I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern the loss of 17,000 police officers in the last five years;
further notes the most recent Police Recorded Crime statistics, which show sharp rises in some of the more serious crimes including knife crime and sexual assault and that, alongside evidence that some crime is rising, there is evidence that crime is changing and moving away from traditional forms such as burglary and car theft and is being increasingly replaced by cybercrime;
is concerned by reports that the police budget could face between 25 and 40 per cent spending reductions in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review;
notes warnings from senior police figures that this could result in over 20,000 further reductions in frontline staff, the effective end of neighbourhood policing and much of the public being exposed to much greater risk;
accepts that further efficiencies can be made in the police budget for England and Wales but believes that budget reductions over 10 per cent would be dangerous;
further notes the ongoing concern surrounding the Scottish Government’s oversight of Police Scotland and the findings of the recent staff survey which found only 30 per cent of staff thought they had the resources necessary to do their job properly;
and calls on the Government to secure a funding settlement for the police that maintains frontline services and does not compromise public safety.
I rise to speak to the motion in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. At the start, I should thank Sir Paul Beresford, who is about to leave the Chamber. Old alliances forged over the cause of water fluoridation do, in the end, stand one in good stead. I am grateful to him.
We have just been discussing the powers that the police and security services need to keep us safe in the 21st century. I would be the first to argue that the House has a duty to provide those powers, alongside strong safeguards, but that is of course only half the story. Alongside the powers, we need the people to put them into practice. That bit was missing from the Home Secretary’s statement. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Britain led the world in policing, because our policing by consent model was based on investment in good people with a strong sense of public vocation. In the 21st century, crime is changing—it is moving online and becoming more complex—but what will never change is the simple principle that the foundation stone of good policing is that presence in every community and the building of those strong relationships at local level.
It therefore feels right to pay tribute at the start of this debate to police officers and police civilian staff. What unites this House is a deep sense of gratitude to the men and women who work every day to keep our constituents safe and put themselves in harm’s way to do it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that among the police whom the public are most supportive of are our safer neighbourhood teams They have been so severely undermined by spending cuts in the past few years. In Westminster, we saw a 30% fall in police between 2011 and this spring, and many constituents are saying to me that they no longer see any evidence of safer neighbourhood teams on the beat. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a cause of great sadness?
My hon. Friend anticipates me, because that is going to be at the heart of what I say today. I am sure that she, like me, feels great pride in what the last Labour Government did to invest in neighbourhood and community policing. Those changes have been noticed by the public and have built confidence locally in policing, and that is now at risk.
Let me make a point that I made during last week’s business questions. In Enfield, 152 uniformed officers have been lost from our streets since 2010, yet there has been a 22% increase in violent crime in the past year alone. There has been an increase in all categories of violent crime, and I think there is a connection between those two things. I wonder what my right hon. Friend thinks, because the reply I received from the Leader of the House was less than satisfactory.
My right hon. Friend rightly says that there is evidence that violent crime—knife crime and sexual assault–is on the increase and that the Metropolitan police have seen some reductions, particularly in her community. The big worry is that if the Government proceed with the spending plans they set out at the Budget, thousands of police officers could be taken off the streets of this country, particularly in London, where the change would be most keenly felt. That should concern Members on both sides of the House.
I will make a little more progress and give way later on.
Last week, the shadow Policing Minister and I joined the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice at the police bravery awards. As I am sure we would all agree, it was a humbling evening. It was particularly poignant this year, with PC David Phillips in the minds of many. We think of David’s family today, and we hope that they take some comfort from the huge public response and outpouring of feeling that we have seen.
As I said when I started this job, when the Home Secretary gets it right, she will have my support—I have just offered that to her on the investigatory powers Bill—but where she and the Government get it wrong, I am not going to hold back from saying so, particularly where public and community safety is at risk. That brings me to my central point: this Government are about to cause serious damage to our police service and if they do not change course, they are about to put public safety at risk.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that all one needs to know about the Government’s policy is that four Conservative police and crime commissioners and the Mayor of London are preparing a judicial review, in the Met’s case because, in addition to a 43% cut in its budget—achieved and proposed—the Government are proposing another £184 million-worth of cuts as a result of the resourcing budget changes?
My hon. Friend tempts me on to important ground: we are considering today not only the overall size of the cake for the police—how much money the police budget gets from the spending review—but how that cake is then divvied up. This week, PCCs of all political colours, have come together to say that the rushed changes to the police funding formula could seriously destabilise our police services. I would be interested to know what response the Government will make to the letter they have received.
I spoke to my local PCC yesterday and he confirmed to me that
“we are in a strong position to face future financial challenges” while maintaining front-line services. Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore agree that many factors influence performance, of which finance is just one?
That may well be the case—I do not know, as I have not seen the details. May I gently point out to the hon. and learned Lady, however, that that is not the position everywhere? I refer her to the comments the chief constable of Lancashire made yesterday before the Home Affairs Committee. He said that if these cuts go through,
“people in Lancashire will not be as safe as they are now”.
The chief constable of Cumbria has said that that force may not be viable, and we face the closure of police stations across the country. Complacency will not serve Conservative Members well in this debate.
South Wales police force has had a reduction of 600 police officers in the past three years. I have had the privilege of working closely with community teams in my constituency in crucial areas such as counter-terrorism and dealing with extremism. Mark Rowley has made it very clear that uniformed officers on the beat also play a crucial role in that work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such work is put at risk when cuts are made in police forces across the country?
That is the point: we are already hearing that police services in England and Wales are overstretched and struggling to cover all their functions. That is because in the past five years 12,000 full-time officers have been lost—the total was about 17,000 police staff overall. Three weeks from now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be standing at that Dispatch Box announcing his spending review. If he follows through on what he said at the Budget, the country will soon have a very different police force, providing a much-reduced service than the one that has just been described. As it stands, the Home Office, like other unprotected Departments, is in line for a cut over the next five years of between 25% and 40%. If we assume that the Government are working to keep it to the lower end of that spectrum, it still represents a massive hit on resources. It will mean 22,000 fewer police officers than we have today. That is a massive number and the Government need to provide justification for cuts on that scale.
If things are as dire as he is suggesting, why is it that crime across the country is falling? In addition, why is a 10% cut in police funding, which he said was doable at his party conference, apparently now “dangerous”, as his motion puts it?
I will come on to deal with that, explaining clearly what we think could be done and what takes us into the realms of dangerous cuts. The hon. Gentleman glibly says that crime is coming down, but he just heard what my right hon. Friend Joan Ryan had to say a moment ago. We know that crime has moved online and that the crime figures have not yet been updated to include those cybercrime figures—5 million crimes. I do not believe it will serve the Government well if they continue to exhibit complacency on these matters. There is good evidence to show that crime is not falling, but is in fact rising.
As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I had the opportunity to question the chief constables that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Is it not true that efficiency has to be part of the settlement and that some forces spend over £75 more per capita than others? That surely is where savings can be made.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point, and I will come back to it later. I am not standing here today saying, “No cuts. Things have to stay exactly as they are. There is no room for efficiency in the police service.” Of course there is room for efficiency. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper commissioned a report from the former Met commissioner Sir John Stevens in the last Parliament. He identified scope for savings of the kind that the hon. Gentleman just described. I am not saying that there is no room for cuts. The core of my argument is this: yes, make those efficiencies, but there comes a point beyond which the Government will be beginning to unpick the fabric of our police service and to put local communities at risk, and I am not prepared to see that.
Lancashire has one of the best performing police authorities in the country, but due to a flawed formula, about which a cross-party representation was made to the Minister, Lancashire is set to lose £25 million. People talk about crime reduction, but does anyone recognise that early intervention by the police in Lancashire working with communities and residents—
Order. I have a word of advice for the hon. Lady. Interventions must be short, because there are a great many people wishing to speak this afternoon. For future reference, during an intervention it is not acceptable to take another intervention from someone from a sedentary position however amusing it might be to the House. I am sure that the hon. Lady will now conclude her intervention and hand back to the shadow Secretary of State.
I am glad that my hon. Friend made that intervention, because it was a really important one and those on the Government Front Bench needed to hear it. They all shook their heads when she gave that figure of £25 million. Lancashire is not making that up. People are not speaking out for the sake of it. Doubtless the Government will want to accuse them of scaremongering, but this is nothing of the sort. Senior police are speaking out about what is happening. They can see that the proposed budget cuts, combined with the new funding formula, could seriously destabilise community and neighbourhood policing.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way in a moment.
That brings me to my first question for the Home Secretary today. I have just described how we saw cuts to frontline services in the previous Parliament. I have also said that we are looking at cuts of possibly up to 25%. What evidence can she point the House to today that says that the Government can safely shrink the police by a quarter from its current overstretched position and not put public safety at risk? In fact, what evidence is there that she can safely cut the police by 20%, 15% or even 10%? We would love to see it, but I do not think that we will. I do not think that that evidence even exists. This is what is happening: we are being asked to accept major changes to the police without the evidence to justify it.
I commend my right hon. Friend on his excellent speech. He will be aware that the commissioner of the Metropolitan police has warned that he is concerned about the safety of London if the scale of planned cuts and changes to the police funding formula go ahead. In an interview, he said:
“We think we can expect to lose somewhere between 5,000 to 8,000 police officers.”
He said that responding to a “marauding terrorist attack” or 2011 riot scenario would be harder. How much weight does he think that the Home Secretary and Chancellor should pay to the most senior police officer in the country?
The Home Secretary should give those comments her full attention. The figure that my right hon. Friend has just quoted is backed up by independent research that I have commissioned. It suggests that if the cuts go ahead—cuts of around 25%—London could see 5,000 or 6,000 police officers lost from the frontline. I know that he will do what he can to oppose those cuts and the funding formula in the coming months. I look forward to seeing others on the Government Benches doing the same, and standing up for the people of London as I know that he will.
May I take my right hon. Friend from London and bring him closer to home? He might be from Leigh, but he knows Merseyside like the back of his hand. Does he agree that the level of cuts that are about to be imposed on Merseyside do more than just take away a service? They risk undermining the foundation of trust between us and our police.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. Let us look at what Merseyside has said about what the proposed cuts would do. It has said that they would mean scaling down teams dealing with sexual assault and hate crime. Those are very serious implications. Where is the evidence to justify cutting the police on that scale? I have not seen it. I hope we hear it today, because this House cannot give permission to the Government to proceed with these cuts until they have made the case for what they are trying to do.
Is my right hon. Friend as surprised as me to hear that there are Members who do not understand that, in certain parts of the country, crime is rising, not falling. Crime in Greater Manchester rose by 14% in the 12 months up to June 2015 compared with the previous 12 months. Recorded violent crime rose by 39% over the same period. Members must take account of the fact that some parts of the country are different. We have guns and gang violence in Salford, and it is a very serious issue.
My hon. Friend puts her case very well. Crime may indeed be changing, and moving away from volume crime, such as car crime and burglary, but that is not to say that crime is falling. As I have said before, online crime is not adequately reflected in the crime figures. She rightly says that there are worrying increases in the most serious crimes in a number of areas, including in our part of the world, in Greater Manchester.
I will make a little progress if I may, and take some further interventions later.
I was just saying that I do not see the evidence to shrink our police force back to the levels of the 1970s, leaving us with fewer police officers per head of population than other comparable countries. That brings me to my second question, which is not for the Home Secretary, but for the whole House. If there is no authoritative evidence that cuts on this scale will not put our constituents at risk, how on earth can we allow them through? We have called this debate today for the following reasons: to challenge the Government on what we feel is a reckless gamble with public safety; to give voice to the deep disquiet felt by thousands of police officers across all 43 forces in England and Wales about the future of policing and community safety; to initiate a proper debate about the future of policing and the needs of our communities, in advance of the spending review; and to alert the public to the enormity of what is at stake by launching a national campaign today to protect our police. Just as with tax credits, I cannot remember the public being told about these plans to decimate neighbourhood policing before they went to vote.
What a lot of people outside this place will try to square is the right hon. Gentleman’s speech to the Labour party conference in which he said that he would cut these budgets by 5% to 10%. Rather than a thoughtful critique of what the Government are actually doing, what we have today is a cut out and paste standard attack on the Conservative Government for acting in a fiscally responsible way, which he suggested that they should do just a few weeks ago.
If the hon. Gentleman is going to intervene in the debate, he should at least listen to it. A moment ago, I said that we put forward plans for efficiencies before the election, so it would not be a sustainable position for me to say, “No cuts at all”, and I am not saying that today. What our motion says is that cutting the police by more than 10% would put public safety at risk. If he thinks that it is fiscally prudent to do that and damage public safety, then I beg to differ with him. I would love to see how he can justify cuts of more than 10% in his community.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been a 23% reduction in the force establishment in Merseyside since 2010? By 2019, that will have gone up to 41% of the workforce. Does he think that those on the Government Benches have any idea about the impact that that will have on the community, safe policing and the safety of police officers?
I do not think that they do. Cuts on the scale proposed would mean the effective end of neighbourhood policing as we have seen it in recent years, particularly in rural areas and areas of lower risk. We would see thousands of bobbies taken off the beat. It would take us back to the bad old days of reactive and remote policing, with officers retreating to cars and to the station. They will not be out on the streets or visible in their communities.
The safer neighbourhood teams were started in Stonebridge in my constituency of Brent. They helped to build trust in the police and to lower crimes. We have had a 62% cut in our neighbourhood teams. Again, that is a false economy by the Government. There will be more crimes and fewer police to deal with them.
False economy is absolutely the point, is it not? The Government do not seem to equate the reduction in crime we had in the last decade, which began under our Government, with the investment in those community safety teams. That brings me to the role of police community support officers, one of the innovations of the Labour Government of which I, for one, am very proud indeed. Under the Government’s plans, they will become an endangered species. We know that they do not enjoy the same employment protection as warranted officers, so no doubt they are worried that they will be the first to go.
One of the gains brought about by PCSOs was that they substituted for warranted officers on lower level duties, such as managing the Remembrance Sunday parades we will see in our constituencies this weekend. Around the country, some of those parades are beginning to be scaled back and even cancelled because there is not sufficient police cover. Is it not a sure sign to the Conservatives that if the police can no longer cover events of such importance to our local communities their cuts have already gone too far?
The Aintree ratepayers’ association and neighbourhood watch is a non-party political organisation and wrote to me to say:
“It is, in our view, ‘criminal’ that such significant deep-rooted budget reductions are being considered, it demonstrates what value the Government places upon community safety and cohesion and totally sends out the ‘wrong message’ to those who do not want to abide by the mores of civilised society.”
I could not have put it better myself.
Civilised society; that is what matters here. If people want a glimpse of what the future might look like, they should have a look at Tiptree in Essex, where residents already have to club together to fund their own private security guards. Is that the kind of society we want, with private security guards roaming the streets in areas where the police have withdrawn? The Government deny it, but that is what is happening on the ground.
This is not just about the loss of capability in community and neighbourhood policing. Forces are talking about disbanding mounted sections and dog sections. The cuts could have serious implications for the police estate, with police station closures all over the country and the police becoming a blue-light only service, responding to emergencies and not dealing with crime at a local level.
Today’s motion refers to Scotland, where we have 1,027 more serving police officers on the street than we had in 2007. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, however, that it is iniquitous and unfair that Police Scotland should be the only force in the United Kingdom to be required to pay VAT on its operations, taking £23 million out of operational expenditure?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that should be considered, but I am afraid that I am not going to be to let him or the Scottish National party off the hook. The survey referred to in our motion says that only 30% of officers in Scotland feel that they have sufficient resources to do the job. I accept that that might partly be the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but I am not sure that the changes to the police in Scotland and the move to Police Scotland have resulted in the improvements that we were told would happen.
As I said only a moment ago, the police have spoken about becoming a blue-light only service in places. In their briefing for this debate, Lancashire police state:
“We will attend fewer crimes.”
That prompts the question of which crimes. Where is the national public guidance on the crimes that can now safely be de-prioritised? Again, there is none, because the Government would rather pass the cuts and pass the buck down to a local level, leaving the public facing a confusing postcode lottery in policing.
If anyone believes that referring to a postcode lottery is an exaggeration, may I refer the House to the pilot scheme in Leicestershire, where the police attended burglaries only at houses with even numbers, a scheme that the Government claimed worked and that could now be expanded? At what point have we as a society or this Parliament accepted the principle that the police will no longer attend someone’s home if they have been burgled? At what point have we accepted the principle that some victims of crime can be abandoned in this random fashion? We have not, and I do not believe that this House should concede that principle. Policing practice should not be changed in such a way until the Government have provided sound justification for the change.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that cuts to the neighbourhood policing budget will undermine the follow-up work after serious crime, such as the gun crime that happened recently in Wood Green, in all our inner-city areas? Does he agree that for criminals this proposal is Christmas day 365 days a year?
I can do no better than refer my hon. Friend to the words of Peter Clarke, former deputy assistant commissioner of the Met’s specialist operations directorate, whom the House will know. Talking about what is in the offing, he said:
“We risk breaking the ‘golden thread’ that runs through the police effort all the way from local communities to the farthest part of the world where, in an era of global terrorism, defence of the UK begins”.
That is the point: that pyramid of policing that begins at a very local level and feeds intelligence into the system is not an either/or idea. We cannot just say that we will have officers dealing with online crime and withdraw people from the streets. We have to maintain a police presence in every community, which is a point that the Government seem not to understand.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and he has been very generous. As I understand it, he is saying that cuts of up to 10% could safely be made now because, as he accepts in the motion, further efficiencies could be made in the police budget. Therefore, by definition, he has accepted that the efficiencies that have been made so far have not damaged policing. He shakes his head, but it is fairly obvious that if further cuts of up to 10% could be made safely he accepts that the reductions that have been made to date have not damaged policing. Is it therefore not extraordinary that Labour Members opposed those reductions in spending and said that policing would be damaged? Why should we believe them now?
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman intervened, because I am not saying anything of the kind. I am not saying that the cuts that the Government have managed to date have been without consequence. I have just described how functions as important as managing Remembrance Sunday parades have been cancelled. I have also pointed out that crime is rising and I, for one, do not say that there is no link between police numbers and rising crime. We looked at a plan to protect the frontline by merging police forces. I note that the Government have turned their face against that. It is all about how they do it. The frontline can be protected if the Government are prepared to manage the cuts in a way that takes resource out of the back office. They are not prepared to do that, either, so consequently we are seeing unacceptable cuts in police forces up and down the country.
I am very interested in the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making about the frontline. Perhaps he would like to add in to his speech the fact that the proportion of officers on the frontline has increased over the past five years.
“Proportion”—people will hear how the Home Secretary is trying to spin it. Let us deal in people, shall we, rather than proportions. Between 12,000 and 13,000 officers lost, police community support officers lost, and all at a time when crime is beginning to go up. She wants to take away 22,000 more. I say in all sincerity to the Home Secretary that with crime on the rise this is no time to cut the police.
May I bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend another example of Tory promises? Croydon was hit very hard by the riots in 2011 and the Prime Minister came down days afterwards and promised to keep the area safe. Since then, the Government have allowed every single police station in Croydon North to close down and as of today we still have fewer police on the streets than in 2010, when these people came into government. Is that not yet more Tory broken promises?
Everybody will remember very well the terrible fire and the consequences of the riots on the streets of Croydon. People would expect promises like that to be kept, would they not? But with this Prime Minister and this Government, they are rapidly learning that such things are said in the moment to look good but are not followed through. Sadly, that is the hallmark of this Government.
The Government are sending the police on a dangerous journey without a route map. Where is the White Paper that sets out the case for these drastic changes to the police and the vision for the police service of the future? Where is the expert analysis of the changing nature of crime and society and therefore of the resource needs of the police? In the absence of all that, the only justification put forward by the Government, as we have heard today, is that despite reductions crime has continued to fall. I have dealt with that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe that in the last decade the reduction we saw was linked to the investment in neighbourhood policing and we are now beginning to see signs that crime is on the rise again.
The truth is that this whole process is not being driven by our future needs as a society, or by the changing nature of crime; it is a crude, Treasury-driven process that owes more to an ideological drive to shrink the state than to the good governance of the police and our public services. What we will soon be left with is the police service of the Treasury’s dreams but the public’s worst nightmares.
Does the shadow Home Secretary recognise the concern expressed by Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs Council, when she recently appeared before the Home Affairs Committee? She adopted the words of the chief constable of Merseyside police, who said that there is a political obsession with police visibility, irrespective of actual neighbourhood demand. Is not the shadow Home Secretary guilty, along with the shadow Ministers quoted in The Times today, of that political obsession, and of seeking to weaponise police numbers?
I think that the hon. Gentleman will regret those remarks. Listen to what senior police officers are saying. Is he accusing them of scaremongering? Is he saying that Peter Clarke, whom I quoted a moment ago, is wrong? Has he talked to his own constituents recently and heard their views about visible neighbourhood policing? I suggest that he speaks to them, because this is not about what politicians want. His constituents want to see a strong uniformed presence on their streets, keeping them safe.
As I have said, it is not just about the overall size of the cuts, because the Home Office, in characteristic fashion, is taking a bad situation and making it worse. The changes to the police funding formula—[Interruption.] The Policing Minister should not dismiss this, because the letter he received this week was a pretty difficult and sobering one for him. It talked about a process that is
“unfair, unjustified and deeply flawed”.
That is how his own Conservative colleagues describe it. It is highly critical of Ministers’ handling of the whole process, which they say was
“entirely avoidable and wholly unacceptable”.
