs go forward and we see the elections for them in 2016, I think we will see not only an uptake in the number of people voting for them, but that being in touch with the local community is vitally important.

Collaboration has not in the past exactly been top of the agenda with the police forces around England and Wales; it was talked about a lot, but not much came to fruition. However, it is where some of the recent savings have come from. Communities want to see their local bobbies, and see their local constabulary badge on them, but that is only a tiny proportion of what goes on in England and Wales police forces. That is what the public care about most, but we must make sure they are also aware of the work that goes on elsewhere.

Collaboration is vital as we continue to look at making savings, with boundaries and silos having been broken down not only, as we have seen in Hampshire, with other local government agencies, but across borders and across the country. To get the benefits of collaboration does not mean it necessarily has to be between neighbouring forces.

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless UKIP, Rochester and Strood

The Minister just said that visible public-facing policing constitutes only a tiny proportion of what the police do. Does he think that proportion is too low and should be increased?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

No, what I was saying was that there is also a lot of ongoing work behind the scenes—whether in counter-terrorism, the serious organised crime agencies and the National Crime Agency, or the backroom staff, such as in administering the out-of-court disposals we have in this country now—to allow those officers to be on the front line and us to feel safe in our homes. I was saying that that work is just as vital, but that does not mean that the brilliant and vital and brave work our officers do on a day-to-day basis is unimportant—far from it. As I have said before, I have never said police forces should not have as many people on the front line as possible, but that is also very much a local decision; it is for the chief constable and the PCC to decide how they want to disperse their officers under their powers.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

On the issue of co-operation and collaboration, I am very much with the right hon. Gentleman. As he will know, in yesterday’s Home Office questions I raised the point of the waste of police time whereby police in Stockport are having to parade on in central Stockport and move out to places like Reddish, wasting time in getting on to the beat. May I commend to him the other part of my constituency: Labour-controlled Tameside council, who have co-operated with Greater Manchester police so that Denton police post is now located in Denton town hall allowing Denton police officers to parade on in Denton?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I welcome what is going on in the hon. Gentleman’s local authority, and it is exactly the same as what is happening in my local council, where the police front-line desk is coming into the local authority new forum building, freeing up space for things to be moved into a more cost-effective space where a better police station is going to be built. I therefore pay tribute to what is going on in his constituency and with his local authority, and I pay tribute to what is going on in mine, too. I would say, however, that this collaboration is all relatively new, and is happening somewhat sporadically around the country.

The collaboration I was referring to before I took the intervention of Mark Reckless is between forces. I am truly amazed that historically—and I still hear this quite a lot—forces would say, “We’re doing collaboration with the force directly next to us,” perhaps on human resources or IT. Well, that is great, as long as we are getting the most bang for our buck, because we are talking about taxpayers’ money, but Cheshire is, I believe, doing HR for Nottinghamshire, which is not exactly right next door, and is doing procurement and other things, and getting better value from these schemes. I have therefore been encouraging, and pushing for more joined-up procurement to make sure we get value for the taxpayer, while at the same time leaving that local decision to the PCCs. One PCC said to me, “I want to buy my officers’ white shirts locally.” I said, “I can perfectly understand that, as long as you’re getting value for money.” That is the crucial point. This is not about taking away localism from the PCCs and the chief constables: yes, there should be such localism, but they are spending taxpayers’ money and they must get value for money. I think that view is shared across the House, and I noted that the shadow Home Secretary was talking this morning about getting value for money. We know that the public trust localism more than they trust us in this House, and we should trust them to do what we need for us as we go forward.

The other change coming through that will also save money, time and effort within the criminal justice system is technology. I remember about four and a half years ago in the Conservative manifesto we had a commitment to bring forward roadside drug testing where the police felt that the driver was impaired. If they breathalysed a person who then passed the test and the officers still felt they were impaired, it was very difficult if they had not done the impairment course to arrest at roadside so the driver could be tested for drugs. As an ex-fireman I thought that was very important because on many occasions I had been to what used to be called RTAs—road traffic accidents—and what are now called RTCs when I could smell the cannabis smoke still in the vehicle. The officers could smell that, but did not have the powers to do what they needed to do. They now have those powers, which have been approved. On 2 March officers will have the powers given to them by this House to arrest at the roadside based on a saliva test, which initially will be for two drugs. I have seen the type-approvals coming through from the manufacturers, and the tests will be not only for illegal drugs, but for synthetic drugs—often called legal highs, but actually completely different—and prescribed drugs. There are many prescribed drugs that people should not take while driving. We need to work with the Department of Health to ensure that we give more details on the prescription: if it warns against driving heavy plant or operating heavy machinery, it actually means a motor vehicle in many cases.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education)

I agree with the Minister’s central point, but if someone who is driving has taken prescribed drugs and has not been advised of the risk, is it the Government’s intention for that person to be treated in the same way as someone who is caught driving having taken illegal drugs?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Being impaired when driving a motor vehicle is just that. When the legislation was taken through the House, that argument was put forward, but it is the responsibility of drivers who are driving a vehicle on the road to know what is in their bloodstream. This is a very important area, which is why I alluded to the need to ensure that the advice from the pharmacist when the drugs are given out is not confined to advising whether to take them after or before a meal, or not to operate heavy machinery. The hon. Gentleman is right, but it will always be the responsibility of people driving a vehicle to know what is in their bloodstream and whether it will impair them.

The level has been set by a scientific committee, so this is not about people who take one co-codamol that morning being over the limit; it is about ensuring that we have the necessary technology. Technology is moving fast and we expect another manufacturer to have type-approval on a roadside saliva test in the next few months. We expect to ensure that we keep officers on the streets as much as possible, because the time involved in implementing the existing scheme means that they are tied up for too long.

We also expect the technology to come through soon so that we have a roadside evidential base for drink-driving. At the moment our legislation is based back in the

1960s, when the breathalyser bag provided the base, then we could arrest and the machinery was in the station. If we can get an evidential base at the roadside, that will eliminate a whole swath of the bureaucracy that we have to go through to ensure that we get the necessary conviction of impaired drivers. Such drivers cause death, dismay and injury on our roads every day. We should not in any way be lightening the pressure on drink-drivers as we work on drug-drivers.

