Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move,
That this House
recalls that the Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement 2015 that there would be real-terms protection for police funding;
notes that, based on the scale of cuts proposed, police budgets will fall by between nine and ten per cent over four years in real terms;
further notes that the failure to provide real-terms protection for the police budget will lead to further cuts in police numbers in addition to the 18,357 police officers already lost since 2010;
notes that the inclusion of cybercrime in crime statistics will show that crime has doubled;
notes the heightened threat of a terrorist attack in the UK and the operational role of neighbourhood police in preventing such an attack;
and calls on the Government to honour the Chancellor’s statement to the House and provide real-terms protection for the police budget.
We called this debate for one simple reason: the public have not been told the truth about police funding or crime figures. With the second police and crime commissioner elections just weeks away, people need the facts so this evening we set the record straight.
“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.]
I am sure Conservative Members remember that because they waved their Order Papers. It could not have been clearer—“real-terms protection”. That was not an off-the-cuff remark or a slip of the tongue. It was the centrepiece announcement of the Chancellor’s autumn spending review statement, made with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister at his side; it was the traditional rabbit out of the hat that we have come to expect on such occasions, designed to produce mass waving of Order Papers.
There was once a time when, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement of that kind in that way to this House, it would have meant something more than just a grab for the next day’s headlines. People could trust it to be true, because it had been said by a Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons, but it seems that we live in different times. Ministers these days, from the Prime Minister downwards, are decidedly less attentive than they used to be to the veracity of what they say at the Dispatch Box. Every Member of this House should worry, because in the end it goes to the heart of trust in this place and what we all do.
Surely, of all public services, the police should be able to trust the word of Ministers of the Crown when commitments are given here. Would it not be a sign of disrespect to people who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf day in, day out if the Chancellor was writing cheques that he knew he would not be able to cash? You would think so, wouldn’t you, but in today’s politics Ministers think they can say what they like and get away with it.
This evening I will present to the House new analysis which shows that the Chancellor has broken his promise to the police and to the public. He has failed to provide real-terms protection for police budgets in 2016-17. In fact, he is about to cut those police budgets yet again, for the sixth year in a row. For the six years that he has been Chancellor and the six years that Mrs May has been Home Secretary, we have had six years of cuts to the police. What a record! And to think that the Conservatives used to call themselves the party of law and order.
The issue before the House tonight is this: are we prepared to let the Government think that they can get away with making promises to this House and then breaking them within days, or are we going to do something about it? Are we going to hold them to account and make them honour the promise they made to our local police forces?
I do not want to go too far back in history, but if my right hon. Friend looks at
I was just about to make that very point. The cuts that we are now facing come on top of the loss of 18,000 police officers over the previous Parliament, as my right hon. Friend has just said, and 12,000 of them were front-line officers. Thousands of police community support officers and civilian staff have lost their jobs. We have begun to see the break-up of neighbourhood policing, which was a great achievement of the previous Labour Government, bringing police out of their stations and cars and back into communities, restoring trust and bringing down crime. That is a record that Labour should be proud of.
Is my right hon. Friend also aware that commitments were given that the sale of police stations and other buildings would help to ensure that there were additional police officers on the frontline? In my constituency we have lost St John’s Wood police station and Harrow Road police station, and I understand that Paddington Green police station has now been sold, yet our police numbers are still nearly 30% down on where they were in 2011.
The same story is repeated all over the country. I ask my hon. Friend to think about the cuts that have been made to other services alongside the police, such as those to councils, mental health services, social care, disability benefits, ambulance services and fire services. All those cuts pile extra pressure on our overstretched police forces. That is what we are seeing. The cuts now being planned come at a time when this country is facing multiple challenges on many fronts, and when the threat level has never been higher, so something has to give.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a stark contrast with the approach that the Welsh Labour Government are taking, with funding for hundreds of extra PCSOs in Wales making up for the shortfall they have seen as a result of cuts elsewhere?
I think that people will hear what my hon. Friend has said and make their own judgment. Who protects community safety? Who stands up for the police? When people come to vote this May, there is the evidence that when Labour is in government, when we run councils and when we have Labour police and crime commissioners, we protect front-line and neighbourhood policing and we improve community safety. My hon. Friend makes that point very well.
The question we have to ask the Home Secretary today is this: how many more consecutive years of cuts can police forces take before public safety is seriously compromised? England and Wales already have far fewer police officers per head of population compared with international counterparts. If the ratio drops even lower, there are real fears that were a Paris-style attack to happen here, and, importantly, were it to happen outside London, there would simply not be the ability to surge enough police officers—specifically, fire arms officers and specialist units—on to the streets quickly enough to protect the public.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is giving this a bit of welly as part of his rehabilitation, but I am confused about two things. First, I have yet to hear him acknowledge that over the past seven years crime has continued to fall quite significantly. Secondly, I have yet to hear him refer to his own recommendation of 10% cuts in police funding, which he made not six months ago. Would he care to enlighten the House on both points?
I will come on to both points. I am doing fine, thanks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can see that I will be standing up for police forces, even if he is not. I will come on to both points he raises, because I do not think that his Government are telling the correct story about what they are doing to the police. They are not providing real-terms protection; they are cutting the police. Ministers also stand at the Dispatch Box and say crime is falling; the Policing Minister said it just days ago—complacently. They fail to point out that the crime figures they quote do not include online crime, which is about to come into the crime statistics for the first time. In the last six years, crime has changed—it has moved online—but the relevant figures have not been counted, so I would not be so complacent if I were him.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned what was said at the autumn statement about what I was meant to have said. What I would say to him is that there is far too much spin coming from the Government Dispatch Box. He should look at what I actually said. I am about to come straight to that issue.
I have talked about the specialist and firearms units we need to protect the public. However, neighbourhood policing is crucial, is it not, if we are to collect the intelligence to combat the terror threat. My worry is that if the Government proceed in this Parliament with year-on-year cuts, they will break up the neighbourhood teams. Let me take the House in detail through what I am saying and through the figures we are presenting.
Analysis by the House of Commons Library of next year’s police grant settlement to individual forces shows that they will not be protected in real terms; in fact, they will not even be cash-protected. In 2015-16, the overall allocation to individual forces, excluding special payments to London, was £7,452 million. In 2016-17, it will be £7,421 million—a £30 million cash reduction, or £160 million in real terms.
A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman rightly said that the level of threat is severe, and we are all aware of that. May I make the same invitation to him that I made to his Front-Bench colleague, Jack Dromey, in the previous policing debate? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of armed police officers. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that, in his vision of policing, even if those officers are armed, they will not be allowed to use their weapons. Will the shadow Home Secretary admit that that is a dereliction of duty? Will he take this opportunity, while he is speaking from the Dispatch Box, to clarify the Opposition’s position?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the cuts, the 4.6% police precept rise in the west midlands, which was apparently negotiated by the hon. Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Dudley South (Mike Wood), amounts to nothing more than local people paying more money for less police?
The Government are cutting the police at national level, making local people in the west midlands—and in Greater Manchester too—pick up the bill, but people are getting less in terms of police on their streets. We know, do we not, that the Government are very good at making cuts in urban areas such as Greater Manchester and the west midlands and at taking money elsewhere. That is the reality: our constituents will be paying more for less. The Chancellor and the Home Secretary have broken their police promise to our constituents.
I will come to that as well. The Bill we will debate in a week or so is all about having a part-time police force to deal with the growing threat we face from online crime and fraud and from terror. That is simply not an answer to the challenges of the future, and I will come to that before I finish.
I will make a little more progress, and then I will give way to my hon. Friend.
Let us just get the facts on the record: 36 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have now received their grant allocations from the Home Office, and these show a cut in cash terms. How does that deliver the Chancellor’s pledge of real-terms protection? Worse, all police forces in England face real-terms cuts next year. If the same level of cuts is sustained over the spending review period, as we suspect it will be, that will equate to overall real-terms cuts in the police budget of between 9% and 10%.
The House will recall that right up until the spending review—[Interruption.] I am coming to the point. Right up until the spending review, the police had been told to expect cuts of over 20%. Senior police officers say that they were still expecting cuts of over 20% the day before the spending review settlement. Kit Malthouse nods because he knows I am right about that. It was sustained pressure from Labour Members that forced a rethink from the Government.
After the Paris attacks, the whole question of police funding had to be looked at in a new light. I wrote to the Home Secretary and said that while of course efficiencies could be made, anything over 5% cuts in real terms over the course of this Parliament would be dangerous. That was completely misrepresented by the Chancellor in his autumn statement, and I am pleased to correct the record today.
When my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, who was a distinguished deputy Mayor for policing here in London, referred to the 10% figure that the right hon. Gentleman had quoted, the right hon. Gentleman said that there was far too much spin from the Government side of the House. The figure actually came from a Labour party press release where he said:
“Of course, savings can be found. The police say five to ten per cent over the Parliament is just about do-able”.
He accepted 10%, so why is he now so worried about cuts in funding?