They are now looking at a judicial review. Those are strong words, and is not the fact that it is Conservative voices saying them a clear indication that the Government are no longer carrying their own side, and that they are losing the confidence of the police as a whole?
Where do we go from here? A good start would be to put implementation of the formula on hold. Let me get to the heart of what we are calling for today. As our motion makes clear, we have not turned our face away from the idea of savings in the police budget, because there are changes to back-office structures and procurement that could protect the frontline. If one speaks to senior police officers, one realises that most accept that further savings of up to 5% are difficult but doable. Cutting between 5% and 10% gets more dangerous, and the cuts would be harder to make, but neighbourhood policing would have a chance in that scenario. My message to the Government is that if they cut the police by 10% or more, they will put the public at risk.
I hope that I can take it as read that the Home Secretary is fighting for the best deal she can get from the Treasury. Will she share with the House this afternoon what figures she thinks are acceptable without compromising public safety? If she can set out those figures, can she tell us where she thinks those savings can be made from within the police without compromising public safety? That is important, because her vision for the police needs to fit with the Government’s other plans for public services; they cannot be seen in isolation from the rest of the spending review.
Policing is the last safety net, and it will be forced to deal with the consequences of failure in other services. For instance, if the Government fail to tackle the crisis in mental health services in the spending review, that will only add to the pressure on the police and on police cells. If they force councils to close youth clubs, leisure centres and playing fields, the chances are that antisocial behaviour will be on the rise again. If they fail to invest in social care, they will leave our hospitals in crisis, ambulances trapped in queues outside and police cars having to fill the gaps. If they fail to sort out the mess in probation, caused by underfunding and part-privatisation, there will be a direct impact on re-offending and, ultimately, public safety.
Ultimately, that is the problem. What we are facing in this spending review is a drive to shrink back the state and then privatise it. In the response to this debate, we expect to hear plenty of talk about the deficit. Yes, the deficit is important, but there is not just one way to close it, and it is not more important than the safety of the public and of the country.
This is a milestone moment for the police service in Britain. The decisions that the Government make on funding over the next few months will determine the mission and the manner of policing and community safety in this country for a generation. That was the warning given by the Conservative police and crime commissioners in their letter to the Government this week. This is an issue that they now have to explain and answer. It is simply not safe to cut the police in the drastic way they plan, and they have failed to set out a case that it is.
Our motion makes a reasonable demand: put simply, it is to secure a funding settlement for the police that maintains front-line services and does not compromise public safety. Is there any Conservative Member who cannot vote for such a demand, or are they saying that they are ready to sacrifice public safety in the name of deficit reduction? It is not acceptable, and it will not be acceptable to their constituents, as it is not to ours.
Opposition Members understand the value of public service and public services. We have shown in the past that we can fight for our NHS, so we give notice to the Government today that we are ready to do the same for our police and for the safety of our communities. I call on Members on both sides of the House to think about what cuts on this scale will mean for their constituencies, put public safety before party politics and support the motion before the House tonight.
I commend Andy Burnham for securing his first Opposition day debate since becoming shadow Home Secretary. I agree with his comments about the bravery of our police officers and the excellent job they do for us day in, day out. We were tragically reminded by the funeral of PC David Phillips earlier this week of the dangers that our police officers face when they put on that uniform and go out on shift, because they never know what they will face or what difficulties they will encounter. Sadly, in PC David Phillips’s case, a family was left bereaved. Our thoughts are with his family and with his colleagues in the Merseyside police.
However, I cannot commend the motion that the right hon. Gentleman has put before the House today. Not only is it simply wrong on almost every point of fact, but it shows that Her Majesty’s Opposition have comprehensively failed to learn the lessons of the past five years. I will happily turn to each of their points in turn, but before doing so I want to say this: when I became Home Secretary in 2010 and set out the need for reform of policing, the response from the Opposition Benches was to deny the need for change. The Labour party was united with chief constables and the Police Federation in saying that funding reductions would lead to a “perfect storm” of rising crime, falling public confidence and a depleted and damaged frontline. Five years on, and not a single one of those irresponsible claims has come true.
Crime, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales—one of the most authoritative indicators of crime in any country in the world—is down by more than a quarter. Public confidence in the police has remained strong. Far from the frontline being damaged, police officers are now more likely to be deployed in front-line roles, like patrol or neighbourhood officers, than at any time in modern policing history. This is the uncomfortable truth for the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party: communities in England and Wales are safer now than they have ever been. Their homes are less likely to be burgled, their cars are less likely to be stolen, and their friends and families are less likely to be confronted with violence on Britain’s streets.
We had a meeting earlier this week at which we heard police officers say that 1% of fraud was being investigated. We heard concerns that cases of human trafficking were not being investigated. We know for a fact that the number of hate crimes against disabled people has increased by 25%. How can the Home Secretary be so complacent?
We are concerned about the investigation of fraud, which is exactly why we set up the economic crime command in the National Crime Agency, to improve the police’s ability to deal with fraud. With regard to human trafficking, it is the Conservative party that introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, ably taken through the House by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Karen Bradley. It gives the police extra powers to deal with exactly that point. Police reform is working and crime is falling.
What message does the Home Secretary think she is sending to my constituents when only 16% of knife crimes in 2013-14 have been resolved? Is she suggesting that my local police force is incompetent or that tragedies such as the murder of Mohamed Duru-Ray, who was a 16-year-old stabbed to death, should go unsolved?
We want the police to investigate crimes and a tragic death of that sort. I am very sorry to hear of the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. I shall go on to refer to violent crime later in my speech.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Hampshire constabulary, which has 96% of police out on the beat rather than stuck in back offices, because of efficiencies and reorganisation which have led to an 11% reduction in crime?
I absolutely do congratulate Hampshire police. I have visited Hampshire police. It is one of the police forces that has been at the forefront of using technology to help it investigate crime—through the body-worn video cameras, for example, and the tough tablets that they have taken out with them. They are also working very closely with the fire service and doing everything to ensure that they have been making savings and improving the service to the public.
On the new funding formula for the police, there is concern among many that it favours the urban over the rural. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other colleagues from across the House who represent rural constituencies to discuss the formula and ensure that we get something that is fair to all?
I am happy to do so. I know that my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister has been conducting a number of meetings with colleagues to hear their views on the proposed police funding formula. I am happy to set up the sort of meeting that my hon. Friend suggests. The consultation on the police funding formula is still open and no decisions have been taken in relation to it.
The funding formula as it stands is out for consultation, but the proposals would lead to a 5.1% cut for Sussex police and a 5.2% increase for Surrey police next door—urban to rural. Would the Home Secretary say that that is fair, and that a city such as Brighton and Hove, which has very specific challenges, could cope with another 5.1% cut, on top of all the others?
The point I made is very simple. The police funding formula has been out for consultation for a while. We are listening to the representations and then decisions will be taken. He refers to the specific needs of certain parts of the Sussex police force area, Brighton and Hove being one of those. I take this opportunity to commend the work that Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has been doing in relation to certain communities in Sussex and the very real attention that she has given to the sort of issues that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
Enfield communities value their police community support officers, particularly given the rise in violent crime and the need for uniformed officers on the streets to reassure people. The right hon. Lady will know that having had a £600 million cut in budget, the Met police are now expecting another £800 million cut in the spending review and are considering making the decision in December to axe all PCSOs. Does the Home Secretary place any value on police community support officers?
Earlier the right hon. Lady intervened on her right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh and referred to the issues around knife crime. May I take this opportunity to commend her predecessor in her constituency, Nick de Bois, who did a great deal in relation to knife crime and ensured that further legislation was passed in this House in that regard? On the issue of police community support officers, of course we value them, but the decision is an operational one for chief constables as to how they balance their budgets and ensure the differentiation. The sort of comments that we are hearing now about PCSOs have been heard before. For example, in 2010 the chief constable of Lancashire, Chief Constable Finnigan, said that with huge regret he had told all 427 PCSOs in the force that they might lose their jobs as a result of budget cuts. Did they? No, they did not.
Police reform is working, and crime is falling. This Government have achieved something that no other Government have achieved: we have proved that it is possible to improve services, and maintain public trust and confidence, while saving money for the taxpayer. We must not forget why those savings are necessary. The right hon. Member for Leigh mentioned the deficit and yes, we did inherit a structural deficit, high taxes, record debt and unreformed public services. I hope I do not have to remind the right hon. Gentleman, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury when the 2007 spending review was decided—a document that continued this country’s course down that fateful path of profligacy.
If I may correct the Home Secretary, I conducted the 2007 spending review as Chief Secretary and a decision was taken to grow public spending at a lower rate than overall growth in the economy—a decision that the current Prime Minister and the current Chancellor described at the time as tough. The right hon. Lady she needs to correct the record.
I want to ask the Home Secretary a direct question, and she cannot leave the debate today before she answers it. If she is saying that everything is fine, she now needs to tell the House at what level she thinks it is safe to cut the police before public safety is compromised. What is the percentage cut that she is prepared to make without compromising the safety of our constituents?
It sounded as though the right hon. Gentleman was about to get his handcuffs out and stop me. [Interruption.] Perhaps I won’t go there.
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the discussions around the spending review are currently taking place. The spending review will be reported to this House by the Chancellor on
Since 2010, we have cut the budget deficit by more than half, we have lowered the tax burden for people up and down the country, and we have set about reforming public services to better serve citizens and communities. It is therefore with some dismay that I see the Opposition making exactly the same mistakes they made in 2010—misusing statistics, worrying decent members of the public, and wilfully ignoring the experience of the past five years. The similarities are uncanny.
The weekend before last, the right hon. Member for Leigh told the Sunday Express that
Indeed, in 2011 Yvette Cooper even called an Opposition day debate on police funding, with a motion that bore more than a striking resemblance to the one we are discussing today.
I admire the Home Secretary’s approach to the good use of statistics. I am surprised to hear her say that crime has fallen, when in Redcar and Cleveland in the past year we have seen an increase in crime of 21%. That includes a 77% increase in violence against the person. This does not accord with what she says about crime falling. Under the Labour Government crime fell by 43%. I am very proud of our record so it is disappointing to see that.
I think I am right in saying that the figures the hon. Lady quotes for crime falling under the Labour Government have exactly the basis as the figures that I have quoted for crime falling over the past five years—the independent crime survey of England and Wales. There is an issue about police recorded crime which I will refer to later in my speech.
The tactics and the language of the Opposition have not changed, but I thought the shadow Home Secretary’s mind had. As a number of my colleagues have pointed out, and as was very ably pointed out by my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert, the shadow Home Secretary told the Labour party conference:
“Of course, savings can be found.”
Savings are mentioned in the motion today. The Opposition say that further savings can be found. They therefore assume that the savings that have been made so far have not damaged policing. This was a point that the right hon. Member for Leigh completely failed to address when my right hon. Friend challenged him on it.
On savings, according to the chief constable of Sussex, the last savings term delivered not only efficiency but reductions in crime—for example, by merging arrest units with detection units. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a question not just of how much money is spent, but of how well it is spent?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is about how the money is spent, not about the absolute amount of money. That is a crucial difference between ourselves and the Labour party. Labour thinks the answer to everything is more money; we recognise that it is how the money is spent. It is not just about police officer numbers, but about how those officers are deployed.
Another problem that Labour seems to be repeating from its past, according to the shadow Home Secretary’s comments, is the plan to force mergers on to police forces. Will my right hon. Friend commend the way in which the West Mercia police force has worked in a bottom-up alliance with Warwickshire police? Only today, they have announced plans for a joint operational control centre with Hereford and Worcester fire service.
I do indeed commend West Mercia for the steps it has taken. The work that it has done with the Warwickshire force is an example of how forces can retain an individual identity while getting the benefits of working together and collaboration. It is a very important example.
Several hon. Members rose—
I would like to make a little more progress, because I am conscious that a lot of Members wish to speak, and I want to turn to each of the points in the motion in turn.
First, the motion
“notes with concern the loss of 17,000 police officers in the last five years” and the possibility of “further reductions” in numbers during this Parliament. Of course, that is not Government policy. Decisions on the size and make-up of each police force are not a matter for the Home Office but a matter for chief constables to decide on locally in conjunction with their police and crime commissioners. Indeed, and Labour Members might be interested in some of these facts, a large number of the police officer reductions since 2010—8,153 officers, or 48% of the total fall—were lost in the 13 areas controlled by Labour police and crime commissioners. Nowhere is this more the case than in neighbourhood policing. Between 2012 and 2014, Conservative PCCs increased the number of neighbourhood officers by 5,813, yet over the same period, Labour PCCs cut them by 701.
Lyn Brown asks where these statistics come from. They should be familiar to Opposition Members, because they were released in response to a parliamentary question from Jack Dromey earlier this year. As Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said repeatedly over the past five years, what matters in policing and in the safety of communities is not how many officers there are in total, but how they are deployed. Since 2010, the proportion of officers deployed to the frontline has increased from 89% of officers to 92%—the highest level on record.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will therefore join me in congratulating Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which is now funding 44 police constables on the beat in Hammersmith. At the same time, though, the Mayor of London has destroyed neighbourhood teams, is about to get rid of all PCSOs, and is closing two out of the three operational police stations in the borough. How can neighbourhood policing survive in that climate?
It is interesting to look at the Met, because it has been recruiting more officers, as is the Lancashire force, which I mentioned earlier. It is wrong to assume that the service that is offered by police officers is best judged by the number of police stations. Many forces up and down the country have sold off their police stations but have given the public better access to the police—as I saw when I visited my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell prior to the election—by siting them in council offices.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that more can be done on collaboration between the police and the fire and ambulance services so that efficiencies can be made?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are very good examples of where that is taking place. I referred to Hampshire. Northamptonshire is also doing this, and there are other examples of where there are real opportunities for savings to be made and for a better service to be given to the public as a result.
Secondly, the motion suggests that there is evidence that crime is rising, including increases, in the most recent police recorded crime statistics, in very serious crimes such as knife crime and sexual assault.
I am going to make progress.
The right hon. Member for Leigh and others are right when they say that those crimes are serious, and it is absolutely right that the police are recording more incidents of each, but it is wrong to suggest that an increase in police recording necessarily means more crime in communities. As the independent Office for National Statistics said last month:
“as well as improvements in recording, this is also thought to reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward to report such crimes.”
Victims of crime—often very vulnerable people who have endured horrendous suffering and torment—are coming forward to tell their stories to the police and to put the perpetrators of their abuse behind bars. Members across this House should welcome that and not seek to manipulate or use it for their own ends. As I said earlier, according to the independent crime survey, crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman says that crime is changing and traditional crimes such as burglary and car theft are being replaced by modern criminality like cybercrime. Crime is indeed changing, but the level of some digital crimes in no way compares with the dramatic falls in conventional volume crimes over the past five to 10 years. Crime survey data also show that the proportion of plastic card users who were victims of fraud is currently around 25% lower than its peak in 2009-10.
This Government have not failed to recognise the changing nature of crime; we have faced up to it. In 2012, we set up the National Crime Agency to lead the fight against serious and organised criminality. In 2014, we brought Action Fraud into the City of London police to better co-ordinate the response to fraud and financial crime. Our national cyber-security programme has invested nearly £900 million in protecting British people, businesses and state assets against cyber-attack. For the first time ever, the Office for National Statistics now publishes an estimate of the number of cybercrimes and frauds experienced by members of the public, making us the first major western country to capture the changing nature of crime.
I want to make progress because I am conscious of those who wish to speak.
However, it is the crux of the motion that I find most troubling—that is, the concern among Opposition Front Benchers that the police may endure spending reductions in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. As I have said, in the previous Parliament we successfully halved the deficit. In a few weeks’ time, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out how we will finish that job in the comprehensive spending review. In doing so, he will show that this Government recognise the value of balancing the books, spending within our means, and lowering taxes for hard-working people, because the deficit is still too high, and it is right that police forces share in that effort, as they have done in the past five years. To echo the shadow Home Secretary’s speech to the Labour party conference, savings are still there to be made. The limit of those savings is not the arbitrary 10% that he sets out in his motion. Let us remember that usable financial reserves for police forces in England and Wales stand at just over £2.1 billion right now—built up, in part, to help soften the impact of future spending cuts. These reserves increased by nearly £100 million last year—up in 26 forces across England and Wales. Capital reserves are approximately £240 million in 2014-15—roughly the same as the previous year.
Nor can we forget the extraordinary savings and operational benefits that can be made, as several hon. Friends have said, from better collaboration between forces and effective joint working with other local services. Only last week, Cleveland, Durham and North Yorkshire constabularies announced a £5 million saving by bringing together their dogs units, while still maintaining a 24-hour service across the three forces. There are efficiencies afforded by better technology. Cambridgeshire police have saved an estimated 240,000 officer hours a year and over £7 million by rolling out tablet and mobile devices to officers to allow them to work better on the road and away from the police station.
I add to my right hon. Friend’s list the police and crime commissioner for Humberside, Matthew Grove, who is working hard with the fire service to have a joint service centre for vehicles across the two services, saving millions of pounds in capital and revenue terms over the years. We have not heard much today about Labour’s U-turn in recognising that greater democratic oversight of local policing has been a significant contribution to better policing and improvements in crime figures across the country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I commend Matthew Grove for the work that he is doing in Humberside, particularly in collaboration with the fire service. My hon. Friend reminds me that Labour Members have done a complete U-turn on directly elected police and crime commissioners. They were implacably opposed to them, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, the former Policing Minister, will know from the time when he took the legislation on police and crime commissioners through the House, and now they have suddenly decided that they are a good thing and they should carry on.
The Home Secretary is painting rather a rosy picture of everything. What does she say to the orphans of Erdogan Guzel, who was tragically shot in Wood Green in the summer? The culprits still have not been brought to book because the police locally do not have the resources, despite the fact that the local authority, which is under immense strain, has pitched in and given them extra resources. Those orphans want an explanation as to what happened to their father and why that crime remains undetected because the follow-up work has not been done.
Obviously, I am very sorry to hear of that particular incident and the effect it has had on that family. Nobody wants to see anybody deprived of one of their parents through an attack of the sort described by the hon. Lady. I am very clear that I want the police to investigate such crimes and to be able to do so. That is partly why I stood here earlier to make a statement on a draft Bill that will ensure that our police have the powers they need to access certain data that they currently use to investigate crimes, but that, as modern technology develops, they are unable to access.
I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I did say that I would make progress and I am conscious that time is getting on.
I have just quoted a few examples of how collaboration can benefit forces and represent savings. They collectively represent opportunities worth billions of pounds in savings for policing, without the loss of operational capability and without cutting corners on the service the public expect. Policing has risen admirably to the challenge of lower budgets and a changing landscape in the past five years, and I have no doubt it will continue to do so in the next five.
Before I finish, I want to address the final point in the motion. Police Scotland has previously been held up—including by shadow Front Benchers—as a better alternative to the model of police reform this Government have pursued in England and Wales. If on nothing else in today’s debate, I agree with what it says about Police Scotland, because I firmly believe that the amalgamation of eight local forces into a single body was mistaken.
I refer the right hon. Lady to her party’s 2011 manifesto, which said that it would agree to the creation of a single police force. If it was good enough in 2011, why is it not good enough now?
Top-down restructures of police forces do not deliver the benefits they supposedly promise. We as a party here have said that if forces wish to come to us and say that they have a business case and local support for a merger, we will look at it. On top-down restructuring, however, the economies of scale invariably do not appear. The complexity of bringing together distinct organisations can distract from the day-to-day business of fighting crime, and the most precious element of policing by consent—local accountability—can be lost. We must go further to drive deeper collaboration, better sharing of back-office services and a more intelligent approach to where police capabilities sit, to generate savings without the loss of local accountability and identity.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way one last time. We agree that savings can be made, but what we disagree on is the extent to which they can be made safely. My hon. Friend Catherine West said that the Home Secretary is painting a rosy picture, and I think that police officers watching this debate will conclude that she is not living in the same world as them. This is not about what we on the Labour Benches are saying; chief constables from London to Lancashire are saying that the safety of their public will be compromised if the cuts go ahead. Does the Home Secretary think that those chief constables are scaremongering?
I will repeat the point that I have already made: if the right hon. Gentleman would care to look back to 2010, he will see that chief constables were making very similar points then and they have dealt with the savings. As he himself accepts in the motion, policing has not been damaged by the budget savings made over the past five years. Otherwise, he would not be able to stand up and say that further savings could be made.
Over the past five years, officers and staff have worked day in and day out to cut crime. Chief constables and police and crime commissioners have demonstrated true innovation and creativity in meeting the challenge of lower budgets, and in doing so they have shown that that greater efficiency, improved effectiveness and strengthened legitimacy are possible, all at the same time.
For the Government, the job is not yet done. We are currently consulting on a new funding formula so that the police grant is allocated fairly and in a transparent way between police forces. We have made proposals to allow much deeper collaboration with fire and rescue services and ambulance services—to save money and improve the operational response—and later in this Session, the Police and Criminal Justice Bill will give police officers much greater professional discretion to allow them to make savings, cut crime and improve services for the public.
Police reform has worked. That is the lesson that the Labour party has not yet learned, but in this Parliament—under this Government—police reform will continue.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish national party, it might be helpful for the House to know that after Mr Arkless has spoken there will be a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of six minutes.
I am delighted to be called to speak in this debate on policing. I am sure that everybody in the House would agree that the police in the UK are one of the best examples of civil law enforcement in the world. I have always been particularly proud of that. Police play a huge and invaluable role in all UK communities. They are a cornerstone of civilised society and the enforcers of what many of us understand to be the rule of law.