The most obvious piece of technology that will free up officers’ time is body-worn cameras. They are freeing up time, protecting officers and giving us an evidence base. We have already seen, in the brilliant work in Hampshire, Kent and other forces, that when the evidence is put to the accused, they almost immediately say—on advice from their solicitors, usually—that they will plead guilty. The amount of assaults on officers is down. When officers arrive somewhere on a Friday night obviously wearing cameras, the dispersal is interesting to watch, as I have seen myself from the videos.

We need to take things further. We need to ensure that the body-worn camera cannot be ripped easily from the body armour—some of the early cameras could be because they were on a clip system—and we are looking into that in my own force in Hertfordshire. We also need to ensure that the evidence that the camera is capturing cannot be tampered with. In other words, someone might rip the camera off and dispose of it, so we need to stream away the evidence from the scene. At the same time I am working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the rest of the criminal justice system to ensure that the technology flows through the system. When officers store the evidence, whether in the cloud or a secure system, the CPS should be able to enter that system and see the evidence without having to wait for it to be downloaded or burnt on to a CD-ROM.

I have also been asked whether Kent could trial statements being taken on camera, so we would not need to have them transcribed. That could be exciting, because it could put officers on to the streets for much longer, so that they did not have to sit in the stations transcribing something picked up on the body-worn camera. Such developments are world-leading. Police forces from around the world are coming to see us to see how we are using the technology. Only the other day, at a two-day international crime and policing conference in London, leading academics and other criminal justice professionals from around the world came to see how we had managed to lower not only crime, but the costs of it—in other words, how we were getting more bang for our buck—and to see the technology. Australia, for example, has had roadside drug testing for many years, but the Australian police need to take a 44-tonne articulated lorry to the roadside in order to test everyone passing through, which has huge cost implications. They are very interested in the technology that we have type-approved and are introducing.

We are still in difficult economic times. Money to the police has been cut, which was a difficult decision to make. Police forces around the country have predominantly done well at dealing with the cut. Most of them have budgeted for 2015-16 and the review for 2016-17 is still taking place—consultation continues to work—and I suggest that all colleagues, whether in the Chamber or not, work with their local police to see how best that consultation can be used for the benefit of their constituents.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I want to make several points. The Minister congratulated the police on the reduction in crime overall, and I concur with that, but a real issue remains. For example, in London and in my constituency in particular, the safer neighbourhood teams were introduced and were extremely popular and successful, but they are now being penalised as a result of their success. The teams reduce crime, but then lose resources, which are shifted elsewhere, and crime increases; we go around in circles time and time again. It is important that discussions on the new formula result in a new settlement that will reward those forces that are successfully operating to reduce crime, giving them consistency of funding over time. The undermining of the safer neighbourhood teams is deeply unpopular in my constituency.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Recently, I had long discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on that very subject. Only the other day I was at Hendon, sadly the day before the passing-out parade before the commissioner of about 400 new officers. I understand that by March the Metropolitan police will be just under the 32,000 level; it will then recruit at 175 per month, which will reflect the steady level of natural wastage in London. That is a remarkable feat achieved by the Mayor of London for the people of London. I accept that in the old days the Policing Minister would look at things in exactly the way the hon. Gentleman suggests, but it is now a matter for the commissioner and for the Mayor. Such matters would also be for the mayor and commissioner in Manchester, if it is successful in its bid to proceed with the mayoral system, which will include the police.

Key to everything is that we have managed remarkably well to reduce crime, as the hon. Gentleman said, and at the same time to reduce the cost of policing. The public’s opinion of our police in general has never been better. I always say, “Yes, I have the honour of being the police Minister for the best police force in the world.” Some police officers let us down, but they are a tiny minority and we should be proud of every single one of our officers, who represent us every single day of the year.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:08, 10 February 2015

Five years ago, not one single Conservative candidate went to the electorate and said, “Vote for me and we will cut the police.” Not one single Liberal Democrat candidate went to the electorate and said, “Vote for me and we will cut the police.” On the contrary, Liberal Democrats up and down the country said, “Vote for us and we will put 3,000 more police officers on the beat.” In addition, the Prime Minister himself pledged to protect the front line. When it comes to writing the history of great broken political promises of our time, what has happened to the police service will rank alongside the commitments from the Prime Minister that there should be no more top-down reorganisations of the national health service and from the Deputy Prime Minister that there would not be an increase in tuition fees. Instead, we have seen the biggest cuts to our police service of any in Europe.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

On election manifestos and hyperbole, does the hon. Gentleman recall that his party told the electorate prior to the 2010 general election that any reconfiguration, any sharing of services, any co-operation between services would inevitably result in a massive hike in crime? In fact, the opposite has happened.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The short answer is no, the reverse is the case; my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, as Policing Minister, encouraged such things. When the hon. Gentleman went to his electorate, did he say, “Vote for me and 117 police officers will be cut”? That is what has happened to his local police service.

The Minister spoke about inheritance, and there was an inheritance on the police, because a Labour Government put 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers on the beat. Local policing, local roots with local people having a say proved to be both popular and highly effective.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that neighbourhood policing was a success story of the last Labour Government. May I draw his attention to the work of the Poet’s Corner residents association in north Reddish, ably led by Brenda Bates who is really concerned about the lack of response by the PCSOs now that they have to parade in Stockport? For example, they used to do school gate work but they are now unable to get to the school gates in time for when children are dropped off because they are too busy parading in the town centre, several miles away.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Unlike what we heard from the Minister, my hon. Friend speaks from the heart about the reality in his locality, and it is unsurprising, given that the police service that covers the constituency he so ably represents has seen more than 1,300 police officers go, with more to follow at the next stages. There was a good inheritance on the police, but a generation of progress made—the formation of that British model of neighbourhood policing—is now being reversed.

