I remind the House that this motion is subject to double majority voting. If a Division is called on this motion, all Members of the House are able to vote. Under
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2016–17 (HC 753), which was laid before this House on
I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, because I noticed that the new Serjeant at Arms was in his place earlier and I was hoping that he would still be there now, although I mean no disrespect to his deputy. I know the new Serjeant at Arms well. He comes from a great regiment, and we will miss him at the Ministry of Justice where he looked after our security. I am sure he will do a fantastic job here.
I was enormously proud when I was appointed the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice. Early on, I encountered a great deal of lobbying about the grant from colleagues here, as well from police constables and police and crime commissioners around the country. The lobbying was about whether the grant was fair, whether it should be changed and whether police forces would be able to survive further cuts. We inherited a really difficult economic situation and the Treasury quite rightly asked the Home Office to investigate whether further cuts could be made. A very good job was done in the last Parliament of taking really difficult financial decisions to address the funding issues we inherited. What was really good was that in most cases—I say in most cases—discussions were sensible and pragmatic, and we can see from the fact that crime has fallen since 2010 and has continued to fall under this Government, that it is possible to do more with less.
If the Minister and his ministerial colleagues decide to extend the term of the Metropolitan Police Chief Constable, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, will he make it a condition that Sir Bernard is not allowed to merge Harrow police with any other borough command? If that were to happen, Harrow police would inevitably be diverted to police other parts of London.
Unlike the previous Labour Administration, we believe in police officers making the decisions they need to make for their communities, and we do not believe in a top-down approach. We have devolved operational policing to make sure that chief constables and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner can make operational decisions and other decisions such as how local community funding is run, whether that is though the Mayor’s office or through PCCs. I know that the Labour party opposed PCCs extensively, but it has sensibly changed its mind, not least on account of much lobbying from Labour PCCs. I shall not in any way instruct the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how he should police in London and the Mayor will not instruct him on operational issues; those are matters for him.
What I will say is that there will be more money for policing in London than there would have been if a Labour Minister were standing at this Dispatch Box. Labour wanted to cut 10% of its funding budget—and perhaps I will come back to that later.
As the Minister knows, I have opposed cuts to the policing budget every year but he has always had a good argument to put back to me by saying that crime is going down, thereby justifying the Government’s position. My local paper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus pointed out last week that crime had gone up by 15% across the Bradford district over the course of the last year. If falling crime was a justification for a falling police grant, now that we face significant rising crime in the Bradford district, including in my constituency, does that mean by the same logic that we will get a substantial increase in the police grant?
My hon. Friend is nothing less than determined to press his case every time, but crime has fallen, although some types of crime have increased. Reported crime, particularly sexual assaults and domestic violence, can be seen to have gone up. I am very pleased that people have the confidence to come forward now when they might not have done so in the past.
We need to look carefully at where certain types of crime are increasing. Only the other day, I met car manufacturers and asked them why we have seen such an increase in car thefts, particularly of high-value vehicles, when we had previously seen a decrease for some considerable time. We are seeing some increases in crime that were not previously included in the statistics—on fraud, for example. Under the previous Labour Administration, fraud was not reported, but it is now part of the statistics we use because it is, sadly, a crime that we face today.
It is interesting to reflect on what happened after the Chancellor announced from this Dispatch Box that we would not cut the police budget by 25%, or by 10% as the shadow Home Secretary suggested, or even in a way that some forces had said could be managed. We said that we would not cut it at all between now and 2020 in order to give the police the confidence they needed about the funding that would be available. What is particularly interesting is that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and other chief constables did not suddenly say, “Okay then, we are not going to carry out any more reforms; we are not going ahead with them now that we have the money we need”. Rather, they said that very night that they needed to go ahead with many of the reforms that were designed to make our police forces better at detecting and convicting criminals.
The Minister must accept that there are 18,000 fewer police officers than when I stood at that Dispatch Box on the last day of the Labour Government six years ago. He must accept that there have been cuts in real-terms grants and he should explain honestly to us why local authorities and police and crime commissioners such as mine in north Wales are raising the precept to compensate for the cut in the central Government grant.
Let me make a couple of points about that. The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience of being in the Home Office, was absolutely right when he said that there used to be more warranted police officers than there are today. However, actually in percentage terms there are more warranted police officers on the streets of this country today doing the work we need them to do than when he was the Minister.
It worries me that more than 10% of some forces’ warranted officers are still not out on the streets doing the job that we would expect them to do. That is one of the reforms with which we must persevere. We must ensure that officers with the skills and the equipment that they need are out on the streets.
My right hon. Friend has referred to the response of police and crime commissioners to increases in police budgets. In Lancashire, our directly funded police grant is going up. The police and crime commissioner and chief constable had previously presented doomsday scenarios, saying that the Lancashire constabulary was no longer fit for purpose. Given that the Government have listened to not only Members of Parliament but the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that they have not come out and welcomed the increased budget?
I met a delegation of Lancashire Members from all parts of the House, and indeed I met everyone who had asked to see me, including the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables. What really shocks me now is that not only has the Lancashire police and crime commissioner failed to welcome the budget, but he has been out there whingeing that he will be short of money again. What I would say to him is that he needs to take a very close look at his reserves. He has been moaning about a sum of £1 million, but if he looks at his reserves, he will find that it is minuscule compared with them.
Before I give way to the shadow Home Secretary, let me make a point about precepts. All Governments look at precepts. Some PCCs have said that they will not increase theirs, some are increasing theirs by the 2% limit, and others will take the £5 option. That is the arrangement to which we agreed. However, I was lobbied extensively by PCCs throughout the country who wanted the precept to go up by much, much more than 2%. Now I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary.
I am grateful to the Minister, but let us get something straight. When I became shadow Home Secretary, he and his Government colleagues were proposing to cut police funding by between 25% and 40%. It was pressure from Labour Members, led by my hon. Friend Jack Dromey in a full Opposition day debate, that forced them into a humiliating U-turn. Let us just get our facts right.
Anyway, is this promise what it seems to be? The Minister seems to be suggesting that there will be no cuts, but can he guarantee that there will be no real-terms cut for any police force in the next few years?
I am so pleased that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman. I should have given way earlier—I apologise to my hon. Friend Jake Berry.
I find this absolutely fascinating. Any other Opposition would have considered modelling to establish what a force could or could not do, which is exactly what the Government did. We asked the forces whether or not they could absorb—in modelling terms—cuts of 25% or 40%. What we did not do, after that modelling process, was say, completely arbitrarily, “Well, we will make it 10%, then. You will be able to swallow 10% between now and 2020.” Some forces would have really struggled to do that under the present funding formula.
I am always straight. The right hon. Gentleman can sit there and waffle away from a sedentary position, but actually the 10% was waffle as well. There was no fact behind it, and most of the forces came out against it. Given the precept limits, none of the 43 forces was subjected to a real-terms cash cut.
The Minister should be commended for being the first Policing Minister in a generation to tackle the issue of police funding by initiating a review of the funding formula, but, as the House knows, that review ended with a long pause. On
I thank the Chairman of the Committee for his letter, and also for the kind comments that he often makes about me when I am at the Dispatch Box and when I appear before his Committee. I wrote to him yesterday; I am sorry if he has not received my letter. I have not given a definitive date, and I do not think that he would expect me to do so at this stage, given that we are still considering how the settlement should be laid out. We need to ensure that I do not have to stand at the Dispatch Box and eat as much humble pie as I did last time, when we got it wrong. I admitted that we had got it wrong, and we will not make the same mistake again.
May I question the Minister on a point of fact? I know that he will have the facts in front of him. My police force, South Wales police, has had about 240 fewer officers on the beat since 2010. We can talk about whether that is a good or a bad thing, but it is a fact. According to my rough calculations, based on the data release, South Wales police will be subject to a real-terms cut of nearly £3.5 million in the next two years. Am I wrong?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Not only have I met South Wales MPs in the last couple of days, but the very vocal PCC—whom I know very well, as, I am sure the hon. Gentleman does—has not raised those figures with me. I suggest that, before South Wales police ask for any more money—which I do not think that they will need to do—they should look very closely at the size of their reserves, which are astronomical.
We need to take account of what the police have already been able to achieve, and the collaboration that has taken place with the help of extra funding from the Department, in order to find ways of providing better day-to-day policing out there. We should not sit in our silos, as we have for many years, allowing money to be spent in a building that is being only half used while another building up the road is just sitting there and could be put to full use.
Hampshire MPs are rightly proud of their emergency services. I am sure that we are all proud of ours as well, but the innovation that has taken place in Hampshire is quite astounding. Money has been saved that can be used in other front-line work, and that has been absolutely brilliant. Winchester has a brand-new fire station. On the first floor are the fire officers and on the next floor are the police, because it is a police station as well as a fire station. More than half the fire stations in England and Wales are within 1 kilometre of an ambulance station or a police station. We are starting to see the same sort of innovation elsewhere in the country, and we should ensure that it continues.
The Minister is right to commend the hard work of the police in very difficult circumstances, but he has asked for comparisons. In Greater Manchester, violent crime is up by 36%, sexual offences are up by 46%, and overall crime is up by 14%. We have had 20% fewer police officers and 4% fewer police community support officers, and we are looking at an £8.5 million cut in real-terms funding in the next financial year. Those figures do not add up, do they?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that crime has fallen in Manchester since 2010, as it has in the rest of the country. There is real concern about certain elements of crime, which the hon. Gentleman’s chief constable and PCC will be addressing, as we are at the Home Office. However, I ask him to look closely at the figures that he has given. We must be careful not to scare people away. We want people to report sexual assaults, but historically they have not done so. We want them to report domestic violence, but historically they have not done so.
The Minister says that it is important for people to have the confidence to report crime. In London we have seen a 21% increase in sexual offences and a 22% increase in violent crime, including knife crime, but in Southwark last year, worryingly, only 16% of reported crimes resulted in convictions. When will the Minister stop insulting the hard-working officers and constituents in Southwark, and ensure that we have the resources to tackle crime properly, keep people safe, and secure prosecutions?
I have never insulted an officer, or anyone’s constituent, in my entire life, and I never will. I am proud to be Policing Minister, and glad to be in the House representing my constituents and the country as a whole, so I resent the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made. What would have happened in London if there had been a 10% cut? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that that would not have happened, but it is exactly what was proposed by Labour Front Benchers.
I agree with the point that the Minister was trying to make about the emergency services working together more closely. In the town of Barnoldswick, we have seen the removal of an ambulance station but now our paramedics work out of the local police station. Such collaboration between the emergency services could deliver real savings across the country and ensure that this very generous financial settlement delivers even greater reductions in crime and even more police officers on the frontline.
We are seeing that sort of collaborative work across the country and some of it is being paid for by the innovation fund, for which the different forces, emergency services and local authorities are putting in bids. But this goes much further than just working in the same station; it is also about training together. As you might know, Mr Speaker, I used to be a fireman years ago. I may have mentioned that before and I may have to mention it a few more times. There are only two of us in the House, but we are very proud of what we did.
In those days, it was very rare to train or work with the other emergency services unless you were physically on the same job. If hon. Members go round their constituencies and ask people in the emergency services when they last did a forward exercise with the fire service, the ambulance service or, in some parts of the country, the coastguard service, they will find that it happens very rarely. That is often due to logistical pressures, but those pressures do not exist if two or more services are in the same building and can share the same yard and do the same training.
Going back to Winchester, not only is the fire station in the same building as the police station but the yard is jointly used and at the back of the yard is the armed response unit, along with the armoury and the ranges. All this has been built on what was going to be just a fire station. When we talk to those brilliant professionals who look after us every day and ask them about the training they are doing, we find that firefighters are being trained as paramedics, as is the case in Hampshire. Sadly, in the case of a road traffic collision, the ambulances might not always get their first, even though the incident has been reported and people are trapped. I know how difficult it was when we were at incidents such as those. It is not just a question of how many ambulances there are. When you have a really bad smash on the motorway, it is really difficult to get the emergency services through. You would think that everybody would get out of the way, but I can tell you, Mr Speaker, they do not.