I offer personal thanks to all police officers and all civil staff in all police forces across the United Kingdom. I also pay my condolences to the family of the courageous David Phillips. My thoughts and prayers are with them.
I pay tribute to all the civilian and police staff at Police Scotland, and thank them for their sterling and diligent work in admittedly challenging times over the past few years. When users were asked whether they felt confident that Police Scotland would deal with their inquiry efficiently, 79.1% gave a “very high” or “high” response.
My constituency of Dumfries and Galloway has faced challenging times with regard to policing. As the Home Secretary has said, the single police force was created in 2013, but not without concern locally. The local control room in Dumfries has been closed and I share the local concern about that. I am delighted to report, however, that last month the Scottish Government reacted by placing £1.4 million in an extra fund to train
70 to 75 call-handling staff. I am confident, therefore, that the Scottish Government are reacting to local concerns.
I have been clear that policing in Scotland has not been without challenges. In 2013, we created the single police force—a move supported by both the Conservative and Labour manifestos in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections. That resulted in the amalgamation of eight police forces into one. I think it is right that a country of 5 million has one single police force. The crux of the move is to stop duplication, have a more joined-up approach towards policing and unlock potential savings over the next generation. The Scottish Government can confirm that they are on target to save £1.1 billion over 15 years. In fact, they have saved £120 million from Police Scotland’s budget since it was formed in 2013.
Good policing is not only about our fantastic police officers; it is about the wider criminal justice system. The causes of crime need to be addressed. Reoffending is down in Scotland, as is alcohol and drug abuse. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which is passing through the Scottish Parliament, will reform court procedures to make them less rigorous, so that evidence can be agreed in advance and there is less need for officers to attend court hearings. There are increased obligations to provide procurators fiscal, the equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service, with better and more thorough information. The rehabilitation consultation in Scotland is considering extending the presumption against short sentences of under three months. The attacks on legal aid that have happened in England and Wales have not occurred to the same extent in Scotland. We are trying to maintain good levels of access to justice. I am proud to say that we have no criminal courts charge in Scotland.
At the crux of this debate is cuts, but if we scratch below that issue, it is the manner of the cuts and the areas that are cut that cause most concern, particularly to Opposition Members. In Scotland, we have decided to protect frontline policing. I am proud to report that since the Scottish National party came to power in the Scottish Parliament in 2007, we have created an extra 1,000 police posts—there are now an extra 1,000 police on our streets. That can be compared with what we heard before I rose to speak: almost 12,000 police officers have been cut in England and Wales. Worryingly, that figure could rise to 20,000 over the next five years.
The hon. Lady is correct that an independent survey of police officers in Scotland came up with that figure, and that is concerning. If we look beyond that figure, the survey said that 50% of those who expressed an opinion blamed that desire on the pension changes enforced by the Treasury at Westminster. It has compelled our police officers to put 14.25% of their income towards their pension. The decrease in morale is blamed predominantly on that decision by the Treasury. Of course, that finding is concerning and the Scottish Government are doing everything possible to work with the Scottish police force and the SPA to address it.
It is very neat to blame Westminster for all the ills, but the survey also found that
“47% of all respondents stated that they did not receive recognition for any good work that they do and 37% stated they were not motivated to do the job to the best of their ability.”
Surely you cannot lay the blame for that at the hands of Westminster.
It is not me who is laying the blame. I am using the words of the police officers in Scotland, who have told us that the reason their morale is dropping is the pension changes made by the UK Government. I am merely the conduit.
It is interesting to note that there has been no similar sampling of police officers in England and Wales. Given the dramatic cut of more than 15,000 officers—the reverse of what is happening in Scotland—I suggest that any such exercise would produce similarly concerning results.
I am very proud of our approach in Scotland. My constituents and police officers tell me, as does every indicator I see, that people feel more confident when there are more visible police on the streets. That is the decision that we have made.
Members on both sides of the House have alluded to the letter that seven police and crime commissioners sent to the UK Government this week. The content of that letter is worrying in the extreme. As the right hon. Member for Leigh said, it states that the cut of 14% or £25 million next year in Lancashire will result in
“the loss of almost all of its proactive crime fighting and crime prevention capacity by 2020.”
It gives me no great pleasure to say that. The seven commissioners have informed the Government that they are
“taking legal advice with a view to initiating a judicial review”.
That sounds like a crisis. That is not happening with the single police force in Scotland.
Is it not the case that Police Scotland has had a year of chaos, with control centres closing, harming public safety? I understand that staff cuts have meant that some of the police who are working in the call centres are not trained in that work, which is leading to serious problems. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that?
I have just said that my constituency has been unfortunate to lose one control room, but that the Scottish Government have responded positively by providing an extra £1.4 million to train 70 to 75 call centre staff.
I must point out that in the week when the first Bill has been certified as an English-only Bill, this House has put forward a motion on a devolved matter that specifically criticises the Scottish Government. Scotland is watching and its people will be the final judges of what goes on in this House.
Police Scotland have done an incredible job recently on crime reduction. As I have said, the real test for the public is police numbers and crime levels. I am delighted to report that crime is down in Scotland. It is now safer to live in Scotland than it has been for 40 years.
As I understand it, the issues for the chief constable were not operational. We are trying to find a successor quickly. It will be his job to deal with many of the concerns arising from the continued review of the police service.
Crime is down: violent crime is down by 52%; handling offensive weapons is down by 62%; homicide is down by 48%; and fire raising and vandalism are down since 2007 by 58%. In 2014, there were 270,000 recorded crimes in Scotland, which is down by 148,000 from 2007. Statistically, it is clear that Police Scotland, despite the pressures forced upon it, is doing an incredible job.
The reasons for the reduction in crime in Scotland are complex, but I believe that enormous credit must go to our exceptional officers within Police Scotland. Thereafter, there are other reasons. Perhaps it is due in part to our growing sense of community and our optimism about our country’s future. The devolved Parliament in Scotland engages directly with the community wherever possible. Our Government are made up from ordinary people from ordinary Scottish communities. Our sense of community extends to the Government—they are accessible and fully accountable to the Scottish people. We have been working and taking measures towards building a fairer and more equal society, so that people feel less ignored and more included.
Melanie Onn alluded to a survey carried out in Scotland by an independent provider. It sought views on a range of subjects, including management, training, development, wellbeing, equality and communication. Twelve thousand officers took part. It found that there is a very positive team spirit within Police Scotland: 73% felt that their team works well to improve services; 83% said that they are treated with the upmost respect by their colleagues; and 78% expressed trust and respect for their line managers and said that they have strong relationships with their colleagues. The survey also highlighted the cohesion within Police Scotland.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is cherry-picking the statistics, but nearly half of respondents felt overloaded with information that they did not need to know. Only 22% felt that they had appropriate information on what Police Scotland wanted to achieve, and only 12% felt that they had appropriate information on what the Scottish Police Authority wanted to achieve. Is the evidence he is presenting an inaccurate reflection of the survey?
Absolutely not. I freely admit that there are concerns, but when any organisation goes through the fundamental change that Police Scotland has gone through in the last generation, concerns will arise.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat ironic that Melanie Onn criticises him for cherry-picking from a survey when that is exactly what the motion on the Order Paper does? It picks one line from any number of different points in the survey. In fact, if we cherry-pick in such a way, we can make surveys say anything we want. We might even be able to find one that says that the Labour party is a credible political force.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The reality is that over 1,000 more police officers are on the streets in Scotland. That is what the public want and that is what they have received. There is a 79% satisfaction rate that, if people complain to Police Scotland, it will be dealt with in an efficient and responsible manner. To me, those two indicators are key. Our police perform well and the people in Scotland live in a country that is safer than it has been in my lifetime. I am very proud of that statistic.
The survey was the first ever of that nature carried out by Police Scotland. Officers embraced the opportunity to participate and there was a high response rate. There is a huge amount of interest in the results. It is important that they are used in a constructive and positive way to help to build a better police force in Scotland both for staff and civilians. Indeed, the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, Brian Docherty, recently said that Police Scotland was an excellent service and should be recognised as such.
Interestingly, there is no comparable survey of police forces in the UK. Perhaps one should be undertaken with haste so that we can have a clearer picture of the police service throughout the UK. These reports should be read by everybody in the Government and the Opposition, particularly those who voted for continued austerity cuts. Sadly, most of the stresses endured by our police are the result of the continued UK austerity measures. Unison, which agrees, has said:
“It is clear from UNISON’s 2014 police staff stress survey that our members are suffering adverse effects from the impact of the UK government’s austerity cuts to policing.”
In conclusion, the creation of Police Scotland has allowed the Scottish Government to defend front-line services from Westminster austerity. I am proud that we have more police officers on the streets of Scotland, I am proud of the selflessness and dedication shown by Police Scotland members during these challenging times, and I am proud that Scotland has never in my lifetime been a safer place to live.
As we have heard from the Front Benches today, this is a sad and sobering week to be debating policing. The funeral of Dave Phillips sets the context that we should always remember: police officers do a job that is always difficult and often dangerous—sometimes tragically so. Front-line officers police a society that is largely peaceful and law-abiding and in which crime has been falling for years, but they still put themselves in harm’s way every time they go out on patrol, and we should not forget that.
Within that sombre context, there is a legitimate debate to be had about how to run this essential public service. I hope that in the less partisan moments of this debate, everyone will acknowledge that the coalition Government’s police reform agenda was largely a success. The introduction of police and crime commissioners has led to much greater democracy and transparency in the oversight of police forces, so I welcome Labour’s U-turn in agreeing to their continuation, and there is a much greater commitment to professionalism based on evidence and the spread of best practice, through the College of Policing—an institution that receives much less attention than it deserves, but which was an important reform.
Furthermore, the newly introduced National Crime Agency is transforming the policing of serious and organised crime, and there is a much more positive attitude towards the introduction of new technology, which has the capacity to transform policing at the sharp end. The police innovation fund has played a significant role in encouraging forces to make better use of digital technology—body-worn cameras are perhaps the most visible example, but it does not end there. The use of digital devices, along the lines of smartphones, can revolutionise the way the police access intelligence, respond to calls and write reports. There is no need now to go back to the station after every incident.
The Government can be proud of their record, but the reform agenda never ends, and further changes are needed. I will make a few suggestions in a minute that I hope Ministers will consider, but we should first consider the central issue of finance, which the motion addresses. The shadow Home Secretary is in a difficult position, because he comes in a long line of shadow Home Secretaries who have stood at the Dispatch Box and predicted that cuts in spending will lead to soaring crime rates. They have all been proved wrong, and it is a tribute to police forces around the country that they have coped with tough spending settlements and re-organised themselves to become better at crime prevention and catching criminals.
Labour’s motions raises two essential points. The first is that we still need restraint on public spending. We are still spending £70 billion a year more than we raise and so increasing our debts. We have to stop behaving like this as a country, and the central task of Governments throughout this decade is to put our public finances back in order.
It was an honour to work as my right hon. Friend’s Parliamentary Private Secretary while he was Policing Minister. He did an excellent job then, and he makes an excellent point now. Cheshire police have not only cut crime and shown innovation, but achieved an outstanding score for efficiency from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. Is this not the balance—between crime reduction and fiscal responsibility—that we need to take forward?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point from his own position as someone with expertise in this area. He is right that the forces best at spending their money effectively are also often the forces best at fighting crime, which is what we want them to do. The overall issue of public spending is important.
The second point that needs to be considered is that the formula by which money is allocated to individual forces is out of date and needs to be changed. This has been a long process, and it is inevitable that when a formula such as this one is changed, there will be winners and losers—and the losers will shout very loudly and the winners will keep quiet. That is the phase we are in at the moment.
The point for today’s debate is that neither the overall amount of money available to the police, nor the distribution between the individual forces has yet been decided. Indeed, I think I am right that the consultation period on the funding formula is still going on. We all know that tweaks, as well as transitional periods and damping and many other arcane tricks of the Whitehall trade, can be applied to any formula. I am sure they will all come into play over the coming months.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the formula for policing is grossly unfair—to the west midlands, for example? If comparisons are made with other police authorities, it is clear that about 2,000 to 3,000 policemen have been lost in this region over the last three or four years.
I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. We can all make eloquent pitches about how any formula is unfair to our own areas. I would happily talk to him about education funding in Kent, but perhaps not in this debate. As I say, all debates of this kind come down to losers always caring more than winners.
Whatever the final results of both the spending review and the funding formula distribution, there are serious underlying issues for police leaders and Ministers to address about the long-term viability of the way we do policing in this country. Assuming we do not return to irresponsible levels of public spending, settlements will continue to be tight, so if we want a serious debate, we need to address those underlying issues.
Let me make a few suggestions. First, we have only scratched the surface of the benefits of new technology—for making policing more effective and for making it more cost-effective. I have mentioned body-worn cameras and the information available on smartphones. Both can save time and therefore money. There are huge savings in police time to be made in better use of technology throughout the criminal justice system, especially with regard to police attendance at court.
The days when a police officer wasted a day at a court waiting to give routine evidence for five minutes should already be over. Evidence can be given by video link, or recorded on video at the time of arrest and charge. Faxes and photocopying should be things of the past in a digital age. The piece of paper in a bundle of evidence that goes missing or has not been sent to the defence, causing trials to be postponed and further days wasted, should be playing no part in a modern criminal justice system.
It will come off my time now, so I am afraid I cannot. I can count as well.
The next main point is that we have reaped nothing like the full benefits of collaboration between forces, about which we have heard some examples. Economic necessity has forced some useful collaboration between neighbouring forces, providing more effective policing at less cost. Specialist units such as firearms, mounted police or dog handlers can well be shared. We need more of that, but we also need a radical change in procurement policies—perhaps with national contracts for repairing police cars, and indeed buying them. Clearly, too, computer systems should be able to talk to each other in a way that they cannot now. There is great scope for better and more collaboration between the different “blue light” services. This will be a huge area of useful co-operation in the future.
My final suggestion is that some force mergers are inevitable, and should be made easier. I completely agree with the Home Secretary that a top-down blueprint of the type that previous Home Secretaries have proposed, which failed, is not the way to go. Many sensible people will argue, however, that in the case of some individual forces, there is a logic that says they should merge with their neighbours. I have heard that argument advanced by police and crime commissioners.
Policing is always difficult, and so is making policy for the police. I think the Home Secretary has a record that she can be proud of in this area, and I hope that she will build on this with further radical reform in the future, because the police need it.
The wisdom and strength of the Opposition resolution was proved by a novel decision by Leicestershire police, which recently decided to experiment by investigating only those burglaries that took place in houses with odd numbers. If the house had an even number, the burglary was not investigated. The news was welcomed with gratitude by the Leicestershire branch of the burglars and footpads trade union, but it was less popular with residents of Leicester who live in houses with even numbers.
I pay tribute to the late Michael Winner—it is rare that one has the opportunity to do that—and the matter of recalling and commemorating the deaths of policemen. Mr Winner, who was not admirable in every way, set up a charity to establish memorials on the sites where policemen had died in the cause of duty. We do not use such anniversaries to achieve political benefit for ourselves; we wear poppies because we want—genuinely—to mourn the deaths of those who have given their lives in warfare, and learn lessons accordingly. It is disappointing when a Prime Minister accuses us of using the Armistice ceremony for political purposes, when he started Prime Minister’s questions today by using the Armistice service to score a futile point against the leader of the Labour party.
My point is about Mr Daniel Morgan, and it is an issue of enormous importance that is endemic to the police force. Daniel Morgan lived in Llanfrechfa on the edge of my constituency. He was a 37-year-old private investigator who was working in London on a job to investigate police corruption. He was found dead 27 years ago in a pub car park in south London. His brother Alastair, who I spoke to yesterday, has carried out a campaign over all those years to expose what happened and discover the reason for the murder. He is still unhappy, and rightly so.
I am one of the few Back Benchers who have had the opportunity to read an amazing document called “Operation Tiberius”—I recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to read it should do so. Two members of the Home Affairs Committee were allowed to read it under strict conditions, with a policeman standing next to us making sure that we did not take notes. Our cameras and mobile phones were also taken away so that we could not copy it. People are not allowed to know what is in “Operation Tiberius”, and I am bound by the secrecy vow that I made at the time not to reveal what I read. I can, however, reveal what the Independent newspaper has said about “Operation Tiberius”, and it is terrifying. The document reveals that corruption in the Metropolitan police force is endemic and has been for many years. The scale is staggering.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, because I recently had the privilege of meeting Daniel Morgan’s brother, who has campaigned with unbelievable courage over the years. My hon. Friend should be in no doubt that although I am calling today to protect our police and for more resources, that does not mean that we should not learn the lessons of what happened at Hillsborough, Orgreave, Shrewsbury and in the case of Daniel Morgan. We must hold that mirror up to the past if we are to build a police service that is ready for the 21st century.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I am far from being anti-police. I have known every police chief constable in my area since 1972—43 years—and they were all men and women of integrity who achieved great things in that police force. It is a fine force, and has been all that time. I was brought up to believe that all policemen were like “Dixon of Dock Green”, and that is why the contents of “Operation Tiberius” are so deeply shocking. It tells the story of crimes planned by little units of serving police officers of various ranks, and criminals. They met not in clubs or pubs where they would be observed, but in the branches of a secret fraternity. Jack Straw tried to persuade all police forces in the country to require a declaration of membership of that fraternity, but he was frustrated in that effort, because several of them refused to co-operate.
I believe that we must look at the “Operation Tiberius” report. I see no reason why it cannot be published with the names redacted. The names are all there—names of serving policemen and names of criminals—and the crimes are horrendous: they were plotting crimes, organising crimes, carrying out crimes, covering up crimes, and using people who were corrupted in all branches of Government. The report exists, and it is deeply serious.
I have already talked about Alastair Morgan. Another worrying example relates to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the way in which the police—certainly—tried to protect the perpetrators of that dreadful murder. We should recognise that a great problem existed then, and we should ask whether it still exists. When I raised it with Bernard Hogan-Howe in the Home Affairs Committee, he generously admitted that the issue was one of great seriousness, and that many people believed that the problem still existed.
The report, which was leaked to The Independent all those years ago, is also significant because, although it covers many parts of London, it does not cover south
London, where Daniel Morgan was murdered. The suggestion is that there was some corruption in that leaking. I ask the Home Secretary and Ministers to examine the report and find out whether it is true that the contemporary situation in the Met is one in which endemic corruption still flourishes.
I am very proud to be the second Kent Member to speak in this important debate, because we in Kent are very proud of our extremely effective police force. It has faced some of the greatest challenges with which our nation has struggled—a few months ago the chief constable, Alan Pughsley, said that some 900 migrants were coming into the country each month—and it has to deal with the immediacy that being a front-line county in our great kingdom involves.
I am extremely proud of Alan Pughsley’s work. He has done something remarkable: he has managed to increase the proportion of warranted officers on the front line to 92%, which is the highest percentage for six years. That is a phenomenal achievement. Kent has some 3,000 warranted officers and 352 police community support officers, and they do a fantastic job. When I hear Opposition Mems bad-mouthing them or accusing them of failing in their duties, I feel offended for them, because they are performing their duties amazingly.
The officers in my constituency have done fantastically well too. The West Kent divisional commander is Chief Superintendent Julia Chapman, whose team has done fantastic work in West Malling, Tonbridge and Edenbridge. She is ably supported by two district commanders, Chief Inspectors Gill Ellis and Roscoe Walford. Sadly, Chief Inspector Ellis is moving on. I send her every good wish for her future career, but I am very sorry that she is not staying in Tonbridge, where she has done such fantastic work.
One of the PCSOs has done fantastically well in West Malling. Phillip Harrison has been the PCSO on duty on Remembrance Sunday for at least three years—probably more—and he will be there again this Sunday. Very quietly, like so many PCSOs, he will be carrying out his duties armed only with his strength of character and his personality, and he will do that phenomenally well.
I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to PCSOs, because I genuinely think that creating them was one of the best things that we did as a Labour Government. I am sure he shares my despair and horror at the fact that so many of their jobs have been cut, because they do very important work and often free up regular officers to carry out much more serious and heavy duties. I appreciate his support for a Labour Government policy.
I am happy to welcome Labour policies when they work, and PCSOs do work. They are a brilliant innovation. I particularly welcome the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice in supporting them, and the amount of work that he has personally done in ensuring that they have every opportunity not only to serve in their current roles but to be promoted to warrant service if they wish—and, indeed, many do.
I am very grateful that PCSO Harrison will be there. These individuals across Kent—this whole team—have in the last year seen a reduction in crime of 6%. I know that that is not down to them alone; it is down to a network, and that network starts in Kent and spreads to the whole of the United Kingdom. That co-operation, which is led very much by the chief constable, has done an amazing amount to ensure the people of Kent are safe. Chief Constable Pughsley has ensured that we have been innovative in introducing new technologies, and I am grateful that my right hon. Friend Damian Green has mentioned some of them. I would just like to raise one of them. In January, Kent Police introduced TrackMyCrime which I hope many other police forces will be introducing soon. It has seen the time taken for a crime report fall dramatically. It has also increased the satisfaction of those reporting crime. It is fantastic to say—or, rather, it is a mixed blessing—that 3,000 have been victims of crime and have used it; it is sad that there have been that many victims, but it is great that that many have used it, and the satisfaction levels have been very good.
The presence of police is not just about individuals, nor just about bricks and mortar, although I do know we all take very seriously the important decisions that will be taken over the location of police stations over coming years. The police station in Tonbridge and that in West Malling are extremely important. I welcome the work done in outreach—many policemen are now operating in our communities from council offices and, indeed, from supermarkets and mobile police stations, but it is not just about that; it is also about the work done across our whole nation.