I wish to make one other point about what the Minister said. He paid tribute to our police service and discussed remarkable innovation, which I have seen all over the country. Let me give but one example. Essex police, under its excellent chief constable, Stephen Kavanagh, has developed a groundbreaking system that tracks both the perpetrators and potential perpetrators of domestic violence, and the victims and potential victims of domestic violence, and enables the police to drill all the way down to hot spots of domestic violence to inform other interventions. We see such innovation by our police all over the country. But the Minister, who was previously a firefighter, will know from his experience that the police service in England and Wales is a demoralised one. It is demoralised by the scale of what is happening to the service and by the remorselessly negative tone set by the Government, from the Home Secretary downwards.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I will gladly give way, but will the Minister confirm that every index, be it sick, stress or anxiety leave, is shooting up because of the combination of the growing pressures on the police service and the fact that the police feel—people tell me this all over the country—that the Government never have a good word to say about them?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

If the hon. Gentleman has ever heard me run down the police in this country or destroy their morale, he should stand up and say so now, because I have never done that. The police force’s morale is being destroyed by the sort of commentary we have just heard from the Opposition Dispatch Box, but he is better that that. The first thing he should have done was congratulate the police, but he went into a political rant. That is what destroys morale in our police force.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Over the past 12 months, I have visited 34 of the 43 police services, and there is without doubt an unprecedented collapse of morale, from the chief constables to the police constables and PCSOs, because of that combination of the mounting pressures on the police service and the negative tone set by our Government.

We believe that a different approach and a fresh start are essential. Today’s vote on policing is a choice between a Tory plan to cut 1,000 more police officers next year and a Labour plan of reform and savings to protect the front line, so that chief constables can prevent those 1,000 police officer posts from being cut. The Home Secretary should be straining every sinew to protect the front line, but she is not. The Home Secretary and the Tories, and their human shield, the Liberal Democrats, just do not get what pressure the public services and the police are under, and they are turning their backs on obvious savings that could keep those much needed police on our streets.

The Home Secretary has said that it does not matter that thousands more police officers are set to go, on top of the 16,000 already lost, reversing a generation of progress under the previous Labour Government; she says that under her plans all is well because crime is falling. The truth is that crime is changing, pressures on the police are going up, and this is the worst possible time to inflict the biggest cuts on the police service of any country in Europe, just when the police are facing mounting and serious demands.

Over the past 20 years, volume crime, as it is often called, has indeed been falling. Cars are more difficult to steal than they once were, because crime has been substantially designed out, and homes are more difficult to burgle than they once were. That has been a worldwide trend over the past 20 years, because of a combination of advances of the kind I have described and the success of neighbourhood policing, with its emphasis on prevention. But the figures are clear: police recorded violent crime is increasing, and online crime has shot through the roof. For example, Financial Fraud Action UK has said that online banking crime has increased by 71%, e-commerce crime has increased by 23% and card crime has increased by 15%. We have also seen the mounting terrorist threat posing an ever more serious challenge to our police service, and just this weekend assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, the national anti-terror lead, warned that he needs more resources to respond.

At the same time, the police are struggling to deal with crimes that are ever more complex in terms of what it takes to investigate them properly. Hate crime, one of the most hateful of crimes, is up. I have seen this at first hand in my constituency. A fine woman was out with her disabled son, who was in a motorised wheelchair, when he had stones thrown at him because of a whispering campaign about how anyone who has a car or Motability vehicle on benefits somehow has to be a scrounger. I sometimes think that Ministers should be ashamed of the tone they set, because of what it leads to in communities all over the country.

Hate crime is up. Reports of rape and domestic violence are up, yet the number of prosecutions and convictions is down. Reports of child sexual abuse have increased by 33%, but referrals to the CPS from the police have decreased by 11%.

There are serious delays in investigating online child abuse. That means that victims are finding it much harder to get justice and more criminals and abusers are walking away scot-free. After the exposés of the past two years, there is now a great national will to tackle the obscenity of child sex exploitation and abuse, both historical and current. But, because of the mounting pressures on the police, there are serious question marks over the effectiveness of their response. The National Crime Agency, for example, has, thus far, failed to bring to account those identified under Operation Notarise. Some 20,000 people were found to be accessing child pornography, thousands of whom will be contact abusers of children, but only 700 have faced any action.

Police services in Lincolnshire and all over the country say that such are the pressures on their resources that they will find it difficult to do anything other than cope with current cases, and that they will not be able to look into historical cases of abuse and exploitation. I have seen the effect of those mounting pressures in my own police service in the west midlands, where 10% and rising of police resources are now dedicated to doing nothing else but dealing with child sex exploitation and abuse.

Even in basic responsibilities, such as road safety, the police are being over-stretched. The number of traffic police on our roads has fallen by 23%. The number of driving offence penalties has fallen substantially while the number of fatalities and casualties has gone up—the number of child fatalities and casualties has gone up by 6%. Neighbourhood policing is being badly undermined.

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless UKIP, Rochester and Strood

Does the hon. Gentleman recall how the Government used to stress the need to protect the front line and to put the emphasis on visible policing? But just now, the Minister said that that accounted for only a tiny proportion of activity and he seemed very happy with that and had no desire to increase it.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned, because his police service has lost 604 members of staff since 2010. It is certainly true that policing is complex and requires investigatory teams, not all of which will be on the front line. None the less, front-line policing is essential. We created neighbourhood policing, and it worked; we saw substantial falls in traditional forms of crime and it was popular with the public. It is about not just detecting crime, but working with communities to prevent crime and to divert people from crime. Lord Stevens rightly said that neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of policing, but under this Government it is now being hollowed out. Many forces all over the country are taking officers off the neighbourhood beat, putting them back into cars and forcing them to deal with only emergency response. They are now off the front line and into response, when they should be building community partnerships and intelligence and preventing crime.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

Given the rise in the number of racial and anti-Semitic attacks, is not community policing important because it brings people closer to understanding different communities?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come to that in just a moment. Neighbourhood policing, which took a generation to build, is now being systematically undermined, and the consequences of that are increasingly serious. Let me give two examples. My first relates to terrorism. It was said by a former Member of this House that neighbourhood policing was the “fluffy end” of policing. That could not be further from the truth, especially when we consider how we now have to rise to the challenge of terrorism. Two weeks ago, Peter Clark, a former head of counter terrorism, said:

“In the past decade the UK has built a counterterrorist structure that is in many ways the envy of the world. The almost seamless link between local, national and international units is remarkable. Instead of a London-centric force descending on communities, there are regional hubs where community police and counterterrorist officers work together. They understand their local communities, pick up vital intelligence and reassure the public.”

He went on to say:

“Neighbourhood police hold one end of the thread that can take us from Britain’s streets to wherever in the world terrorists are trained, equipped and radicalised. The chief constable of Merseyside has warned that if police numbers continue to fall, ‘neighbourhood policing as people understand it will not be possible’. Chief constables and police and crime commissioners have tough choices ahead in deciding what to cut. Cutting the counterterrorist policing thread could be fraught with danger.”