What is happening now is that fire personnel are being trained to keep people alive. I am not just talking about first aid certificates or the use of defibrillators, although that is a really good innovation. By the way, the cashiers at my local Tesco’s know how to use defibrillators, and that is a great asset, which also saves people’s lives. However, when dealing with a major trauma, it is vital to have the skills that I saw the firemen and women in Hampshire using. I was crying out for those skills when I was in the fire service.
I want to take the Minister back to the answer he gave me some moments ago. Of course it is not my intention to scare people, but the statistics show that crime numbers are going up in Greater Manchester. Of course this might be due in part to people now reporting crimes that they would previously not have reported, but does the Minister accept that people also need to have confidence that there are adequate numbers of police officers to investigate those crimes? Surely the 20% reduction in the number of police officers in Greater Manchester will not help to create public confidence.
That really depends on where those officers were in the first place. Were they working in the communities and on the beat, or were they doing desk jobs? The truth of the matter is that, while we have had a decrease in officers around the country, there are more in front-line duties now than there were in 2010. The other thing the hon. Gentleman might want to ask his local police and crime commissioner, if he is really worried about the funding—even though there would have been a 10% cut under a Labour Government—is why his police force is holding £71 million in reserves.
May I plead with the Minister to look urgently at the rise in gun crime in the west midlands? Will he consider providing resources to try to fill the gap? We have had more than 20 shootings over the past six months, including six over the bank holiday period. There have been 41 arrests and 24 recoveries of weapons and ammunition. Great work has been done by the West Midlands police force, but this work can be continued only if we have additional resources, on a project-by-project basis if need be. This has become a really serious issue over the past 12 years and we have worked hard to bring the crime figures down, but please could the Minister look into the possibility of providing additional support?
I saw reports of those shootings on the news and I got reports across my desk as well. Our thoughts must be with the families of those affected. We must praise the fantastic work of the local police in making those arrests, and let us hope that they get prosecutions as well. That is crucial, because public confidence is created when the police get prosecutions and the criminal justice system becomes involved.
My hon. Friend Mr Mahmood mentioned the shootings in his constituency. There was a terrible drive-by shooting in Wood Green last summer, involving mistaken identity. A baker who was coming out of his bakery to take a break was shot, and the perpetrator drove off. The case is still unsolved. Can the Minister rule out the possibility of that being connected to the cut in police numbers?
Why anybody would get in a car, drive off, open the window and shoot someone is beyond me, and probably beyond the comprehension of anybody in this House. What we do know, however, is that the police forces around the country are doing a fantastic job. We have just heard of the arrests that have taken place. So, simply to say, “That is happening just because you cut the money” is a really, frankly, silly, silly comment.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have another tale of woe. There have been approximately 12 burglaries in the past 10 days in the Saddleworth villages of Greenfield and Uppermill, and I have some very worried constituents. I totally agree with my hon. Friends: we cannot possibly say that there is no link between such events and the front-line cuts to staff in the Greater Manchester police, which were also mentioned by my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne. What can the Minister say to my many constituents who have contacted me to say that they are very concerned about their safety? Surely this must be a priority for him.
The fact that it is a priority is exactly why the Chancellor stood at this Dispatch Box and said that he would make a very generous settlement. No one dreamed we would get that settlement, but that money will come through. There are no cuts going forward, even though that is exactly what you would have had if a Labour Minister had been standing here.
The Minister is making a strong case. Is it not important to trust the professionals in the police service? We do not rely on the Labour party’s mooted 10% cut; we trust the professionals. He will know that the terrible Joanna Dennehy murders around Peterborough could not have been solved by the Cambridgeshire constabulary alone, and that it had to work with other constabularies such as Norfolk in order to attain the critical mass in forensics and other back-up services necessary to solve the crimes. We trust our local professional police officers.
My hon. Friend has just touched on a point that I was going to make about collaboration. None of the 43 police forces around the country—not even London’s, with all its size and capabilities—can police alone. They need help across the board. The East Midlands regional organised crime unit is doing fantastic work, for example. And in my own region—the Eastern region—capabilities that were always exercised, with difficulty, in separate local forces are now being spread across the region. [Interruption.]
I am glad to hear it, because I never did think that the Minister was in that category. He is saying a few things that are worrying me. He stood there a few moments ago and said that there were to be no real-terms cuts to the police. That is simply untrue and I hope that he will correct the record before this debate ends. The other thing he just said was that there were more officers in front-line positions. A workforce survey that came out last week showed that his Government cut police officers by 18,000 in the last Parliament. Is he seriously standing there today and saying that, despite that cut of 18,000, there are more police officers on our streets?
I know the Labour party are desperately trying to find a reason to vote against our very generous funding settlement, even though they would have liked to make it a really difficult settlement by cutting it by 10%. What I actually said was that there are more operational police officers on duty now on the frontline than there were in the past. That is what I have said at this Dispatch Box time and time again. Perhaps, when we hear the shadow Minister’s arguments as to why there should have been greater cuts—I should say cuts, because we are not going to cut at all—he will tell us what front-line services we would have lost. We need to ask that, because the money would have had to come from somewhere.
There has been a lot of talk about cuts, and indeed about the horrific issue of gun crime, but the issue of counter-terrorism and national security is also linked here. Will the Minister clarify that this Government, in 2015-16, will be increasing spending on counter-terrorism by more than £650 million, which shows our commitment on national security?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We fund counter-terrorism from a separate budget, and that is enormously important. We have a Minister of State who specifically deals with that task. It is really interesting that even though I have heard Opposition Members say today, “This is terrible! This is going to happen; this has happened,” actually the 43 authorities welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget, and I have had really interesting discussions with them, in some of the areas represented by Members who have complained today about the settlement. That is what this debate is supposed to be about: it is about a very generous settlement, which we would not have had if we had not won the arguments with the Chancellor.
I am slightly baffled by the Minister’s comments. Northumbria police force expects to have lost about £150 million between 2010 and 2020, and its workforce has already been cut by a quarter, split equally between police officers and police staff. Will he clarify in what way that is a generous settlement?
Let me go over the arguments. We inherited a fiscal mess left by the previous Administration. We had to make really difficult financial decisions, including on policing. The police forces did brilliantly well. They were genuinely very worried that we would extend that approach into 2015-16, but we did not do that, which is why they are saying thank you to us for not making 10% cuts to policing, which is what Labour’s Front-Bench team would have done.
I have been listening carefully to the Minister. I met my local borough commander last Friday, and although there are of course challenges, he told me that some of the reforms will actually make policing more effective. More importantly, he stressed to me that there are now as many police on the frontline in the Met as there have ever been.
My hon. Friend has brought me on to an interesting point. The Friday before last, I was at Hendon with the commissioner, taking the salute—he took the salute and I nodded my head, because I was not in uniform—of the 135 new recruits coming through. These are brand-new police officers wanting to join the Met, coming through their training and passing out on parade, and 60% of them live in London. That is because of the reforms that the commissioner has introduced, whereby he has said, “You need to live in London for five years unless you have served in the armed forces.” That figure will be boosted again; I was speaking to the officer in charge of the training there and I was told that in excess of 2,000 officers are expected to be training at Hendon in the new buildings at the Peel centre, which the investment is being put into. We should be really proud of the numbers in London.
We all know that one perennial problem of policing has been the amount of time that police officers have not been able to spend on the beat. Does the Minister agree that when good police and crime commissioners use innovative technology to help those police officers spend more time on the beat in places such as Staffordshire, it can mean as many as 100 extra police officers on the beat, at a 10th of the cost?
There are a myriad different ways we can give the required confidence to our constituents, with our uniformed officers out there and others from the community who are doing this as well. I pay tribute to our specials, who do not get mentioned as much as they should. They do a fantastic job. We have to look carefully at the situation in certain parts of the country where their numbers have rocketed into their thousands, whereas in other parts of the country we do not have as many as we would like.
Several hon. Members rose—
Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Conservative candidate in the Lincolnshire PCC elections on introducing special constables—parish constables—who will look after the very remote rural areas of Lincolnshire, giving those communities a policing figure they know they can go to for help and advice?
I have spent quite a bit of time in Lincolnshire over the years, and was lobbied extensively by the chief constable and the commissioner for a change to the funding formula. The sort of innovation we have seen in places such as Lincolnshire, with the parish specials, rural mounted specials and so on, is exactly the sort of thing we would like to see replicated.
In Lincolnshire, we are very grateful to this Minister, because he has done more than any other Minister to come up and spend days with the police force. We very much appreciate what he has done with this grant and so on. We have, however, had a letter from the chief constable saying that because of historical problems, increases in police salaries and increases in national insurance contributions, he still has a significant funding deficit. Will this wonderful Minister, with all his knowledge of Lincolnshire, just say a word about what more he can do to help us, please?
I know exactly what my hon. Friend is saying and I know exactly what is in the letter, because I have received a very similar one. Lincolnshire’s force was asking me to change the funding formula to make it fairer for Lincolnshire; a lot of constabularies and a lot of people in this House have asked for similar over the years. We are continuing to look at that and I will make sure I get it right, but this settlement is a lot better than Lincolnshire thought it was going to get and a lot better than it would have been, had there been a Labour Minister at this Dispatch Box.
On collaboration, will the Minister pay tribute to the work being done by Essex and Kent police on their joint serious crime directorate, which looks at using intelligence sharing to ensure that serious and organised crime in the port county is dealt with swiftly and effectively?
That type of collaboration is so important. For too many years forces have sat in silos, as have individual emergency services. They are coming together and one reason for that is that the austerity measures we had to bring in have made them think outside the box.
I am anxious to ensure that the Minister does not peak too soon. First, I pay tribute to Cambridgeshire constabulary for the excellent work it has done on issues relating to domestic violence and sexual offences. Does he agree that one reason for the slight spike in the reporting of those crimes is that many more victims feel comfortable about approaching the police now and feel that they will be treated fairly in the pursuit of their complaints?
My hon. Friend has touched on a really important point. I had the honour the other week of continuing the funding for the victims’ groups around the country for the next three years. One really important thing is that our constituents, no matter what has happened to them, have the confidence to come forward, and that they will be listened to with compassion. For too many years that was not the case.
I know that a lot of colleagues want to get in and I have been generous in taking interventions, but may I say that we need to make sure that our constituents are made aware of how generous this settlement is for the next four years to 2020? We are still in very difficult financial times, when we are continuing to pay for the maladministration of this country’s finances by the previous Labour Administration and previous Ministers who are now sitting on the Labour Front Bench. I am looking forward to listening to positive comments about our police force. I am enormously proud to be the Minister for Policing, Fire and Criminal Justice and Victims. It is a long title, it is a big job and I am very proud to have it.
I bow to no one in my admiration for our police service. Robert Peel uttered these immortal words:
“The police are the people and the people are the police.”
There has been a constant in our country for two centuries: the British model of policing by consent, which we built on when we were in government. When Labour left office, there were record numbers of police on the streets—16,500 more than in 1997 and, in addition, nearly 17,000 police community support officers. Neighbourhood policing, which we built, was popular with the public. It worked, and we saw a generation of progress on crime. We had local policing, local roots, local say and local partnership working. We built up neighbourhood policing and the public valued it. It was one of Labour’s greatest achievements.
We will oppose this settlement today. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice said from the Dispatch Box that police funding is being protected. That is simply not true, and I will lay out my case in due course.