That is why I am going to take a few moments to welcome the Bill introduced to this House earlier today. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill is absolutely essential. It is essential for ensuring that the intelligence the police need to do their job is available to them. It is essential to ensure that our intelligence services can co-operate effectively with the police so that we have the kind of integrated defence network we need to ensure that our communities are safe, not only from terrorism, violent crime and indeed child pornography and paedophilia, but also from more run-of-the-mill crimes that sadly blight the lives of so many of our constituents. I am delighted that the Bill is now before the House and will soon, I hope, become an Act.
Finally, I very much welcome the democratisation of police forces that we have seen under this Government. I know I am probably the only one in Kent who says this, but I welcome the new police and crime commissioner. That is not a universal statement in Kent—there are divergent opinions—but at least we know in Kent now who is taking the decisions.
Indeed, we do know who is making the decisions and we can hold the PCC to account. That is particularly important in that before the current PCC became the PCC she chaired the police authority so she was doing roughly the same job only with no public accountability. There cannot be a better example of the democratic improvement of having PCCs.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and speaks for me, because that is exactly what I was going to say.
Knowing now who actually takes the decisions on police priorities, the location of police stations, the use of resources and the priority of innovation, it is essential that when we get to the PCC elections—in 2016 in my area—we focus on who we want. These decisions are no longer for anonymous apparatchiks who hold secret sway over our policing; they are for people who are empowered with a huge burden of responsibility, and I greatly welcome the quality of candidates who are stepping forward on the Conservative side. I hope very much there will be excellent candidates from the other sides as well, because we need the best candidates for this job—not party political, but the best candidates. I am delighted to say that we have put forward some of those.
The growth in interest in technology should continue. It is not a process that is going to stop; in fact, it will accelerate as the criminals exploit ever-greater technological innovation, whether through secret messaging on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, through exploiting online banking to commit greater fraud or through phishing—in the internet sense—for greater riches. It is therefore absolutely right that our police step into that world and that our security services help them. I welcome the work being done in this area by the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice and, in particular, by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I declare from the outset that I grew up in a policing household. My dad is a retired police sergeant and one of West Yorkshire police’s finest. I am incredibly proud of all that he achieved in the police, but he would be the first to say that he does not recognise today’s force. I am certainly not here to argue that that is an entirely bad thing, however. As crime has changed, so has policing. As new evils manifest themselves, legislators and law enforcers have had to adapt in order to stay ahead and to protect those they serve.
My speech today is not like the others I have written. Since becoming the MP for Halifax, I have been keen to bang the drum for my town, to speak about the potential for jobs and growth, and to speak with pride about what we have got right and what we have to offer in order to bring in the investment and the tourists we need if we are to prosper. However, I would not be a credible MP if I spoke only about the positives at the expense of those issues that are difficult, that are a challenge and that pose a danger to the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable in my constituency.
In May this year, on one of my first weekends in this job, members of the English Defence League marched through Halifax. They were there to protest about child grooming gangs, and the march highlighted to me, very early on, the value of local, informed and familiar neighbourhood policing teams. In Calderdale, we have had one of the highest numbers of arrests in the country in connection with child sexual exploitation. Crime may be changing, with a decline in certain types of criminal activity, but colleagues who have made the hard yards on raising awareness of CSE prior to my election—my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) among others—will know just how complex CSE is to tackle.
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, all four countries in the UK have seen the number of recorded sexual offences against children increase over the past year, and the type of policing required to identify, disrupt and prosecute those seeking to exploit children and young people is intensive: it takes care, persistence and time. There are now 957 fewer police officers in West Yorkshire. The thin blue line is thinner than ever. My conversations with the local police have revealed their worry that policing will become much more reactive—the blue light service that we heard about earlier. Reactive policing is of limited use when we are striving to secure prosecutions and deliver a zero-tolerance approach to child sexual exploitation.
Further to this, Calderdale has also been deemed to be vulnerable to radicalisation and extremism, and in that context I cannot stress enough the importance of trusted local neighbourhood policing teams. Again, we cannot afford to take a reactive approach to radicalisation. Over the past three years, the number of terrorism-related arrests has gone up by 56%. Britain’s counter-terrorism chief, Mark Rowley, has said that regular officers on the beat make an “essential” contribution to developing relationships with communities. He went on to say:
“Counter-terrorism is not simply delivered by the counter-terrorism network”, and
“mainstream policing makes a big contribution”.
On the day the EDL came to Halifax, it was thanks to local officers that the march went ahead with limited trouble. They knew exactly where any geographical flash points would be, and they knew where to look on social media to take the temperature of the situation. They also knew who to keep an eye on, and where they were likely to be. I want to thank the officers who were on duty that day for the work they did, and for the work they do every day.
West Yorkshire police has weathered the cuts so far, but hon. Members will appreciate my anxiety about another round of cuts as high as 25% to 40%, which would be devastating. Neighbourhood police and police community support officers are at the forefront of identifying vulnerabilities, frustrations and other causes for concern within communities and among individuals before radicalisation starts, almost irreversibly, to manifest itself. We will lose the ability to do this proactively if there are further cuts to West Yorkshire police—or to any force, for that matter.
“Since their introduction in 2002…PCSOs…have proved to be an invaluable link between the police and the communities they serve… They bring key skills, values and diversity to policing.”
PCSOs have proved to be an incredibly effective way of building trust within communities, bridging the gap between policing priorities and the concerns of local people and gathering information in a way that officers may otherwise not be able to do.
West Yorkshire police has lost 137 PCSOs since 2010, a reduction of 18%. The Home Office has acknowledged what it describes as the “invaluable link” between police and communities delivered by PSCOs, so it must recognise that further cuts will start to diminish that link. Given the changes in crime—not only the complexities of tackling radicalisation and child sexual exploitation, but the urgency with which we must carry out that work—I urge the Government to think very carefully about how they reconcile the proposed cuts to services with their responsibility to keep people safe.
I am very pleased to contribute to this debate on policing. I am a criminal barrister by training, as I should probably declare at the outset. I have prosecuted hundreds of offences—from youth robberies in the magistrates court to murders and terrorism offences in the Old Bailey—and I know as well as anyone that our criminal justice system owes an enormous debt of gratitude to our police officers, particularly officers who carry out their duties with a tenacity that is always tempered by fairness. I believe our best police officers, particularly the ones I worked with in counter-terrorism and homicide cases, embody the finest traditions of British policing, with a determination to pursue lines of inquiry wherever they may lead and to get to the truth, however inconvenient that may be. The officers I worked with in serious cases were, without doubt, among the finest to be found anywhere in the world.
The background to this debate is the difficult funding climate that the police, and indeed other public services, have faced. We cannot get away from that, or forget that despite having the fastest growing economy in the developed world—generating more jobs in Yorkshire alone, the county of Holly Lynch, than in the entirety of France, and creating more employment for young people in the United Kingdom than in the rest of the EU put together—we are still running a very significant deficit. If we do not get the deficit under control, it will be a real and present danger to our financial stability. It is also right to say that if we do not get it under control, the deficit will do nothing to keep crime levels as low as we want them to be. Indeed, if we do not get it under control, we will not be able to continue to plough more money into our NHS and into protecting our schools.
How have the police responded to this funding climate? They have risen to the challenge magnificently. Crime has fallen since 2010: there have been 2.9 million fewer crimes, 189,000 fewer burglaries and 465,000 fewer violent offences. The independent crime survey for England and Wales shows a fall of 8% in the year to the end of June 2015. In my own county of Gloucestershire, crime is down by 18%. That is a tribute to the police officers who have shown such resourcefulness and dedication in serving the people of Gloucestershire, and my constituency of Cheltenham in particular. It is worth noting that those stunning falls have been achieved in the context of a much improved reporting culture, with people feeling better able to report crime, particular sexual offences.
The hon. Gentleman, with his considerable experience, asserts that crime is falling. May I quote City of London Police Commissioner Adrian Leppard, who is the national fraud co-ordinator? He said in a circular to all police and crime commissioners and chief constables that the crime survey for England and Wales will shortly include at least
“an extra 3 million fraud and cyber incidents”.
That reflects for the first time the changing and true nature of crime and, in his words, is
“an increase of up to 40%.”
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that crime is changing. That is of course correct, and I will come on to that in a moment. However, the truth—the inconvenient truth for Labour Members, some might say—is that the figures cited are the very figures on which they relied, being those of the independent crime survey for England and Wales. It is no good saying, “Yes, we relied on those in the past but we are not going to rely on them now because they are inconvenient.” There has to be consistency across the piece. There is that consistency of reporting and the figures are unanswerable: crime has come down.
Has my hon. Friend thought about some of the reasons why crime is falling? Does he agree that it may be linked to our having a stronger economy, with more employment? On the link between crime and deprivation, does he agree that it may be linked to the fact that we have the lowest number of workless households on record?
My hon. friend makes an important point, one that I was trying to make at the outset. We have to live within our means, not least because if we do not and the implications of economic instability befall our country, one thing that will rise, just as the sun rises in the morning, is crime. That is another reason why we have to live within our means.
How have the police managed to achieve this fall in crime? They have been innovative and forward-thinking. Savings have been made through improved procurement, which has delivered more than £200 million; the police have become less top heavy, rebalancing their forces in favour of rank and file officers; and they have redeployed their assets, putting a higher proportion of police officers on the frontline. As for the Government, it is right to say that the key priorities have been maintained and properly funded. I am particularly interested in counter-terrorism, and £564 million has been put towards supporting counter-terrorism policing in 2015-16. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has received additional funding, as has the police innovation fund. The College of Policing direct entry schemes have also been properly supported. Let us just look at what the police innovation fund has done. It is a multimillion pound fund that will consider proof of concept bids, as well as implementation-ready bids, to support innovation and breakthrough ideas.
The hon. Gentleman has asserted that counter-terrorism is fully funded. There is unanimity across this House in our determination to tackle the generational threat of terrorism, and there is effective funding of the national and regional strategies accordingly. But what does he have to say to Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism, who has said that what the Government are missing is neighbourhood policing? He said that if we hollow out neighbourhood policing, we
“risk breaking the ‘golden thread’”—
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course there needs to be front-line policing, too—that is simply unarguable—but I was going to discuss how resourceful and innovative police forces, doing more with less, have been able to deliver that. I wish to talk about what is happening in my county of Gloucestershire, but first let me address the change in crime, about which the hon. Gentleman made a point. He rightly said that crime is changing, but steps have been taken to address that. As we know, the National Crime Agency has been established to take the fight to organised crime, but Opposition Members made no mention of the £860 million invested in the national cyber-security programme to improve cyber-security. I respectfully invite them to mention it, because it is an important innovation. We have also had campaigns such as Cyber Streetwise to help members of the public.
In Gloucestershire, local officers have responded superbly. They have a commendable can-do attitude, they have rolled up their sleeves and they have got on with it. When National Police Chiefs Council officer Sara Thornton said that members of the public should no longer expect police officers to turn up at their door, officers in Gloucestershire said, “No, we will attend.” That is the right approach to take, because burglary is a horrible crime that robs people of their security and it requires a police response—and a police response will continue in Gloucestershire. It shows that Cheltenham and Gloucestershire’s officers are doing an excellent job—
I am sorry, but I am not going to give way. Gloucestershire’s officers are doing an excellent job of making important reforms while continuing to deliver on the public’s priorities. The truth is that further savings can be made, be it through collaboration—emergency services collaboration, where appropriate—procurement or reallocation to the frontline. Measures can be taken by which we face the financial reality but keep our people safe, too. We should back our police officers. They have done it in the past and they will do it again.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to support the motion. My constituency of Burnley is policed by Lancashire constabulary, which is renowned as a top-performing police force. It has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend Kate Hollern.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has rated Lancashire constabulary as outstanding. Yet, since 2010, Lancashire has lost 20% of its officers and 23% of its community support officers. In 2010, Lancashire had six police divisions; it now has three.
Given that the hon. Lady has said that Lancashire has seen a reduction in the number of police officers but is still rated as excellent, will she accept that there is no connection between performance and bare police numbers?
As I my speech progresses, the hon. Gentleman will see that I do not accept what he says.
There is no doubt that these reductions are impacting on crime levels and on the public perception of crime. Now, worryingly, crime is on the increase in some areas of Lancashire. Sexual offences, burglary and violent crime are all showing significant increases. In addition to that, and very importantly, the nature of crime is changing, and we ignore that at our peril. Cybercrime is growing at a phenomenal rate. A person is now more likely to be mugged online than in the street. Added to that, an ever-increasing amount of police time is spent countering terrorism and tackling child exploitation. Such crimes are more complex to investigate and place a massive demand on police resources. Bearing that in mind, I am hugely concerned by the further proposed cut to Lancashire’s policing budget. Under the new funding formula, the cut to Lancashire would be an additional £24.5 million.
I understand that savings must be made, but a reduction of that magnitude is particularly hard to stomach when the same formula proposes significant increases in funding for several other police authorities.
Yesterday, in the Home Affairs Committee we had the privilege of meeting, among others, the chief constable of Lancashire police. I asked him why he has a reserve of £65.3 million. Would that money not be better spent on front-line policing to cover the situation described by the hon. Lady?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter. The reserve is a result of prudent policing and developing new tactics to adapt to changing crime. It is about responsible policing.
There is no doubt that less delivers less, and Lancashire’s police constable has put his concerns on record. He talked about what would happen if the cuts went ahead. He said:
“Lancashire Constabulary will no longer be able to keep the public safe.”
Surely, when the police constable believes that cuts at the proposed level will mean that he cannot guarantee to keep the public safe, it is time to take notice. This is about not politics, but the safety of the people of Lancashire.
Last year, Lancashire police responded to more than 90,000 crimes.
No, I will not give way.
Lancashire police has been praised as an outstanding force, and yet it is to have cuts that go way beyond those of most other forces. There is no rhyme or reason for it, and, yet again from this Government, no fairness. What will the cuts mean operationally? The chief constable and the police and crime commissioner tell me that if these cuts go ahead at this level, the consequences will be this: no mounted police; no police dog units; the loss of the vast majority of our dedicated roads policing officers; the closure of every single public inquiry desk in the county; and dramatic cuts to our serious organised crime unit and the teams that deal with serious and complex crime—these officers deal with those criminals who pose the greatest harm to our communities. Added to that, police community support officers will become a thing of the past.
I know how much the people of Burnley and Padiham value their PCSOs. I have seen first hand the positive impact that our PCSOs have on antisocial behaviour, but it goes further than that. PCSOs are key to delivering dedicated, accessible and visible neighbourhood policing. It has long been acknowledged that the mobilisation of local knowledge is fundamental in effective policing, and there is no doubt that PCSOs play a massive role in the prevention of minor crime and that the on-street intelligence that they access by virtue of their trusted role in the community often provides enormous assistance to major crime investigations. In addition, the presence of these uniformed officers on the street is a source of reassurance to the public. They make the public feel safe.
In all policing, safety is paramount. In Lancashire, we fully accept our need to take a share of the cuts, but I believe that we should never gamble with public safety. I urge the Government to listen to the professionals, including Lancashire’s chief constable, and to revisit the funding formula to ensure that cuts are shared fairly and that public safety is not compromised.
I pay tribute to the work of the West Midlands police and the men and women who protect communities across the west midlands. As HMIC has pointed out, police forces across the country have been facing significant challenges, but West Midlands police were singled out for praise for how they have responded to those challenges. Since 2010, crime has fallen by 17% across the west midlands. Certain categories of crime have shown recent increases, but that is due to the success of getting people to come forward more readily to report those crimes. West Midlands police have had to do more with less, and as a metropolitan police force has faced funding challenges.
The hon. Gentleman knows that since 2010 crime has fallen across the west midlands by 17%. As I have just said, there have been some increases in crime such as domestic violence, which I think is a tribute to West Midlands police in encouraging people to report such crimes.
I welcome the Government’s plans to revise the funding formula. West Midlands police are a low council tax precept force and are dependent on Government grant to a large extent. One of the key criteria for the new funding formula is to take that challenge into account, so I look forward to seeing how the new formula will help West Midlands police with their funding settlement. There are big challenges for West Midlands police and I know that through the work they have done with Accenture they have carried out a comprehensive review of the future of policing in the west midlands and have mapped out some strategic priorities through a transformation plan. I support that work.
The West Midlands police and crime commissioner has made some decisions that have been characterised by short termism. They have been driven by a desire to generate political opposition rather than being taken in the long-term interest of West Midlands police. I would put the police station closure programme being considered by the police and crime commissioner, which includes the police station in Halesowen, in that category. It cannot be right that West Midlands police are spending £33 million on refurbishing their central base in Birmingham while proposing to embark on a closure programme across the west midlands and the black country that will probably deliver savings in the region of £3.5 million to £4 million. It is vital across the west midlands and the black country area, part of which I represent, that the police are not seen to be losing their footprint in local communities. The Halesowen chamber of trade has expressed concern, which I share, about the lack of police visibility in the town centre.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the closure of police stations and desks, but that has been going on in the west midlands for the past five years, as we have experienced in Coventry.
The West Midlands police and crime commissioner is making some short-term decisions in order to generate lurid, populist headlines about Government cuts, rather than taking the right decisions for the people of the west midlands and the broader black country.
I have already given way twice.
Would it not be better for the police and crime commissioner to have a more strategic response by exploring how local police stations could be used more readily as community hubs, bringing together different services and allowing police visibility, but also allowing the involvement of other partner agencies, because modern policing does not happen in isolation; it happens with partners, whether mental health services or local authorities? Can we not be more strategic about this? I have met the police and crime commissioner in order to try to persuade him of the need for a more strategic approach. We need a decentralised model of policing in the west midlands that does not centralise everybody in an expensive headquarters. The West Midlands police and crime commissioner should avoid the temptation to make these short-termist decisions, grab lurid headlines and consistently campaign in a politically motivated way, as he has done, in opposition to everything the Government are doing. That is not in anyone’s interests, including the public, who the police are meant to serve.
As other Members have pointed out, there are opportunities for other cost savings to be made by West Midlands police and other police forces across the country. As HMIC pointed out in its recent report, there are too many antiquated IT systems, and there are huge opportunities for efficiency savings in procurement. One example of a very successful collaboration in the west midlands has been the street triage system for mental health services. That pioneering collaboration between West Midlands police and the health service has led to a massive reduction in the number of people being taken to police cells after being sectioned under section 135 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It is an example of strategic thinking leading to cost savings and it is bringing a massive benefit to front-line policing. It is therefore in nobody’s interests to take a non-strategic view of what is happening. We need more innovation and creative thinking, especially at a time of fiscal challenges.
I will fight to save Halesowen police station from the decision taken by the West Midlands police and crime commissioner because I think that is the right thing to do in the long term to protect the visibility of policing in the west midlands. However, if he insists on his decision, I will continue to campaign for a successful high street presence in Halesowen. A successful example of that was when the local police took a shopfront and used it as a community hub. Why can we not make the right decisions?
I recognise that the challenges of modern policing are complicated and that crime is falling in the west midlands, but let us not take short-term, politically motivated decisions that undermine public confidence in the police. Let us do the right thing for the communities of the west midlands and the black country.
Opposition Members recognise that the Tories have an ideological ambition to shrink the state. Attacks on the public sector have meant cuts in the workforce in almost all the areas where we try to serve our constituents, but I would never have thought that this Government’s ideological cuts would threaten to deliver the end of neighbourhood policing as we know it. That is potentially what we face if the Government go ahead with their plans for budget cuts.
As my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham pointed out earlier, we have already seen a 25% reduction in real-terms funding since 2010 and 17,000 police officers have been lost since 2010, 12,000 of them from the frontline. I shall comment briefly on the potential cuts in Manchester as an example of the problem we face. Just as the Government have hit the poorest areas hardest with local government cuts, so it is with police funding. Generally, the more deprived areas, such as mine in Manchester, which rely on a greater proportion of central Government funding, will be hit hardest by Government cuts in police budgets.
Some 80% of Greater Manchester police funding comes from central Government. The disproportionate impact of the proposed cuts will mean that we would be among the hardest hit communities in the country. Greater Manchester has already lost £134 million from its budget—a quarter of the budget—since 2011. The majority of a police force budget is spent on staff, so these cuts directly hit the number of officers serving our communities. We have had the second biggest reduction in officers outside the Met. In 2010 Greater Manchester police had 8,200 officers. That is now down to around 6,500.
Given the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, does he agree that if cuts are to fall on police services across the UK, front-line officers should be protected from those cuts?
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that the Scottish Government’s response has been correct, in that we have protected front-line services and increased police numbers by 1,000 since 2007?
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am more interested in Greater Manchester and my own constituency, though I have nothing against Scotland.
The Home Office is asking for modelling of cuts at 25% and 40%. I asked the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner what that would mean for Greater Manchester police. A 25% cut would take police officer numbers below 5,000. A 40% cut would be catastrophic. We might be down to fewer than 3,000 officers. From over 8,000 officers in 2010 to under 3,000 on the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary’s watch—do they really want that as their legacy? That is not sustainable.
The model of neighbourhood policing that works so well in my area and many others would be under threat. Bobbies on the beat is not some kind of romantic “Dixon of Dock Green” vision of how police forces should work. It is emblematic of the successful model of policing that we currently have—police officers and PCSOs connected to their communities and adding to community cohesion.
What the Government are proposing is a huge change. In the words of Lord Condon, who knows quite a lot about policing, these
“profound changes to the bedrock of British policing should be taking place only by design and after widespread debate . . . not by stealth as a consequence of budgetary change.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 20 October 2015; Vol. 765, c. 564.]