I know that that is an uncomfortable message for Government Members, but let me give them an example from the west midlands. Some 40 people have been brought before the courts for serious terrorist crimes in the past five years, and there have been 31 convictions. Overwhelmingly, those individuals were identified as a consequence of good neighbourhood policing and the patient building of good community relationships. The community co-operated to identify the wrongdoers, so neighbourhood policing is key to combating the mounting threat of terrorism.

What the Home Secretary now wants is a similar scale of cuts all over again, with the Association of Chief Police Officers warning that at least 16,000 more officers will go. Next year, police forces are expecting to cut more than 1,000 officers, and that is what today’s vote is all about. Labour would take an alternative approach. Yes, budgets will be tight, and we have already said that the 2015-16 budget the Government have set will have to be our starting point, because the Chancellor’s failure to secure strong growth in this Parliament means that more still needs to be done to get the deficit down. His long-term economic plan has certainly boosted borrowing. We have had to borrow £200 billion more than he planned back in 2010, putting additional pressures on budgets, including that of the Home Office. But there are alternative ways to make savings—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Gentleman, who is a bit of a friend of mine, is actually reading out, word for word, the article that the shadow Home Secretary put in the press this morning. He is better than that. He should be talking about the debate today and not doing the lackey’s job for the shadow Home Secretary.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister may be surprised to hear that the Labour party is united in defence of our police service. That is in contrast to what we see all over the country, which is Government Members, including Richard Drax, expressing growing concerns over what is happening to the police service. [Interruption.] Members will hear my speech. Now, there are alternative ways to make those savings—[Interruption.]

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The House well appreciates that a little bit of banter is in order, but continuing banter from a sedentary position is not in order.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable message for a Government who have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. There are alternative ways to make smart savings, and that is what we will do. We will require forces to sign up to national procurement, and that would save—

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Is the Minister aware that the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has brought forward a proposal on ICT savings alone that would save £400 million, so £100 million is a conservative estimate—please forgive the bad pun.

The Home Secretary has simply refused to go down that path and instead has promoted the view that 43 forces can be trusted to do their own thing with 43 police and crime commissioners arguing over contracts of the kind that make nonsense of any sensible approach towards procurement. That is not what we would see in the best of the private sector or, indeed, in the public sector elsewhere. The Government have failed to drive a strategic approach towards procurement, which has been heavily criticised by the National Audit Office, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and, increasingly, police officers across the country.

Let me move on to the next saving that we will make and ask the Minister a question—perhaps he will want to get up to defend this. Why should the police have to continue to subsidise gun licences? The Minister is not a member of the Chipping Norton shooting set, but perhaps he could justify to the House why it costs £50 for a gun licence and £72 for a salmon and trout licence—£22 more—when it typically costs the police £200 to process each application for a gun licence. Had the Government done the sensible thing and said that they would have full cost recovery, which is what the Association of Chief Police Officers has called for, there would have been substantial savings of £20 million, but that was vetoed by the Prime Minister who, as a fully paid-up member of the Chipping Norton shooting set, declined to do the best and most obvious thing. Would the Minister care to justify that?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

What is the shadow Minister trying to say to anyone who has a shotgun licence and happens to be working class, like me? I do not have a shotgun licence, but I do shoot clay occasionally at my local shooting club and I enjoy that very much. For many people who are not from an affluent set and who did not go to public school, like those on the shadow Front Bench and on the Government Front Bench, this is an important part of their social life. People do not have to be part of the Chipping Norton set to have a shotgun licence; they just need to enjoy clay shooting or something like that.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Under this Government, proposals have been made in the Home Office to move on this matter but they have been vetoed by the Prime Minister. Why should the taxpayer subsidise gun licences? Why should the police service subsidise gun licences when we need to find ways to keep police officers on the front line? Does the Minister choose to come back to me on that point?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

All I would say is that there is selective memory loss of 13 years of a Labour Government. Did the Labour Government do anything about this during their last term? No, they did not.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I think that the public listening to the debate will find it incredible that the Policing Minister can get up and say that despite the fact that the police have been calling for movement on this for years the police should continue to subsidise gun licences rather than that money going into our police service.

We have made a number of other proposals, such as the £9 million from driver offending retraining courses, and we have also proposed not to proceed with the police and crime commissioner elections in 2016. All those things could be done and they could be done now. If they were, those 1,000 police officers who face being cut would not go. At a time when the overall police budget is being squeezed, sensible action on four fronts, as outlined in our proposals today, would mean that the 1,000 police officers who will otherwise go will remain in the police service and on the front line. The Home Secretary could do all these things now, but she has refused. Without those policies in place, we will not support the Government’s proposal today. That is why we will vote against the Home Secretary’s plans and why we will challenge Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates throughout the country on why they are voting to cut hundreds more police officers from their local force next year.

The Government are turning their backs on neighbourhood policing. The impact on our police service is ever more serious. The Government are taking us back to the 1930s. A Labour Government would not allow this to happen. We face unprecedented challenges as crime changes—from terrorism through banking and online fraud to the emerging child abuse and exploitation cases—and we must rise to them. We want to rebuild the neighbourhood policing that helped to cut local crime and helped our citizens to remain safe. We want to rise to those new challenges, which is why we have set out sensible reforms that better protect the front line, and stand up for communities that depend on public services. The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens where they live and work. Unlike the Government, we will not fail the public we serve.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset 2:35, 10 February 2015

I pay tribute to the chief constable of Dorset, Debbie Simpson, and our police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, both of whom do a superb job, and to the 1,200 officers and 156 PCSOs who serve in difficult conditions and extreme circumstances, often under threat of their lives. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and our thanks.

I will not speak for long, but I first want quickly to touch on the comments made by the shadow Minister, whom I respect. Part of his speech was dripping with the old envy, almost hatred, which I thought was sad in such a serious debate. Yes, I am here to stand up for my police force and I will probably say things that are unpalatable to the Government, but I hope I shall say them in a balanced way, based on the evidence and the fact that I have worked closely over the past five years with the Dorset police force. In part, I shall speak personally about what I have seen and heard.

Dorset police force has had an appalling history and has been at the bottom of the funding ladder for years. I know that the Minister is aware of that; I have spoken to him about it and he has listened intently on many occasions. We are now in the bottom quartile, so the situation has not improved that much. Even now, further savings will inevitably put pressure on the work that the police do.