We are still learning some painful lessons from the past. There are still wrongs to be righted; the police are not perfect. We need to raise standards, and we should always hold the police to the highest standards in the public interest. The first thing I wish to say to the
Policing Minister and the Home Secretary is that the British model of neighbourhood policing is celebrated across the world. The model was responsible for a generation of progress on crime, but the Home Secretary’s remorselessly negative tone about the police, taken with ever fewer police officers doing ever more work, has demoralised the service, and we are now seeing soaring levels of sickness and stress.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is absolutely right to go back to the Labour success of neighbourhood policing. Is he as dismayed as I am about what is happening now? In my own constituency, neighbourhood policing is withering away, and officers are now being put on response duties. I accept that such duties are necessary, but so too is neighbourhood policing. This is undermining public confidence in the ability of the police to listen to the needs of communities.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Typically, what we see all over the country is a neighbourhood sergeant responsible for perhaps one or two teams and a number of PCSOs. Those who were previously part of the neighbourhood teams are now being put on response duties. Following a Home Office decision in 2012 there was a reclassification whereby some people on response were given local neighbourhood policing duties, even if they spent all their time on response, so the earlier assertions about our having more officers on the frontline are simply not right.
Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that Humberside police—I do not think it is the only police force in this position—has been judged inadequate by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary? We have the lowest level of police officers since the 1970s. Will the shadow Minister reflect on what that means for neighbourhood policing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Surveys show that, increasingly, the public complain about a lack of visibility of local police officers. Neighbourhood policing is absolutely essential. It is not just about detecting criminals, but about preventing crime, diverting people from crime, building good community relationships, and bringing in people to co-operate in identifying criminals. Losing the benefits of neighbourhood policing will have an effect. At the most serious end of terrorist crime, the former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, said that neighbourhood policing is “the golden thread” that runs from the local to the global. He said that the patient building of good relationships with communities means that communities co-operate in identifying wrongdoing—in this case, it is wrongdoing of the worst possible kind.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are not just talking about crime? When we have floods in our communities, public order parades, and football matches, the police are the first port of call. Policing is not just about crime.
My right hon. Friend, who served with such distinction as a police Minister, is absolutely right. This is about the wider duties of the police service. The
College of Policing has done some very interesting work. By the way, the National Audit Office has called on the Home Secretary to have a better understanding of what the police actually do. It is not just about that element that is focused on crime, but about the wider responsibilities.
The police, together with the fire service, the ambulance service, the Environment Agency and others, guarded premises to prevent looting during the floods. That is just one example of what they do. I have another example from last Saturday. I was deeply impressed to see West Midlands police, with other police services from West Mercia and Warwickshire, policing the pernicious Pegida attempt to march through Birmingham, keeping apart counter-demonstrators and those who were there in support of the march. They worked with the community and did a tremendous job. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right in what he said.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. If we look at the statistics overall, we see that areas of volume crime have gone down—I will come on to explain in more detail why Government claims about crime falling are simply not true. Car crime has gone down, and houses by and large are now more difficult to break into. Having said that, there are spates of burglaries all around the country. What is essential is good neighbourhood policing. Let me give an example from my own constituency. The admirable Sergeant Simon Hensley set up a canoe club on Brookvale lake. I literally launched it in a canoe—[Interruption.] It was one of my most terrifying moments as a Member of Parliament. Hundreds of young people joined the club, and very good relationships were formed. One benefit was that when there was an outbreak of burglary in Stockland Green, they came forward and said they knew who the bad lads were. Again, it is that neighbourhood policing that is so important. There is no substitute for it. It is the bedrock of policing in our country.
The hon. Gentleman is making a fair point. It would be churlish not to accept that there was progress around community policing, but that is not the whole story. Does he agree that one legacy of the previous Labour Government was an inordinate amount of bureaucracy and paperwork, which kept many front-line police officers in the station, processing data, rather than out catching criminals? This Government have tackled that, which is why we have seen a reduction in numbers and a significant reduction in recorded crime.
Let me give a straight answer. I think that we did prescribe too much and too often. It was right therefore that, by consensus across political parties, the previous Government became less prescriptive. Certain things will always need to be prescribed, but I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in relation to the very serious act of gun crime, neighbourhood policing is crucial in piecing together all the small bits of information that might secure a conviction? Will he assist me in highlighting the tragic shooting in Wood Green that I mentioned earlier? There are orphans who wish to know what happened to their father, who, in a case of mistaken identity, was shot in a drive-by shooting as he stepped out of his workplace. They would like to have that crime solved.
It is difficult to comment on the detailed circumstances of that crime other than to say that, of course, what we need is capacity to catch those people who are guilty of murder, which is one of the most heinous crimes. I ask my hon. Friend to forgive me if I repeat what I said in a previous answer, but key to that is good neighbourhood policing, as it is vital for intelligence gathering. If we run down neighbourhood policing, the inevitable consequence is that it is more difficult to detect criminals of that kind.
I agree with the shadow Minister that neighbourhood policing is key. Does he agree with the borough commander whom I met again last Friday, who made the point that although the numbers in some of the neighbourhood units are down, they are now dedicated to that unit and that neighbourhood, so although numbers are lower, they are more effective?
That depends what we are talking about. For example, the West Midlands police service has sought to maintain dedicated numbers in high risk, high demand areas, but taken as a whole the numbers have been going down. There will be variations at any one point in time, but the evidence is clear: there has been a remorseless reduction in the number of police officers and a hollowing-out of neighbourhood policing.
Several hon. Members rose—
I have given way about nine times. Let me make a little more progress, then I will gladly give way.
I celebrate the fact that, as the police bravery awards show, we are policed by ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things, often in the most difficult circumstances. They deserve better than what happened in the run-up to the comprehensive spending review. Yesterday I was privileged to speak, together with Conservative Ministers, at the 20th anniversary of the docklands bomb. Afterwards I talked to police officers, brave men and women, with an outstanding sense of duty and a powerful sense of obligation to their community. They talked to me about the mounting pressures they face—the challenges of counter-terrorism and the impact of the past five years—and they were dismayed that their Government had contemplated cutting the police service in half. As I will come on to say, that is precisely what had been contemplated.
In my constituency, Erdington, I saw one PCSO in tears—loyal, long-serving, much loved—describing how awful the uncertainty had been in the build-up to the comprehensive spending review. It should never have happened. After cutting 25% in the last Parliament, right up until the night before the comprehensive spending review the Government were contemplating a further 22% cut in this Parliament. The Home Secretary failed to stand up for the police service. We were on the brink of catastrophe, as a police officer said to me but yesterday, which would have had very serious consequences, demonstrating a disregard for the first duty of any Government, maintaining the safety and security of its citizens.
Under pressure from the public, the police and the Labour party, the Chancellor U-turned and a promise was made. I shall read it out, as the Policing Minister has clearly forgotten it. The Chancellor said:
“I am today announcing that there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we are going to protect the police.”—[Hansard, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]
In parallel, there were big cuts elsewhere—for example, to Border Force—but let us examine that statement to the House. That promise to the public, to the police and to Parliament has been broken. The Chancellor said he would protect the police, but now we know that police budgets are still being cut.
The force covering my constituency, West Midlands police, is excellent. In the next financial year it will suffer a £10.2 million cut in real terms, contrary to what the Policing Minister said earlier. Yes, the £5 mechanism is being used, but it will raise only £3.3 million, so there will be a £7 million overall cut in real terms.
On the precept, is my hon. Friend aware that a force such as Northumbria, which, under our excellent police and crime commissioner, Vera Baird, has made every saving possible, has cut into its reserves and has had the lowest precept hitherto, has had to accept that £5 maximum with great regret, just to try to maintain services?
Indeed. I pay tribute to somebody who was a great parliamentarian and who has been a great police and crime commissioner. The work that Vera Baird has done on domestic violence and, more generally, on violence against women and girls is admirable and first class. My hon. Friend is right. As I shall say later, Northumbria, like the West Midlands force, has been hit twice as hard as leafy Tory shire police forces down south.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of our police forces are stretched just by the crime that they are currently dealing with? In Salford we have had 19 shootings in a period of 19 or 20 months. On some weekends there have been four shootings on the same day. Protection of the public is important, but should our police force be so stretched in Greater Manchester when they have that to deal with?
There has been an £8.5 million cut in real terms, contrary to what was said at the Dispatch Box. After a generation of progress, and despite the heroic efforts of the police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, and the Greater Manchester police service, we are seeing profoundly worrying signs of crime starting to rise once again.
My hon. Friend is right to point out the sleight of hand by the Government. The real unfairness to areas such as the west midlands and Greater Manchester is this: we have a relatively low council tax base, so the precept brings in relatively small amounts of funding—nothing like the amounts of funding that are being cut by the central Government grant. Added to that, those are the areas that tend to have higher crime rates, so need is not matched by resources. It is a double whammy for the urban areas and it penalises places such as Greater Manchester.
My hon. Friend sets out the case powerfully. There is no question but that need does not determine the way this Government allocate funds, whether to the police service or to local government. I will return to that point.
There was another broken promise. The Prime Minister said in 2010 that he would protect the frontline. Not true—12,000 front-line officers have since been lost. It was a broken promise and, to add insult to injury, not only are the Tories continuing to slash police funding, but they are expecting the public to pay more for it. The Tory sums rely upon local people being charged an extra £369 million in council tax. Our citizens and the communities we serve are being asked to pay more for less.
In a forward-looking county such as Hertfordshire, which has the pressures of supporting London and Luton and major roads to police, it has been possible to use more police on the frontline and more modern methods. In Hertfordshire the police precept is being cut as the funding settlement is perfectly adequate.
Every week I see innovation in the police service; of that there is no doubt. In relation to road policing, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers, there are profoundly worrying signs that the progress made over many years, particularly under the Labour Government, in reducing road deaths, for example, is starting to reverse as a consequence of the cuts in road policing and other aspects, such as CCTV cameras. I am totally in favour of innovation and greater collaboration—for example, between the police and fire service—but ultimately there is a simple, grim reality: the remorseless downward pressure on our police service. The people who are paying the price are not just our police officers, but the public we serve.
The hon. Gentleman is very generous, though I shall not comment on that. Does he agree that police force reserves around the country are substantial—Hertfordshire has £48 million, but in one case the figure is as high as £71 million.
If I can put it this way, that is a canard, as we used to say in the T and G. Of course it is right that reserves should be used. Looking at the pattern across the country, however, why are they typically built up? The reasons range from investment in bringing three or four buildings into one, as the West Midlands police service has done in Birmingham, through better technological equipping of our police service—we need a technological revolution in policing—to planning ahead to recruit more police officers so that, even if the overall numbers are falling, the service is at least bringing in some fresh blood. If we look at the various studies that have been done of police reserves, including by the National Audit Office, we see that the line of argument has never stood up that all will be well if only the police use the hundreds of millions of pounds that are somehow there.
Opposition Members are with the police when they say efficiency savings can be made. Crucially, in the run-up to the last general election, we identified £172 million that could be saved through mandated procurement alone. Other measures included full cost recovery on gun licences, ending the bizarre arrangement whereby the police have to subsidise the granting of gun licences. If the Government had embraced that plan, we would have saved 10,000 police officers in the first three years of this Parliament.
Efficiency savings are one thing, but, ultimately, decisions have to be made. We listened to the police, and in the light of the tragic attacks in Paris, they said, “We think we can make up to 5% efficiency savings”—I stress again that we ourselves identified how one could do that. However, it was clear beyond any doubt that the chilling message from the police, who are so vital in maintaining our security, was that going beyond that would compromise public safety. I will never forget the powerful letter from Mark Rowley, Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism, who said that, post-Paris, we have to look at things afresh. Ultimately, numbers matter.
No, forgive me if I finish this important point.
Numbers matter. In the light of attacks such as Paris, we need surge capacity on the one hand, and neighbourhood policing for intelligence gathering on the other hand. We also need more firearms officers; we have 6,000, which is 1,000 down from 2008. We listened to the police.