When that press release was issued I said that up to 5% would be do-able—[Interruption.] No, I have said this consistently, if the Home Secretary will just listen. I said that up to 5% cuts would be doable, and we stand by that; that up to 10% would be difficult; and that over 10% would be dangerous. She was threatening to cut the police by over 20%, so let us get the facts straight. She will recall that she asked Cobra to review police funding in the light of the Paris attacks. My hon. Friend Jack Dromey—the shadow Policing Minister—and I also consulted the police in the light of the Paris attacks. We listened to what they had to say, as the Home Secretary will have done. They said that over 5% would be difficult, if not dangerous, and I put that in a letter to her before the autumn statement. Let us get this right so that the public are not misinformed and there is no spin from the Government Dispatch Box.
In his desperation to play politics in the autumn statement, the Chancellor tried to misrepresent my position, but he outdid himself, because he misrepresented not just my position but the Government’s position. He dressed up a 10% cut as budget protection, and we now know that it is nothing of the sort. No doubt the Government’s defence will rest on the claim that they gave councils extra freedom to increase the police precept to make up the shortfall, but that does not hold water. For the Chancellor to give the guarantee in this House as he did, he would have needed firm agreements from local councils and PCCs that they would raise the extra cash locally, but he did not have those agreements—not even from Conservative PCCs. The Devon and Cornwall and Cambridgeshire forces will not be raising their precepts by the full amount recommended by the Government, and Hertfordshire is actually shown to have lowered its precept.
The Home Secretary says, “It’s their decision”, but let me tell her again: she promised real-terms protection for police budgets, and she is not delivering real-terms protection for police budgets. She has broken her promise to the police. I am afraid that she cannot just shrug that fact off. The Conservative PCC for Devon and Cornwall, Tony Hogg, says this about the implications of the spending review for his force:
“While I completely welcome the Government’s changed position on Police funding, it remains a fact that central Government funding to Devon and Cornwall Police in 2020 is estimated to be 19% less in cash terms (real terms 32% less) than it was when I commenced office in November 2012.”
A 32% cut in real terms, with 43 officers going next year and 28 police staff going too, is not on, and the Government cannot just shrug it off.
The next claim that the Government will no doubt make is that authorities that have used the precept freedoms to the full will have been able to protect their budgets, but that is not true either. The Hampshire independent PCC, Simon Hayes, said:
“The Medium Term Financial Strategy...shows an estimated budget shortfall of £6m by 2019/20 assuming 1.99% council tax precept increases from 2016/17 onwards.”
He cannot make up the shortfall from his precept.
Let me apply the same test to the Home Secretary’s police force and my own. Next year, Thames Valley police will see a real-terms cut in central Government funding of £5 million. The income raised by the full use of the precept does not cover that shortfall. Forces such as Thames Valley also have to contend with other cost burdens loaded on to them by the Chancellor, including the apprenticeship levy and the extra national insurance contributions. In the case of Thames Valley, those amount to more than £6 million. That is money out of front-line policing. What is the net effect of that in the Home Secretary’s police force? She should listen to this: 95 officers going next year, as well as 51 police community support officers and 161 staff. There we have it. The Home Secretary has broken her own police pledge to her constituents.
Let us look at my force, Greater Manchester police. According to figures from the Library, central Government funding will be down by £8 million in real terms next year. The force has made full use of the freedoms from the precept, but that will not make up the shortfall. As my hon. Friend Steve McCabe said, the force will be paying more for less. As the PCC for Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd, puts it:
“Contrary to the Chancellor’s rhetoric, this is a cuts budget.”
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech and highlighting the differential impacts, as well as the impact across the board. I want to give the House the example of Northumbria police. Just 12% of its revenue comes from the council tax precept. That is far below the national average of 25%, and that hampers its ability to make up for the shortfall. Northumbria is the worst hit of all forces, with local residents paying more for less.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The more deprived parts of the country have less ability to raise money from their council tax base, so they cannot make up for the Government’s cuts. I am sorry to tell her that the situation could be about to get even worse. The Guardian reported yesterday that the Home Secretary is about to bring forward a new police funding formula—after the mess that the Policing Minister made of the last one—which will divert funding away from urban forces towards rural ones.
The Home Secretary is shaking her head, and I am glad; I hope that she will tell me that that is not true. Recently, £300 million was miraculously made available for local government in England at the last minute, but—surprise, surprise—barely a penny went to any council represented by Labour. It all went to councils represented by the Conservatives. If the police funding formula did the same, it would add insult to injury and make a complete and utter mockery of the Government’s already dubious commitment to creating a northern powerhouse.
I have listened carefully to the shadow Home Secretary for 22 minutes, and his entire assessment of how the police are doing is based on the amount of money that the Government have given them. There has been absolutely no mention of smarter policing, better procurement or better use of technology. We heard yesterday in the Home Affairs Committee from a former Labour Member of this House and former Minister who is now the PCC for Merseyside. She has managed to halve the budget for her office compared with that of the former police authority, and all that money has gone into front-line policing. There is more to policing than the amount of money that the police receive from central office.
I could not have put it better myself. Vote Labour. Vote for a Labour PCC. Labour PCCs will work cleverly to protect front-line policing, and they will drive innovation and reform. Protect our police by voting Labour in May. I thank the hon. Gentleman for making my point better than I could have done.
On the point about additional funding for policing to plug some of the gaps that the right hon. Gentleman has talked about, as he knows, the reductions are over five years, during which time some PCCs may take control of their fire authorities. Does he believe that it would be right or wrong for PCCs to use fire budgets to plug perceived gaps in their police budgets?
I think it would be wrong, and I am very worried about the proposal to put fire under the control of the PCCs, because fire will be the poor relation. Already, thousands of firefighters, fire pumps and fire stations are at risk from the local government settlement. I put it to the hon. Gentleman and all Conservative Members that considering the cuts to the police, and to the fire service as well, we must all ask ourselves the question: is there adequate emergency cover in all parts of the country? I believe we are getting to the point at which some people will say that that is no longer the case. We need to look at those two things together. Putting two underfunded services together will not necessarily create a financially viable or safe service.
I want to move on to the crime figures, because I am conscious of the time. The Government’s alibi for their police cuts so far has been that it is okay to cut the police because crime is falling. That is basically the argument made by the hon. Member for North West Hampshire, who formerly had responsibility for policing in London— but is it true? The latest recorded crime statistics in January showed large increases in violent crime, knife crime, hate crime and sexual offences.
As ever, Ministers will say, “Look at the British crime survey,” but as I have said, crime has changed: it has migrated online. We might see a downward trend in the traditional volume crimes such as burglary and theft in the British crime survey, but when we ask the British public whether they have been the victim of online crime, they will probably say, “Yes, I have been.” If those figures are not included in the British crime survey, it is no wonder that we do not have an accurate picture of crime.
I recognise the issue that the right hon. Gentleman raises, but will he accept that we cannot patrol to prevent online crime? The solution to online crime is not throwing bodies at it but about throwing technology at it, which can be done either relatively cheaply or much more efficiently.
What we should not do is to throw volunteers at it, which is the Home Secretary’s idea. [Interruption.] I will come on to explain that. This is about both technology and people. We need sophisticated teams to deal with it. It is fair to say that most police forces do not have such a capability at the moment, and they will not get that capability by having their numbers and their budgets cut. We need a sophisticated response to online crime.
Kit Malthouse is trying to suggest that there is no link between crime and the reduction in support and funding for police services. In Greater Manchester, £8.5 million and 1,600 staff have been cut, and we know that there has been an increase in crime. In my constituency, the number of burglaries has doubled year on year. Is that not the effect of what the Government are doing?
That is directly the effect of what the Government have done, compared with what they inherited. How on earth can that police force now develop the capability to deal with the threats we will face in the future? The argument that crime is falling so we can cut the police will not work any more. Ministers are going to have to get a new script. It is not safe to cut the police, because crime is becoming more complex.
I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for giving way to me a second time. He is making an argument about the importance of accuracy in reporting figures. May I therefore ask him why, in relation to a Labour party press release on crime statistics issued in January, under the heading “crime up 6 per cent, the biggest increase”, the UK Statistics Authority wrote to my hon. Friend James Cleverly to say that
“by focusing on police recorded crime without appropriate caveats, and omitting evidence from the more complete and reliable source (for most violent crimes) of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, it may have given, in parts, a misleading impression”?
Will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise?
No, I will not, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, the figures were accurately reported. The challenge today is for the Home Secretary to explain her claim that crime is falling, because I am afraid the recorded crime figures do not show that, and some experts say that the British crime survey is about to show that crime has in fact doubled. That is the issue that she has to explain, and she will have to work hard to do so.
Tackling online crime is one of the biggest challenges we face, but as I have said, forces do not have the capability. The question is, how are they going to do that with these further cuts? To be fair, the Home Secretary has floated one idea, which I have just mentioned. She told the BBC website in January that she was planning to recruit a new army of volunteers to help solve cybercrimes. She said that
“volunteers who specialise in accountancy or computing”, as well as IT professionals,
“could work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime”.