The funding takes into account the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and council tax legacy, and in 2014-15 it was £69.42 million. In 2015-16, it will drop to £66.82 million, a loss of about £2.6 million, which crudely equates to 75 police officers. Interestingly, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary shows in its value-for-money profile that Dorset police are already one of the leanest forces in the land, due to the fact that over many years Dorset police were one of the first to implement the changes to meet the savings requirements that were coming in. I give credit to Martin Baker, Debbie Simpson’s predecessor, for implementing those changes, not least in the back-room areas, which have now been hugely civilianised.

In addition, when we consider the ratio of council tax to central Government funding, we see that Dorset taxpayers are already paying a disproportionate amount of tax in comparison with other parts of the country However, Dorset police force is not a force that sits on its butt and whinges. Far from it: it faces the challenge—and is facing this challenge—as best it can. As the Minister knows—we have spoken about this on several occasions—Dorset police are forming a strategic alliance with Devon and Cornwall police. For example, they are now looking to merge their firearms teams and considering how best to collaborate further across the whole south-west.

Based on what Dorset police know and the figures that we have been given, the projection for 2016-17 could be extremely serious. According to the PCC’s office, between £3 million and £5 million is needed for the force to stand still, but that is referendum territory.

If year-on-year savings of 6% are implemented, as predicted, Dorset could see the number of police officers drop by 500, which is what it takes to police Bournemouth. I am not suggesting, of course, that Bournemouth will have no police force; I mention that just to give an idea of the scale if year-on-year savings of 6% continue.

I hope that more money will become available as the economy recovers. I point out to the Opposition that when we inherited the financial mess, we faced a huge problem, and this country still does so. I pay tribute to the Policing Minister for doing all he can within a very tight remit to safeguard front-line services. I know that he, as a former firefighter and Grenadier Guard—I forgive him for that—has done all he can, along with his team, to protect the police front line. However, this country must learn to live within her means, because parties of all colours have overspent for years. We must now face the unpalatable truth that we have to live within a very tight budget and learn to do things differently.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

I am very pleased that Devon and Cornwall police are working so well with the Dorset constabulary. My hon. Friend’s constituency is not dissimilar to those in Cornwall, so does he, like me, draw comfort from the remarks made today about a revised funding formula, which might help us get fairer funding in our part of the world?

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

My hon. Friend pre-empts my speech, as I intend to end my remarks on future funding. The Policing Minister and I have spoken about that, as has our PCC—he is on the Minister’s board, which is excellent news.

I seek reassurance from the Minister that year-on-year savings of 6% are not on the cards, for the reasons I have already expressed. As far as the PCC’s office is concerned, such savings would have an effect on community policing, on PCSOs and on the very nature of policing as we know it currently. That would be inevitable because the resources would be fewer and would have to be targeted in a very different way.

Crime is falling, and for that I pay tribute once again to the Government and to our police officers, those brave men and women who are out there doing their best to reduce crime, and obviously succeeding. However, the nature of crime is changing. I have been told that Dorset police are now dealing far more with cybercrime, forced marriage, slavery, domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation—[Interruption.] The Minister jests from a sedentary position that it is all happening in Dorset, but Dorset is not the sleepy backwater that perhaps he thinks it is.

Those sorts of crimes cost 25% more to investigate than old-style crimes. As the Minister has said, the number of burglaries has dropped, but one of my constituents recently lost £93,000 in a telephone scam. Someone pretending to be a policeman got him to move that sum from his bank account to another, and for reasons that I will not go into now he lost the lot. An investigation is now taking place. I imagine that the criminals are thoroughly well organised and probably have their fingers right across the cyber network, so it will take an awful lot of police time and effort to bring them to court. We in this place are making it clear, as of course are the police, that those sorts of crimes must be reported. Following the ghastly revelations in Rotherham and elsewhere, it is clear that it has never been more important for people to come forward and tell the police what is going on.

I will end my remarks by talking about the funding formula. I have lobbied the Policing Minister hard on that on many occasions, and I know that he has listened to Martyn Underhill, our PCC. I am most grateful that Mr Underhill will be sitting on the Minister’s board when the funding formula is reviewed in the summer. I note that tourism, which of course affects Dorset and many other beautiful counties, including Cornwall, is not taken into account. I know that the Minister knows that, but with budgets tightening and savings having to be made, those sorts of considerations must be taken into account so that Dorset police and other forces in rural areas that attract vast numbers of visitors can continue to police their counties.

Finally, the Minister and others talk about innovation. I have seen huge innovation in Dorset, not least the increased co-operation with other forces in the south-west. However, I suggest that rather than allowing police forces to go off on their own to try to find the best way forward, a more cohesive approach—

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. They are not going off on their own. The Home Office testing laboratories, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice, which I have the honour of working in, are working together on type approvals. We pilot them in certain areas so that we can then roll out best practice in other parts of the country. That is the best way to get the biggest bang for our buck, and I will make sure that we get it right. That is exactly what my hon. Friend is asking for.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

I am most grateful to the Minister, but perhaps I was talking about co-operation on a bigger scale. For example, Dorset police are now co-operating with Devon and Cornwall police, and there is also an area collaboration. Perhaps leadership is the wrong word to use. We need a more cohesive and co-ordinated approach between the Government and the police—if we are to go on facing these savings, and I quite understand why we will—rather than allowing individual county police forces to go off and experiment. We need a bigger debate on how to provide policing in this country so that we all move forward together in the most cost-effective way and, as the Minister said, get the best value for money.

I will end my remarks by once again paying tribute to the brave men and women on our streets in Dorset. We are all totally indebted to those brave men and women who soldier on. I hope that in future we can take the politics—the bitterness and envy—out of debates on policing. Let us deal with the facts and then try to produce a police force in this country that does the job within the stretched resources that sadly we now face.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education) 2:48, 10 February 2015

The Home Secretary told us yesterday that the measures she has taken to deal with bureaucracy have saved 4.5 million hours of police time. If I may say so, that is a classic volume measure; it would be fascinating to understand how her officials arrived at it. I wonder whether the Minister is familiar with the work of Professor John Seddon.