Several hon. Members rose—
It is all well and good bandying numbers around and saying we must have the capability to make a surge in the number of armed officers. However, if the leader of the Labour party is to be believed, what are those officers going to do? Just wave their guns at these people and say, “Oh, please stop what you’re doing.” Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to dissociate himself from his leader’s remarks about what armed policemen can and cannot do?
The Opposition—all of us—have a very simple view. Perhaps I can draw a parallel with the deeply moving statement I heard one of the Parisian officers make about when he and his colleagues went into the Bataclan club. Innocent men and women, including British citizens, were being terrified by jihadis practising the most appalling form of terrorism. That officer said, “I had to make a split-second judgment. I made it, and as a consequence I saved lives.” That is our very, very clear position.
I am slightly confused, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can help me. He says that savings can be made. Today’s report includes a real-terms increase in anti-terror funding. Why, therefore, is the Labour party opposing this very generous settlement?
After Paris, the Government made a series of announcements—there was also one that pre-dated Paris, but that was about the Investigatory Powers Bill. We have to get the balance right, but we said, “Yes, we support the Government’s broad approach”—that we need enhanced means, for example, to combat those who use the dark net. We supported the Government in making £1.9 billion more available for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. We supported them when they said that additional resources would be made available for the British Army for counter-terrorism. Ultimately, however, it came down to this: Chris Sims, the former chief constable in the west midlands, and Bernard Hogan-Howe here in London say that the majority of the leads that result in the detection of terrorists come through good neighbourhood policing. If we have continuing downward pressure on neighbourhood policing and the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing, that will impact, in Mark Rowley’s words, on the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism effort. It is not enough, therefore, simply to equip the special services and the special forces with additional powers; neighbourhood policing is key on every front, particularly counter-terrorism.
The simple reality is that neighbourhood policing will continue to be hollowed out. Some 18,000 officers have been lost since the current Prime Minister took office in 2010. Some 1,300 have gone in the last six months alone. Today confirms that the Tories’ back-door cuts to police forces will inevitably lead to further police officer losses. It appears that the Government are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Hugh Orde, the former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, as it was called, is right when he says that a generation of progress is being reversed.
Police in the 21st century face the new challenges of terrorism, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation and abuse. Undoubtedly, the threats to British security in the 21st century demand a modernised, more responsive and better equipped police service, not a smaller one. In defence of the Government’s position, the Police Minister said crime is falling, but that is not true: it is changing. In July, when an estimated 6 million cyber and online crimes are included in the official statistics, crime will nigh on double.
Resources are diminishing, just when demand is soaring. We face not just the three challenges that I mentioned; police recorded crime is rising, and some of the most serious crimes have soared to the highest levels in years. There has been a major increase in knife crime, which is up 9%. There has been a 27% rise in violent crime, including a 14% increase in the murder rate, while sexual offences have gone up 36%. Reported rape figures are the highest since 2003. Victims are also being let down, with half of cases closed without a suspect being identified.
Increasingly, the police are left to pick up the pieces, as other public agencies are slashed. Who, for example, goes after looked-after children if council social services departments are badly depleted?
I am going to conclude my remarks, because I have been—forgive me if I say so—generous with interventions, and I want hon. Members to have the maximum time to make contributions to this important debate.
The Home Secretary does not seem to understand the challenges to the modern police service or its complexity. Despite massive and growing challenges, not only are police budgets being cut, but the funding formula fiasco in which the Home Office misallocated hundreds of millions of pounds of police funding means that the doomed review of the unfair funding formula has been delayed for another year. We have a stop-gap settlement of only a year, with more uncertainty and more unfairness. My force—West Midlands—and Northumbria face cuts that are double those that Surrey will receive.
As I was saying earlier when Jake Berry intervened, we have had the tradition of Robert Peel, but there has also been the tradition of Harold Macmillan: a tradition of noblesse oblige, of care, of meeting need, and of serving the national interest in one nation. Macmillanites are increasingly an endangered species in the Conservative party, because both in this settlement and in the local government settlement that will be debated later, there has been a grotesque unfairness of approach where need has been ignored in favour of political heartlands being looked after.
I want to ask the Minister three questions. First, on an important detail, where exactly is the funding for the international capital city grant coming from? Why, in the published information, is it not included in the core police settlement figures? Secondly, when will he finally replace the broken funding formula and give forces the long-term certainty they need to modernise and address the challenges of the 21st century? He expects to implement the new formula in the 2017-18 financial year, but we will need a new formula by the end of this year, at the very latest. Will he even begin to make progress on that in the near future? Thirdly, when will he stop this financial rollercoaster and finally be frank with the public and police about the cuts that he and the Home Secretary intend to impose?
Yes, we will vote against this police grant settlement, because for Labour Members the first duty of any Government and of any Parliament is the safety and security of their citizens. Yes, we will vote against it, because that is what is at risk if we continue down this path of remorseless reduction in the numbers of police officers. Quite simply, the time has come to put public safety first and to cut crime, not cut cops.
I would like to say a few words about police funding and, in particular, its significance for policing in Cumbria. There are two key issues: first, the police budget itself, which we are discussing; and secondly, the police funding formula, which is for the future but of equal importance. Before doing so, I would like to make one or two general observations.
It is well documented that Carlisle and Cumbria experienced serious flooding before Christmas. This was a very large local emergency. The Cumbrian constabulary rose to that challenge brilliantly. Its officers showed leadership, offered practical support and co-ordinated the emergency services. They also showed a lot of empathy. I remember meeting one PC who had himself been flooded, and instead of being at home, he was out there on duty helping everybody else. That demonstrated to me the importance that the police have over and above their normal duties. I pay tribute to the Cumbrian police and crime commissioner, Richard Rhodes. He has led Cumbria extremely well in a mature and professional way, and he has cross-party and widespread support throughout the county. This again demonstrates to me that it was right to create the PCCs. They should continue, and I will certainly support their continuation.
On the two issues I mentioned, I first turn to police funding in general. The House will recall the debate initiated by the Opposition—it has already been mentioned—calling for a 10% cut in police funding. I welcome the Government’s decision not to follow the Opposition’s lead but to maintain and, indeed, increase funding for the police, in what we all recognise as still very difficult financial circumstances. This will be welcomed in Cumbria and has certainly been welcomed by the Cumbrian constabulary. It will also be welcomed across the country, in recognition of the fact that the police are an important part of our society. They are the lead emergency service. Given concerns about security and safety, this funding will give confidence to our communities.
On the important issue of the police funding formula, I refer back to my earlier comments. The floods brought home to me how important it is that we have a Cumbrian police force, because it offered leadership, local knowledge and an ability to respond that I am not convinced would have been there had it been part of a larger, more remote force with headquarters elsewhere. The funding formula as consulted on would have had a dramatic and negative impact on Cumbria. Indeed, my local newspaper recognised this and ran a campaign that attracted a huge amount of support. That again demonstrated to me that support for the police and for a Cumbrian police force was deep-rooted.
I was therefore delighted that the Minister was in listening mode when he took on board the potential problems and issues for places such as Cumbria and agreed to postpone, or pull back from, going ahead with his consultation on introducing a new formula. I now wait for the new consultation to come out. I take this opportunity to emphasise the key issues for my county—primarily, rurality and sparsity. There are half a million people in Cumbria, but if one took a map of Cumbria and superimposed it over London and part of the south-east, there would be 20 million. It is a huge area. We have poor infrastructure, with a large mountain range right across the middle of the county, and we are a long way from any urban centre. Manchester is two hours away; Glasgow is an hour and a half away; and even Newcastle is over an hour away. I therefore look forward to the consultation, and I will certainly participate in it.
I give full support to the Government’s financing of our police as set out in the current settlement. I am glad to see that we are still the party of the police and the party of law and order.
It is a pleasure to follow John Stevenson, who has put forward some important points for discussion. He may claim that his party is the party of the police and law and order, but let us make this an all-party issue, so that we can all praise the work of local police forces and all support the principles of the rule of law, and of law and order. I think that is something that will go across the whole House.
The Minister began by paying tribute to the appointment of the new Serjeant at Arms, who was formerly at the Ministry of Justice but has now taken his place in the House. I join the Minister in welcoming his appointment, not just because of his huge qualities, but because he is the first ethnic minority Serjeant at Arms in the history of Parliament—though of course he was appointed absolutely on merit.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Now that the Serjeant at Arms is in his place, I would like to say that I was privileged to shake his hand the other day. He is deeply welcome to this House; it is great for us to have him here. It is a long and honourable role within this House. Like my right hon. Friend, I celebrate the fact that we have the first BME Serjeant at Arms—
Order. Mr Dromey, can I just help out? The Front Benchers took well over an hour and there has been plenty of time. Everybody has welcomed the Serjeant at Arms, and so it should be. This is a debate on policing, and I know that the Chair of the Select Committee will not want to wander too far away again, because we do want to get through it, and we only have until three minutes past 4.
Absolutely, Mr Deputy Speaker. We now move on, your having encouraged everyone to do so, to the debate on the police grant.
I am very pleased to see my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson in his place, because when he was Policing Minister, additional funding was provided, and the House therefore voted in support of every one of the motions that he put before it.
May I, like others, pay tribute to my local police force? Tomorrow, the Leicestershire police force will celebrate its 180th anniversary at a ceremony in Leicester cathedral and then at the Guildhall. I pay tribute to my chief constable, Simon Cole, for the excellent work that he does, and to Sir Clive Loader, the police and crime commissioner. I want to say how sorry I am that Sir Clive will be standing down at the next election, because he has made a great contribution, on an all-party basis, to tackling crime in the local area. They have made a great team.
We need to acknowledge, as others have done, what happens at a local level. Here we are in Parliament talking about global figures, but policing is about what happens to local people and what happens on the front line. We in the Home Affairs Committee are conscious of that fact when we discuss some of the big issues. As I have said to the Minister, the police funding formula means that my area is £5.6 million a year less well off than equivalent authorities, such as Derbyshire. The police and crime commissioner has recommended an uplift of 1.99%, which is the maximum amount permissible without a local referendum. On behalf of my local area, I welcome the fact that we see no further cuts in the figures that have been provided. However, as has been said, there are 17,000 fewer police officers than there were when the Government took office, and that is a matter of concern.
As I have said to the Minister, I welcome the fact that he has decided to tackle police funding and to look at the problems with the formula. He came before the House and, in his own words—he was modest, as always—ate “humble pie”. He recognised that the whole funding formula procedure was a bit of a “shambles”, as the Select Committee stated in its report. I know that the shadow Minister would like to claim credit, on behalf of the Labour party, for stopping the Government in their tracks, but he should remember that the Home Affairs Committee conducted a thorough inquiry into the matter. One of our members, Victoria Atkins, is here following her astonishing assault on Assange during Prime Minister’s questions. I am not saying that the shadow Minister should not take a little bit of the credit, but he is not a Liberal Democrat; he does not have to take all the credit. The Select Committee had hearings, we considered evidence and we concluded that the process was, in the words of the report, a “shambles,” that needed to be looked at again. The Minister came before the House and agreed. It took Andrew White, the chief executive to the office of the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner, to tell the country that the formula was wrong; senior, learned and intelligent people in the Minister’s Department were unable to do so.
I wrote to the Minister on
The Minister has told me that he wrote to me yesterday, but that letter has not arrived. When we discuss changes in policing, we talk about investment in IT, and I wonder whether the Minister’s private office might invest in email, because emailing me the letter would have been a quick way to ensure that I received it before the debate. We are all watching our emails and waiting for this letter, which was supposed to have been sent yesterday. I know that several of the Minister’s officials are here today, and perhaps nobody is in the office sending out emails. I would like to receive that letter, so that I can share it with other members of the Committee. I do not know what it will tell us, but I hope that it will say that the consultation process is about to begin. We do not want to run out of time.