There are, of course, new challenges facing our police forces—terrorism, cybercrime, child sexual exploitation, human slavery and human trafficking, as well as changes in organised crime—and we need a proper debate about how the police deal with those challenges. We also need to consider how community policing helps to tackle those problems, because I believe, as do many police officers, that they are exactly the areas where local intelligence makes a vital difference, where good community relations are important, and where our police officers and PCSOs are the bedrock of those good community relations.
When I meet my local team—Ben and the other PCSOs—on the streets in Withington, I can chat to them and we can share our experiences of what is going on in the local area. That is useful for me and, I hope, useful for them. The conversations that we have add to their knowledge of the local area—their community—and to the intelligence that they can pick up on sensitive issues.
Another former very senior police officer, Lord Paddick, has said of the changing nature of terrorism and lone-wolf attacks:
“In many cases, community intelligence about the individuals involved may be the only way that we can prevent terrorist outrages.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 20 October 2015; Vol. 765, c. 565.]
The conversations that take place with neighbourhood policing add to the safety of our communities. Cuts in the number of officers and PCSOs are a direct threat to the safety of our communities. The Government are making a huge mistake in assuming that just because some types of crime have fallen we can cut back our police to unsustainable levels. Nobody is saying that the police should not make savings, but cuts on this level will be a massive blow to our communities. I urge the Government to think again.
I am delighted to be able to speak on this subject of such great importance, and to declare an interest in it. I had 32 very happy years in the Metropolitan police service as a detective serving in the counter-terrorist command and the national crime squad.
Not surprisingly, this motion has some fundamental flaws in the way that Labour frames its arguments about policing. It is far too simplistic to make a point about policing numbers when we are having a really serious debate about what sort of police service this country needs and wants. This is not, and should not be reduced to, simply a numbers game. If the Opposition were serious about discussing it, they would be asking questions about how they want the police services of this country to look, what their priorities are, and how they face the challenges of policing in the 21st century.
The system of policing in this country has had to evolve. We cannot think or accept that a system that was created and honed in the 1820s for a different time will be completely fit for purpose today. While many aspects of police work are excellent, we need to adapt, and the Government are doing just that. Technology has advanced at an incredible pace, and that has left previous models of policing in need of reform to meet today’s challenges. The Government continue to promote innovation and improved efficiency by allocating £70 million to the police innovation fund this year. That is key to my point about police numbers.
This is about efficiency, and about management effectively deploying the resources at their disposal. I have had numerous discussions with my former colleagues in the police about this issue, and I have found their views illuminating. It has made senior police officers think about how they manage and deploy their resources. It has required higher quality management, and, through that, the police service has reformed itself by having to prioritise what is important and re-evaluate how a modern police force needs to operate. That has rarely been done before, as Governments have never challenged how the police service works on a deep enough level. Under the previous Labour Government, there was too much bureaucracy and obsession with target-driven performance, as I well remember. While targets are vitally important, the Government have challenged the long-standing model of policing. Through that, police services have managed their priorities and resources more effectively, and policing has thereby become much more capable of meeting the challenges that it currently faces.
I commend the work of the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister in doing this. During such major reforms of such a vitally important part of British public life, I also commend the Government for providing the stability needed in the Home Office. We have had the same Home Secretary for over five years, and three Policing Ministers, including the current one. They have done an excellent job in providing the continuity and strong leadership required during this period. That is in stark contrast to the Labour Government, who, if I am correct, had six Home Secretaries and seven Policing Ministers. I well remember the days at Scotland Yard when most senior officers did not know who would be Home Secretary on any given day. The constant change of direction and personality in such a crucial role is not conducive to providing the confidence that the police need if they have to undertake major reforms.
The current situation has required courage and innovative thinking on the part of police forces. Given the many trials faced by policing, I am glad that the Government continue to invest heavily in the College of Policing, to ensure that the most talented individuals will lead our police forces in the future.
The Labour motion also mentions sharp rises in knife crime. Policing is complex and nuanced. It requires preventative and outreach work in communities, to try to change deep-rooted cultures that have built up over time. We must concentrate on how police tackle any rises in knife crime. I have read that some say that it is the fault of cuts in funding to police budgets, but that is a deeply misleading and dangerous statement to make about policing. The causes of knife crime are countless and diverse. Many are down to multifaceted and nuanced social reasons that have grown and transformed over decades. Crucial reasons for the recent rise in knife crime include the dark web being used to purchase weapons, a cultural change among young people, and improved recording of knife crime statistics.
It is about how people are managed and deployed, and managers have to be trained to do that properly. That is the argument. The police are making serious efforts to tackle knife crime and they are making some important changes. The police are there to investigate, prosecute and tackle knife crime.
That brings me on to something that is missing from the Labour motion. It states that traditional forms of crime are being replaced by cybercrime. That is no doubt true, but my point about the dark web being used to purchase weapons is important. We must examine and tackle the link between cyber and more traditional crime.
Finally, I simply do not agree with the notion that this is the end of bobbies on the beat. I am sure that the Government would never compromise public safety. In fact, the proportion of front-line police officers has risen in the past five years. I implore the Police Federation to debate, discuss and engage in positive dialogue with the Government on reform, rather than continue to adopt its militant stance.
We must be serious about how we progress with policing. This is no time for political grandstanding. We must move on from the political obsession with police numbers. The public deserve a far more serious and forensic approach to policing services, and I am glad that the Home Secretary, the Policing Minister and the Government are undertaking the serious work required to do that, rather than engaging in political point scoring.
As a former police officer, I offer my full support to the Home Secretary on her and her team’s excellent work on falling crime figures and on ensuring that policing is able to meet the serious and perpetually changing challenges of the 21st century.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I grew up with a huge amount of respect for the police service and the job it does in keeping our communities safe. When I was young, my dad served as a special constable with South Wales Police for a number of years, reinforcing my belief in the important job that our police officers, civilian staff and special constables do.
My constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney is made up of a number of small villages and communities, each with different needs and priorities. The need for support from the police service is significant in many of the communities I represent, but that support is under threat from the Government’s proposed cuts.
Prior to being elected to this place in May, I spent 20 years as a county councillor. During that time I and my colleagues worked closely with the police service—specifically the neighbourhood policing team—to resolve a multitude of community concerns. As councillors we held monthly advice surgeries with the local policing team, delivering a joined-up service to local residents. That approach worked well and served to resolve most concerns that invariably required a two-pronged approach.
Neighbourhood policing has had a hugely positive effect on communities, with constables and community support officers being able to build a rapport with the communities they serve. That in turn creates a greater sense of public safety and enables the police service to quickly target those who cause most problems. Neighbourhood policing also has benefits in reducing indirect costs for the public purse resulting from antisocial behaviour and low-level crime. By working at the grassroots in our communities, the police have been able to tackle the root causes of issues before they become major problems.
Unfortunately, due to the significant cuts over the past few years, neighbourhood policing teams are disappearing. Before they came to power, the Tories promised to protect front-line policing, but over the past five years they have cut about 17,000 police staff. In Wales, we have been fortunate that, despite the significant cuts to their budget, the Welsh Labour Government have funded the employment of 500 police community support officers.
The significant cuts to which police services have been subjected will put communities at greater risk. I know that in some large organisations, having fewer resources helps to create efficiency initially. I am sure that that is true of the police service, but the sustained cuts that we have seen and the further significant cuts that we face will serve only to weaken the service and impact on morale. There are many examples of how low the morale in the police service has become. I have heard at first hand of the most conscientious of officers leaving the service in the prime of their careers. That does not bode well.
We have all heard a variety of statistics, but stats have a habit of being interpreted in all sorts of ways. I prefer to listen to the people who know best—the people living in our communities and working at the grassroots of the service. Those people are saying that things are not getting better, but worse. This is hardly the time to cut investment. As we have heard, crime is not falling, but changing.
The Government’s proposals will take policing backwards in this country. My constituency is covered by two forces, Gwent and South Wales. With a 25% cut, we will see a 22% reduction in officer numbers in Gwent and an 18% reduction in South Wales. That can be compared with violent crime rates, which are up by 22% in Gwent and 28% in South Wales.
Community safety and law and order are too important to put at risk. The Government’s cuts will put our communities and residents in danger. I urge the Government to think carefully about the further cuts they are planning and the impact that those cuts will have on the lives of people in our towns and villages. Those cuts are not sensible. Most people do not live on gated estates; they live in ordinary communities and they need adequate protection from the police service. The proposed cuts will not allow the police service to give them that protection. I urge hon. Members to support the motion.
I welcome today’s debate on this important matter.
The headquarters of Lancashire constabulary are in my constituency of South Ribble. Indeed, I can see the building from my bedroom window. I have many neighbours and friends who are members of the police force. Lancashire constabulary was rated an outstanding force as recently as last month. I commend the work of Chief Constable Finnigan and Chief Superintendent Lee, and all those in the Lancashire police family who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities.
I welcome the fact that police reform is working. Crime is down in South Ribble and down in Lancashire by over a quarter since 2010. Lancashire constabulary has made significant changes in the last five years. There is a centralised control room and there have been innovations using mobile technology. I know that the chief constable talked about that when he addressed the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. Such innovations, including those that my right hon. Friend Damian Green spoke about, free up time for other police work. I know that there is more to do. The chief constable has told me that there is more to do in terms of real estate, particularly in respect of the large site at Hutton that the constabulary owns.
Lancashire has been mentioned many times in this debate, including by Andy Burnham and Julie Cooper, who is not in her place. Some of the figures that have been bandied about are speculative and slightly unhelpful.
The chief constable of Lancashire, Steve Finnigan, is one of the most outstanding chief constables in Britain. When he says that the proposed cuts will make Lancashire a less safe place to live, is he right?
The word is “proposed”, but the problem is that a lot of what the police and crime commissioner says is based on figures that we know nothing about. There is a lot of speculation about what will come out in the autumn statement in three weeks’ time.
I do not know whether I am allowed to respond when somebody speaks to me from a sedentary position and names a Member.
The Lancashire constabulary has made changes and will carry on making changes. Some of the talk about the changes has been speculative and unhelpful.
The hon. Lady claims that the talk is speculative, but did she not read the Budget documents published after the election? The Home Office is unprotected, and unprotected Departments are looking at cuts of 25%. That is why my hon. Friend Jack Dromey and her chief constable say that her constituents will be less safe if that goes ahead. Is she happy to nod that through?
First, I am not nodding it through. That is why I am speaking. The right hon. Gentleman mentions the figure of 25%, but the police and crime commissioner has spoken of a figure of 40%. They are both speculation about something else.
I would like to speak about the funding formula. We are talking about cuts and safety, but we can have a safe country only if we provide a strong economy so that, in future, our children are safe. It is all very well saying, “Safer now,” but if we destroy the economy in the longer term, it will not be safer now or later.
I am struck by the similarities between the actions of the police and crime commissioner in my hon. Friend’s constituency and those of the commissioner in my area of the west midlands. In her constituency area, the police have £65 million in reserves and yet are closing police services. In my area, we have £100 million of reserves. Will she reflect on that fact?
I will reflect on it and address it later.
The consultation period on the funding formula is ongoing. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice met all Lancashire MPs. Anyone who knows Lancashire—many Members do—will know that it is a unique county. It is mixed urban and rural—small towns with villages next to them. Lancashire MPs believe, on a cross-party basis, that the technical changes to the modelling have disproportionately disadvantaged Lancashire.
In Cumbria, we have a large geographical area, a small population, a mountain range and poor infrastructure. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when we consider the weighting formula and funding, rurality and the circumstances of each county must be taken into consideration?
Yes, but I do not want to strain the patience of the House on the technical detail of the funding formula. It is a very complicated formula—the right hon. Member for Leigh referred to that.
In conclusion, I applaud the innovation in policing country-wide, and I applaud the work of my constituents and all members of Lancashire constabulary. There is more to do in terms of innovation and responding to 21st century crime.
I welcome today’s debate. Policing is a major concern in my constituency and across Merseyside. The motion moved by my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham sets out the key areas. It mentions the loss of 17,000 police officers since 2010—in Merseyside alone, we have lost 1,000. It also mentions the sharp rise in serious crime and the move away from traditional forms of crime.
Several hon. Members have talked about how crime is changing. In my constituency, the rate of firearm discharges has been a major issue, so I welcome the 23% fall in that rate over the last year. In Merseyside as a whole, however, the last year has seen big increases in the levels of serious crime, such as hate crime, violence with injury, violence without injury, rape and other sexual crimes. Conservative Members are right that this is partly because more people are coming forward, but when they do their complaints have to be dealt with—the capacity has to be there—and we are concerned that as a result of the cuts we might not have the capacity to deal with those larger numbers.
Since 2010, Merseyside has faced a budget cut of more than £60 million, which represents a 17% reduction in spending, and lost 800 police officers, more than 400 other police staff and more than 100 PCSOs—overall, a cut of almost 20% in staffing levels. Assuming a cut in the CSR not of 20% but of 25%, Merseyside would need to make further savings during this Parliament of £66 million. That would mean a cumulative cut across the decade of this Government of 35%, which would be one of the highest in the country—and in an area of social and economic need facing very big challenges. By the end of 2019, we would have lost 900, or one in four, police officers, 1,300 other staff, which, at 59%, would be the majority, and 78% of PCSOs.
My hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Burnley (Julie Cooper) spoke powerfully about the impact of PCSOs. I have seen that in my own constituency. Jane Kennedy, the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside, has said we might have no PCSOs at all in Merseyside by the end of the Parliament. That is a very serious threat.
We face a similar situation in London, where the future of PCSOs is under threat. Were they to go, which is entirely possible—likely, indeed—the loss of intelligence and visible police presence on our streets would drive a coach and horses through traditional community-based policing. I am sorry to hear that that is the case in Merseyside. I am worried it will be the case in London too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary was right to remind the House that PCSOs were a major reform under the noble Lord Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, of the nature of policing in this country, and it is a great shame to see its reversal as a consequence of these cuts.
The motion rightly focuses on the cuts in the CSR, but I want to comment on the police funding formula. My hon. Friend Jeff Smith spoke about the impact of cuts to the central police grant on Greater Manchester police. It is similar in Merseyside. We receive 85% of our funding from central Government—the third highest of any police force in the country—whereas 51% of Surrey’s funding comes from central Government. That means that the impact of a reduction in funding from central Government is much greater in Merseyside than in Surrey, which is protected by the council tax base. I do not think the Government have shown sufficient regard to that as they have made their cuts.
I have sympathy with my hon. Friend’s argument, but does he realise that down in Sussex it is even more absurd? Sussex police are being cut by 5.1%, as the review stands now, while neighbouring Surrey is getting an additional 5%.
My hon. Friend has made that excellent point already, and it is made even more emphatically by his repeating it. He is absolutely right.
The consequence is striking. Over the last five years, Merseyside has lost one in five of its police officers, whereas Surrey has lost just 1%, and this contrast has a direct impact. The proposed changes to the funding formula will also have an impact. As others have said, there will always be gainers and loser when we change the funding formula, but under the current proposal, which I accept is still out for consultation, Merseyside will see a further cut of more than £5 million in our police budget. So, we have the cuts I have mentioned, the impact of our being much more reliant than average on central Government support, and a new formula that, if not changed—I very much hope it will be—will take another £5 million out of our budget.
I pay tribute to the entire police team in my constituency and across Merseyside for the fantastic work they do, and to the leadership of Jane Kennedy and our chief constable, Sir John Murphy. He has said:
“We will not deliver as good a service as we have done before. In some instances, it will take us longer to get there. In some instances, we won’t turn up. That’s an inevitable consequence of having less people to do more work.”
It is as straightforward as that.
I want to say three things in conclusion. First, the scale of these cuts, as the shadow Home Secretary said so clearly at the beginning of the debate, is unacceptable—and that is what the motion says. Secondly, the proposed formula change for areas such as Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and indeed London will result in a loss that will exacerbate the impact of the cuts. Finally, we need a recognition that many areas of the country, particularly those with the greatest levels of deprivation and social and economic need, including Merseyside, are more reliant on support from central Government. When that support is cut, therefore, we are hit the hardest. It is the same with the local government cuts. The Government should recognise that as they go into the comprehensive spending review.
I appeal to Conservative Members, who represent a party that used to be known as the party of law and order, to think again about the scale of these cuts. No longer can they be seen as belonging to the party of law and order or the party for police and communities. In all parts of the country, but particularly in areas like mine that have suffered from serious incidents of crime and antisocial behaviour, it is vital that we have a visible, effective local police service. I know that Jane Kennedy and John Murphy will do their utmost with whatever resources they are given, but let us give them the resources so that they can do the job properly.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I am going to have to lower the speaking limit to five minutes with immediate effect. I remind hon. Members, especially those hoping to catch my eye later on, that if they make a lot of interventions, they are eating into their own time. I hope that interventions will be kept to a minimum.
I hope to be able to speak within five minutes. I would like to echo the thanks of everyone else to the police, and particularly to those in Hampshire, where our constabulary has been leading the way in channelling resources to the front line. The force faces some particular challenges, to which I will return, but it does a fine job and I want to pay tribute to Chief Constable Andy Marsh and all his staff.
There has been a fall in crime of 11% over the last five years, and 96% of police are on the frontline. I hope that when the final funding formula is drawn up, it will recognise that Hampshire has already made the transition to becoming an efficient and responsive force. Hampshire should not be penalised when other forces, as we have heard, still need to catch up. It is very welcome that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice accepted this point in a speech to the House at the end of the last Parliament.
Across the country as well as in Portsmouth, we have seen a fall in crime since 2010, and I am sure that it will continue as society grows stronger under our long-term economic plan. This has coincided with a period of budgetary pressure on police forces across the country; as we have heard, some forces have responded better than others. I welcome the initiative to put senior officers in closer touch with local authorities by sharing facilities. In Portsmouth, we now have our chief inspector and her team in our civic offices—much closer to the city council team, including community wardens, that play such an important part in helping the police.
It makes equal sense to pool facilities and resources across the emergency services wherever this is possible, and both Hampshire fire and rescue service and Hampshire constabulary are leaders in that development. Hampshire has set up H3, which merges all the back-office staff and functions along with the county council. Sharing these resources makes sense, as more money can be spent on front-line services rather than replicating back-office functions. This has meant £4 million going back into front-line services. I know that some authorities are doing the same, but not all. I urge them to follow the example of this scheme. I know the Policing Minister has visited Hampshire and that as a former firefighter he was most impressed to see this. The early implementation of body-worn cameras by Hampshire police has had a dramatic effect in reducing violence towards officers, and on confrontational behaviour generally when officers attend an incident.
Like the constituency of my hon. Friend Seema Kennedy, Hampshire faces unique policing challenges. Some 85% of the area is rural, yet Portsmouth has the highest population density outside London. As a Member who represents an urban constituency, I was saddened to learn that rural crime is a huge problem. The farming industry in Hampshire is intensive and advanced, and there is a worryingly good trade in stealing equipment and shipping it out of the country through Southampton. That is a particular challenge for Hampshire, as it is for a handful of other forces that cover ports that have a rural hinterland.
I am especially keen to work with the police, local authorities and public health bodies on drug harm reduction and crime prevention, and I welcome the sustained fall in drug crime in Hampshire’s crime statistics. This year’s figures up to September show an almost 14% fall in reported drug crime. The police force has been running an excellent campaign against psychoactive substances in recent weeks—an issue that I campaigned on before my election to this House. Criminality from the drug trade is fought by street-level police intelligence. I welcome the shift towards getting rid of those drugs, something that the Government have promoted through the Psychoactive Substances Bill.
The Prevent strategy is working well. Six men went to Syria three years ago, but none has gone since. The police team have spent a lot of time with the families affected, and the Prevent team works closely with the Bengali community. I welcome the continued commitment of funding for counter-terrorism policing, which I am sure has stopped further young people travelling to join terrorist organisations. We now have more officers on the beat in Portsmouth as a result of the reforms, and I look forward to working with the police at all levels, from chief constable to police officers, as well as our valuable police community support officers, whose contribution is much valued.
The British police force is one of, if not the, most professional and efficient in the world. The Home Secretary said in her statement:
“As the House knows, the first duty of Government is the protection of the public, and that is a responsibility this Government take extremely seriously.”
If we look at the Government’s proposals, however, we see that that statement is a joke, and it does not square with her actions in capitulating to the Chancellor’s demands for more and more cuts. That is a disgrace.
The Home Secretary suggested earlier that the police should be given the tools to do the job, but that is the opposite of what is happening. She has been congratulated on the proposals in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, but I am not prepared to congratulate a Home Secretary or a Government who are throwing caution to the wind by making cuts to everyday community policing.
Like my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, I represent a constituency covered by Merseyside police, and I have regular contact with the police—on a professional level, I might add; the shoplifting claim was just an isolated incident! The police are feeling under siege, not from criminals but from the Government—the very people they look to for support and resource. My hon. Friend said that the Conservative party was once the party of law and order; it is now the party of law and order on the cheap.
What is the picture nationally? There are 17,000 fewer police officers compared with 2010, and 4,500 fewer PCSOs—the proposed cuts take the figure to 22,300. What about a fall in crime? Violent crime is up by 16% and knife crime by 9%, and all in the context of a £2.3 billion cut in funding since 2010, which is 25%. Twenty out of 27 forces say that their response times are going up—there is an average 17% increase in response time, rising to a 57% increase in response time in the worst hit areas. The number of rapes has gone up, not down, to 31,621, and numbers of other sexual offences have risen to 63,800. Violent crime is up by 25%, and levels of hate crime and cybercrime have risen. As my hon. Friend noted, the chief constable of Merseyside police has said that we cannot carry on doing more for less.