In his book “The Whitehall Effect”, he describes the phenomenon of “failure demand”; how many cost-cutting initiatives, such as setting up single call centres and outsourcing back office activities, can lead to failure demand, a constant inability to recognise and respond to the real problem while encouraging a referral culture and repetition of largely useless actions. Those effects are rarely spotted by the consultants who advise on the changes, because they measure their work in terms of volume—the volume of calls made or answered within a specified time, and the estimated hours saved. Volume does not measure problems solved or the quality of engagement, but rising failure demand leads to decreasing police efficiency. Would the Minister care to look at that as he considers the measures that he is taking forward?

As the Minister demonstrated earlier today, the Government are quick to tell us that crime is falling, and it is true that the most recent statistics show a continuing and welcome fall in many traditional crimes but, as we have heard, they also show a rise in violent crime, rape and sex offences, and an alarming and perhaps still under-recorded rise in fraud, identity crime and cybercrime. These serious crimes need to be tackled, and the changing face of crime needs to be considered. As Richard Drax told us, crime is changing, and when we look at the crime figures and contemplate police budgets, we need to bear in mind that crime is not a static phenomenon.

Our police forces need to reconfigure some of their activities in order to respond to these new types of crime. That is much harder in an environment where the preoccupation is the constant search for cuts. As the largest force outside the Met, the responsibilities of the West Midlands force are enormous. I pay tribute to the amazing job that the force does, but I worry that it may be approaching the limits of what we can reasonably expect of it. It has seen £126 million cut from its budget over the past five years, with a further £100 million of cuts still to come if the Chancellor is able to make good his promise of another five years of austerity for vital public services.

The west midlands is hit doubly hard because it has a very low council tax base and therefore a very low police precept—the second lowest in the country. That means that we are more reliant on central grant than some other areas, and consequently the policy of flat rates cuts has a disproportionate impact on us. For example, whereas central Government provide 86% of the West Midlands police budget, other areas are reliant on grant for only about 49%.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth and Dearne

My hon. Friend is making a very interesting and important argument to the House. Does he accept that our position in south Yorkshire is similar to his in the west midlands, with exactly the same financial bind? Since 2010 the South Yorkshire police have faced cuts in excess of £30 million. In south Yorkshire, as in the west midlands, we are seeing the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing and the closure of local police stations such as Rawmarsh and Wath, and this is setting back a generation of progress over the previous decade.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education)

Indeed. The effect of disproportionate cuts is that some areas, often areas with higher levels and different types of crime, are taking a much harder hit. As a result of what the Government are doing, we in the west midlands are losing about 22% of our funding, as opposed to about 12% in Surrey. Given that, as in my right hon. Friend’s area, we have higher crime rates and more complex policing needs, it is hard to see how anyone could regard that as fair or just.

In the west midlands the position is made worse by the continued use of formula damping. If the west midlands was paid grant according to formula needs, we would receive a further £43 million. I recall attending a meeting with the then Policing Minister over three years ago—I think my hon. Friend Jack Dromey was also present—when the then Minister promised to take that factor into account. I know the Government are into re-announcements, but here we are, more than three years later, and the Minister tells us today that he is going to review the police formula. I think we have been here before. We want to know when we will see some action to address the unfairness. Of course, as the Minister was making that announcement, his hon. Friends were getting to their feet to say, “Don’t make any changes that will affect the situation that we are benefiting from.”

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

To be fair, there is a cycle for reviews, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows. Changes to the review process were made under the previous Administration. They were not fundamental changes, merely tinkering, which is why we need such a fundamental review now, as the whole House would agree.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education)

If the Minister’s fundamental review will give us some of the £43 million that we have been robbed of for the past few years, I welcome it. If we were just £10 million closer to our current entitlement in the west midlands, that would still mean that we were hit three times harder than any other force in the country. I hope that what the Minister is promising is good news, and I thank him for it.

The current situation is not fair. The people of the west midlands are paying the price for protecting policing services in more prosperous low crime areas in other parts of the country. That is what the formula changes need to address. Not only do we have to contend with more crime, but we have to respond to terrorist threats and public order demands without additional funding, which is steadily eroding the police’s capacity to respond to more localised crime. The latest west midlands strategic policing requirement report to the policing and crime board, which the Minister is familiar with, states:

“It has become increasingly challenging to maintain all local policing services during times of significant public order deployments…with the staffing reductions we have experienced in recent years…we are often compelled to delay non-emergency services beyond our normal service expectations.”

The chief constable is attempting to manage all this demand with 300 fewer officers than he had this time last year.

There has been a 23% reduction in the number of traffic police at a time when road deaths are on the increase, and there has been a 6% rise in child fatalities. Road accidents remain the largest single cause of child deaths in this country. I know that the Home Office cannot tell us how many hit-and-run incidents there are, or how many hit-and-run drivers are never caught and prosecuted, because it chooses not to collect those data, but I can tell the House that my constituent, young Phebe Hilliage, was knocked down while on her way to school by a hit-and-run driver who overtook and mowed her down on a pedestrian crossing. He shattered her foot and she may never walk properly again. I want to know, Phebe’s parents want to know and my constituents want to know that West Midlands police have the resources to track down that person and bring him to justice.

Behind today’s announcement there is the reality of policing: fewer officers, squeezed budgets, unfair application of the existing grant formula, more consultants most likely feeding failure demand, new and changing forms of crime, terrorists and public order pressures, and victims such as Phebe who deserve justice. There is an awful lot more that the Government need to do before we can be satisfied that their approach to crime and policing is the right one.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East 2:59, 10 February 2015

The Minister said that we have the greatest police force in the world, but the coalition has had a funny way of showing it, given the cuts made to the police up and down this land in the past five years.

In a spirit of even-handedness, I also criticise my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, who said that spending levels would be going back to those of the 1930s. I remind him of the famous Mancunian Robert Peel and the fact that there was no police force before the Metropolitan Police Act 1829—those are the levels we will be going back to. Our chief constable, Peter Fahy, and our police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, have said that if policing cuts continue beyond 2017, Greater Manchester police will not be able to maintain its service to the public. That is a very serious accusation from two very senior people in the police force of this land.

Cuts to GMP’s front-line services have been ongoing since the coalition Government came to power. GMP has lost 1,151 officers, with a further 226 expected to go this year alone. The service has already made considerable savings as it strives to deal with the £134 million hole in its budget this financial year, resulting in 1,000 fewer police staff posts and the loss of 1,138 police officers from our streets in Greater Manchester. Since 2010, the Government have slashed Greater Manchester’s police budget by a quarter, with an estimated £114 million of cuts still to come. This does not take into account the community fund, which in 2013 saw a further £6 million of cuts to GMP’s funding, to be redirected to London. In 2013, GMP had a further £6.4 million slashed from its budget to fund the Government’s own projects. That money, which could have paid for 145 police officers or 210 PCSOs, was clawed back by the Government to fund unpopular schemes such as the proposal to allow people to join the police service at a senior rank without ever having to walk the beat, and giving additional funding to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and to City of London police.