I believe the Minister when he says that he wants the widest possible consultation. He is right to say that he met me and every other Member who came to see him, and that is the right thing to do. However, unless we start the process and consult the chiefs, the police and crime commissioners, the National Police Chiefs Council and other interested parties, including Members of the House, we will not reach a final conclusion. Perhaps the letter will arrive before I finish speaking. We do not know, but we would like it to come as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend is making a thoughtful and effective speech. As part of the consultation, will he and the Home Affairs Committee take on board the fact, which I raised earlier with my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, that some police forces are peculiarly stretched by a local crime surge? In Salford, we have suffered from 21 shootings over 18 months. The hollowing out of neighbourhood policing, which we have talked about in the debate, is serious when the police have so much more to do because of crime surges such as the one we have seen in Salford. That really ought to be addressed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have visited her constituency, and I know that the issues she talks about are important. At the end of the day, we need to give the police the resources that we need, but decisions about such things have to be handled locally. She is right to say that the problem needs to be addressed and monitored.
I hope that the Minister might cover, in his closing remarks, the extension of the contract of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It is important that we do not get into a position similar to that with water cannon, where the Mayor of London waited a whole year for a decision to be made on whether they should be used. The commissioner is due to appear before the Select Committee on
I want to raise some final points. The first is the wider issue of what exactly we want the police to do. One of the recommendations in our report was that the Government consider the question: what are the drivers of crime and police demand? Of course, we live in tough times, and the Government will blame the Opposition for what they did in government, but the issue remains that Parliament and the Government will always look carefully at resources. The police service needs to know exactly what the Government are prepared to fund. Are they prepared to fund more work on immigration? Police officers nowadays act as though they are immigration officers, because they have to deal with many issues that they did not deal with previously. The Minister and the House know how many cases that reach the custody suite involve people who are suffering from mental illness and should not be there in the first place, which means that police officers are being used as social workers. We know that meetings with local authorities and others, and big inquiries, take up a huge amount of time.
When we begin the consultation on police funding and the new formula, the Minister needs to tell police forces exactly what the Government are prepared to fund. I know that the Government have turned their face against the idea of a royal commission, which the Committee favoured in the last Parliament. We need to look at what we want our police officers to do. They cannot do everything, but that is what they are being asked to do at the moment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have come to over-rely on our police for a lot of things? For example, there was some controversy in my constituency this year because the police were not able to police the Armistice Day march. When it came to it, however, plenty of local councillors and other volunteers were more than able to do that without using police time and resources, and it was a great success.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There are other people who can step in. As those of us who support football clubs—including Leicester City, who are currently leading the premier league—know, there are a lot of police officers on duty at football matches, but it is possible that part of their work could be done by stewards who are not warranted officers. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we do not need warranted officers to do everything.
The Minister has a real opportunity this year to set his mark on the history of policing. He was prepared to tackle the issue of the police funding formula, and received the brickbats that people get, because there are winners and losers, when they try to deal with vested interests. This is a big opportunity: let us decide on a set of principles as a model that can be used for a generation. To do that, he must consult and he must begin such a consultation immediately.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to add my comments to this important debate. Policing and local policing is a subject about which I feel very strongly and in which I take a great interest.
Policing and crime rates are a huge concern to my constituents, as they are to all our constituents. My postbag, as regularly, I am sure, as those of other hon. Members, contains letters from constituents asking what the Government are doing to bring down crime rates. I welcome the reduction in crime during recent years, but I recognise the need to make savings. I commend the Home Office on the very tough decisions it took during the last Parliament. I express huge welcome for the announcement in the autumn statement that we will certainly keep police funding on a stable basis. I particularly welcome the flexibility over the precept, especially for forces with the lowest precepts in the country, such as Essex.
Given my constituents’ natural concerns about current crime rates, I took it upon myself to enrol in the police service parliamentary scheme. I strongly recommend it to all hon. Members. It is quite a time commitment—at least 20 days are spent in different parts of the police force—but it has given me a very strong and valuable insight into the true pressures on our police, the challenges for modern policing, and the changes and innovations that the police need to bring in and are bringing in. I want to put on the record my enormous gratitude to Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh of Essex Police and all those I have been out with. They have made me feel extremely welcome and have been very supportive.
I have had some extraordinary opportunities on the scheme. I have been out with the Juno teams, which are tackling domestic violence, and seen for myself the enormous efforts made by the police in their approach to domestic violence. For example, I have seen how quickly they have adopted our new stalking legislation and how closely focused they are on it. That is part of their approach to hidden harms.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the welcome police officers have given to the introduction of on-body cameras? One of the great hopes for the cameras is that they will greatly assist in prosecuting domestic violence cases.
Absolutely. I have seen officers in action with their cameras, which they can use, for example, when entering the scene of a domestic dispute to which they have been called. As they arrive, they can record evidence of their own that they can use in court. When the victim of domestic violence is, for whatever reason, nervous, reluctant or intimidated about coming forward, they can prosecute on her behalf. That is an enormous innovation. It relies on the police remembering to turn the cameras on, however, so they are doing good training on that. It is a great innovation, and the police are very pleased to have it.
I have visited a custody suite. Hon. Members will understand my reluctance to be photographed anywhere near the cells. I can well imagine the comments on webpages about the picture of any Member of Parliament in the cells. I have seen the pressures that the police face there, and the teething processes involved in trying, not without difficulty, to modernise and to move to new technology. I have been out with CID, and I have seen the forensic labs. I also went to a drugs factory, which was very interesting. A Member of Parliament does not often get the opportunity to go into a cannabis factory. I have also seen how the police are dealing with the problem of modern-day slavery, which they were not geared up to deal with in previous decades. I have seen the sensitivity with which they approach finding out about what they call the “gardener”, who is sometimes left in such factories without any real means of escape.
There are big changes in the way that our police are policing and big differences in the kind of crimes they have to police. They are spectacular in standing up to the challenge of doing all that in difficult funding circumstances. I must say that I have been overwhelming struck by the sheer commitment and dedication of our police officers. I definitely expected to find professionalism, but I must admit that I did not anticipate just how passionate they are about their work and the extent to which they really care about the communities they serve. Again, I put on the record my thanks to them and to Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh for helping with the scheme, and I say to hon. Members, “Do it.” All hon. Members should take that opportunity, because it makes a huge difference.
Essex police, whose motto is “Sworn to Serve”, has long been an efficient force. I could wax lyrical about Essex police for a long time, because when I was in publishing, we produced a book about the history of the constabulary. It is a very long, honourable and proud constabulary. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has repeatedly found that Essex police force provides better value for money than other police forces. It already has a very close programme of collaboration with Kent police, as was mentioned earlier, including significant sharing of back-office functions, and it is collaborating increasingly closely with other forces in the east of England. It also has one of the lowest reserves in the country, so it has not had the option of absorbing extra costs and pressures by reducing its reserves. That makes the fact that it has managed to be so successful in what it does all the more remarkable. It is right, however, that it should continually look for efficiencies to ensure that public money is spent on keeping the public safe.
My hon. Friend is making a very effective point about her local force. If I am called to speak, I intend to say very similar things about efficiencies in Lancashire police. Will she join me in welcoming the £55 million from the police innovation fund, which will help forces to continue to modernise and to create efficiencies in the way they operate?
I absolutely welcome the announcement of those funds. A lot of things are already going on in the police, but it does cost money just to modernise and make improvements. I wish we did not have such an enormous debt in this country, but ultimately, in a strange way, the drive to create efficiencies means that, when our economy is back on an even keel and the money is again flowing in, our police service will be enormously efficient. Old practices, which have been stuck in place for many years, will have been ironed out.
On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that such innovations and making our police forces far more efficient have been due to the introduction of police and crime commissioners?
Absolutely. I will come on to that point later, but the innovation of police and crime commissioners was an enormous achievement of the last Parliament. My police and crime commissioner has been highly visible, and much more so than the old police board that he replaced. To this day, people do not realise that such police boards even existed, but they know the name of their police and crime commissioner and are able to approach him.
Essex police force remains very keen to see a review of the funding formula that determines individual police force allocations across the country. The changes to the formula proposed by the Home Office last year would have meant an increase of more than £10 million in the funding for Essex police. We hope that a review later this year will increase the amount of central funding for Essex.
As I have said, Essex is an area with an historically low policing precept. I believe it is about £140 on average, compared with a national average of more than £180 for a band D householder. Essex police force is very proud to say that it has been a lean and efficient force for a long time. I recently surveyed my residents to ask whether they would be prepared to pay extra if that meant additional officers and greater police visibility. Unsurprisingly, the response was of course overwhelmingly positive.
Because of the difficulties of the existing rules about how PCCs can put across their case in a referendum and about how such a referendum is triggered by a rise of 2% or higher, there has been real concern in Essex, with such a low precept, that we would only ever be able to have an increase of 1.99%. That would embed, in perpetuity, a disadvantage for such a lower-cost force compared with more expensive ones. I am very grateful to the Chancellor and Home Office Ministers for listening to that point. The Government are now allowing police and crime commissioners in areas with the lowest precepts to have flexibility in raising their precept. In Essex, that has made it possible to raise the base budget for Essex police by £3.8 million to £266.3 million this year. Frankly, it is right for forces with the lowest precepts to raise their precepts on local council tax payers, rather than call on central Government and national resources to get other members of the public, who may already be paying a higher price for the police in their local area, to provide funding through a higher grant allocation. This is the right and fair way forward, and it is understood by local residents.
The current budget includes increased investment in specialist police officers and police staff to tackle child sexual exploitation, child abuse, serious sexual offences and domestic abuse. There will also be an increased investigative capacity to tackle those horrible crimes and greater support and safeguarding for victims. We now hear so much more about those hidden harms, which we did not used to talk about and recognise in the same way. As we have heard in this debate, the figures for domestic abuse, child abuse and other hidden harms have been rising, which has contributed to the appearance that violent crime is rising. I would contend, as I am sure would most police officers in my area, that these crimes are not rising. What is rising is the confidence of people to come forward and report them, knowing that they will be dealt with sympathetically. The police are taking a very different approach to such crimes and have had training in how to deal with them. They also wear cameras now, as my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins said, and other changes in legislation have been made.
Within the budget, there will be greater investment in the training that is needed to equip officers to investigate internet-enabled crime and cybercrime, which are affecting individuals and businesses across the country. That subject is very topical this week.
I welcome the autumn statement and the funding review, which will enable Essex police to keep many more PCSOs than it had planned and to make many positive innovations. Essex is lucky to have been served by such a fantastic police and crime commissioner in Nick Alston. I say unashamedly that he is the best police and crime commissioner in the country. He was recognised by his peers in an election on that basis. He has served as the inaugural police and crime commissioner at a time of real change and financial difficulty. We would not be in such good shape in Essex were it not for his sterling support for and challenge to the police. Far from being a faceless police board of the great and the good that no one knows about, his name is incredibly well known. I have only been able to accept his resignation because the highly able Roger Hirst is standing as the Conservative candidate in the police and crime commissioner elections.
Order. I have allowed the hon. Lady to cover a broad scope, but I do not want to get into campaigning and electioneering. This must not become an election campaign, rather than a debate on the police funding grant.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. May I join in the welcome to the Serjeant at Arms? We served at the Ministry of Justice together many years ago. I very much welcome his presence today.
This debate is about the police grant—an issue that the Policing Minister skirted around. He talked about a range of issues, including rationalisation and making the police service more efficient, but he avoided the central question of the level of police funding that the Government are committed to for the next few years.