All this must be set in the context of major cuts to local government, probation services, other social services and partner agencies, including the voluntary sector. The issue of reserves is one of the fallacies and myths that the Tories persistently use about local government. The figures suggest that 88% of the reserves are earmarked for the next four to five years. The idea that they are being wasted—that they are lying around in some bank account or someone’s cocoa tin—is complete nonsense. Moreover, my local force does collaborate: the Merseyside fire service and the police have a combined command and control centre.
My area is to lose 20 PCSOs, who are familiar faces in the community. The concept of neighbourhood policing is going west. There has previously been consultation about whether three police stations in my area should be closed; we thought that we had put that one to bed, but it is to be revisited. The 7,350 police staff whom we had in 2010 are to be reduced to 5,773.
My hon. Friend and I share the Merseyside region. He is in the heart of Liverpool, while I am on the periphery of the region, in St Helens. Does he agree that the cuts mean that our police force will not be able to respond to the diverse challenges of policing in Merseyside?
My hon. Friend is spot on. Our two areas are affected by a wide range of issues, from gun crime to organised crime, from day-to-day crime to fraud. A diverse community needs a diverse response.
By 2019, the workforce will be down by 40%. Specialist support teams dealing with such matters as sexual violence, hate crime, gun crime and organised crime will go, and that will have a significant effect on community reassurance. The police service is not just there to react. It is a bit like an insurance service: people like it to be there. All the partnership working is under a huge amount of stress.
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I have talked about that issue recently, and, indeed, have given a presentation on it. PCSOs are the feet on the ground. They come into contact with members of the community day in, day out: in the shops, for instance. People approach those officers for information and intelligence. Losing them will have a deleterious, detrimental and significant effect on intelligence and the ability of the police to deal, on the ground, with issues such as gun crime, drug crime and organised crime. Whether the Conservatives accept it or not, that will happen as a direct result of the cuts. Indeed, it is already happening, and has been happening for a considerable time. The country, and my constituency, needs a Home Secretary who will stand up for safer communities and not put them at risk.
I am delighted to have been called to speak in this important debate. Let me begin by associating myself with what has been said by Members on both sides of the House about PC Dave Phillips.
Members have rightly spoken about the way in which our policemen and policewomen do their duty on the frontline, but we must remember that we, as a Government, have duties as well. Yes, we have a duty to maintain law and order and to deliver safe communities, but we also have a duty to balance the books and to deliver sound fiscal policy and sound public finances. I am proud that the Suffolk constabulary has excelled in delivering more for less, as we have asked it to do: it has delivered lower crime with lower funding.
I pay particular tribute to the excellent leadership of our police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore. He is a Suffolk farmer, and he has used his Suffolk farmer’s common sense to take effective, practical measures that have delivered savings while continuing to carry out excellent policing. That has been achieved through, for example, collaboration with Norfolk and the wider eastern region, and the use of technology such as Toughbooks, which means that police officers can key in more data away from the police station and therefore spend more time on the frontline instead of behind their desk, and I commend them on that.
As a new MP I find having PCCs very useful as they are a direct line to what is going on when there is a live crime wave, as we have had in Suffolk. Since the end of August no fewer than 14 churches have been subjected to lead theft, including four churches in my constituency: Groton, Hawkedon, Stratford St Mary and the very ancient and historic church of Lavenham. I recently visited Lavenham church and walked on the roof. It is shocking to see the extent of the associated damage. It is not just the fact that the lead has been stripped. The criminals smashed crenellations and damaged the edge of the roof, which caved in, when they threw the lead down to a wheelie-bin on the ground, which they then went off with.
In the case of Hundon church, which is just outside Clare and in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Matthew Hancock, falling lead damaged a grave, so this has become a matter of desecration. I have to say—I hope I am not going too far—that the United Nations has labelled the destruction at Palmyra as a war crime, and while I would not say for one moment that the damage to our churches is on that level, it is nevertheless a crime against our own Christian cultural heritage.
Fortunately, when one considers the huge costs our churches face—Stratford St Mary estimates it will cost £54,000 to make good the damage to its roof—our churches have an angel: the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, the heritage Minister. Following representations from myself and my fellow Suffolk MPs, on Friday she wrote to me to confirm that the Chancellor’s listed places of worship roof repairs scheme would be extended to include churches that have recently been the victims of lead theft, thereby hopefully providing the resources to ensure that they can repair the damage to their ancient architecture.
The other point I want to raise in relation to this recent crime wave in Suffolk is the issue of alarms. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these crimes are still at large, although I know our rural crime unit is working hard to catch them. However, our churches have a duty to try to prevent this crime, as indeed do communities, because this sort of rural crime is almost impossible for the police to deal with. Many of our churches are scattered across the county in sparsely populated areas. We need the community to be alert, but we also need the installation of effective alarm systems. I want to make the point on the record that the Ecclesiastical Insurance company, which supports our churches, has a list of just three providers of alarms for churches in the whole country, including just one in the eastern region, meaning that alarms are incredibly expensive. I have received representations from firms that want to go on that list and I will be getting involved to make sure that they do.
At a time of tough budgets and necessary savings, which we have to make to deliver sound public finances, we need innovation and collaboration. We also need our community working in partnership with the police. In that way, we can continue to cut crime efficiently.
I am sure that this House would like to congratulate the many policemen and women who attended the police bravery awards last week—the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice was there—and also PC Winston Mugarura of the Met and PCs Adam Koch and Jean Stevens of the West Midlands on their exceptional bravery.
Policing has borne a significant burden of cuts since this Government became obsessed with slashing budgets and impoverishing the public good. Since 2010, overall central Government funding for the police, including grants and council tax freeze grants, has been cut by 22% in real terms. We are yet to find out how the police will be affected by the Chancellor’s forthcoming spending review, but we know that Departments have been told to plan for the same reductions requested ahead of the 2010 spending review; that is, of course, to model two scenarios of 25% and 40% savings within their own budgets by 2019-20 in real terms.
My local force, North Wales police, was staffed by 1,675 officers in 2005. It has lost 188 officers—11% of the total—in the past 10 years. Mark Polin, the chief constable, has announced that 57 further police community support officers are to go in the next three years. That police force serves a population of 676,000 people across an enormous 2,400 square miles.
I was fortunate enough to accompany the police during their Saturday night work over the August bank holiday. They were already tightly stretched, running between the busy towns of Abersoch and Pwllheli. Because the police responsible for that area of Dwyfor were concentrating on those towns, the rest of the towns in Dwyfor were effectively being ignored, and if anything had happened elsewhere, it would have been very difficult for them to cope with it.
There are already 17,000 fewer police officers in Wales and England now than there were in 2010. That means 17,000 fewer people to look after our communities, help the vulnerable, enable justice and provide security—and this at a time when child protection and digital crime are immense challenges.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case in relation to the impact of the cuts across Wales. We are facing a tremendous problem. Does she agree that the police in Wales play a vital role in the social fabric of communities, particularly in relation to dealing with the mental health crisis that Wales is experiencing?
I agree with the hon. Lady. The police have talked to me about the difficult role that they play on the frontline when dealing with people with mental health issues.
The Government often brag about their commitment to national security. They brag about protecting the defence budget and spending upwards of £150 billion on a weapon of mass destruction that we will never use, but they are all too happy to use the old excuse of balancing the books as a matter of urgent necessity when it comes to vital community services.
The Welsh police forces are unique within the UK. They are non-devolved bodies operating within a largely devolved public services landscape. They are thus required to follow the diverging agendas of two Governments. It is essential that the people of Wales should be given a democratic choice, through their directly elected Government, as to how the police are to be governed and held accountable, just as the people of Scotland are. I was dismayed at Labour’s cheap dig at the Scottish Government. It was a divisive elbow-jab, given the immensity of the challenges facing police forces in England and Wales.
Transferring responsibility for policing to the Welsh Government would not be the tectonic shift that many Unionists claim it would be. Relationships between the Welsh forces and UK services such as the police national computer and the Serious Organised Crime Agency would continue as at present, as is the case in Scotland. Cross-border arrangements could also continue. Why then should the people of Wales not be given the same democratic freedom as that enjoyed by the people of Scotland and that proposed for certain English cities? Devolving policing powers would lead to greater clarity and efficiency by uniting devolved responsibilities such as community services, drugs prevention and safety partnerships with those currently held by the UK Government.
The Tories have been justifying many of their policies of late by claiming that the people voted for them, regardless of whether those policies were included in their manifesto or not. Perhaps that is a democratic oversight. The people of Wales did not vote for the Tories’ policies. They did not vote for this Government. The people of Wales voted in 2011 for a Parliament: their own democratic institution to make decisions on matters that relate to Wales and to her interests.
The Silk commission—a commission comprising all four main political parties in Wales—spent two years consulting not only the public but civil society, academia and industry experts. It received written evidence, heard oral evidence and visited every corner of Wales, and its report recommended the devolution of policing. That is what the people of Wales have asked for, and that is what the people of Wales deserve. Wales’s police forces cannot cope with continuing cuts, and they should not have to.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate on policing. Prior to my election to this place, I served as a district councillor for eight years and interacted regularly with Sussex police in that role. Back in 2010, when Sussex police announced plans to make efficiency savings of £50 million over the following four years, many in my community felt nervous that crime rates would increase. As it turned out, crime has fallen in my area of Sussex. Indeed, we have seen crime rates fall nationally by a quarter. I recall the chief constable for Sussex addressing my council chamber in 2014 and explaining that the cutbacks in funding had, in certain instances, actually helped to decrease crime. He gave the example of the merging of certain operations, which resulted in enhanced communication between units and led to better detection and arrest figures.
I recognise that additional reductions in funding for the next term will cause a further challenge to our police forces. That is particularly so in Sussex, which, having found savings of 16% during the last term, has one of the lowest cost bases from which to deliver further savings. I believe it is essential not to send out a message from this place that the police are not properly resourced and not able to do their jobs. To do so would be contrary to the facts, bad for police morale and bad for public confidence. Since I was elected, I have made it my business to meet police representatives in my constituency. My conclusion is that they recognise the challenges ahead, but believe in their ability to meet them head on, without detriment to public safety. I find that stoic attitude refreshing and admirable.
Having referred to the fact that the key to better policing it is not just the amount of money spent, but how it is spent, I want to mention police numbers. In this debate, the reduction in police numbers has frequently been used to highlight the idea that matters are in decline. In years gone by, crime detection required police manpower alone to solve cases. In our modern world, where technology provides surveillance, evidence-gathering and deterrence, there is no need to man as much of the front-to-back police operation as there was previously. Accordingly, it is too crude to use a reduction in police numbers to argue that policing must be in difficulty.
Finally, I would like to touch on the demands that this place and public campaigns put on our police. Since 1997, over 3,000 new criminal laws have been passed that our forces are ultimately required to resource and police. Most, if not all, of those laws are laudable, but each one passed is unlikely to lead to the decriminalisation of an existing law. The additional laws therefore stretch our police forces further, which may have a questionable impact not only on their own resource requirements, but on our civil liberties. One such example is the recent law prohibiting smoking in cars where children are present. Such a prohibition could be judged as sensible, but it has led one chief constable to state publicly that his force would not dedicate resources to cover it. I might add that that is not the best way to deter it. Does it not make more sense to consult the police about such occurrences before passing laws, and to consider whether public education, rather than criminal prohibition, is a better way to reduce such behaviour?
A further suggestion is to look at what we require the police to enforce. In my constituency, the police are required to ticket cars for overstaying in free on-street parking bays, even though around the corner it is the local authority that charges and tickets for car parks. The police have now made the call that they cannot continue to do that, but as parking is not decriminalised in my local authority, it has turned into a free-for-all.
Like every other Conservative MP, I was elected on a mandate that promised to make reductions in public spending in order to deliver a budget surplus. Paying down the annual interest bill on our national debt is essential. The interest bill alone is much greater than the national policing budget. That will be a challenge for many of our leaders in public service. I believe that the police, as they have previously demonstrated, will continue to deliver for my constituents and keep them safe and protected. I look forward to working with my police force in Sussex to that end.
I come to this debate with a slightly different perspective, as someone who worked for nearly a decade in the police service, supporting victims and witnesses of crime. I am increasingly concerned about the impact this Government’s cuts will have on the people I worked for and alongside. Victims of crime have often had one of the most traumatic experiences of their life; yet a recent survey of detectives showed that only 39% of them felt that they were able most or all of the time to provide the services that victims needed. That is a terrifying statistic, but it will only get worse if the proposed cuts go ahead.
As a consequence of 25% cuts in funding, a number of police forces will no longer offer to visit victims of burglary, which is an event that can have a devastating impact on individuals and families. It has been widely reported that one police force is now piloting a scheme whereby those who report a crime are dealt with via Skype. That may suit some circumstances, but surely it should be offered as an option, not as the standard service we can now expect.
Although falling levels of crime have been welcomed, there is evidence to suggest that rates of certain crimes are on the increase, particularly violent crime. It is entirely appropriate that significant police resources are being channelled into specialist areas, including the investigation of child sexual exploitation, cybercrime and fraud, but as a direct result of cuts to police numbers, far fewer police officers are available. Many believe that the day of the bobby on the beat will soon become a thing of the past, as the police service regresses to the provision of a reactive response-only service.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that underpinning these cuts is a fundamental misunderstanding by the Government of the daily reality that many police officers face? As she will well know, in West Yorkshire many police officers spend 80% of their day dealing with safeguarding and vulnerable cases. These are cases that are often not reported but which place a heavy work burden on officers.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. What she says is true. Although some crime levels have decreased in recent years, we are seeing a significant increase in much more complex investigations. A police officer recently told me that cuts were already hitting so hard that the scene of a serious sexual assault in a major city had to be preserved overnight as no detectives were available to attend until the following morning—that was just down to cuts in police numbers.
In common with many Members of this House, I have witnessed the benefits of neighbourhood policing at first hand. Many officers who serve in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton have nurtured and developed relationships with the communities they patrol, and take immense pride in seeing crime rates fall, cohesion blossom and trust build. While out door-knocking in streets across my constituency, it is refreshing to hear residents talk of their dedicated officer by their first name as an integral part of the neighbourhood. Officers working in and among local communities are an essential tool for intelligence gathering—this strength of eyes and ears should never be underestimated. Yet we see no sign that this Government are committed to preserving neighbourhood policing for the future. Prevention work is also being hit hard. I know of a local PCSO who runs football training twice a week for boys and girls. Within weeks of the project starting, anti-social behaviour in a previously blighted area had become practically non-existent.
The West Yorkshire police force, which serves my constituency, has seen a reduction of 1,100 police officers since 2010, and we fear that even more will be lost in the next round of cuts. An officer told me recently:
“we are just managing to keep our heads above water, any further cuts will see us drown. I fear a major incident happening around here.”
A survey of more than 32,000 police officers revealed that more than 70% felt that morale was low in their force, with only 10% saying that they would recommend joining the service. Officers talk of being stretched to capacity yet doing their utmost to deliver a comprehensive and professional service.
Of course, we know that the police service needs to evolve. Crime is changing and, like all public services, the police will need to find new ways to meet new challenges. But real reform needs modernisation not privatisation, investment not cuts, and partnership not confrontation. Unfortunately, we see the same attitude from Ministers to everyone in the public sector. As with teachers and doctors, this Government now treat police officers as public enemies, not public servants. Frankly, people in my constituency want police on their streets and a Government who are on their side. That is why they elected me to this House, and that is why I will be voting for the motion today.
I am pleased to see in my constituency that police reform is working. Not only in my constituency, but across the country, crime is down by more than 30%, as a result of the police becoming ever more efficient. For example, strategic alliances between the Hampshire and Thames Valley forces have resulted in the sharing of many specialist units. My hon. Friend Mrs Drummond also mentioned the sharing of back-office services with the county council. Those are all ways in which the police can become more efficient and protect the front line. They are also doing that through procurement. Some £200 million has already been saved on procurement, and many sources suggest that there is about £300 million more to go. This is a strong direction of travel, ensuring that we protect the front line, as has happened in Hampshire and as is happening elsewhere; it is protecting the roles that people want to see, while ensuring that the taxpayer saves money.
I am pleased that the funding formula is being reviewed because it is currently unfair. The fact is that a new simplified model, which is based on that review, will replace the current, complex, opaque and out-of-date model. The data on which the current model is based is from 2003-04. Indeed, the model even includes some information from the 2001 census. It is chronically out of date, and it is time for a change.
Yesterday, at the Home Affairs Committee, chief constables and police commissioners told us of the disparity that exists between the different police forces. One point that came through very strongly was the need to reflect the cost of rural policing. It is important that the Home Office considers that as part of the consultation. Further, and this point has been made by Members from both sides of the House, there is a lack of parity between different forces in the amounts that they get from council tax and from the central Government grant. That is why the funding formula changes will be felt more greatly in some parts of the country, but it is important that that is taken in the context of the efficiency savings that could be made.
My hon. Friend mentioned rural policing. I very much hope that he will continue his excellent work on the Select Committee to probe the Government on the funding mechanism, because some policing matters do cost more in rural areas such as Shropshire. I very much agree with his sentiment on that.
My hon. Friend is right that the cost of rural policing is important, but so too is the way that rural policing is administered. We need to ensure that communities feel safe. The concept of feeling safe is as important to many people as the level of crime.
On the consultation, I believe that we are moving in the right direction. The consultation is trying to create a fairer formula for the country as a whole. However, I urge the Government to consider the point of damping. Damping affects Hampshire to the tune of £10 million, which is a significant burden, whereas Surrey gains £6 million from it. It is important that, as part of this new funding formula, we reflect the actual need of particular areas.
Let me turn now to population distribution, which is where some of the rural issues come in. This is about not only the sparsity of the population and the difficulties in addressing any crime that might exist, but the fact that the police authority boundaries are arbitrary—they are the result of historical boundaries in counties and elsewhere that have existed for many hundreds of years. There is no reflection of the fact that crime can cross county boundaries. We must remember that any funding arrangement should reflect not simply the population within a police authority area, but the neighbouring areas, as crime will cross boundaries. Crime from Surrey or the Thames Valley can very easily reach my constituency of North East Hampshire, so it is important that police forces work closely together. Therefore, I suggest that population distribution should not be looked at in isolation.
I come back now to the point of efficiency. Hampshire is a low-cost force. It gets £38 million less than the average force, which means that it has had to drive those efficiencies faster than other forces. Indeed, between 2005-06 and 2010-11, it made savings when other police forces were spending more per capita. It then had to be even more frugal and it made further savings in 2010-11 through to 2015-16. We must ensure that those forces that have already made the savings are not penalised for having become more effective sooner than other forces, because that would be a perverse outcome, and I am sure that that is not what the Government intend.
That leads me on to the way that the police funding formula is taken forward, and needs to be seen to be taken forward. It is important that we do not scaremonger. The funding formula is designed to provide a long-term stable, simple to understand method of funding for police forces across the country, but there are then the local police commissioners, who are the best way to ensure local accountability and that funding for the future is determined by local people.
When my hon. Friend Richard Arkless made his speech, there were a number of calls from Labour asking why we would not be supporting the motion and why we were not turning our focus on the Government rather than on Labour, so let me start with the motion.
The motion starts by expressing concern at the loss of 17,000 police officers, and that is very concerning, yet in Scotland police officer numbers have been maintained, with an extra 1,000 since the Scottish Government took over in 2007. The motion claims that there is some evidence that crime is rising, but in Scotland crime is at a more than 40-year low because of the actions of the Scottish Government. The motion states that the police budget could be cut by between 25% and 40%, but in Scotland the Scottish Government, operating within a fixed budget, have had to make difficult decisions but have not made cuts to anything like that extent. If it was not for the fact that we have to pay VAT for police services in Scotland, which is not the case across the rest of the United Kingdom, there could perhaps even be extra money that could be invested.
When we can agree on all those points, why on earth does the motion have to include a line about the Scottish Government? It is bizarre that in a week where we have seen the first piece of legislation classified as England and Wales-only we have a motion from the Labour party that talks about a matter that is devolved to Scotland.
Surely one of the most tragic and distressing incidents we have heard about in the past few months was the terrible incident on the M9, in which two people died after being left at the side of the road for three days. HMIC conducted a review into the call handling on the back of that and produced a report that found significant issues with poor performance. Does that not show that there are significant issues with performance in Scotland and that it is absolutely right that we should raise them in this Chamber?
Any force can have issues at any time. That was a tragic incident and I know there has been consideration of exactly how that happened, but such things happen regardless of where they are. Why include these references in the motion? It talks of the Scottish Government’s oversight, but if we listened to Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament, we would often be forgiven for thinking that they were asking for direct political intervention in the management of the police rather than any kind of oversight. That is not what anybody in this Chamber would want.
I want to pick up on the point about oversight, as I have a particular situation locally. Immediately before I was elected to this Chamber, I was the leader of Midlothian Council, and I have been a councillor there for 10 years. I saw how the council interacted with the police services pre-Police Scotland and post-Police Scotland. Pre-Police Scotland, Midlothian Council had two representatives to scrutinise police activity locally. They tended to be from the administration and, up until 2012, that was always the Labour party, so I, as a local elected member, had no oversight of the police in my local area. When Police Scotland took over, a local safer communities board was established in Midlothian that allowed members of the council across the political board to have direct interaction with the police and a direct say in the local policing plan. It is deeply unfortunate that today’s Labour motion criticises the Scottish Government’s oversight when the Labour party in Midlothian is the only Labour party in the whole of Scotland not to participate in the safer communities board to oversee local police operations. From my point of view, it is hypocritical for Labour to be saying anything about oversight of the police when a local Labour party will have nothing to do with the oversight of police and fire services.