At the beginning of 2014, the Chancellor announced that the Home Office budget, which includes policing, would be cut by another 6% in 2015-16. A 6% cut would see Greater Manchester police lose another £26.8 million—the equivalent of 1,200 student police officers. Most recently, the police and crime commissioner was asked to find £19 million to cut from GMP’s budget. This is on top of the £134 million that has already been taken from policing in the region, resulting, as I said, in the loss of 1,138 police officers. So much for the northern powerhouse and devolution in our great cities!

Between 2010 and 2013, the service was losing on average 350 police officers each year as GMP struggled to cope with the ongoing programme of austerity. In order to meet the cuts required by central Government, GMP has undertaken a series of changes, including using office space that accommodates 1,100 admin and support staff in a building with space for just 500 desks. All employees can now work from home or in other GMP buildings. The closure and disposal of surplus estates has thus reduced operating costs by £3 million, with further year-on-year savings to come through associated reductions in business rates, energy and maintenance. GMP is playing its part.

GMP and Manchester city council are sharing vehicle servicing with each another. The force has developed a simulation model to help it understand the effects of changes to demand and resources. It researched the length of time taken by officers to deal with certain types of crimes and then used this understanding to anticipate demand and allocate resources more efficiently. Through partnership working, GMP has taken part in a variety of schemes, including a pilot scheme in Oldham providing officers with access to mental health professionals, linking with Stockport’s psychiatric department to train response officers and concluding agreements with care homes on how they and the force can work together. GMP is clearing up more and more of the other problems that are being caused by this Government’s austerity programme.

Much has been made of the need to preserve the numbers of PCSOs within GMP, in accordance with the neighbourhood policing strategy. Despite the best efforts of the police commissioner to preserve PSCO numbers, since 2010 there has been a reduction of just over 50. However, the service expects its numbers to be back up to full strength by next March. These reductions have been mitigated slightly by an increase in operational front-line staff, with an increase of 200 over the same period.

Early in 2014, the commissioner outlined plans to raise the police precept element of council tax by 5%, which would have raised £3.3 million. The plan was to help to mitigate some of the cuts being made by central Government. It would have added £5 to the average annual council tax bill—about 10p a week. This money would have been invested in shoring up neighbourhood policing teams, including the recruitment of 50 new police officers to mitigate the annual loss of about 350 officers. Unfortunately, the referendum that would have been triggered as a result of the Government’s introduction of compulsory referendums on tax increases over 5% would have cost more money to implement than it would have raised. As a result, the commissioner was able to raise only £2 million towards the cost of GMP’s policing budget, and that has been used to support front-line policing.

Most of the increases in crime rates from 2013 onwards are in what could loosely be defined as economic-type crimes such as theft, burglary, vehicle offences and shoplifting. This has come at the same time as the slashing of police numbers that we have seen in Greater Manchester. Let me make this very clear: the Government say that crime is going down, but crime in Greater Manchester is going up.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

The combination of all these measures is threatening the great work that has been done by Greater Manchester police, partner agencies and local communities to build safer neighbourhoods across our region. That work is being endangered.

The Minister said from a sedentary position that crime in Greater Manchester is not going up. I suggest that he talk to the Manchester Evening News, which has proved—

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Crime in the Greater Manchester area since 2010 is down by 21%. The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the local newspaper. I used to write for one, so I know just how they work. However, we have had an increase in reported crime in some areas, which I am really pleased about, particularly rape and serious assaults, which have seen a 3% increase this year. Three per cent. off 21%—there has been a 18% decrease since the election.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

When Robert Peel graced the Minister’s position, he introduced the police force and Catholic emancipation and got rid of the corn laws, and now we are arguing about whether crime is up or down. The position is clear. Statistics released this year show that crime in Greater Manchester is on the rise for the first time in 20 years. The areas that have seen the biggest increase are theft offences, including burglary, mobile phone theft and shoplifting. Detection rates across Greater Manchester are also falling, which could indicate the effect of the massive reduction in the number of police officers as a result of the cuts.

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has echoed the concerns of GMP and the commissioner that the ongoing programme of cuts could start to hit front-line services. An HMIC report “Policing in Austerity: Meeting the Challenge” has tracked how police have responded to budget cuts since summer 2011, using force data and inspections to analyse how they are making savings and how this is affecting the way they work and the service they provide to their communities. GMP is one of the forces to have received a “good” rating for the way it has managed the budget cuts so far, but HMIC also recognised that budget cuts disproportionately affect Greater Manchester.

The chief constable has told me, “We are now standing at the edge of a cliff.” He says that if this programme of cuts goes beyond 2017, he cannot provide the levels of policing that Greater Manchester people expect and deserve, because there is simply not enough money in the pot. If policing cuts continue beyond 2017, GMP will not be able to maintain its service to the public. The police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, has warned since before he was elected that the Government’s reckless programme of cuts is endangering community safety and threatening the work done by GMP over the past

20 years to reduce crime rates and restore Manchester’s reputation in the light of the “Gunchester” years. That is in addition to our counter-terrorism work.

After I entered public life in the early 1990s, our city experienced two terrorist attacks by the IRA. In 1992, 65 people were injured, and in 1996 the biggest bomb in peacetime devastated our city. In 2003, PC Oake was murdered by fundamentalist Islamists when he visited a scene to arrest somebody. There are currently all sorts of pressures on how Greater Manchester deals with counter-terrorism.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

I know the hon. Gentleman’s constituency very well because my in-laws are from that part of the world and I recognise the challenges he is describing, but has he actually costed his proposals and have they been cleared by the shadow Chancellor?

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

Dear oh dear. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington has clearly explained how we can mitigate some of the cuts. I say to the hon. Lady: how can we not do this when crime is going up in my community and where I live?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am glad that point has been made, because all the costings for proposals by Opposition Front Benchers have been checked, including with the House of Commons Library. The simple reality is that the difference between the Government and the Opposition is that, in circumstances where sensible savings can be made which would save the 1,000 police officers under threat in 2015-16, the Government are choosing to go ahead with their proposals, irrespective of what has been said by Richard Drax and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane).