I ask in all honesty, is that really the best the Government can come up with to crack the complex crime challenges of the future—Theresa’s temps, a Dad’s Army of retired accountants to take on and defeat the sophisticated international organised crime and fraud networks?
The week after next, we will debate the Home Secretary’s Bill, which will propose that powers be given to volunteers without their becoming special constables. Is that really the answer—a part-time police force? It does not equate to a vision for policing in England and Wales that is up to the challenges of the future. A part-time police force is no answer to the growing threats we face from cybercrime and terrorism. When it is the only answer that the Government can come up with, it is a sure sign that their cuts have gone way too far.
It was suggested by the former deputy Mayor that these things can be done by sophisticated algorithms that can filter out such crimes. Actually, the victims of such crimes still feel that they need a police officer to come round and speak to them. That is the problem, especially when 1,000 front-line police officers in Merseyside are being cut.
We have seen this cost cutting and privatisation elsewhere, haven’t we? Take NHS 111, which was going to solve everything because of the algorithms that the call handlers would use. Has the service to the public been better than under NHS Direct? In no way. My hon. Friend has got it absolutely right. The Government suggest that it can all be done on the cheap, but people know it cannot.
In conclusion, the official line from the Government has been, “We’re protecting the police and crime is falling,” but that claim is something that should be added to the growing fraud statistics. The truth is the opposite: the police are being cut while crime is rising. They are cutting the fire service and the Border Force even more deeply—Tory cuts that are putting people’s safety at risk. That is the message that we will take into the PCC elections. Our police do a difficult job in a dangerous world. They deserve our thanks and respect, particularly those of the Government of the day. If promises are made to them, they should be kept. As we have shown, Labour is prepared to stand up for the police and protect community safety. That is what we are asking the House to do tonight by making this arrogant Government honour their commitment to the police. Real-terms protection should mean just that. What better way is there for Members on both sides of the House to show their appreciation for their local police forces than by voting for the Opposition motion tonight?
Let me start by paying tribute to the police, the fire and rescue services and all those who attended the incident at Didcot power station yesterday. In doing so, they showed the courage and professionalism that police officers and firefighters show day in and day out.
Andy Burnham called for a debate on police funding, crime and community safety. I am delighted that he did so and I will set out the steps the Government are taking to continue cutting crime, keep people safe from terrorism and reform our police and emergency services in a moment, but before I do, I would like to address the motion before us. He said that he called this debate to expose “Tory lies”, but the truth is that the motion contains nothing but inaccuracies and misleading statements. I will address each in turn.
The right hon. Gentleman says in the motion that
“police budgets will fall by between nine and ten per cent over four years in real terms”.
That is, frankly, not true. As the Chancellor set out in the autumn statement, overall police spending will increase from nearly £11.4 billion this year to £12.3 billion at the end of the spending review period—an increase of just under 8% or £900 million in cash terms. There will be protection in real terms over the course of this Parliament if police and crime commissioners maximise their precept. The funding for individual PCC budgets, which includes funding from central Government and local taxpayers through the precept, will be protected in cash terms.
We will provide substantial additional investment over the period in transformation funding to improve police capabilities to deal with modern threats such as terrorist firearms attacks, cybercrime and other emerging threats.
When the right hon. Gentleman calls on the Government to provide real-terms protection for the policing budget, I can happily tell Members that we have done just that. That is in stark contrast to the right hon. Gentleman himself. Earlier, I referred to a Labour party press release, but addressing the Labour party conference last year the shadow Home Secretary made it clear that he would support cutting the police by
“5 per cent to 10 per cent over the Parliament”.
It is one thing to criticise the Government for imaginary spending cuts, but it is quite another to do so after arguing for significant spending reductions.
The right hon. Gentleman also argues that police forces might make further reductions to the number of police officers and staff. Notwithstanding the point that police budgets have been protected for the spending review period, decisions on the size and composition of a police force’s workforce are for individual chief officers working closely with their police and crime commissioners. The lesson of the past five years is that what matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are.
I have heard the Home Secretary comment that she is not particularly concerned about the numbers, but I wonder whether she is concerned about the fact that Humberside police force has the lowest level of police officers since the 1970s. Does that not concern her at all?
The point that I am making is very simple and I am happy to repeat it to the hon. Lady. The Labour party consistently looks at the amount of money that is spent and at the number of police officers, but what we need to look at is how money is being spent and how the officers are being deployed. It is not just me who is saying that. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has made it clear that there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels, between numbers and the visibility of police in the community or between numbers and the quality of service provided.
I am listening carefully to what the Home Secretary is saying and she has repeated the claim that she is protecting the police in real terms. Is she therefore denying the figures from the House of Commons Library that show 36 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales receiving cash cuts in their allocation from the Home Office for 2016-17?
When the right hon. Gentleman looks at figures for overall police spending he needs to look at figures for overall police spending, because they include the money being spent. He was very careful. He said when he looked at his figures that he was not looking, for example, at the extra grants for London through the capital city grant. He was not looking at the money being spent on the emergency services mobile scheme that we are introducing to replace Airwave. He needs to look more carefully at the figures that he is citing.
The Home Secretary makes a very good point; this is not just about the total money but about how money is spent. The problems on the Labour side also come down to a local level, not just a national level. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that although we understand the problems with financing policing in Bedfordshire, it undermines the case when the PCC for Bedfordshire has one of the highest proportions of commissioned police officers in staff roles rather than on the frontline and when he does not spend the budget allocated to him, for example, on counter-terrorism?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and it is very striking when we look at the figures for Bedfordshire how many officers are not on the frontline but in the back office. That is one of the things that most police forces have changed over the years, but there is clearly more scope for that to take place in Bedfordshire. Under a different police and crime commissioner—a Conservative police and crime commissioner—I am sure that it would.
I want to pick up on that point about the financial management of Labour police and crime commissioners. In the West Midlands, for instance, the Labour PCC, David Jamieson, has reported £100 million in reserves, yet he chose before the spending review to fire huge swathes of vital PCSOs in a highly politicised move and then had to reverse the decision after the spending review. The message is, “If you want to play politics with the police, vote Labour.”
I have to say that I agree with my hon. Friend. If we look at the figures, we see that the cash change in resource reserves since March 2014 in the West Midlands is £27 million. The choice has been made to put that money in reserve—into the bank balance—rather than into officers on the frontline.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way one more time, because this is an important debate and people need the truth. They will have heard that she did not answer my last question about Home Office cash cuts to 36 police forces, so let me ask another question. She loves to read out what I said—5%, 10%—but I have already gone through what I said and the letter I wrote to her. Let us get the facts straight. Why did David Jamieson put forward those plans? It was because until the day before the spending review, the Home Secretary was telling the police that they could expect 25% cuts. That is what she was telling them; that is what they were planning for. What happened to make her change her mind the day before the spending review, and back down on the 25% cuts that she was planning?
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to make an argument where there is none, because he knows full well the processes of determining the comprehensive spending review, and the discussions that take place between Departments and the Treasury that result in the final figures that the Chancellor announces. In truth, the Labour party decided what its line was going to be on police funding, and when the Chancellor stood up and protected police budgets, instead of sensibly changing that line, it decided to carry on with it anyway because one should never let the facts get in the way of an argument.
The right hon. Gentleman argues that the inclusion of cybercrime in the crime statistics will show that crime has doubled, but the uncomfortable truth for the Opposition is that crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. That is one of the most authoritative surveys of victims of crime in the world. It is administered by the independent Office for National Statistics, which captures the experience of more than 30,000 households. The survey dates back to the 1980s and shows that crime is at historic lows. People in this country are as safe as they have ever been.
The ONS has been clear: its preliminary estimate on fraud and cybercrime does not mean that crime is rising, and certainly not that it has doubled. In fact, it confirms what we have long known, which is that such crimes have for too long gone unreported and unrecorded. That is why the Government welcome the work of the ONS to capture those crimes.
The right hon. Gentleman notes the heightened threat of a terrorist attack and the important role of the police in preventing such attacks, and I will go on to speak about that.
I described accurately in my speech what was said about real-terms figures and maximising the precept, and that in cash terms there will be virtually a £900 million increase in funding for police budgets.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—they cannot have it all ways, and that is exactly what the shadow Home Secretary is trying to argue. He is saying, “Isn’t it great? It is all because of us that police funding is protected—ooh, whoops, no, we think it’s going down.” He really needs to get his own lines straight before he stands up and speaks in this Chamber.
I want to speak about terrorism so I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. The threat from terrorism is real and growing. As I said when I was in Washington last week, the threat from Daesh requires us to act with greater urgency and joint resolve, both at home and internationally, more than ever before. An effective counter-terrorism response relies on the police and agencies working together with the right tools, capabilities and powers. That is precisely why the Government took the decision to protect overall police spending in real terms last autumn, why they have always supported neighbourhood policing as part of that joint effort, and why they protected counter-terrorism policing budgets and increased funding for the security and intelligence agencies. We are introducing vital legislation to ensure that the police and agencies continue to investigate crime and protect our national security in the digital age.