However, I do not want to start on a negative note. On a positive note, I share with the Minister and Rebecca Harris an admiration for the work of the police and the professionalism of the police service. They do a marvellous job. We must never forget that the police put their lives on the line every day. I know that my hon. Friend Margaret Greenwood, as a Merseyside MP, will note that, because we recently lost an officer in Merseyside. Anyone who has been to the National Police Memorial Day, as the Minister, my hon. Friend Jack Dromey and I have, will know that the police do a great job and put their lives on the line every day.
This debate is about the level of financial support for the police service across England and Wales. It is clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said that the level of support is not sufficient to meet the needs of the police service over the next few years. Nobody will deny that crime has fallen in certain key areas, and that the police are trying their best to reduce crime in key areas. However, a key point has been missed in this debate: policing is not just about crime and whether crime is falling or otherwise.
John Stevenson put his finger on it when he spoke about the difficult circumstances that Cumbria has faced with the recent flooding. In such circumstances, the police are the first port of call. When there are public order events, such as football matches and parades—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington spoke about the recent events in Birmingham—the police are the first port of call. When there are road accidents or deaths in our communities, whether in houses or on the streets, the police are the first port of call. Because social services and health services are not always operational at weekends, on mental health issues the police are the first port of call 24 hours a day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington spoke about the golden thread of neighbourhood policing that runs through the service. The police are about reassurance, visibility and evidence collecting, not just about solving crime. My worry is that today’s settlement will put the level of service at risk. No one can deny that the service is under pressure.
I happen to live in a relatively low-crime area in north Wales. The police force there does a great job under Mark Polin. I met Inspector Dave Jolley in my local area last week. The police are doing a great job and the level of crime is relatively low. However, the budget is putting great pressure on the level of service. It is important to examine that, rather than to duck around the issues, as the Minister did today.
This Government clearly have a small-state Conservative view of the world, as we have seen in local government, which will be changed radically by this week’s settlement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the average member of the public wants is the reassurance of having police in their communities, and that what is being proposed in the small-state Conservative world that is being put forward is not what our voters want?
The constituents of north Wales and, I am sure, of Durham want a visible police force that engages with them locally, works with them locally and provides reassurance, as well as solving and preventing crime. The Minister has missed something extremely important. He has focused on crime falling in certain areas, which I accept it has—I will come on to the areas where crime has not fallen—but policing is about much more than solving crime.
My right hon. Friend is making some very effective points. I have already raised the issue of gun crime, particularly in Greater Manchester. That will not be solved in any way other than through neighbourhood policing and working with the community. Our outgoing chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, said before leaving his post that relationship building was needed with the community, so that people were confident to come forward and give the police information, without which the police cannot solve the gun crime that we have. In Moss Side, it took a long period of building such relationships to get that information out. That is the key point.
My hon. Friend makes her point very well. As she says, we need not just high-level policing but community intelligence and reassurance, and people who know their communities and who work at a local level.
The Minister made great play of efficiency. Nobody will deny that we can make the service more efficient. He is absolutely right about the sharing of buildings and about procurement. He knows about the air contract and the vehicle contract. Those are reforms that we should be making to save money. However, the bottom line is that those efficiencies are not compensating local police forces for the long-term reduction in central Government grant. My police force in north Wales has made efficiency savings of £19.65 million over the past four years, but that has not compensated it for the loss of grant.
The central point I want to put to the Minister, as I said in an intervention on him, is that the reductions in central Government grant are being compensated for by rises in the local precept. My local force area in north Wales has had a grant reduction of 18% over the four years. At the same time, there has been a 14.5% rise in the precept. My constituents are paying more in local taxes at a time when they are losing money in central Government grant.
The point, which my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne understands, is that the poorest areas do not have the council tax base that richer areas have to raise that amount of resource. A 1% or 2% rise in—dare I say it?—the constituency or council area where we are now, Westminster, will raise a hell of a lot more than a 1% or 2% rise in a community such as mine in north-east Wales. When the grant is cut to forces such as North Wales police, and we are expected to raise the local precept, it means that my constituents pay more locally for something that should be provided as part of a national service, whereby richer areas contribute to crime reduction in poorer areas or, indeed, in higher-crime areas. It is important that the Minister recognises that it is not simply a case of reducing the grant and hoping that we can raise that local precept, which he did not mention in any detail today, but of having a fair settlement that meets the needs of poorer communities or areas where crime is higher.
It is important to place it on the record that, under the previous Labour Government, there were 18,000 more police officers than we have now. Crime consistently fell under that Labour Government. If we could look again, in the next three to four years while the Minister holds office, at how we respond to not only the efficiency agenda but the central Government grant agenda, he could do a great deal to help reduce crime and build reassurance.
The Minister mentioned crime falling but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, violent crime has increased by 27% in the past year. On victim outcomes, for half the offences recorded in 2014-15, the case was closed without a single suspect being identified. Hate crime, disability crime, sexual offences and violence against women are starting to increase. There has been a 36% increase in sexual offences. For historical reasons, the reporting of sexual offences is also rising. I accept that car crime, shoplifting and other forms of crime are falling. Good—I am pleased about that, and we want crime to continue to be driven down. However, the Minister cannot avoid the fact that the funding settlement will mean at least a standstill for some authorities, and at worst, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned, a massive cut, particularly for those authorities that have the highest crime, the greatest challenge and the lowest council tax base from which to draw the resources.
It is a little complacent of the Minister to say that all will be well because crime has fallen and forces are managing. My plea to him is to drive efficiency forward still further and perhaps even consider mergers, looking at some of the voluntary mergers that we have encouraged in the past, but not to pass on central Government grant cuts to areas that cannot meet the need, and need to raise money locally. The police service demands more. It is trying to do its best in a professional manner, but the settlement, given the new problems of increased terrorism, cybercrime, fraud and a range of other crimes, will not meet the challenge in the next four to five years. It will certainly not do so in the next year and I therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington in asking the Minister to review it. I will cast my vote this afternoon to try to make him review it and I hope that others will join me at one minute past four.
I will now announce the result of the ballot held today for the election of a new Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. Four hundred and sixty votes were cast, with one spoilt ballot paper. The counting went to three stages, and 417 active votes were cast in that round, excluding those ballot papers whose preferences had been exhausted. The quota to be reached was therefore 209 votes. Mary Creagh was elected Chair with 258 votes. The other candidate in that round was Geraint Davies, who received 159 votes. Mary Creagh will take up her post immediately. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election. The results of the count under the alternative vote system will be made available as soon as possible in the Vote Office and published on the internet for public viewing.
Notwithstanding some of the courtesies that have developed around these matters in recent times, given that we are in the middle of a debate and people are waiting to speak, I should be most grateful if hon. Members expressed their congratulations and commiserations outside the Chamber.
Again, I warmly congratulate the hon. Lady and I thank the other candidates for taking part in that important election.
May I briefly congratulate Mary Creagh on her election as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee? None of us will miss the tsunami of paper to which we have all been subjected over the past few days, but I am sure we will all miss the poetry of Barry Gardiner. It may not have been from Palgrave’s “Golden Treasury”, but it was certainly entertaining.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this important debate on the police grant and pleased to follow Mr Hanson, a former Policing Minister, who is very experienced in these matters, although I do not agree with everything that he says.
I am certainly not always right.
You may be surprised to learn that, Mr Deputy Speaker. However, when police and crime commissioners were first mooted, I have to admit that I was sceptical. I am a Conservative and, like all Conservatives, wary of change, so I was not sure whether we should employ this radical procedure of appointing police and crime commissioners. I always remind myself of the words of the former Prime Minister, the great Marquess of Salisbury, who, when officials and Ministers visited him at Hatfield House to encourage him to do this, say that or think about the other, would press his fingers to his chin and say after a moment’s thought, “’Twere better not.” Governments of all stripes would do well when considering officials’ ideas to say, “’Twere better not.” We might all be better off.
However, the Home Secretary was right, on police and crime commissioners, to say “’Twere better to do this” because they have transformed our police forces around the country and the way in which they spend their money, not least in my county of Staffordshire, where Matthew Ellis has done a tremendous job in introducing new technology. Hand-held tablets have reduced the amount of time that police officers have to work in their stations and has put them out on the beat. At a fraction of the cost, that has effectively created 100 new police officers in Staffordshire. As a result of Matthew Ellis’s reforms, there has not been an increase in the precept in the past four years, and he can balance the budget for the next four years without an increase in the precept.
Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, have mentioned body cameras. We call them “bobby cameras” in Staffordshire, which led the way with that innovation. They not only make it easier for the police to prosecute crime, but make it far more challenging for people to bring malicious and false accusations against the police. If the police are wearing cameras and can film their own behaviour, angry, often young people are far less likely to make untrue claims about the police.
In Staffordshire, we have also led the way in introducing a cadet force. There are now 240 cadet officers between the ages of 14 and 17 working in and with the police to build their skills and work out whether they want a career in the police service. If money is spent effectively and considerately, we can have better policing, a community that feels safer, and a police force that has the tools it needs to do the job.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but will he address the point raised by my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson? The central grant to counties such as Durham is far more important than the precept, given that even a large increase in our precept will not generate much cash because of the number of band A properties in County Durham. Does that not mean that there is no level playing field across the UK, given that the precept is not a way of generating any extra cash in places that contain large numbers of band A properties?
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I feel that he may be thinking that Staffordshire is some sort of green and leafy county. Staffordshire has Stoke in it, and areas of deprivation in Tamworth, Stafford and Burton. That county, which is led by Matthew Ellis, has managed to make a saving of
£126 million, which is invested in technology and makes policing better in Staffordshire and—dare I say this?—better than in County Durham?
I am grateful, as ever, for your guidance Mr Deputy Speaker, but I would not wish to impose on the time of my colleagues on both sides of the House, and I am sure that Mr Jones can make his own speech in his own good time. If he cannot, I am sure he will tweet about it later on.
In conclusion, Staffordshire has an innovative police force that works collaboratively with the community and its police and crime commissioner. We have cut costs and put more police on the streets, we have introduced innovation, and our public are happy. I commend our police force and police and crime commissioner to other police forces around the country. I was wrong to say no to police and crime commissioners, and the Labour party is wrong to pour cold water on this grant settlement, which will deliver more money to the police. When it does, Staffordshire will lead the way.
I thank my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson for his remarks about PC David Phillips whom we lost on Wirral last year. He died in the line of duty, doing the job that he did so well to protect the people of Wirral. He was a highly valued and dedicated officer, and I know that his loss is keenly felt.
The Chancellor’s eleventh hour U-turn on police funding in November’s comprehensive spending review was welcome. The police and crime commissioner on Merseyside had been anticipating cuts of between £62 million to £100 million by 2019-20, which would have stretched to near breaking point the capacity of the Merseyside police force to do its job of keeping us safe. Cuts on that scale would have meant the loss of all police and community support officers and the mounted police section, as well as reduced resources for tackling serious and organised crime, sexual offences and hate crime. People on Merseyside were extremely concerned about the impact that that would have had on the safety of our communities.
The relief with which the Chancellor’s announcement was greeted on Merseyside was qualified by the knowledge of the spending reductions that our police force was already being forced to make. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the force made savings of £77 million, resulting in an overall budget reduction of 20%. Over that period, the number of police officers fell by 20%, police staff by 24%, and PCSOs by 25%. PCSOs are the eyes and ears of community policing on whom we rely. On Merseyside, and particularly the Wirral, PCSOs now end their shifts at 10 pm, which is before the pubs have closed, as a result of the reduction in shift allowance in May 2013. There simply is not enough money to pay them to be on duty at one of the times when they are most needed.
The relief felt on Merseyside at the news of the Chancellor’s U-turn was therefore tempered by what followed. Since November, it has become clear that the Chancellor’s pledge to safeguard police funding was not the full 180° U-turn that we hoped for, but only partial, and the devil is very much in the detail. The Chancellor’s pledge to protect the police depends on an increase in the precept to compensate for a reduction in Government grants. Merseyside’s general grant was reduced by £1.3 million.