Let me move on. The cuts to police services are tragic and, because of the Barnett consequentials, they filter through to Scotland. We need to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to maximise investment in policing so that we can continue to maintain the lowest crime levels we have seen in more than 40 years and to make the improvements we have seen across the country. If the Government would take just one more look at VAT, that would enable us in Scotland to make some of the changes we need to continue the progress we have made.
When I look at this motion, I cannot help thinking that somebody on the Labour Benches looked at a previously drafted motion and said, “Hang on a minute. We haven’t mentioned Scotland, so we need to do so.” It has ended up looking like a typical example of the Labour party saying, “#SNP bad.” The section about Scotland makes no sense at all in the context of the rest of motion. Had it not been included, I can see myself supporting the motion. Why has Labour included it? Was it simply to make SNP Members vote against it? It is utterly bizarre. This is a strange situation to find ourselves in, and it is really sad that it has come to this on such an important issue.
As possibly the only person in the Chamber who has actually handled a police budget, I must say that over the past few hours I have had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. In my first week as deputy Mayor for policing in London I was told by various senior police officers that if I even thought about touching the budget, it would be the end of life as we know it. The first thing they would wave in front of me was safer neighbourhood teams. In every one of the four budgets I handled during my period at the Met, safer neighbourhood teams were the first saving to be rolled out. Of course, that was designed to frighten me and put me off making the much-needed savings and efficiencies in the force. Despite the fact that during my time I took something like 12% out of the overall Met budget, crime fell very significantly.
I also got used to armchair chief constables giving their views. Opposition Front Benchers have today made much of Peter Clarke. Lovely man though he is, Peter Clarke retired over 10 years ago, so he has not seen a budget for over a decade. Opposition Members would do much better to rely on more up-to-date expertise.
The concerns expressed by Peter Clarke about the impact on counter-terrorism of the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing have been echoed publicly in the past three months by the current head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that good neighbourhood policing—forming relationships, gathering intelligence and being the eyes and ears—is key to counter-terrorism?
Order. We need interventions to be short, because I am worried that the hon. Gentleman will not have enough time to respond to the debate in his own speech.
I do accept the “golden thread” argument, but what I am trying to illustrate is that in February and March of every single year of my tenure that argument was waved in front of me, and it never came true.
I have some observations to offer on some of the arguments we have heard today. First, on the connection between police numbers and crime, I can say from experience that there is absolutely no direct connection between the two. The best illustration of that I can give is the apprehension of Delroy Grant, a night stalker in south-east London. That man terrorised and raped elderly people over a period of 17 years. The operation to catch him was the largest and most complex the Met ever mounted and it cost millions and millions of pounds. They did not catch him for 17 years because they were trying to catch a rapist. They appointed a new investigating officer who realised that they were trying to catch a burglar, and then they caught him within two weeks. Millions of pounds was spent on the wrong investigative method. If they had adopted the right method earlier, they might have prevented a lot more crime. Homicide in London fell from 211 in 2005 to 101 in 2012—happily at the end of my tenure. Is anyone saying that we should have the same number of police officers investigating murder as we had back in 2005? Of course not. There is no direct connection between the two.
Those Members who are complaining about a rise in crime types in their constituencies would do better to ask serious questions of their police forces about performance, technology, targeting and skill. Let us look at two similar police forces, Warwickshire and Cleveland. Cleveland currently attracts a lot more funding than Warwickshire, despite the fact that they have similar populations. Warwickshire’s performance, however, is excellent. Cleveland has just been criticised for not handling antisocial behaviour correctly. Performance—skill, leadership and focus—has much more of an impact on crime types in any particular area than money does. I recommend that Members go and ask some of those testing questions. Most of the time, police officers know where, when and by whom crimes will be committed, and using intelligence better will be much more effective.
My hon. Friend is making his point in a typically powerful way. Does he agree—this might be a cynical point—that there are some who will say that we should not be playing ball as we have been doing in trying to reduce our budgets, in order to make political capital? That might make good political press releases; it does not make good policing.
Order. When I say I want short interventions, I do not mean, “Then carry on and make long interventions.” [Interruption.] No, I decide whether it is short. I am sure, Mr Hoare, you can find something else to do rather than challenging the Chair. I am sure that is not your intention. I want to get everybody else in, and the only way I am going to do that is to have fewer interventions. I want to allow the right amount of time for the closing speeches.
My hon. Friend is right. I sat in the chamber at city hall for year after year while Labour members waved the shroud for the public and tried to engender a sense of alarm, and of course crime dropped year after year, particularly very serious crime.
There is more to come out of police budgets—cars, buildings, reoffending rates, possibly a merger with the probation service. There is a huge amount that can be done. Many police forces still have not got a handle on procurement in the way that local authorities have, and many of them are saddled with scalping PFI deals that were brought in under the Labour Government. All of us bear the scars of that.
Much has been made of the supposed rise in crime as a result of online crime and cybercrime, but the truth is that no single force can tackle this. The idea that giving Lancashire more to deal with cybercrime will do anything for us is ridiculous. Often the perpetrator is not within the force area and may well be overseas. We would be much better off having a focused, efficient, combined central force to deal with cybercrime, which is exactly what is proposed.
Finally, I want to say something about the police formula. For many years it has been an unspoken secret—something that senior police officers sniggered about behind their hands—that the formula that was put in place 10 years ago was so manifestly unfair, but nevertheless politically sensitive, that politicians would never have the courage to meddle with it. During the four years that I was deputy Mayor for policing, there were constant complaints about the police formula and nobody really had the cojones, if that is parliamentary language, to get a grip on it. So I congratulate the Minister on finally dealing with it.
As my hon. Friend and neighbour Mr Jayawardena mentioned, the biggest injustice in the formula has been damping. Most of the Opposition Members who have been complaining about cuts have forces that were beneficiaries of damping. Merseyside and Sussex did well out of damping. Hampshire has been significantly penalised over the past 10 years by damping, and its removal will be welcomed not only by those forces that have been penalised thus far and which will therefore benefit, but by anybody who is interested in fair play in police finance.
Some of the forces that have benefited from damping thus far, such as Lancashire, were wise and knew that they were living on borrowed time, so they took action and built up their reserves. Lancashire, as we have heard already in the debate, has £65 million in reserve. Much of that is money that has been accumulated by taking money away from Hampshire. Now that we are getting to a fairer formula and a level playing field for all counties, it is time for Lancashire to use Hampshire’s money to plug the gap that it may now experience.
I want to talk about the serious gang-related violence and crime happening in my constituency and in Salford, and the strain that the incidents are placing on an already-overstretched police force in Greater Manchester and on our community.
Over the past 18 months in Salford we have witnessed a frightening escalation of gang-related gun crime, with 21 shootings. Hundreds of “threat to life” warnings have been issued to people in Salford in the past nine months. These “Osman” warnings are given to people, including children, whom the police believe are at risk of being killed or seriously injured. Recently, in the Winton area of my constituency, a seven-year-old boy and his mother were shot at close range on the doorstep of their home. Both were seriously injured, and the seven-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries. This was a sickening attack which shook the whole community locally in Eccles and in Salford, and I was shocked by it. The escalating violence in my constituency and across Salford has been linked to feuding among armed gangs which are seeking to settle disputes. The use of weapons in Salford is now becoming a regular threat. Constituents have contacted me to tell me about their fears and how they feel about living in an area where shootings happen so frequently. After the seven-year-old boy was shot, people were very fearful about the safety of their own children and grandchildren.
Despite many of the comments by Conservative Members, crime is rising in Greater Manchester. From November 2014 to October 2015, recorded crime rose by 12%, and violent crime rose by 34%. Given this rise in violent crime and the shootings on our streets, I join our police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, in saying that it is time for the Home Secretary to listen to him, to stop the policing cuts, and to invest in keeping our communities safe. As he says:
“Local people are rightly concerned about the cuts to GMP and, while police officers and staff remain committed to keeping people safe, it is getting…more difficult to put the public’s mind at ease. The reality is that we are heading towards 1970s police numbers where police were used simply as an emergency response”.
In Greater Manchester, we have already lost £175 million from our police budgets, meaning a loss of more than
1,500 officers. Now, any further cuts could be very damaging. We used to have a force of 8,000 officers, with former chief constable Mike Todd saying that that needed to increase to 11,000. It is obvious to me that the Government’s cuts to police numbers are leaving Greater Manchester police overstretched, and without the extra help that is needed to deal with the gang violence I have described. I am deeply concerned about the impact that any further reduction in police numbers could have on my constituents.
Recent comparisons have been made between the current situation in Salford and the gang-related violence that happened in the past in Moss Side. Our new chief constable, Ian Hopkins, has gone on record as saying that the gang violence would not be sorted out inside a decade. Our former chief constable had said previously:
“Certain families have been ruling the roost for many many years. That’s the sort of thing that needs to be tackled and it’s going to take…10 years to do that.”
So we are facing 10 years more than 10 years. High visibility policing and proactive community work have helped to tackle the gang violence in Moss Side. Our chief constable has said that
“the key…is gaining the confidence of the community...in south Manchester…the community said ‘enough is enough’ and worked alongside us, and we’ve seen a remarkable turnaround.”
Further cuts to our policing budgets could mean that our police force just becomes reactive, only able to deal with emergency calls. As we saw in areas of Moss Side in the past, proactive strategies are needed where police work with the local community, and we need a good visual police presence.
I hope that the Home Secretary will think again before forcing any more cuts on to Greater Manchester police, because we need not less, but more help to protect ourselves from the gun crime and violence on the streets of Salford.
I want to put on record my thanks to the Policing Minister for his readiness to meet Lancashire MPs—including you, Mr Deputy Speaker—with officials to hear our concerns about the funding formula. The Minister was very generous with his time in listening to our concerns, and I have every faith that they will be taken on board. We may not get all the solutions we want, but he is definitely prepared to listen, engage, and see what progress can be made.
For me, the key thing is to maintain some of the real positives in policing in Lancashire, mostly in community policing. Community policing is important in Lancashire, where we have very mixed, diverse communities, whether in east Lancashire, with some of the challenging issues we face there, through to the rural communities or to Blackpool, with its very challenging night-time economy. Lancashire also has great challenges with regard to counter-terrorism. Community policemen and women are often the people who are there on the ground, speaking to residents, allaying their fears, and ensuring that their voices are heard. Whenever the funding formula is changed, I urge the Minister to ensure that everything that can be done is done to ensure that community policing is not adversely affected.
Lancashire has great variations in its seasonal economy, and that can often involve a policing challenge. My neighbouring constituency of Blackpool will see huge fluctuations in visitor numbers depending on the time of year, with hen nights, stag nights and so on. Having been out with the Lancashire constabulary late on a Saturday night, I know that they are stretched.
Let us not lose sight, however, of the fact that budget savings have to be found. Lancashire has a reserve and the onus is on the constabulary to make sure that the budget is spent wisely. As my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse has said, the reserve is not a rainy day fund but should be used to provide policing. We also have to make sure that resources are being properly managed.
May I take this opportunity to thank the police in Lancashire for all they do to keep my constituents—and indeed yours, Mr Deputy Speaker—safe? That goes without saying. When the review gets underway, I urge the Minister to look at the funding formula, to see whether there are any anomalies and to make sure that the people of Lancashire can be very proud of what this Government continue to do to support the police.
It is a pleasure to speak in the same debate as so many Lancashire colleagues and to follow my parliamentary neighbour, Mark Menzies.
Lancashire has featured prominently in the debate, including the fact that the Lancashire constabulary has reserves. Under the funding formula, the Policing Minister’s local force in Hertfordshire has greater reserves than Lancashire. It has gained £6.6 million, while we have lost £24.5 million. Indeed, Lancashire faces a reduction in funding of between £134 million and £164 million between 2010 and 2020. The funding cuts are going to result in a fundamental change to policing in Lancashire. My hon. Friend Julie Cooper has mentioned the huge decrease in police numbers. They have fallen from 3,611 in 2011, and we fear that by 2020 there will be only 1,699, if the cuts go ahead in full.
Statistics have been used liberally during this debate, but I want to share a very personal experience of community policing. When I finished work on
I was very fortunate that I managed to come across PC Bruce Irvine, who was attending an incident while on the beat. At 11.30 on a Wednesday night, I could go to him and explain that a man was following me. He was able to put me in the back of his police car to make me feel safer and make sure that I got home safely. He spoke to the man who had been following me, who admitted that he had been following me and that he had intended to follow me all the way home to find out where I lived because he “liked the way” I looked.
The police cuts and the loss of community policing will have a real impact on real people’s lives. When my chief constable in Lancashire, Steve Finnigan, says that the cuts could result in Lancashire becoming a blue-light-only service, that terrifies me as a woman. When some councils talk about switching off street lights at night because of the cuts, that makes me question whether I, as a woman, can walk home safely from work in the evening. I am not the only woman in that position. Police cuts are having a huge impact on our communities and a particularly huge impact on certain groups that may be more vulnerable than others.
At a time when the national crime recording standard in England and Wales is showing an increase in the number of rapes and sexual offences being reported, I urge the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice to take this matter seriously and to reconsider the proposals for Lancashire and other forces that have been adversely affected, including the neighbouring Cumbria force, because they will impact on women’s lives and make them scared to go out at night. Please consider that.
The police do not usually do politics. The Representation of the People Act 1983 prevents them from influencing any person’s decision to vote by word or deed and the police’s code of ethics states that the police
“must not take any active part in politics.”
That did not stop an open letter being issued on
The letter said that the public were in “blissful ignorance”, but people are becoming aware of the situation. I have received email after email from people in Hanger Hill ward—the least Labour-friendly territory in my constituency—who are disgusted that their PCSOs are going. And all this from the one-time party of law and order. Since May 2010, the Met has seen £600 million slashed from its budget, resulting in 190 fewer police officers and PCSOs in Ealing. We will find out in the spending review how many will be lost in the next round of cuts. People fear that, with the Tories unfettered by coalition government, things will get worse. The Guardian reckons that 22,000 officers will be lost. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said last week:
“The reductions in forces’ workforces are likely to lead to a further erosion in neighbourhood policing.”
Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have recounted the figures for the Met police. The number of officers has fallen from 33,367 in March 2010 to 31,877.
Evening Standard that the combination of the comprehensive spending review and the recalculation of the formula would lead to £800 million of cuts, which amounts to between 5,000 and 8,000 officers. He stated:
“For the past four years we have taken cuts…and we have just got on with it.”
“I genuinely worry about the safety of London.”
Sir Bernard spoke at a public meeting in Ealing town hall the other week that was organised by our Assembly member, Dr Onkar Sahota. He was asked how the cuts would affect Ealing. The answer was that if they were shared equally across all the Met’s frontline teams, including firearms and sexual offences specialists, Ealing borough would lose about 25% of its officers, which is 170 police officers. If they were sliced another way, with the specialist units being protected and the 8,000 officers being lost from all the London boroughs, Ealing would lose 299 police officers, which is equivalent to 44% of the current force.
I have been to Ealing and Acton police stations in recent weeks, where I have spoken to our chief superintendent and officers at every level. People are seriously worried. They talk about devastation and a lack of morale. Just like the iconic Scotland Yard, both those police stations will go and the officers will be relocated to Brent. Everyone was saying, “God forbid if anything like the August 2011 riots were to hit Ealing again.”
We police by consent in this country, but we also police by local knowledge. Every police officer lost is local knowledge lost. Is not that what the Conservative party fails to understand?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The contact that means officers know the names of people on the streets is what we value about our police force, and it is endangered by the Government’s actions. The police in those police stations told me that the thin blue line is getting ever thinner and that precious human resources are being stretched to breaking point.
In the 2011 riots, our borough—my constituency—had one fatality. It was not just “happy shopping” or whatever people called it.
“The notion you can take money out of policing and numbers out of policing without increasing the risk exponentially is flawed.”
Hon. Members might have seen a story about Epping—the other side of town to my constituency—on BBC “London News” yesterday. A Remembrance Day parade that has been held every year since 1919 is not happening this year because there are not the police to marshal and cordon off the areas for it.
In New York, the population is decreasing but police numbers are being increased. It is odd that the opposite is happening in London—it does not make sense. We are in the nation’s capital. Hon. Members see on the annunciator screens in our offices that the threat level is severe. How will slashing our police force to ribbons help? Many hon. Members have said that the nature and scope of policing have changed and that we have new crimes. We should listen to the unprecedented intervention of 1,000 past and present police officers. The letter says that we
“cannot stand by watching the destruction of the UK police service.”
The people of Ealing, Acton and Chiswick deserve better.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure to be called to speak by you. Most often when I have spoken in the Chamber it is you who have called me, so I am always relieved to see you walk through the doors. [Interruption.] I shall say something nice about the Minister in a second as well, so he should prepare himself.
It is interesting to follow my hon. Friend Cat Smith. We have heard from hon. Members who have been affected by crime and there are many different perspectives on crime and policing both sides of the House. I welcome those and enjoyed listening to them because it is important to get different perspectives. I have seen the impact and importance of policing from many different perspectives and angles. I have been a victim of crime—a victim of serious crime—and saw at first hand during that experience the humanity, professionalism and determination of good policing. When I hear from Conservatives who have had experience of policing, from the Minister to Byron Davies, I never fail to have respect for their profession and the dedication they showed when they were serving, even though I disagree with the conclusions they draw. Similarly, my hon. Friend Paula Sherriff spoke about her work with victims of crime, which she did for 10 years. I saw that work at first hand too, and have absolute admiration for it.
I have spent time work shadowing with Sussex police. I recommend that all hon. Members do that if they have the opportunity. I spent time with the antisocial and hate crime unit in Brighton and Hove police—it is one of the very few police forces to have a dedicated unit for antisocial behaviour and hate crime. I learned an extraordinary amount about the complex work they do, and about the interdepartmental work they do on the ground, working with councils, social services and so forth to make policing integrated and to make it work for the long term.
As an MP, I see things from another angle, particularly representing Brighton and Hove. It is a complex place to police. We have 8 million visitors to our city every year and two universities, which bring with them specific opportunities and challenges. We have the highest number of pubs and clubs outside London. Being a party town is great fun, but it brings with it a price to police. We have very diverse communities. Some of the most privileged communities in our country are in the city of Brighton and Hove, but we also have communities in the bottom 3% for deprivation in the whole country. We also have Pride, which brings in 200,000 people.
I understand that good policing underpins our economy, something that has not been mentioned enough in the debate. Our economy in Brighton and Hove is dominated by retail, small and micro-businesses, small traders and the self-employed. Our economy is not hidden away in tall buildings with private security on the front door. Our economy happens on community high streets and people’s neighbourhoods. That requires good, solid community policing. Our economy needs a safe space to thrive.
Sussex police have already implemented a 20% cut, as a result of which 500 front-line staff have gone. This is where I extend an olive branch across the House. I have had many frank conversations about this matter. Kit Malthouse was slightly patronising earlier when he suggested that we needed to get out and speak to police. We do, and they have told us about their innovation and what they did to survive the first round of 20% cuts. In many cases, these are examples of best practice, doing more for less and learning from experience. There has been innovation, but the CPR will mean a further cut of between 25% and 40%. To put that in context, of its current budget of £250 million, my police force could lose up to £96 million. I do not believe Conservative Members who say that this will not have a direct impact on the frontline. Add to that a funding formula that could take another 5.1% away from our police force, and it is impossible to see how this is anything other than a Government waging a war against policing in cities such a Brighton and Hove.
I stand here in solidarity with the police and crime commissioners and policing staff across the UK who are facing cuts, and I join them in urging the policing Minister to halt the proposed changes to the police funding formula, which are, to quote the PCCs’ open letter,
“unfair, unjustified and deeply flawed”.
I am strongly opposed to the proposed policing cuts, under which London will lose 11.3% of its central grant, which equates to £184 million in annual funding for its police service—equivalent to many forces’ entire budget or the loss of 3,000 police officers. In the middle of October, the capital’s most senior police office told a meeting of Enfield residents that he feared for the safety of London as a result of the proposed cuts, and I agree with him.
The situation for my constituency is critical. Recent figures show violent crime has soared in London over the past 12 months, especially in the borough of Enfield, in which there are 18 offences every day. The level of youth violence has increased by 19% over the last 12 months, compared with the London average of 13%. In the same period, while London saw a 3% fall in the number of homicides, Enfield saw a rise of more than 250%. It is now 7%, which is the joint highest in the capital. Enfield cannot afford any more cuts. The region has been historically underfunded through the distribution of grants to London boroughs. In the last five years, two of its police stations have closed and more than 100 police officers and PCSOs have been lost.
I ask the policing Minister to think about the open letter. The attempt to appease PCCs for threatening judicial review has not helped. Given the extent of the opposition, I ask that the Government go further than merely refining the proposals, and radically rethink them. These cuts are unsafe and unjust.
Despite the best efforts of Southwark police, my constituents are concerned about the cuts to the borough force and the loss of 200 officers since 2010. These cuts were made despite a concerted campaign by Councillor Michael Situ, cabinet member for communities and safety on Southwark Council, and my constituents are nervous at the prospect of a further cut of 25% or 40% to the borough’s resources.
Four particular groups of crime have been raised with me. The first is drugs and the antisocial behaviour relating to their use and sale. In parts of my constituency, there has been a rise in the visible use and sale of class A drugs. This is in central London. In particular, residents of Tissington court, in Rotherhithe, feel that the police were unable, or lacked the resources, to tackle the regular sale and use of heroin within the block. Families felt unable to send their children up and down the stairwell because of the use of heroin and its impact in that stairwell, including the voiding of bowels there during the day. To get that issue resolved, it took an incredible amount of time, and a concerted effort on my part with the Rotherhithe councillors, who took it to the police along with the local tenants association.
There has been a lack of focus in the debate on business crime, although my hon. Friend Peter Kyle raised the issue far more eloquently than I probably will. There are concerns that relate to businesses in my constituency. The rise in shoplifting has been raised with me by Tesco managers. Particular businesses have been targeted—for example, pub users have had their mobile phones stolen. We have seen a dramatic increase in commercial squatting across the constituency, which I raised with the Met commissioner. The Albion in Rotherhithe and The Elephant and Castle—unsurprisingly, located in Elephant and Castle—have been targeted. Even the Metropolitan police’s own building, the former forensic lab in Walworth, was squatted by about 80 people until it was emptied for sale.
My constituency has also seen a rise in commercial burglaries, particularly around Borough and Bermondsey, Long lane and Tower Bridge road. Cold Mountain Kit, next to my constituency office, was burgled on the day it opened. Businesses are losing profits and confidence when targeted in this way, as well as losing their stock and facing higher insurance costs. They also live in fear of repeat incidents in the face of cuts to our policing.
We have seen a drastic rise in street robbery, too. The South London Presscovered it just last week. A 46-year-old mum was mugged when picking her son up from school; a 70-year-old woman on Olney road had gold jewellery stolen off her body; and an 85-year-old women was targeted for gold theft by muggers on Andrews Walk in a recent spate of incidents.
As other Members have mentioned, we have seen a dramatic rise in murders and knife crime in particular. It gives me no pride to say that Southwark has one of the highest murder rates in the capital. Knife crime has risen by 13% in England and Wales; and in 2013-14 only 16% of the knife crimes in Southwark led to charges being brought. I see that the hon. Member for Gower
(Byron Davies) back in his place, and he suggested that the police have the resources to deal with that. I think that is offensive to my local police force. With the track record of 16% of charges brought in cases of knife crime, the police clearly do not have the capacity to tackle that problem. Most recently, close to where I live in the constituency, 16-year-old Mohammed Dura Ray was murdered in a brutal knife crime on
So the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Southwark police are not using their resources properly. Brilliant! I thank him for that contribution.
I have met Mariama Kamara, the mother of Mohammed Dura Ray, and I am organising a knife amnesty in the constituency. The Prime Minister said he was unable to meet Mariama to discuss her concerns about policing locally. I hope that the Home Secretary or another Home Office would be willing to meet her.
I am naturally prepared to meet any constituents, so the hon. Gentleman could take that up with my private office, which is listening.
Fantastic. I am pleased to hear that news, and thank the Minister for jumping to his feet to make that assertion so quickly.
Residents tell me that visibility and trust are the key to local policing, as well as the key to both public and business confidence. That confidence is lacking. We have seen the closure of Rotherhithe police station and the change from safer neighbourhood teams to the cluster of five wards of PCSOs. That has taken officers off the streets, which has contributed to the rise in crime in particular areas. Trust is essential to effective policing, and PCSOs are some of the most trusted officers we have right on the frontline in our local communities. They are the most reflective and representative part of the Met police, and they are the ones most likely to face the cuts proposed in the comprehensive spending review.
In the face of rising crime and the prospect of what lies ahead, I ask Ministers to think what message they are sending to my constituents and local businesses if they continue along the course of cutting police officers. In particular, I ask them what message they are sending to my constituent, Mariama Kamara, after the loss of her son. If the track record of local policing is not improved, her son’s death may never be solved.
I feel privileged to speak in this debate because policing is one of the most important issues facing my constituents, many of whom feel besieged in their estates by low-level crime—well, I call it low-level, but it makes people’s lives a misery. Anti-social behaviour and crime is devastating some of our communities. I was shocked to hear from the Home
Secretary about the Government’s fantastic record, because for me and my constituents that record is one of broken promises.
Before coming to power, the Prime Minister promised to protect front-line policing, but he has cut 17,000 police officers. Even now, Conservative Members like to talk about the inheritance that they received in 2010, so I will take a few moments to speak about what they inherited. The Government inherited a record number of police—up by 17,000 from when we took office in 1997. They inherited a level of crime that was down by 43%, and the creation of police community support offers—I welcome the supportive comments from Members on both sides of the House about the great job done by PCSOs. Every single community had a neighbourhood policing team that was committed to spending 80% of its time on the beat, and to respond to non-emergency issues within 24 hours. They inherited a record of domestic violence that had fallen by more than 50%, and the reporting of rape had doubled. They inherited the first ever powers on antisocial behaviour and a guaranteed response within 24 hours, as well as the first ever national victims service. I am incredibly proud of the legacy that we left the Government, and disappointed to see them destroying it. Constituents such as mine are suffering.
Where are we now? In the last year, Redcar and Cleveland has seen a 77% increase in violence against the person, and a 25% increase in domestic burglary. There has been an 18% increase in criminal damage, and a 77% increase in sexual offences—a total overall increase in crime of 22%. That does not accord with the good news and rose-tinted spectacles on the Conservative Benches—[Interruption.] And the SNP Benches.
Since 2010, Cleveland has had an 18% cut to its policing budget, which means that it lost a quarter of its full-time officers and a third of its community support officers. Police officers in my constituency have not been replaced after being on long-term sick leave. People in my community are fed up with antisocial behaviour, and with people on bikes and horses running riot across their estates. They are fed up with arson on the Eston hills, and with cars being smashed in Roseberry square. They are fed up with open drug deals and estates that are no-go areas. All that crime is a direct consequence of the lack of deterrent and visible policing on our streets, and that in turn is a direct consequence of the reduction in front-line officers and the disproportionate cuts that Cleveland police has received. That is deeply unjust because police officers in my area are committed, dedicated and brave, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. The very least we can do is ensure that they have the capacity and resource to do what we ask.
In the time I have left, let me raise two brief issues that I hope the Home Secretary and her team will consider. First, the continued short-term funding position that the police find themselves in is unsustainable. Being allocated funding in December each year for a financial year that starts only three months later is a poor way to run such a pivotal public service, and it inevitably leads to short-term thinking, reactive decision-making, and therefore not to the best outcomes. The police need a multi-year settlement that incorporates the best estimates, and takes into account comprehensive spending reviews, funding formulas and transitional arrangements.
My second point is about the disproportionate impact of the cuts. Although police areas receive the same cuts in percentage terms, that does not equate to equal pain for all areas in either percentage or cash terms when it comes to overall funding. There is disproportionate demand in areas of high unemployment such as my constituency, and in areas of high vulnerability and disadvantage. I ask the Government to go away and think again, and in the meantime I am delighted to support the motion.
Last night in Alum Rock in Birmingham, the shadow Home Secretary and I saw British neighbourhood policing at its best, and a community transformed from a troubled past to a safe place to live with a thriving economy. Why? Because of 10 years of the patient building of good community relationships, as well as outstanding neighbourhood police officers such as Inspector Chris Smith and Sergeant Ifti Ali, who both said, “We love the job”. Local residents and retailers were waxing lyrical about their relationship with their neighbourhood police officers—my hon. Friend Peter Kyle was right about the importance of good neighbourhood policing to strong local economies.
My hon. Friend Anna Turley is right to say that one of the great legacies of the last Labour Government was neighbourhood policing. The Labour Government provided 17,000 more police officers and 16,000 PCSOs. They introduced local policing with local roots, giving people a local say and creating strong partnerships with the community and other key stakeholders. We were given evidence of that by my hon. Friends the Members for Bootle (Peter Dowd) and for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), both of whom made excellent speeches.
The Home Secretary has described the police as crime-fighters, but we have a wider vision than that. Policing is about preventing crime and diverting people from crime. That model is celebrated worldwide and is often celebrated in the House, but now, tragically, a generation of progress in the reduction of crime is being reversed.
The first duty of any Government is to maintain the safety and security of their citizens, but in the last five years this Government have made swingeing cuts. A total of 17,000 police officers have gone, which broke a promise given by the Home Secretary, and 4,500 PCSOs have gone as well. We have seen the progressive hollowing out of neighbourhood policing. Communities complain increasingly that there is no longer any visible presence of police officers, and they are right. There are profoundly worrying signs that the Government are ignoring repeated warnings, and that—in the words of a past president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde—the “tipping point” is now being reached. I shall say more about that later.
It seems that the Government are determined to blunder on regardless, oblivious to the consequences of their actions. As for the Chancellor, who gives hubris a bad name, he appears to be impervious to criticism as he presses forward with his ideological agenda to shrink the state. The cuts of between 25% and 40% that are currently being discussed will result in catastrophic consequences for our police service in the next five years; indeed, forces have warned that they could reduce the service to its lowest level since the 1970s.
These cuts are not just huge but unfair, as is clear from the fiasco of the funding formula. Only this Government could acknowledge that the current formula was opaque and unfair, and then, having made a complete mess of the consultative process, replace it with a formula that was opaque and unfair. That process has been described by Conservative police and crime commissioners as unjustified, deeply flawed and shambolic. It now faces a legal challenge, and Seema Kennedy admitted that it gave rise to concern.
I pay tribute to the way in which the police service has coped with immense difficulties in ever more difficult circumstances, but we are now talking about the cumulative impact of the last five years and what is proposed over the next five years. What will that mean? As we heard from my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, it will mean the end of neighbourhood policing as we have known it. As we heard from my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, PCSOs are becoming an endangered species. And as we heard from my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley, we are seeing a return to a reactive and discredited model of policing, with Robocops touring estates in cars rather than engaging with the community.
The thin blue line is being stretched ever thinner. The police are ever more removed from the communities whom they serve, and fewer and fewer of them are struggling to do ever more. As cuts in public agencies bite ever harder, the demands on the police, as the force of last resort, are becoming ever greater. We have already seen some of the consequences. Chief constables talk increasingly of becoming a blue light service. In some forces, response times have gone up by 57%, and in a number of forces, police are no longer turning out to deal with reported crimes such as burglary.
The Government cannot say that they have not been warned. In recent weeks, we have heard a chorus of voices from London to Lancashire. Police officers have spoken out, and powerful contributions have been made to today’s debate by my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Julie Cooper), for Halifax (Holly Lynch), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). The message is clear: the growing impact is serious, and will become ever more serious during the next stages of this process.
Thus far, the Government have sought to hide behind a false alibi. They say, “Yes, we cut police, but we cut crime as well.” It is true that, as is the case in the western world, volume crime is falling. We have also seen the benefits of a generation of good neighbourhood policing in reducing some crimes, but the statistics do not give a full picture. The latest ONS statistics show a 5% increase in police recorded crime, and increasingly as police recorded crime is cleaned up with more effective recording, we are seeing a 9% increase in knife crime, sexual crime up 12% and hate crime up 18%, but it is the crime survey of England and Wales that the Government repeatedly depend upon. The only problem is it does not reflect the full extent of rapidly growing fraud and cybercrime. It is now being said by the police—by the national co-ordinator for fraud—that as 5.1 million crimes are included from the first quarter of next year, the crime survey will show an increase of 40%.
This is the worst possible time to cut the police service, not just because fraud and cybercrime are rapidly growing—RBS has said by 40% a year—but also because of twin challenges. First, there is the generational threat of terrorism. Powerfully evidenced by Peter Clarke, former head of counter-terrorism, and Mark Rowley, the current head is the fact that neighbourhood policing is the eyes and ears of the police service engaging with local communities. I have seen the success of that in the west midlands, which I am proud to represent. Secondly, as my hon. Friend Holly Lynch said—she is from a police family—there are the immense challenges of child sexual exploitation and abuse. There is a great national will that we act, and the police are doing so, but in the west midlands alone the size of the public protection unit has gone up from 300 officers to 800 and they are struggling to cope. So it is the worst possible time to cut the police service.
The evidence is clear: the Government are putting public safety and the vulnerable at risk. I have searched high and low in the manifestos of Conservative Members and I cannot find one of them saying to his or her community, “Vote for me and I will support the cutting of 22,000 police officers.”
The time has come for the Government to listen to the growing chorus of concern, including from within their own ranks. The Home Secretary’s own PCC, the delightful old Macmillanite, Anthony Stansfeld, says he just cannot get home to the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister, who also lives in the Thames valley area, just how serious the mounting consequences are of what their Government are doing.
The Government may be impervious to the mounting concerns and oblivious to the consequences of their actions, but Labour is not. Of course, as the shadow Home Secretary has said, sensible savings can be made. We identified that ourselves in terms of a national procurement strategy, which was rejected by the Government. Of course we need a sensible reform agenda. We need to raise standards, hold the police to the highest standards and root out wrongdoing. We also need greater diversity. The Home Secretary was right to challenge the police to rise to the challenge of greater diversity, but it is wrong then to make it nigh-on impossible for the police to do that because, effectively, most police forces cannot recruit to achieve it.
The Government have to stop blaming the police for things that the Government are responsible for. All over the country I meet police officers who say to me, time and again, “They never have a kind word to say about us.” That remorselessly negative tone, combined with the growing pressures, is seeing morale plummeting and sickness and stress leave soaring. The Policing Minister says on many occasions that somehow Labour are criticising the police; on the contrary, we are standing up for a police service that is under immense and growing pressures from his Government.
We are rooted in the communities we serve and we listen to the voices of the police and the public because, ultimately, this is about the kind of country we want to live in and the kind of police service we want. We want policing by consent, in the great tradition of Robert Peel. The British model of policing is the expression of British values. Tonight, all Members have the opportunity to search their conscience and decide whether to stand up for the British police service. We will vote to do precisely that. Our position is clear: Labour is the party of public safety, and the Tories are putting public safety and security at risk.
We have had a really good debate, up until the last five minutes. I always stand up and say in public that I am proud to be the Minister responsible for the best police force in the world, so how Jack Dromey can say that we never stand up for the police, I do not know. That was a strange thing to say. Colleagues who read Hansard tomorrow will see that Members on one side of the House have been supporting the police this afternoon and that those on the other side have been scaremongering yet again.
Thirty-four colleagues have made speeches this afternoon, and many of them have talked about the size of the police force. What I am interested in, as the Policing Minister, is how many police are on the frontline doing policing jobs. I am sure that other colleagues are interested in that, too. We are interested in how many warranted officers are out there. Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary has said more than once that the size of the workforce gives no indication whatsoever of the quality of the service, and that it is the quality of the policing that matters.
We are still in the consultation, which, with the Home Secretary’s permission, we have extended so that more colleagues, police and crime commissioners and chief constables can have a say in the funding formula changes. The chief finance officer for Lancashire has said:
“We welcome the Government’s decision to fully review the police funding formula”.
Tony Lloyd, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, has said:
“I therefore urge you”— presumably he means me and the Home Secretary—
“to commence the review as soon as possible.”
Several of my predecessors have spoken in the debate today, and in earlier debates, saying that chief constables and PCCs from the 43 police authorities for which we are responsible banged on their doors and said that the funding formula policy was opaque and not fit for purpose. That is why we have come forward with a new funding formula. I have said from the outset that there will be winners and losers, and that is true. We are still very much in listening mode, however. I am still in listening mode, and I would not do anything else, because if you have a consultation, that is exactly what you should do.
We have also heard extensively, particularly from Opposition Members, that crime is rising and that fraud has suddenly appeared in the statistics. Well, fraud has been out there for some time, but only one Government have had the courage to put cybercrime and fraud into the statistics—this one. We are leading the world by saying that crime is changing and that those crimes should appear in the statistics.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said that crimes such as sexual offences, fraud and domestic abuse were rising. As the Policing Minister, I am absolutely chuffed that people have the courage to come forward and report those crimes. The Office for National Statistics has said that the overall increase is likely to be due to the increased reporting of certain offences, such as fraud, sexual offences and domestic abuse. The ONS is not issuing a puff on behalf of the Government; it is saying what it thinks the rationale behind the figures is.
Any crime in any community is really difficult, but crime has fallen while we have reduced the funding for the police. That truly must be one of the most important things that we can look at. It is not so much about how much money you throw at the police. The previous Administration threw money at the police force over 13 years, but what did we get from that? Did we actually get warranted officers? We are now looking carefully at the funding formula. We will also make sure that we look very carefully at capabilities.
I apologise to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, but I have limited time. If I find time towards the end of my speech, I will give way, but I will not do so at the moment. [Interruption.] We would have had a lot more time if the shadow Minister had not kept on interrupting Back Benchers all the way through the debate, and Back Benchers would also have had more time to speak. I will just use my time, if I may.
One of the eminently important things to do is to make sure that the money we give to forces is spent correctly and that forces spend it. Our 43 authorities have £2.1 billion in reserves. I will not name and shame each individual force, but—at the end of the day, we are talking about money being tight, and there are real issues about forces wanting more money—hon. Members should take a close look at the forces that have £2.1 billion of taxpayers’ money sitting in reserves. They should take a look at how their local forces do procurement. They should go on to the Home Office website and look at how much their local force spends on body armour. For instance, why does one force spend nearly £300 more on body armour? All body armour has to be type-approved and it cannot be done on the cheap, so why is that the case? Why does one force have 100 warranted police officers not on operational duty because they are not fit? Some 10% of its operation force is not in. If they are not fit for duty, sadly—as when I was a fireman and was not fit for duty—they have to leave, because we need people on the frontline to do those jobs.
As was said by my colleagues on the Government Benches, when we look around the country, we can see forces that are doing exceptionally well in working with other blue-light organisations, particularly the fire service. We can look at Hampshire, which has been very well represented on the Government Benches during the debate. Hampshire has been enormously forward-thinking in what it has done. I have been to Winchester, where the brand-new fire station happens to be in the police station. If one goes across the yard where the police and the fire service jointly train, one finds the police firearms unit at the bottom of the yard. That was a joint procurement, and it is a joint way of working. We need to see more of that, and we will.
I will not give way at the moment.
Like Hampshire, other forces have real skills. I know the marine service in Hampshire does excellent work, and we need to look carefully at how it is funded in this difficult funding situation. Other forces around the country are starting to work with other blue-light services. In Northamptonshire, the very forward-thinking PCC is not only bringing the fire service alongside the police, but is talking very closely to other blue-light services, particularly the ambulance service.
In Hertfordshire, which is my own force, I have one of the best chief fire officers in the country. He must be, because just under 10 years ago he helped to put out Buncefield. He was the chief fire officer at Buncefield, which blew up half of my constituency. He is the chief executive of the PCC’s office, so he and the PCC can work closely together, keeping costs down and making sure that that approach is the way forward. We can see not only where that is starting to work, but how other forces can learn from the work being done in places such as Hampshire and Northamptonshire.
During the course of the debate, I did not want to interfere in Scottish National party Members’ little personal disagreements with Labour Members, but I thought that I might just help them a bit now. In an intervention earlier on, I think the lead spokesman for the SNP mentioned the effect that VAT is having. [Interruption.] Well, whichever SNP Member it was because, to be fair, one of them did. There was a bit of whingeing—that is what it is called in my part of the world—about VAT.
During the debate, I decided to take a look at why the Scottish nationalists are so worried about the fact that they cannot get their VAT refund. As they put their business plan together for combining the fire and police services in Scotland, including the savings they thought they would make, they took into consideration the fact that they would not be able to claim VAT back and would not get VAT refunds. I therefore find it strange that having done their business plan in 2012 and brought it in, they come to the House today to complain about the Chancellor not giving them their VAT refunds.
We heard a contribution from the Welsh nationalists earlier, with a lot of talk about the Silk commission and its recommendations as to whether or not policing should have been devolved. There was no agreement on the Silk commission by the political parties in Wales in respect of whether policing should be devolved. That is the situation. When they are trying to agree on what was going on, it is important that we get the facts absolutely correct.
As Members on both sides of the House have said, in the 21st century we need to make sure that the money of the taxpayers who send us here is spent correctly. We need to make sure that we continue to have the best police force in the world. We need to make sure that the public have trust in the police force in this country. It is imperative that the people elected to this House to represent their communities do not scare them with estimates of how many police they will lose, whether they will be attacked on the way home and whether there are different situations going on. Nobody knows exactly what the funding will be. Some Members have conflated the spending review, the funding formula, the chiefs looking at where co-operation can take place and whether some forces would like to amalgamate formally—I do not know whether that is the case, as no business plans are on my desk—or informally, as West Mercia and Warwickshire have done, very successfully. A lot more work could be done across the country, but we should not, as politicians, stand in Parliament and scare our constituents by saying that the police force in this country is going to collapse or that crime is dramatically rising, because it is not.
It is fundamentally wrong for an Opposition party to campaign against cuts and then for Opposition Members to come to this House to tell us that they would have a 10% cut—if people were stupid enough to elect them. That is seriously dangerous. As with their policy on PCCs, they have no policies. Vera Baird and Paddy Tipping clearly won the argument in the Labour party, saying that it should reverse its policy and there has been another huge U-turn on PCCs. Now the Opposition have said, with all their colleagues behind them, “The cuts the Tories have made over the last five years are terrible. They are massively affecting policing in our community. Oh, by the way, we will cut it by another 10%.” It is an absolutely ludicrous position. Anybody with any sense will not be going through the Lobby with the Labour party. The Scots Nats are not going to go through with the Labour party, and that tells me something.