I have spoken to the Home Secretary previously about this, and the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice was good enough to meet me recently to discuss the specific concerns facing Cardiff— as a capital city—and its neighbouring regions, particularly when dealing with the threat from terrorism. Will she look closely and generously at the specific needs facing Cardiff when she considers the resources that she is speaking about?
There are two aspects to this. There is the request that Cardiff has made for capital city grant, in the same way that London receives capital city grant. This has been looked at very carefully on a number of occasions. In overall policing terms, London has specific responsibilities and issues to address that are not reflected in Cardiff as a capital city. Separately, there is the whole question of counter-terrorism policing. The counter-terrorism policing budget is separate. We have been able to not just protect it but increase it for such issues as the provision of firearms officers. I recognise the points the hon. Gentleman has made to me and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice about ensuring that proper counter-terrorism resource is available in the Cardiff area for policing.
I will make two points to the hon. Lady. First, the percentage of officers in front-line duties has actually increased, I think from 89% to 92%, under this Government. Secondly, if we compare the actions of Labour police and crime commissioners with Conservative police and crime commissioners, Conservative PCCs have largely protected their local police officers, whereas Labour PCCs have been cutting them more significantly. I therefore suggest she looks at that.
I am going to make some more progress, because we have limited time for this debate.
I cannot agree with many of the contentions put forward in today’s motion, but I welcome the opportunity to set out the reforms that the Government have pursued since 2010 to improve policing, deliver better value for money for taxpayers, and better protect people and communities from crime. When we came to power in 2010, it was not only the country’s finances that the Labour party had left in a mess. The financial crisis made public spending cuts across the board necessary. We had just been through the worst financial crisis since the second world war and had the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history—bigger than that in Portugal and bigger, even, than the one in Greece.
Even without the pressing financial imperative, however, the problems in policing were glaring. Police forces were bloated with bureaucracy. Officers’ productivity was held back by targets and red tape. Local policing priorities were dictated from Whitehall. Police pay and conditions were hopelessly out of date, and, while police forces were supposedly held to account by police authorities, in reality only 7% of the public knew that those unelected committees even existed.
We brought in a radical programme of police reform to transform inadequate structures and institutions, bringing much-needed changes to open up the workforce, reform pay and conditions, overhaul outdated systems and technology, and make policing properly accountable. We cut red tape and freed up about 4.5 million hours of police time, the equivalent of 2,100 full-time police officers. We took steps to root out the waste and inefficiency that existed in police procurement and IT. We set up the College of Policing to improve police standards and training. We established the National Crime Agency to co-ordinate the response to serious and organised crime.
In 2011, we introduced police and crime commissioners to bring real local accountability to policing in a way that was never possible under invisible and faceless police authorities. In just a few months’ time, the public will have the opportunity to hold policing in their area to account in the strongest way possible—at the ballot box. For those pioneering PCCs standing for re-election, they will be defending their record and will be judged on their record over the last three-and-a-half years. Those standing for the first time will be judged on their ideas to improve policing in their areas. All will have a direct, democratic mandate to hold their local police force to account, to cut crime and to keep people safe.
When I introduced my programme of reform, those on the Opposition Benches claimed it would lead to a perfect storm of more crime, lower confidence and less visible policing. However, thanks to the hard work of police officers and police staff, and thanks to the leadership of chief constables and police and crime commissioners up and down the country, none of those predictions has come true. As I said earlier, crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. Labour Members can shake their heads, but this Government have done more than any other to ensure that crime statistics are accurate and can be trusted by the public. In 2012, I transferred responsibility for crime statistics from the Home Office to the Office for National Statistics to ensure that they are properly independent. In 2013, I commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to inspect crime recording practices in all forces in England and Wales. In 2014, it published a report on each force, as well as an overview of its findings. As a result of its scrutiny, we are already seeing more accurate crime recording.
I have made previously hidden and under-reported crimes a priority, and I hope Members of all parties will welcome the fact that today we see more victims of sexual and violent offences having the confidence to come forward and report those crimes. While crime has fallen, public confidence has been maintained and the proportion of police officers on the front line has increased.
Unfortunately, my constituents are not at all happy. Burglary has increased by 100% over the last year, according to police recorded crime figures. What is the Home Secretary doing to monitor the potential increase in vigilantism?
I am sorry, but I thought the hon. Lady said “invigilantism”. It is very clear—HMIC is very clear about it—that the police have the resources they need to do the job they need to keep people safe and secure. They are doing that on a day-to-day basis across the country. Public perceptions of crime are improving nationally and locally. Fewer people are worried about burglary, and more people believe the criminal justice system is effective.
I am sorry, but I am conscious that there is only limited time for this debate, and I am coming to the end of my remarks.
As I said earlier, the proportion of officers on the front line has increased from 89% to 92% since March 2010. That has been achieved at the same time as we have set about the urgent task of repairing the country’s finances, reducing the deficit and ensuring the long-term health of our economy. That task is not yet finished. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made clear in the autumn statement, over the course of the last Parliament, we made huge progress in rescuing the economy. Now we must rebuild it and we must protect our economic security in an uncertain world. We must also ensure that we have the resources to respond to the growing and emerging threats that we face. We have done that by protecting police funding in real terms, once the local precept is taken into account.
This is not the first time that the right hon. Member for Leigh and his party have made tall claims about crime and public safety. In 2011, Yvette Cooper argued in this House that our reforms would lead to “a perfect storm” of higher crime, lower confidence and less visible policing. None of those predictions came true.
In 2012, Jack Dromey said that the model of community policing was being denigrated by the Government. In fact, we have always supported a model of community policing, and we put PCCs in place to ensure that local priorities were taken into account. As I have just indicated, Conservative PCCs are doing a better job in that area than Labour PCCs are.
In 2013, the Labour party’s review of policing, led by Lord Stevens, warned of
“a danger of the police being forced to retreat to a discredited model of reactive policing”.
As I have said, however, a greater proportion of officers are now on the front line. In 2014, the then Leader of the Opposition claimed that abolishing direct democracy through police and crime commissioners was a “sensible” saving. Yet in three months’ time, the Labour Party will stand candidates in elections for every single police force area in the country.
In 2015, the Labour crime and justice manifesto suggested that
“a further 30,000 police officers could be lost after the election under the Conservatives”.
HMIC has been clear, however, that every force has the resources it needs to deliver effective policing and to continue cutting crime.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. She has just said something that goes to the heart of our debate today. She said that the Government had protected police budgets in real terms, once the police precept is taken into account—she said something along those lines. Will she accept that that caveat was not in the Chancellor’s autumn statement?
No. I am sorry, but we have been through this, and I am not going to go over it again for the right hon. Gentleman.
At every release of the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, the Labour party has ignored the most authoritative measure for crime in this country, because it does not show what it wants it to show. As I said earlier, Labour decided what its campaign would be six years ago, and they have doggedly stuck to it ever since. They operate on the basis that if you say something enough times, people will believe it, regardless of the facts—[Interruption.] They ignore the evidence that points to lower crime, safer communities and police reform that is working. [Interruption.]
Neil Coyle may well be able to catch the eye of the Chair if he wishes to speak later.
There is an important debate to be had on policing in this country. It is a debate on how best to keep individuals, communities and businesses safe from crime, how best to ensure that the police can adapt to changing crime and emerging threats, and how best to drive better collaboration, joint working and local accountability in law enforcement and wider public services. I urge the shadow Home Secretary to focus on those issues, rather than repeating the same discredited claims that his predecessors repeated throughout the last Parliament. Keeping communities safe from crime, and ensuring that the police can adapt to that changing crime and those emerging threats, are what the public care about and what this Government will deliver.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many Members wish to speak, and we have only an hour left. After the spokesman for the Scottish National party has made his contribution, there will be a three-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
I assure Members that I have no intention of taking up any more time than is absolutely necessary.
Let me begin by echoing the words of the Home Secretary, and making it clear that my hon. Friends and I are forever thankful for the tireless work that our police services do on our behalf to keep our streets safe. They are indeed indispensable. Since my election, I have been hugely impressed by the officers whom I have met. They are all completely dedicated to protecting the public, which is how it should be. I think we need to make it clear in this debate that all police staff on both sides of the border have our full and unequivocal support as they go about their very important duties.
The motion is predicated on the Chancellor’s announcement in the autumn statement that police budgets in England and Wales would be fully protected. I well remember the waving of Order Papers and the near-hysteria of Conservative Members, who presumably thought that full protection was the right course of action; it certainly seemed to be their view. The occasion followed a Back-Bench police debate in which I led for the SNP. During that debate, Labour called for cuts to be restricted to 10%—or 5%; it depends on whom we believe today. The Government made no commitment that day, although, somewhat predictably, they outflanked the Labour party in the autumn statement.
As always with this Government, the devil may well be in the detail. We now learn—from a response to a written question, no less—that this much-celebrated protection may not extend to the transport, defence and nuclear police. I remember the Chancellor’s words clearly, and if the response to the written question is correct—and there seems to be some debate about that today—his statement could be described as disingenuous. Given that policing is devolved, it is not for me, or the SNP, to argue the points that are made in the motion. I merely point out that I witnessed the Chancellor’s assurances, and that in any area of policy, devolved or not, it is imperative that the public can rely on clear statements in this place.