The Home Secretary has made it clear that she expects the grant reduction to be offset by increasing the precept to the maximum available, and the police and crime commissioner has consulted the general public and the police and crime panel on increasing the precept by 1.95%. That proposal has won strong support in both cases. However, for 2016-17, Merseyside police faces a budget deficit of £5.4 million. To address that deficit and balance the budget, the PCC is proposing to utilise £2.1 million of reserves, and request the force to make further savings of £3.3 million in 2016-17. Assuming that the PCC’s overall level of funding remains broadly at the 2016-17 level, it is anticipated that further savings of £22 million will be required by 2017-18 and 2020-21.
Although the final settlement announced in the spending review will mean that the force will have to make smaller savings than expected, it still represents a challenge. Those savings will have to be made against a background of increasing demand on the Merseyside police. The increase in some kinds of crime—including serious offences—on Merseyside has been significantly higher than the national average, and I urge the Minister to look at the detail.
The overall increase in crime on Merseyside between September 2014 and September 2015 was 6.4%—that is just in one year—which was in line with the national averages for England and Wales. However, when we look at other offences, we find that the picture is not so favourable. Vehicle theft offences on Merseyside increased by 8.9%, compared with 0.1% in England and Wales. Domestic burglary increased by 1.2% on Merseyside, but decreased by 5.1% in England and Wales. There was a 48.7% increase in offences involving violence against the person in Merseyside, compared with nearly half that—26.8%—in England and Wales. Those are worrying figures. Violent offences involving injury increased by 38.6% on Merseyside, compared with 16% in England and Wales, and the number of violent offences without injury leapt by 60.7%, compared with 37.5% for England and Wales.
Those figures for Merseyside are a matter of concern and reflect the serious need for properly funded policing. Sexual offences increased by 34.5% in Merseyside. It is thought that that increase may reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward, as well as improvements in recording crime.. While that willingness must be welcomed, the resources must be available to pursue cases and deal with victims in a sensitive way. If that does not happen, victims will not continue to come forward in greater numbers. People on Merseyside must have redress in law when they are subjected to violence, and the state must act as their protector and defender. The first duty of the state is to protect the public, and the Chancellor must ensure that the police have the resources to do so.
Wirral West is a lovely part of the world with some areas of real prosperity, but it also has areas of deprivation. In some areas of my constituency people are frightened to go to the shops in the middle of the day because of antisocial behaviour. That is wholly unacceptable.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case by articulating the impact that these cuts are having on communities. Despite being at opposite ends of the region, she and I are both covered by the Merseyside police force, and every day we see the impact of the cuts on the people she has spoken about. Does she agree that the people we ask to do this difficult job are the men and women who are police officers on Merseyside, and that they are also suffering as a result of these cuts? A Police Federation survey towards the end of last year showed that more than three-quarters of police officers did not feel valued in the service and were suffering from low morale, and that is a real cause for concern.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is important that we value police officers and all police staff who do such a difficult job.
All my constituents deserve to be able to go about their daily lives without fear or anxiety. All of them deserve a police service that is funded at a level that enables it to do its job safely and efficiently. I pay tribute to the work done by all Merseyside police staff, including PCSOs, police officers and so-called back-office staff. They have been rather maligned, I feel, by certain Government Members. Front-line personnel, often in perilous situations, rely on them. Without them, the force could not operate. I also pay tribute to the police and crime commissioner, who does such a good job.
The Chancellor made his U-turn on extreme cuts the night before the spending review. That suggests an extraordinary lack of planning and calls into question the quality of decision making in the Treasury. The police force on Merseyside must be funded at a level that enables it to prevent crime wherever possible and pursue effectively those who commit it. The force has to be able to meet the rising demands on it from increased levels of crime and the expectations we have of it. That is fundamental if we are to live in a civilised, stable and safe society. I urge the Minister to look carefully at policing need on Merseyside and to fight for a fair police funding settlement.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and a pleasure to follow Margaret Greenwood. I will use the short time available to address some of the issues that affect London in particular, but let me start by making it very clear that I have not heard any Government Member maligning anybody in the police force—far from it. I put on record my tribute to the Metropolitan police, particularly in my borough where they have had to deal with some interesting issues over the past month. I will refer to those later on.
Last September, a number of London Members had dinner with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who went through the modelling to which my right hon. Friend the Police Minister referred earlier. So that we understood the potential of the modelling, I think that it was dinner without wine, but it was dinner none the less. After that, my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) led delegations to meet the Home Secretary. From a London point of view, I am delighted that the Minister, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary listened. It will make a huge difference. The £900 million in cash terms over the next four years, with the reforms the Minister talked about, will allow for the policing of our national city, including our local constituencies.
The key point is that there have been reforms, a number of which have rendered the police force more effective. I made an intervention on the shadow Minister, Jack Dromey, who was rightly talking about the effectiveness of neighbourhood policing. One problem with the previous model, however, was that people got taken off neighbourhood policing, particularly in London. There have been some real issues with that at various times. I have no doubt that it was a great innovation and he was right to say it. It works and it has worked. Even though there is a reduced number, having dedicated people there the whole time has a similar effect. We saw that recently in my constituency, with the help the police received in relation to information brought forward to solve a very unfortunate murder.
The money for London, of course, is not just there for the local; it has to be there for the national. I thank the Home Secretary and the Chancellor for listening to the issues relating to the National Crime Agency. The investment has the potential to transform it into a world-leading law enforcement agency. If we look at any number of the debates we have had in the Chamber in the past two years about cybercrime and the impact it has on our national city, we see that on one level it affects us all. The risk that criminals will be able to break into the internet of things and create problems for people on a personal level is high. London is the financial centre of Europe; nay, it is the global financial centre of the world. Alertness to cybercrime, and giving the police the resources to be able to fight cybercrime, is therefore absolutely key. Investment in the NCA will have a big impact not only in London, and on the reputation of London, but nationally.
The same applies to counter-terrorism. The money that has been invested will have a huge impact both locally and nationally. The Police Minister will be aware that there were a number of incredibly callous bomb hoaxes at four of my local schools two weeks ago. The money secured for the NCA and counter-terrorism can not only be invested in the capability to ensure there are extra police on the streets but to deal with and to build up the intelligence on callous bomb hoaxers and defeat them. The local commander kindly shared with me a lot of information that I would not want to bring out today on the work it has done, but that work can only happen if we put the money into some of those agencies as well. The police grant will protect those agencies and protect people on the streets day after day, minute after minute. All that is absolutely crucial in the great city of London.
Many cities in this country and around the world face the threat of terrorism. London, however, faces a unique and very severe threat from terrorism, so there are additional pressures on London police. It is therefore particularly welcome that the Met and the City of London police will, through the Greater London Authority, receive national and international city funding worth £174 million.
We in London are pleased that the Minister has listened. The money was necessary and it was right that the adjustment was made. It is right that we are protecting the police. What we do in London has an impact not only across London constituencies, but nationally and internationally. Like the former shadow Police Minister, Mr Hanson, I will be casting my vote on the basis of what I think the police need. I recognise and pay tribute to what the Government have done. I hope my colleagues and others will join us in realising what a good settlement this is for the police and support the Government in the Lobby tonight.
I would like to speak briefly about Bedfordshire, which has been very seriously underfunded for a prolonged period. It still has serious problems. I was very pleased to visit the Police Minister with the other five Members of Parliament for Bedfordshire—Conservative and Labour—a little time ago. He will have seen the paper prepared by the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable illustrating the desperate state of funding for policing in Bedfordshire. I made the point, in Business questions last week, suggesting that the funding formula was fundamentally flawed—broken was the term I used. I hope the funding formula will be amended rapidly, so that it can provide fair funding for Bedfordshire and other authorities across the country.
We have a particular problem with knife crime that is comparable with Merseyside, Greater Manchester and other areas, yet we are substantially less well funded. We also have a problem with gun crime that is comparable with large urban areas. Again, we cannot cope because we have serious underfunding. Our police force does a wonderful job with the resources it has, but those resources are simply not good enough. Rural Wales has, per head of population, resources and police numbers that are a multiple of those available in Bedfordshire, yet it has very little crime. There is something fundamentally wrong with a formula that can give such relatively generous police funding to rural areas with very little crime, when Bedfordshire has some fairly serious problems with crime, which we do our best to deal with but really are struggling with.
We have an excellent chief constable and an excellent police and crime commissioner in Jon Boutcher and Olly Martins. They are doing their best and have provided me with detailed arguments and statistics, which the Police Minister will have. They make the point over and again that we need a fairer funding formula to bring Bedfordshire into line with other areas.
Our area needs extra resources for policing. As I mentioned, we have crime, but we also have political extremism on both sides of the divide, and that requires extra policing too. The police do the best job they can, with the resources available, but we do not have enough resource to do the necessary job. I urge the Policing Minister to look seriously at the funding formula. It should not just be an extra bit of cash to help out in the short term. We need to consider fundamentally how it can be revised, so that it treats Bedfordshire and every other area more equitably. Overall, we still need more funding for the police in general, but the lower funding we have across the country ought to be allocated fairly, and Bedfordshire should get its fair amount.
I will leave it there. I apologise to hon. Members and to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I have to go to the European Scrutiny Committee, where we are interviewing the Foreign Secretary. It is pressing business, so I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I leave fairly quickly after my speech.
Despite some of the scaremongering in the press, the police grant report is good news for police forces across the country and for the force that covers my constituency. I strongly welcome the significant increase in financial resources available across England and Wales and the fact that no police and crime commissioner will face a reduction in cash funding in the next financial year. Credit for that must go to the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister, whom I thank for investing in protecting my constituents from crime and disorder.
The police have had to bear a heavy burden, as the country has had to deal with the mess left behind by the Labour party. The report confirms that we are through the worst and that under a responsible Government we can once again afford to offer our police the support they need and deserve. The fact is that crime has fallen by more than a quarter under this Government. Crime has fallen across Lancashire, including in Pendle.
I counsel the hon. Gentleman against talking about crime falling across the country. He is saying things that are not true for Greater Manchester, which has seen a 14% increase in recorded crime and a 36% increase in violent crime, but which is facing an £8.5 million cut. Will he please not talk about crime falling across the country, as he is not referring to Greater Manchester?
The hon. Lady is talking about reported crime. According to the British crime survey, crime has fallen across the country, and that survey has always been accepted on a cross-party basis as a more accurate reflection of crime rates across the country.
My intervention will be quick, because I am keen that everyone has the chance to speak, but it is important to put the record right. In July, cybercrime and online fraud will be included in the crime survey of England and Wales. The early estimate is that it will add 6 million crimes and result in crime possibly doubling. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on what he has just said and recognise that at last the truth will be told on crime? It is not falling; it is changing.
If the shadow Minister will hold his horses, I will talk about cybercrime and other types of crime not currently reflected in the crime figures and why the police grant is a sensible investment in our ability to deal with new forms of crime.
Drug gangs are a real problem in Pendle, but Operation Regenerate has seen significant resources and a significant number of officers dedicated to tackling organised crime there. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 will help further by stopping people profiting from selling dangerous drugs to our young people. So-called legal highs have caused serious harm to young people across my area, and I am proud to have served on the Bill Committee, alongside other right. hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber today.
Although most types of crime recorded in the statistics have fallen, we have seen upwards trends in certain types of crime. Rates of violence and sexual offences have increased in recent years. Some of that is down to historical under-reporting, but there are other factors. As a country, we still face an epidemic of domestic violence—it is mostly against women, but men are affected too. Just last week, a woman was the victim of a very serious sexual assault on the streets of Colne, the town in which I live. This is a rare thing to happen in the town, and I am sure the whole House will join me in hoping for the swift arrest of those guilty of this appalling attack and in expressing our every sympathy for the victim. I hope the Minister will set out how the Home Office will support police forces such as Lancashire to work with other agencies to ensure that domestic violence and sexual offences are reported and victims protected.