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Savings of £136.8 million are forecast to be required by my force alone by March 2018. Savings of £71.3 million have already been identified, with the majority coming from a net reduction in police numbers by 1,054 over that period. There is a choice at this general election: people can choose that type of austerity and see crime rise on their patch or they can choose a better way.

In conclusion, I thank my police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, for his hard work; the chief constable, Peter Fahy; my local officers in Wythenshawe and Sale East, and the fine network of home watch associations that I support, particularly Sale Homewatch, and Graham Roe, who helped me prepare this speech.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:12, 10 February 2015

I thank the shadow Minister, Jack Dromey, for giving me early sight of his speech. I say that a little tongue in cheek because it was written by the shadow Home Secretary and issued this morning, and the hon. Gentleman would have read it out verbatim if I had not interrupted him.

This has mostly been a sensible debate in which MPs have rightly stood up for their constituents and praised, as I did in my opening speech, the fantastic work done by police forces across England and Wales, which are the countries for which I have responsibility.

I reiterate my earlier remarks that front-line policing is a vital component, but so much work is done behind the scenes that the public do not see. Mark Reckless intervened on me on that issue. He should visit his chief constable. [Interruption.] I know he probably has already, but he should talk to him very carefully about the work done by non-uniformed police, including CID, the counter-terrorism and serious fraud units, and clerks and officers.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The shadow Minister has had plenty of time to read someone else’s speech, so I am not going to give way to him.

I know where the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood is coming from, but there is no way that I would say that front-line police are not important.

I will touch on the shadow Minister’s comments later, but it is important that I first address some of the points raised by Back Benchers, because when I come on to some of his points I am afraid I will find it very difficult to keep a straight face.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

No, I am not taking interventions from the shadow Minister, because he made a complete fool of himself earlier and I am not going to help him make even more of a fool of himself.

I say to my hon. and gallant Friend Richard Drax that Dorset police do absolutely fantastic work. I think he thought that I might have said, “It all happens here,” or something like that, but that was my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, who had come in to listen to his speech. I understand that about 20,000 people go to Bournemouth on a Friday and Saturday to enjoy the night-time entertainment. That shows how diverse police work can be in Dorset, and I praise the work done there. Martyn Underhill will be on the review board, which is important.

My hon. and gallant Friend asked for a commitment until 2016-17, but that is difficult because there is going to be a review and his police and crime commissioner will be on the board. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt that review. As I said in my opening remarks, it is vital that everybody looks at the different types of policing needed, especially going into 2016-17, and at how the formula was formulated all those years ago. That will not be a tweak; we have to take a fundamental look at the changes needed.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am not going to give way at the moment. I might give way later if I make some progress, but I have been given a time limit by Madam Deputy Speaker, which is why I do not want to give way too much.

Let us not get into the semantics of the speech made by Mike Kane: he was doing exactly what I would expect him to do in standing up for his force. It will be really interesting to see what happens when Manchester gets a mayor. It has clearly worked brilliantly in London, but we will wait to see what the Home Secretary decides. That sort of localism is very important. The PCC for Greater Manchester police does a good job, even though the shadow Minister said today—or was it the shadow Home Secretary?—that Labour wants to abolish the position.

The costings are very interesting. Several hon. Members talked about the number of police cut since the coalition came to power. Interestingly, the speech/article read out by the shadow Minister mentioned 100 new officers. The assumption is that Labour would make a saving of £100 million through procurement. I do not know where that figure comes from. There are always assumptions within procurement, but we are working very closely with forces on that; as I said earlier, it is absolutely fine for Governments to decide what should be done as long as we get it right. The shadow Minister talked about making huge savings on shotgun licences. That matter is currently under review, and an announcement will be made shortly. He said that the abolition of police and crime commissioners would save £50 million, even though I understand that Labour police and crime commissioners were told at the weekend that they were expected to be in place until at least 2017. That is another hand-brake turn following others. I am sure that Vera Baird and Paddy Tipping would love to know exactly what the policy is, because it appears to have changed since the conference.

Even on such assumptions, including that the shadow Minister is right to say that this horrible Government would cut 1,000 police next year—that is complete and utter rubbish—and Labour would put in 100 police officers, that works out at an average of 24 per constabulary. That will make a difference, but not quite the difference that some Opposition Members think the shadow Minister has announced today.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I have explained why I will not give way.

Steve McCabe made some important comments in his very measured and sensible speech. When he talked about centralised control and such things, my mind drifted back to the regional fire control centres introduced by the previous Administration. As an ex-fireman, I have followed the issue very closely. I was absolutely fascinated by the sheer waste of taxpayers’ money caused by the disastrous policy of regionalising fire control centres. When I was the Minister with responsibility for shipping, I was very lucky to be able to add the coastguard to the centre in Gosport, which saved the coastguard a huge amount of money; however, it also cost the Department for Communities and Local Government a huge amount.

It is absolutely right to look very carefully wherever there is centralised control. That is why I have always said that forces should work together to make sure that they know exactly what is going on. Forces do not necessarily need to work with their natural partners on their boundary, because they do not have to be next to each other to do procurement, human resources or IT together, as is absolutely vital.

The key to this debate is that although we as constituency MPs quite rightly want to stand up for our forces, we must be aware that ongoing savings are required within police budgets, as the shadow Minister said. We must make sure that the review does what it says on the tin and that we have a proper review.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The right hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber for most of the debate, so I will not give way to him even if I had time to do so.

We need to stand up for our forces, but we must also be realistic about them. Shadow Ministers should not make false accusations, build up promises or spread doom and gloom about the police who do such a fantastic job for us. They should not stand at the Dispatch Box and run down our police. [Interruption.] I am told that I am supposed to give way. You gave me 10 minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am now at that time limit, which is why I am not giving way. If the shadow Minister had not spoken for so long, reading out an article that the shadow Home Secretary wrote in a newspaper this morning, I would have been happy to give way.

I hope that we can now conclude the debate on time, as you requested, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that the motion will go through, and that there will be no more scaremongering from the Opposition.

The House divided:

Ayes 285, Noes 212.

Division number 150 Attorney-General — Police

Aye: 285 MPs

No: 211 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2015-16 (HC 930), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.