The motion does not stipulate Scotland specifically, which is a pleasant surprise. Perhaps the Labour party is learning that bashing Scotland and her democratically elected Government does its electoral chances in Scotland no good whatsoever. My party will therefore abstain in the vote, and will leave the debate to the MPs from England and Wales. Accordingly, my comments will not take up too much time. I do not wish to restrict the right of England and Wales Members to a say.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the proposal was in the SNP manifesto, the Conservative manifesto, and the Labour manifesto at the last Scottish parliamentary election. It seems a bit rich to claim after the event that making the move was the wrong thing to do, given that all the parties were advocating such a move.
I am a Member of this House and my party is the third party in it. In that context, it is worth while briefly highlighting the approach that Scotland has taken to budget police cuts. I express my pride that the Scottish Government have done what is necessary to protect a commitment for 1,000 additional officers since 2007. That commitment has been delivered in full. We have delivered savings and maintained an impressive reduction in crime figures. We did it all in the face of the harsh austerity agenda against us. Most importantly, we kept officers on the streets, protecting communities effectively. Sure there have been challenges but all organisational upheaval of that extent will have those teething problems.
Since 2007 in Scotland, we have increased the number of officers by 6.3%, while in England and Wales in the same period the number has dropped by 10.8%. It is dangerous to risk security in that way, yet the Government insist on pursuing the line that they are making the UK safer. How you spend what you have and your spending priorities are often as important as the underlying spend. It is about time that the rest of the UK caught up with the standards set by the Scottish Government in achieving the lowest crime rate in four decades. We have driven savings and upheld the priority of combating new and more sophisticated forms of crime, including cybercrime, financial crime and terrorism. Having said that, I believe it is fundamentally unfair that the Scottish Police Authority has yet to be awarded the VAT status that every other police force in the UK enjoys. That alone would be enough to ease the burden on the force to the tune of £23 million.
I can confirm that that was the case, but we made our protestations abundantly clear at that time, and we also made it clear that we would campaign on the issue. There is an old saying: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the chances are it is a duck. That looks unfair, it feels unfair and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is unfair. Surely that cannot be right.
I discern that the hon. Gentleman has finished his speech. We are very obliged to him.
I am pleased to see your happy countenance, Mr Speaker, for I rise depressed. I thought coming to this place that I would avoid tedious arguments about inputs and instead participate in a debate about results, policy and methods. In 2008, when I became deputy mayor for policing in London, I inherited a police force that had lost its way but was awash with cash. At that time in the capital, significant crime types were rising, not least teenage murder. During my four years, I helped, cajoled, bullied and persuaded the police to refocus at the same time as cutting significant amounts of money from the police budget. During that entire period crime fell, particularly some important crime types such as teenage murder. In my first year, there were 29. In my final year there were eight. It convinced me there and then that there is little connection between resource and output and results in policing. It is much more about focus.
What is depressing about the argument that Andy Burnham has made today is that it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of modern policing and modern crime. Government and many police and crime commissioners throughout the country are trying to refocus the police on some of the challenges that they face.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Met he inherited in 2008. I would not argue that it was perfect, but does he accept that the Metropolitan police of 2008 were a universe away from the Metropolitan police of 1997, who failed properly to investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence?
I will accept that there have been significant changes in the Metropolitan police—that is absolutely right—but I think it is universally accepted that, when we got into office in 2008, under the then commissioner the force had lost focus. The point I am making is that it was not delivering while at the same time it was receiving significant budget increases. It was literally awash with cash. That position had to be corrected. That has to happen across the whole country.
In my entire time in the policing community, I never came across a police force that had adopted what are in many ways the four pillars needed for modern policing. The first of them is investment in intelligence. About 80% of the time the police know just about where, when and by whom a crime is going to be committed, yet they never invest as much as they should in intelligence. Technology is changing the face of crime fighting. Automatic number plate recognition, data analysis, facial recognition, advanced forensics: no police force in the UK invests enough in them.
I have yet to find a police force that measures the efficiency of investigation. Murder in London fell from a high of 211 back in 2005 to just 101 in my final year. Should we still be investing the same number of police officers in murder? Of course not. There has to be some kind of peace dividend and efficiency saving.
There is also innovation. If police forces are really going to grasp the challenge of the future, they have to invest in innovation. There is not a single police force in the country that has an innovation officer spreading new methods and techniques across the force.
Finally, I want to say a word on cybercrime. The right hon. Member for Leigh made much of that. It is a prime example of where technology is going to solve the problem. When I was a kid, anyone could open my grandad’s Mk2 Escort by thumping the door with their thigh. Now car crime is negligible in police terms because of changes in technology. Cars got better. The truth is that banks and financial services organisations invest in technology to prevent and detect crime, and the police have to do the same. One programmer—one smart programme—will solve more cybercrime than 1,000 police officers ever could; that is what I call efficiency.
Mr Speaker, you are known as the Back Bencher’s champion, and I hope the shadow Home Secretary will not feel I am criticising him too much, but I think that for him to have spent 35 minutes—over a quarter of the entire allocated time for this debate—on his speech is a discourtesy to Members on both sides who have come here to talk about this important issue.
I want just to say the following. My concern, and that of the Home Affairs Committee, is not so much about the settlement, because we said in our last report, published on
We published our report on
We had a letter from the Policing Minister in the middle of the last debate in which he said he was going to respond very swiftly, but there is a debate on Tuesday about the Committee’s report, by which time I hope we will have begun the consultation. Yesterday in our deliberations, five PCCs as well as Lord Wasserman gave evidence on PCCs, and they all said that none of them had been contacted by the Home Office about this critical issue. This has been mirrored in the emails we have received at the Committee office from other chief constables.
I ask the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister to ensure that when the Minister comes to wind up—I assume another half hour of this debate will be taken up with wind-ups—he should please tell us when the consultation process will begin. I hope he will use the examples we have given in our report so that there is an independent element to the consultation process. If that happens, we will get a formula that can be accepted by all the police forces in this country, and a formula that can remain in place for many years to come.
Robert Peel’s vision for the police was that
“the police are the public and the public are the police”.
That could not be embodied any better than in the enormous contribution made by special constables to police forces across the country. The latest statistics show that 18,000 special constables were working alongside police officers and saving an estimated £75 million last year in man hours. It is impossible for anyone to speak in this debate without acknowledging the huge challenges that police forces have faced in relation to their budgets. In that environment, we are clearly going to place increasing reliance on special constables. They are volunteers who come from all walks of life and all backgrounds. If we were having a conversation with a special constable on the street, we probably could not tell him from any other officer. He is a warranted officer, he has had the same training and he stands shoulder to shoulder with other officers. Special constables are invaluable and they give up their free time to keep us safe on our streets.
With that in mind, I wanted to discuss the case of Andrew Blades, a constituent who was a special constable in Lancashire. He worked as a special for six years, giving more than 2,500 hours to the people in Rossendale, Darwen, Burnley and beyond in east Lancashire, keeping us safe. He moved an unmarked police car across a road to block the way of an oncoming unlicensed, un-MOTed, uninsured scrambler motorbike that had been terrorising the neighbourhood. We should be lauding him as a hero, because not only did he stop a crime being committed, but he protected a fellow officer. Unfortunately, however, his payment for that—for taking those brave, split-second decisions on our behalf as a volunteer—was to be prosecuted for dangerous driving, a case he admitted and for which he has been sentenced to a year’s ban.
The case was well covered in the newspapers and I wish to read out a comment from someone in an online newspaper. This person had probably come home from work and was looking at the online newspapers, and they said:
“It really isn’t often I feel outrage but tonight reading this story has left me outraged and speechless”.
Guess what, I agree with him and so do 1,500 readers of the newspaper. When the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, I would be grateful if he would take the opportunity to inform the House of what further steps he will take to protect special constables, particularly bearing in mind the unanimous resolution of the Police Federation to extend its protection to special constables? I also ask him to see what the Government can do about paying their Police Federation subs for them.
Let me start by paying tribute to my local police, particularly Inspector Tom Horner. He works tirelessly, along with his team, to keep my community and my constituents safe, as does the regional police force. West Yorkshire’s force has lost a considerable amount of funding and more than 20% of its officers, and it is now likely to be asked to find savings, despite having a “protected budget”.
Bradford is not like the leafy suburbs of some southern counties where funding has increased over the past six years. We deal with complex issues that create vulnerability. In the past few weeks, we saw the conviction of 12 people from a grooming gang in Keighley, and such cases affect the wider budget of a local police force. In our area, we have to deal with terrorism and with women who have fled with their children to Syria.
What I want from the Home Secretary today is an explanation of how she and the Chancellor will ensure that he will take all these complexities into account, including terrorism, alcohol, domestic violence and mental health issues. On the one hand, cuts mean austerity, which has an impact on people’s lives within their homes, while on the other there is an increase in poverty and crime: there is a correlation. We cannot deny that.
I would really like to understand how this Government are going to ensure that they take into account places like my constituency, where the issues are complex: we need extra funding to tackle terrorism and we have extra vulnerabilities. We are also looking at integration, as just a few weeks ago Britain First came to my area, and the English Defence League has also been. I worked closely with the police on both occasions. I am not convinced that the police funding formula will address all the issues, and that is my real concern. I would like to see some understanding of constituencies such as Bradford West. Ultimately, we need to be cutting crime, not cutting costs.
The police seem to be a popular subject in this House, as we have discussed them on several occasions, and I must say Labour’s arguments have not really moved on. Today’s debate gives me an opportunity to reiterate some comments and observations that I have made in previous such debates. It is important that we now look forward and not back. There are two key issues, one of which is financial and the other more general. The first is the police funding formula and the future consultation, and the second is leadership and innovation within police forces—new ideas and new thinking between them and within them.
On the police funding formula, the previous proposals were clearly not particularly popular in Cumbria. In fact, they would have had a devastating effect on the Cumbrian police force. I was very pleased when they were changed, because the support for retaining the Cumbrian police force is extremely strong within Cumbria. Therefore, the funding formula matters. If Cumbria is to retain an independent police force, the funding formula must be set out in a way that makes it financially viable. Under the proposed funding formula, that was clearly not the case, which is why I welcome the new consultation.
I accept that there are other possibilities. I referred earlier to the implementation of the Scottish formula, which saw the number of forces going down from eight to one. I think it is recognised that that was flawed and a mistake. In England, there are 43 forces. I know that there is a view that some of those could be merged or amalgamated, but that is not appropriate for Cumbria.
Cumbria is a large county in which local knowledge really does matter. It has a small population of half a million people. The terrain is challenging and the infrastructure poor, and the distance to major urban centres is considerable. As I have always said, the key issues are rurality and sparsity, and I very much hope that they will be central to the consultation on the funding formula going forward.
On leadership and innovation, I genuinely believe that the election of police and crime and commissioners has been an innovative and successful policy. It has been great for Cumbria. Richard Rhodes has been an excellent PCC. As we move forward, new PCCs will be elected and others will be re-elected. Things will improve, as PCCs innovate and bring the police force into the 21st century. I completely support the Government in that policy. I look forward to the new consultation, and we must make sure that a Cumbrian police force continues to exist.
Many of my hon. Friends have spoken about the cuts to their local police force areas. Since 2010, the Northumbria police force has suffered some of the worst financial cuts of any force in the UK. I want to use what little time I have to share some of my personal stories, which show just how fantastic our police really are.
In my previous career as a child protection social worker, I was followed home by violent clients and, as a result, had security measures in my home. I was placed on high alert with the local police station and taken to and from work under secure guard.
I remember being pinned against the wall by an angry father while holding his screaming child in my arms. I remember being jumped on, attacked and punched in the face by another parent. I remember the terror of being in a house filled with more than 20 men, all drunk and high on drugs, as I was trying to rescue a young baby who was crawling around the floor, unclothed, among the broken glass, alcohol, ash and drug remnants. Her mother and all of the men were in my face shouting at me, making threats and blocking my exit from the home.
I remember vividly—I wish that I did not—every child and adult who ever disclosed emotional, physical and sexual abuse to me. The one constant in all of those situations was the police. For anyone who has ever been in a dangerous or frightening situation, the relief felt at the sound and sight of police arriving on the scene is almost impossible to put into words. That is often the unseen side of our police force, a side that many of us, thankfully, will never have to encounter. Every day, officers are doing that work, making our communities safer, protecting children and adults from harm and working collaboratively with other agencies.
In our area we have lost 762 officers, against the backdrop of a 60% increase in sexual offences and a 29% increase in violent crime. Our excellent police and crime commissioner, Vera Baird, and her team of officers are doing a sterling job of managing the cuts and protecting our communities, but they desperately need a fairer settlement. If I was in my old job, that level of cuts would worry me. Response times and capacity were vital in the stories that I have just briefly shared with the House, and I know better than most that I can always rely on our police. It is a shame that the police cannot rely on this Government.
I have listened intently to the Labour party’s propositions and arguments, and I am stunned and, frankly, disappointed by the one-sided and misleading portrayal of this issue. The shadow Home Secretary talked about cuts to services, cuts to funding and cuts to the police, but he totally ignored the remarkable cut in crime that this country has seen since 2010. Crime has fallen by about 25% since 2010. He challenged the crime survey statistics, but all the independent reports and all the facts show the same decline in crime, with a fall of more than 25%. The statistics from the Office for National Statistics are clear that the crime rate is now 64% below its peak in 1995.
Those figures are backed up in the regions. For example, in Hampshire, my county, we have seen an 11% drop in crime over the past year alone, making a fall of more than 30% since 2010. A recent study from Cardiff University showed a 10% fall in the number of people seeking treatment for violent crime injuries in hospital accident and emergency departments, which again reinforces the downward trend in violent crime.
The shadow Home Secretary says that those statistics are overshadowed by the rise in cybercrime, so let us look at what the Government are doing to tackle cybercrime. I sat on the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which had 22 public evidence sessions and received thousands of pages of written evidence. We visited and met professionals on the frontline. The Bill will provide vital powers and necessary transparency and accountability to our online forces. Having talked to the professionals and listened to what they want, I can say that they want more powers to intercept online communications, interfere with equipment and track internet connection records.
Last week we heard about paedophiles using secret Facebook groups to exchange imagery online and terrorists using WhatsApp, text and email to carry out their crimes. Although the technology is welcome, we need to ensure that encryption is not used against our law enforcement services, which are struggling to keep up with the criminals. The Bill will provide vital powers to ensure that they can tackle cybercrime. To echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, it focuses on methodology and technique rather than just throwing cash at the problem. That is what the professionals on the frontline want and what they are asking for, and that is what this Government are delivering.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that we are not safe with the Tories. With underinvestment in the NHS, social care and local roads, with what is happening to the environment and the economy, and with the downward pressure on the pound, we are under threat from the Tories. We are not safe with them. Now, in our communities, there are attacks on the police, and all the Prime Minister can do is refer to the Leader of the Opposition’s tie. How pathetic is that?
Kit Malthouse talked about intelligence playing a crucial role in the police service. Of course it does, and significant amounts of that intelligence, certainly in my police force, come from neighbourhood policing, which is under the cosh. He talked about intelligence being important, but the very service that helps significantly with that at the neighbourhood level is under threat.
Jake Berry talked about special constables. They do a fantastic job, but they are additional to, not instead of, the police—that is absolutely crucial.
My grandfather spent 25 years patrolling the streets of Bootle as a police officer, and he would say—as I would—that we must focus on ensuring that police officers are on the streets of Bootle, not sat behind desks in police headquarters doing work that non-warranted individuals can do.
I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman says that, because I was just coming to that very point in relation to Merseyside police. A fantastic job is being done by the police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy; the chief constable, John Murphy; and my local commander, Peter Costello, and all his officers, who spend as much time as they can on the streets, against the odds.
I am sure my hon. Friend, as a fellow Merseyside MP, is aware of the fact that we lost 19% of our police officers on Merseyside between 2010 and 2015—something the grandfather of Jake Berry would be very upset to hear. Workloads are soaring, and the officers who are left have to do a huge amount more with less and less. Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent Police Federation survey showing that 1,500 officers are off with stress or depression every day is an extremely worrying development and something we should all be concerned about?
I completely agree, and it surprises me that there are not even more police officers off with stress, given the pressures they are under.
My right hon. Friend Andy Burnham referred to the cumulative effect of the cuts to local government and local services such as the fire service on the police’s ability to do their job. That endangers the resilience of the police service, because officers are being taken away to do things that are not their responsibility. Huge amounts of their time are taken up with mental health cases because of the stress on local authorities and the NHS, and that should not be the case.
In 2010, we had 7,300 police officers in my area; that is now down by 1,600. We are not making those figures up; the police and crime commissioner, the chief constable and the local commanders are not making them up, and they are not just taking those officers out of the system because they feel like it.
What we have with this Government is jiggery-pokery finance and jiggery-pokery figures. For years, we were told we really could not put the council tax precept up by more than 2%, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now almost demanding that in relation to social care, and the Home Secretary is virtually demanding it. [Interruption.] She may well laugh, but that is the reality. She and her colleagues have told us over the years that we are spending too much through tax, but they then demand, for the sake of the Chancellor’s jiggery-pokery economics, that we put the put the precept up by 2%. That amounts to a fiddle; as my right hon. Friend said, it would amount to fraud in other circumstances, and those involved would be arrested.
My local police and crime commissioner has used £2.1 million of reserves, and there are now another £3.3 million of savings to be made, with £27 million of savings to be made by 2019-20. We also have to contend with the deferred blunder in the formula, which will come back to haunt us.
At the same time, crime is up. Hate crime is up, sexual offences are up, violent crime against women is up and knife crime is up. We will have to face those increases with less and less financial and human resource, notwithstanding the fact that Merseyside police service collaborates with the fire service in a joint command and control centre. We are doing what we can, but the police service can only do so much.
The Scottish Nationalist party spokesperson, Richard Arkless, asked how what happens with the British Transport police, the Ministry of Defence police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary will interplay with the effects on local forces. We need more answers.
Order. Peter Dowd extended a generosity that it was not within his capacity to grant. It was very decent of him, but he gave time that he did not possess.
I thank my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham for opening this debate and allowing so many interventions. We have been able to take part in a very active and constructive debate.
As much as we talk about numbers, it is important that we talk about the crux of the issue, which is how it affects the people we are here to represent and their everyday experience of the changes to the police service. I have wondered throughout the debate what the Home Secretary thinks is the measure of success, because I am struggling to understand it. We talk about police numbers, which are important for some but not for others. We talk about crime figures, and some will say they are accurate and some will say not. We talk about the number of police stations and facilities, but are they important or not? It is very difficult for me and for a lot of people in the community to fully understand what on earth is going on with policing in this country.
I can say, though, that in Greater Manchester the number of police cut is now over 2,000. The Minister knows that, because the House of Commons Library has provided that information and so it is on the public record, but he might not know that the number of police stations in Oldham borough has gone down dramatically. The police station in Royton has closed, the police station in Failsworth has closed, the Limeside police post has closed, the Chadderton police post has closed, Uppermill police station has been downgraded, and the custody cells at Oldham police station have been closed. On top of that—of course, justice is not isolated to the police—the magistrates court and the county court are closing. The Minister will not know how many police stations are closing in Oldham, because when I wrote to the Home Office to ask whether it collated information on that, it said it did not, so it does not even know how many police stations are open. That is very significant. Tomorrow, the police station in Failsworth will be sold to the highest bidder at public auction. The irony is that just down the road is Failsworth lodge, which Sir Robert Peel attended to be taught as a private school-educated youngster, and now the police station in that town is being sold.
Crime is up by 14% in Greater Manchester. Sexual offences are up by 46%, violent crime is up by 36%, shoplifting is up by 9%, vehicle crime is up by 8%, and theft is up by 5%—little wonder, with fewer police and fewer police stations, and £200 million taken from Greater Manchester police. Were it not for the police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd—a fantastic advocate for policing—and the hard-working and dedicated police officers, the situation would no doubt be far worse. It cannot continue, because on top of all that we have lost community centres, youth centres and youth workers. We talk about prevention, and that community infrastructure is absolutely crucial for finding out what happening on the ground to help the police service do what it does best.
I want to pay tribute to the hard work of the police in my constituency, which often goes above and beyond the call of duty. In addition to investigating crime, apprehending criminals and keeping us safe, in the current context of cuts to other public services, the police are too often the service of last resort for residents with severe mental illness and other vulnerabilities. Yet in London our hard-working officers are being let down and undermined by the current Mayor. We have seen enormous cuts to policing in London over the past five years, with the loss of more than 5,600 uniformed officers, including PCSOs.
The officers in my constituency tell me that the problem is more acute at the moment than it has been for many, many years, and that is my experience.
While I welcome the change in recruitment policy by the Metropolitan police to recruit only Londoners, the cuts are clearly limiting the progress that this policy has the potential to make in terms of black and minority ethnic representation in the Met, which still stands at only 11.5%. Much of the reduction in officer numbers is being achieved by not replacing retiring officers. Without new recruitment, the diversity of the Met will continue to lag behind that of the population it serves.
The devastating cuts have had a major impact. Every police officer I speak to is stretched more than they can ever recall having been in their working lives. Violent crime is going up, and last week HMIC announced that the Met requires improvement. Of all the reforms that Boris Johnson has made, the reorganisation of safer neighbourhood policing into the local policing model is the most damaging. Through that reform, the police are losing visibility, vital sources of intelligence and the ability to address minor problems before they escalate.
The Dulwich area of my constituency was recently dubbed the UK’s burglary hotspot on the basis of data from insurance claims relating to burglary. I have spoken to many residents who have been the victim of that horrible crime in recent months. Many have had windows and doors smashed in during broad daylight. In one shocking attack, a resident had the contents of a petrol canister poured over him. In that context, our local police have been forced to be reactive instead of proactive, visiting the victims after the crimes had taken place and responding to emergency call-outs. However, a proactive approach, through neighbourhood policing, is vital to addressing some of the most serious and pressing challenges that we face, such as gun and youth crime, sexual exploitation, radicalisation and terrorism, forced marriage and honour-based violence. To investigate and prevent those crimes, the police require a depth of knowledge and relationship with the communities that they serve, which cannot be fabricated in the heat of a rapid response once a crime has been committed.
One community activist in Brixton, who has engaged with the police for many years, said at a Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime roadshow meeting that the erosion of safer neighbourhood teams had
“taken the heart out of policing”.
Neighbourhood policing, which is the eyes and ears of policing, is important in tackling terrorism. Every day, Members of the House walk past monitors that tell us that the level of threat is “severe”. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the wrong time to be making cuts to our police?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. When communities know their officers and officers know their patch, the police have a public face at a local level. When that is taken away, public confidence all too often depends on headlines, high-profile cases and the individual experiences of people who have, sadly, already been the victims of crime. Neighbourhood policing should not be regarded as the softer side of policing. It should be regarded not as a luxury to be cut in a time of austerity, but as a vital relationship-building bridge between the police and the communities that they serve, and as the key to resolving and preventing many of the serious crimes that can threaten the security and stability of our communities.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Her Majesty’s inspector of constabularies, Zoë Billingham, who led HMIC’s police effectiveness inspection, the report of which was published last week, described neighbourhood policing as
“the cornerstone of the British policing model” and said
“I need to raise a warning flag here. Forces’ good performance in preventing crimes is at risk if neighbourhood policing is further eroded.”
We have heard this evening about crime going up, workloads going up, police numbers going down and police support staff numbers going down. HMIC reports that neighbourhood policing is suffering. The Government cannot cull 35,000 posts from the police service and seek to maintain the protection of the public without any impact. The obvious impact of doing that is to put the public at risk. We need more resources to protect neighbourhood policing, not fewer.
HMIC recognises that neighbourhood policing is, as my hon. Friend Helen Hayes has said, the cornerstone of crime prevention. That is something that the front-line police service have been telling Government for years. Neighbourhood policing enables officers to serve the public, remain vigilant to threats, gather the most accurate intelligence about terrorism and gain crucial local-to-global intelligence, whether for use in the fight against terror or the fight against child sexual exploitation.
To turn specifically to Wales, a really concerning picture is developing. Last week, HMIC concluded in its report that Dyfed-Powys police could do more to keep people safe and to reduce crime. Its report on police effectiveness found that the approach to investigating crimes and supporting the vulnerable and victims required improvement. It also highlighted Dyfed-Powys’s allocation of complex crimes, sexual offences and high-risk domestic abuse to officers who did not have adequate training.
Across Wales, we have seen a reduction of 783 police officers and even more support staff. Those cuts are akin to wiping three quarters of the entire Gwent police force off the face of the map. Police are now going back into offices to do administrative work. Such work has to be done and cannot be ignored—it is crucial to how policing works—but police officers need to be on the streets to build trust and relationships with local communities.
In Wales, the Welsh Government have created 500 PCSOs not to replace police officers, but to backfill the gaps left by the 20% cuts to policing imposed by the Government since 2010. HMIC has stated that cuts should not be more than 12%, but that has been ignored by the previous coalition and the current Government. The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice has said that
“Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners have no excuse whatsoever not to deliver at least good quality policing in their areas.”
I think that they have every excuse, given the cuts to their budgets. South Wales police, in my own area, will have a cash cut of nearly £3.5 million in real terms in its budget for 2016-17, compared with last year.
The police are now spread so thinly that they are struggling to act as eyes and ears on our streets, which undermines their ability to do their job. At the same time, the Home Secretary is talking about risks to national security and the threat from terrorism is at an extreme level.
I agree with my hon. Friend that such threats are multiplying. The Home Secretary suggested earlier that crime was down and all was well, but she seems to have overlooked the fact that violent crime is actually rising and that in some parts of the country—Birmingham, for example—gun crime is rampant. Is this not the wrong time to cut special resources for policing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Knife crime has gone up again this year, and we have seen the figures released last week.
The police are now spread so thinly that they cannot do their job. We talk about risks and threats to national security and efforts to counter the threat we face from terrorism. This is a time when we need more police, not less. There is only one thing that you get for less—and that is less.
Neighbourhood policing was one of Labour’s greatest achievements—a proud legacy. When we were in government, we built on the British model of policing by consent. My right hon. Friend Mr Hanson was absolutely right to say that when Labour left office, there were record numbers of police on the street: 17,000 more than in 1997 and, in addition, nearly 17,000 PCSOs. As my hon. Friend Helen Hayes said, neighbourhood policing is popular with the public. It is local policing with local roots, underpinned by local crime and safety partnerships, and it provides a local say.
“the cornerstone of the British policing model”.
However, she says:
“I need to raise a warning flag here.”
She goes on to talk about the dangers
“if neighbourhood policing is further eroded.”
She warns against losing
“our eyes and ears in the community”.
Crucially, she singles out her concern about limiting the ability of neighbourhood policing teams to identify and disrupt threats such as organised crime and terrorism. Indeed, both the current head of counter-terrorism and his predecessor have warned about the dangers of hollowing out neighbourhood policing because it is vital to intelligence gathering.
The hon. Gentleman quotes Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary Zoë Billingham, but she actually said:
“We don’t think it should be inevitable that the preventative neighbourhood presence should be eroded”, because the Government’s funding settlement for the police means there is an opportunity for the police chiefs “to review their decision”.
The Home Secretary can, if she wishes, misinterpret what the report says. I have reported the inspector’s warnings that she is ignoring. The Government are ignoring the warnings from the police and the mounting concern of the public that they no longer see their police.
Having cut the police service by 25% in the last Parliament, right up until the night before the comprehensive spending review, the Government were threatening to cut it by at least another 22%. With the Home Secretary failing to stand up for the police service, we were on the brink of catastrophe, but under pressure from Labour, the public and the police, the Chancellor staged, in what can only be described as a shambles, a last-minute U-turn and a promise was made. “Read my lips,” he intimated,
“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.]
That promise to the public and the police has been broken. The Chancellor said he would protect the police, but now we know that police budgets are still being cut—a broken promise. It is just like in 2010 when the Prime Minister said that he would protect the frontline. Since then, 12,000 front-line officers have been lost—a broken promise. To add insult to injury, not only are the Tories continuing to slash police funding, but they expect the public to pay more to make up for it. The Tory sums rely on local people being charged an extra £389 million in council tax—a Tory police tax. The public are paying more for less.
The shadow Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend Jim McMahon and other Members spoke of the reality in the communities that they serve. Neighbourhood policing is being hollowed out: 18,000 officers have gone and 4,500 PCSOs have been lost in the last five bleak years. Some 1,300 have gone in the last six months alone—the equivalent of a whole force—and many more will go over the next 12 months. Hugh Orde was right when he said that a generation of progress is being reversed.
There has been a major increase in knife crime, which is up by 9%, and a 27% rise in violent crime, including a 14% increase in the murder rate; sexual offences have gone up by 36% and reported rape is at its highest level since 2003; and victims are being let down, with half of all cases being closed without a suspect being identified. Resources are diminishing just when demand is soaring. Police in the 21st century face the triple challenges of terrorism, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation. The threats to British security in the 21st century demand a modernised, more responsive and better equipped police service, not a smaller one.
The shambles of the comprehensive spending review was followed by the omnishambles over the funding formula, in which the Home Office used the wrong figures to misallocate hundreds of millions of pounds of police funding, meaning that the doomed review of the unfair funding formula has been delayed for a further year. “Sorry,” said the Policing Minister, “we used the wrong figures and we should have got it right.” That means that there is a stopgap settlement for only a year—more uncertainty and more unfairness. West Midlands police, my local force, and Northumbria police will continue to receive double the cuts that Surrey receives.
The truth is that police budgets have not been protected. The truth is that crime is not falling, but changing. People are now more likely to be mugged online than in the street, yet in the words of the Office for National Statistics,
“fraud and cyber crime are not currently included in the headline Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates”.
They will now be included. The ONS states:
“Preliminary results from this field trial indicate that there were an estimated 5.1 million incidents of fraud”.
When the statistics finally tell the truth on crime, we will see crime nearly doubled under this Government, robbing them of the alibi they have used over the past five years: “We have cut the police, but we have cut crime.”
In conclusion, the thin blue line is being stretched ever thinner. Our police service has been nothing short of heroic. The powerful contribution of my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck showed the day in, day out experience we all have. I see it in my constituency, ranging from, on the one hand, outstanding initiatives to engage young people, such as the formation by the police of a canoeing club that built excellent relationships with local young people and that helped to divert them from crime and helped to get information about those who were carrying out burglaries, to, on the other hand, the case of Lucy Lawton, a young mum who had her two children kidnapped by a fleeing bank robber—they were tracked down and the kids were returned to their distraught mother. These are good men and women, ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things, often in the most difficult circumstances, but they are being let down by this Government. Now is not the time to press ahead with the biggest cuts to any police service in Europe. The safety and security of our citizens comes first. That is why Labour, the party that built neighbourhood policing, will be the champion of neighbourhood policing and the champion of public safety and the police.
I was laughing at the shadow Policing Minister, Mr Speaker, and I apologise for doing so as this is a very serious day and a very serious debate. Like the Home Secretary, I pay tribute to the emergency services that are still on the scene at the former power station at Didcot. I spoke to the chief fire officer earlier today and, on behalf of the House, expressed gratitude for the work that they are doing at the incident, which is very harrowing for them as well as for the loved ones and families of those who are still missing and those who have been injured and killed.
I listened carefully to the speeches made by the shadow Home Secretary and by the shadow Policing Minister. I think that I might have heard his speech before—perhaps before the election, before the shadow Home Secretary wanted a 10% cut to policing, or perhaps I heard it last week, and perhaps I will hear it again next week. The shame about having this debate, curtailed as it is, is that we will have a debate next week, led by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, on the Committee’s report. I bet that I hear an almost identical speech then from the shadow Policing Minister.
When we look carefully at what the Labour party is saying, we can see that on the one hand they are saying that we should have allowed cuts of 10% to policing until 2020 whereas, on the other hand, we hear speeches galore from Labour Back Benchers saying, “These cuts are not good.” What cuts? The cuts that happened between 2010 and 2015? Or those that would have happened had this country been foolish enough to elect a Labour Government?
The shadow Home Secretary is trying to say that we should not have taken into consideration the precept that is allowed—the 2% or 5%. Every Home Secretary has done that and every Chancellor has done that, when we look at how we fund the police. All of a sudden, we have a completely different narrative—“We want to cut it, and we want to cut it even more.” It fascinated me.
It is very important that we also take into consideration what was said by the third party in this House, the Scottish National party, complaining about the fact that VAT at 20% is not allowed to be deducted. It was part of the business plan when the SNP put the plan together for one force in Scotland. That was physically part of the plan. Is this a new type of politics that is happening in Scotland, in which the SNP put a business plan together, get agreement, and afterwards say that it does not like it and wants to change it—a bit like with a referendum that took place not so long ago, which it is not very happy with either?
Absolutely, so perhaps the police and crime commissioner could explain why he has not spent part of the £153 million reserve in the West Midlands on that. Perhaps we should look at the polling in May when, as we have heard, the Labour party will have candidates in all 43 PCC areas. In its manifesto it said that it would not do that—it was going to abolish PCCs because they were wrong, expensive and unnecessary. It did not want them.
No. Perhaps Paddy Tipping and Vera Baird convinced the Labour party that they would not accept being abolished. It is entirely up the electorate in England and Wales who to elect, but we should look carefully at the record of some PCCs around the country, especially Labour PCCs, where the cuts to front-line police have been the greatest.
No. Perhaps we should look carefully at the only force in the country that is cutting the precept—Hertfordshire, in my part of the world. Why is it cutting it? Because part of the reserves that have been built up over the years will be used.
I will not give way.
We have complaints when we use the precept, and complaints when we cut it. We should be talking about what is delivering the best policing in this country. Has crime dropped since 2000? Yes. For the first time we have a Conservative Government who have the courage to include new types of crime in the statistics. These crimes have not just suddenly appeared in 2010 or 2015. They have been going on for years, but the previous Labour Administration refused to include them in the statistics. Will it be difficult for some forces? Yes, it will. Is it the right thing to do? Yes, and that is crucial.
We have heard today quite a lot of scaremongering. There has been an increase in reporting domestic violence—quite rightly, I hope we will all agree. Every time I am at this Dispatch Box I say that we want people to have the confidence to come forward and report domestic violence, and it was not being reported correctly when we first came to government. We changed the reporting rules for how crime is reported.
I was just coming on to special constables, because they were derided by the Opposition. Volunteers—what a terrible thing to have in a police force! Our specials are the most important people in the community. They come forward and do not get paid and only receive expenses. In my constituency, a special was attacked when on duty one evening. They laid his leg across the kerb, jumped on it and snapped his leg. The sort of protection that we should have—we will look at this, because it is vital—should mean that a special constable or a warranted officer has exactly the same protection as any other police officer in this country, and I speak weekly with the Police Federation about that.
I will respond as soon as I can to the issue raised by Keith Vaz, because I want to get this right. A lot of work is going on, particularly with the chief constables, about how we can get better collaboration on capabilities going forward. It is not possible to come up with new formulas until I understand fully where the chief constables will stand on capabilities. The right hon. Gentleman said that the chief constables had not been in contact with me, but I have met three chief officers in the past seven days, including PCCs, and discussed the issue face to face. I have not spoken to all 43 since the report, but I will ensure that I meet them all.
On Monday I have been asked to go to Didcot by the chief fire officer to thank the emergency services, and I am sure the whole House will join me in that. I hope that the country and the House will not listen to scaremongering from Labour Members who wanted to cut police funding by 10% or more.