Lancashire police are at the forefront of fighting the rise of modern slavery. One of the first—if not the first ever—modern slavery orders was given to a man in my constituency, using new powers given to the police by the coalition Government’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. This shows that we face new types of crime. The Government must continue to help the police to reform so that they can tackle new forms of crime and protect vulnerable people at risk of exploitation.
The commitment to transforming funding towards developing specialist capabilities to tackle cybercrime will be hugely important, if we are to protect individuals and businesses from the growing threat of online fraud, which all the statistics indicate is of real concern. A new cyber-skills institute will soon open in Nelson, in my constituency, which I hope Ministers will help to support so that we can train the next generation of cyber experts that our police forces desperately need.
There is also the challenge of identifying how the police can best help to integrate communities in east Lancashire and across the country, as we join together to fight extremism and discrimination against certain groups based on their ethnicity or religion. I recently met Andy Pratt, who served Lancashire for 28 years as a police officer. During his career, he set up the first ever community cohesion team in the county, and since his retirement, he has worked tirelessly on interfaith work, trying to build bridges, particularly between our Muslim and Christian communities. I am delighted that he has been selected as the Conservative party’s candidate—
Order. I said I did not want us campaigning for people standing for election. The debate is about police funding, not candidates, no matter how good or bad they are; that is not the idea of the debate.
In conclusion, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for how he has worked with me and other Lancashire MPs on a cross-party basis, particularly over the proposed changes to the police funding formula, which would have disadvantaged Lancashire police. I welcome the generous settlement before the House. We now have to work with our local police forces to continue to reform policing across the UK and to drive down all types of crime.
I rise to make four brief points. First, on the level of funding, before the autumn statement, the Home Office, like many other Departments, was asked to model reductions in spending, and the police were preparing for cuts of 20% to 25%. Labour said that the police could withstand cuts of 10%, but the Chancellor protected police funding, and I welcome that protection, as do many police leaders. The most impressive responses from the policing community came from people such as Chief Constable Sara Thornton, who recognised the need not only for sufficient funding, but for the police to reform and to adapt to the changing demands on their services.
My second point is about flexibility. It is important that the police are flexible to meet the demands on their services. A National Audit Office study reveals that the police do not have a sufficient understanding of those demands, so it is important that they both understand and adapt to meet them.
I wanted to put the record straight for Christopher Pincher. As James Berry rightly says, Durham is the only constabulary in the country that has received an “outstanding” rating for efficiency five times from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs inspectors. In spite of that, however, it is going to have to save about £3 million over the next year. Andrew Stephenson has said that the cash settlement has not been reduced, but other demands mean that the number of officers in County Durham will have to be reduced, even though it has already been cut by some 400 over the past 10 years.
The point about flexibility is clearly lost on the Labour party. I recently attended a Westminster Hall debate in which a London Labour MP insisted on a top-down, inflexible model of ward policing in London, without recognising the fact that some wards needed more policing than others, as is the case in Kingston. That is why I endorse the decision taken by the Home Secretary and the Chancellor to be flexible themselves, including increasing funding both for counter-terrorism policing and firearms officers, which is what the police asked for, at a time when we face an unprecedented terrorism threat, and for a new drive to co-ordinate the fight against fraud, which, as the hon. Gentleman has said, has increased, particularly on the internet.
Thirdly, police funding has to go hand in hand with reform. Thanks to the coalition Government—particularly their Conservative policies—there has been an increase in the democratic control of policing through police and crime commissioners. Important reforms have also been made to the police misconduct regime, including, most recently, opening up misconduct hearings to the public, to increase transparency and public confidence. The College of Policing has been created to set standards and guidance for police. I declare that I am an associate of that college and occasionally give lectures there.
The Home Secretary’s police reform agenda continues, including funding to encourage collaboration between forces, which is not a top-down model like that pursued under the last Government, but a bottom-up model. There are excellent examples of collaboration, such as that between West Mercia and Warwickshire police. There is also funding to encourage blue light collaboration, which not only saves money, but increases the efficiency and effectiveness of our blue light services.
My fourth and final point is about policing in London and in Kingston, which has the second lowest crime rate in London. We have an excellent borough commander in Glenn Tunstall, who leads a fantastic local police force, which is part of the fabric of the local community and does us in Kingston proud. Tomorrow I will host a public meeting with officers in Surbiton, to talk about the excellent work that they, led by Sergeant Trudy Hutchinson, do to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. I pay tribute to them.
In Kingston town centre, the Conservative council has made good on our campaign to increase the number of police officers by using the Police Act 1996 to buy extra police officers and making use of the Mayor of London’s “buy one, get one free” offer. That has had a fantastic impact on the rate of arrests and on safety in the town centre.
My constituents do not spend all their time in Kingston with its low crime rate; many of them also come into central London, where, of course, crime rates are higher, as is the threat of terrorism. That is why I got together with other London MPs, including my constituency neighbour—my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith—and my hon. Friend Boris Johnson to talk to the Policing Minister, the Home Secretary and the Chancellor, in order to ensure that police funding in London was protected. Andy Burnham has claimed that it was Labour that forced a change in police funding, but I am afraid that that is simply not correct. Clear calls were made by Conservative Members, and the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister listened to them and protected our budget. As a result, the number of police community support officers in London is not going to be cut, and the number of authorised firearms officers will be increased considerably. There will also be increased funding for counter-terrorism, and our capital city grant has been protected.
To return to the issue of flexibility, certain areas of crime have increased, despite the overall downward trend in the UK and in London, but I am sure that the Metropolitan police and the police in Kingston and the rest of the country will be flexible to meet the increased demand on their services and that they will meet those challenges.
I welcome the report. I am delighted that funding has been protected in London and that the Government are putting the protection of people at home and abroad first. I thank the Minister for what he has done for policing in London.
It is fitting that we are having this debate in the same week that the Prime Minister made a speech on his groundbreaking reforms in our prison system. One startling fact in his speech was that 70% of prisoners have at least seven previous convictions. If we can improve recidivism rates, it will inevitably have an impact on the resources available to police officers. These reforms to the prison system and to the police funding formula are compassionate and they are to be welcomed because they will also help to prevent crime.
My right hon. Friend the Policing Minister is to be congratulated on acting on the promise to review the police funding formula—something promised by others over the years but never actually done; it has now been done by the Minister and the Home Secretary. He is also to be congratulated on protecting the policing budget in the autumn statement and on making real blue-light reform possible, enabling the police, the ambulance and the fire services to work together. I shall deal quickly with each in turn.
On the police funding formula, Lincolnshire is the police constabulary in my constituency, which is a very rural part of the world that has been particularly badly affected by the old police funding formula, as mentioned by my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh. The Lincolnshire chief constable—and, indeed, some of his colleagues and other chief constables—has been very brave in challenging the funding formula. Not every chief constable has made the same progress as him on efficiency savings. He has written an excellent book, “The Structure of Police Finance—Informing the Debate”, which helped me when I needed to put various questions to chief constables in my work on the Home Affairs Select Committee. The Select Committee has found that some forces have extraordinarily generous reserves of savings. Keith Vaz, the Committee Chairman, invited chief constables and police and crime commissioners to give evidence and we heard from some that they had reserves of up to £60 million. Since then, I have learned that the West Midlands force has a reserve of £153 million. Rather than have that money sitting in a bank account, we should surely spend it wisely to protect the public.
The hon. Lady mentions the money of the West Midlands police service, but it is overwhelmingly earmarked for the rationalisation of buildings in order to save money in the medium and longer term and for the recruitment of new police officers. I know Neil Rhodes well, and he is a fine chief constable. He was right to call for a review of the police funding formula, so does the hon. Lady share his dismay and my dismay that, as a consequence of the omnishambles within the Home Office before Christmas, we are stuck with the existing arrangements?
It is certainly true that the chief constable was excited at the prospect of the new funding formula and how it might help his constabulary. It is as it is, but I received a letter from the chief constable last month saying that the constabulary has made further bold bids for transformational funding, which it is excited about in connection with blue-light funding. I shall come on to that later.
As we have heard, the overall police budget is going to be protected—up to £900 million by 2019-20—and there is going to be a real-terms increase to £670 million for policing and counter-terrorism next year. There is also to be an increase in transformation funding to help with issues such as cybercrime.
I see in their places three members of the Joint Committee that has scrutinised the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which is going to report tomorrow. During our work on that Committee we have heard about the changing nature of the threats facing our country and local policing, whether it be in respect of counter-terrorism or the challenges faced by police officers investigating missing persons. That, however, is for another debate and another time.
My final point is about making blue-light collaboration possible. In a village in my constituency, Woodhall Spa, fire officers are trained to step in as ambulance workers, because they will be on the scene before the ambulances arrive. That is a great improvement, and the more we see of it the better. When I had the pleasure of visiting police stations in both Louth and Horncastle before Christmas to thank the officers for their work, I was interested to see that Louth police station was next door to the fire station. There must be room for the services to work together in helping to protect the public.
There have been suggestions from the Opposition that Members do not appreciate the work of police officers. That is simply wrong. I had the pleasure and privilege of working with excellent police and law enforcement officers in my previous career, and I am delighted that Lincolnshire constabulary will be hosting its annual awards in March to celebrate the bravery and commitment of officers in our county. I have been invited to the ceremony. Sadly, I shall probably not be able to go because I shall be here, but I wish them well. I am sure that the whole House wishes each and every police officer in our country well for the future, and is grateful for the work that they have done already.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is very kind.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the police protect us, and the Government have indeed protected the police. I believe that the settlement strikes the right balance between ensuring that police forces are properly funded and can plan for the future, and maintaining the impetus and the tempo of reforms.
When I was listening to the speech of Jack Dromey, it struck me that it would be helpful to put the settlement in context. Back in 2010, this country was truly staring into the abyss. Youth unemployment had doubled, and Britain was the basket case of Europe. [Interruption.] I hear the scoffing of Opposition Members, but the important point is this: the impact on public services would have been felt if the Government had not introduced some degree of order. Let us remember what the position was like back then. People were talking not just about trimming the police force, but about the wholesale meltdown of some of our key public services, and that is precisely what has not happened.
I know that the present Government find it difficult to distinguish between revenue and capital, among other concepts, but the hon. Gentleman has said that no one will lose cash. Durham, for instance, has an “outstanding” force—the only one in the country—but that force must take £3 million out of its budget this year because of wage increases and other pressures. “Flat cash” does not constitute an increase.
As I have said, it is important to put the settlement in context. Back in 2010—[Interruption.] May I deal with the point? In 2010, the country was bringing in about £600 million in tax revenue and spending £750 million. If that had not been addressed, the country and policing would be facing meltdown, but policing is now on a sound footing to protect the people of our country.
Speeches are sometimes as interesting for what is not said as for what is said. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington did not mention, even as one of his own apocalyptic scenarios, the kind of cut that he would himself have countenanced. At the Labour party conference in Brighton, Andy Burnham declared that savings of up to 10% could be found. He said that that would be doable. That is not what is happening under this Government. Funding is now on a sustainable footing and capability is being enhanced.
I will not take any more interventions.
Let us look at how that capability is being enhanced. Specialist capabilities in cybercrime are being improved, as is firearms capability. Modernisation and reform are also taking place because, as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has set out, there are further efficiencies to be made. Whether in respect of decent funding or improving our capability, this settlement will enable us, even in difficult times, to protect our police, build capacity, drive reform and deliver for the people of this country.
The House divided:
Ayes 310, Noes 212.
Votes cast by Members for constituencies in England and Wales: