– in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 31st January 2023.
I advise the House that Mr. Speaker has selected amendment (a) in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House
condemns the Government’s destruction of neighbourhood policing, noting a drop in the number of neighbourhood police officers by 6,000 and of Police Community Support Officers by 8,500; notes with concern the collapse in charges and prosecutions across all types of crime and an overall charge rate of just 5.5 per cent;
is extremely concerned by the record levels of recorded rapes and knife-enabled threats to kill and that more than twenty million people witnessed or experienced antisocial behaviour last year;
and calls on the Government to protect communities across the UK by increasing neighbourhood policing, including by ringfencing a proportion of the Police Uplift Programme to deliver neighbourhood officers for every local authority in England and Wales.
The motion is to restore and renew neighbourhood policing, which has been decimated by 13 years of Conservative Government. Before I talk about what is happening in our towns on policing and crime, may I first briefly say something about today’s publication of the police response to the Hillsborough inquiry? Ninety seven people lost their lives as a result of what happened at Hillsborough 34 years ago. Families had to fight for decades against smears, lies and obfuscation to get to the truth, but they still do not have justice 34 years on.
The fulsome apology from the police today is welcome, and so too is their acceptance of some of the bishop’s recommendations about a duty of candour—something the Government have previously voted against—as well as support for families at inquests. But this comes five years after the bishop’s report, and 34 years after Hillsborough. Where is the Government’s response? They promised nearly 18 months ago that we would have a response by the end of 2021, but the months and years keep rolling by. We need a commitment to a Hillsborough law to address this.
The Home Secretary’s predecessor but four, Mrs May, took this matter seriously and we welcomed that. To have no response right now shows a lack of respect for the families who have endured so much and the communities who have supported and fought for them. I will happily give way to the Home Secretary if she wants to tell us when the Government response to the Hillsborough report will be published.
I will address that in my response to the right hon. Lady.
I thank the Home Secretary and look forward to her response. She will know how important that is.
I turn to neighbourhood policing. The number of people who say that they never see the police on patrol on the streets has almost doubled since the Conservatives took office, from around a quarter of the population to half. Half the country say that they never or hardly ever see a police officer patrolling the streets, according to the national crime survey. That is what 13 years of the Conservatives have done.
At the same time, the number of criminals being caught or punished has plummeted. Since 2010, arrests have halved; prosecutions have almost halved; community penalties have halved; and crimes solved have halved. The proportion of cases that collapse because victims give up and drop out has trebled. More crimes are reported and recorded, but hundreds of thousands fewer crimes are solved, hundreds of thousands fewer victims are getting justice, and more criminals are getting away with it.
Every one of us will have these cases in their surgeries: the residents who have complained about drug dealers on the corner, and nothing is done; the street drinkers who make them feel unsafe, and nothing is done; the broken windows and shop break-ins that go ignored; the antisocial behaviour that escalates; the kids who have been expelled from school who just wander the streets and get drawn into gang violence instead, and nothing is done; the repeat offender back out of prison who nobody is following up on; and the domestic abuse victim who has no one to turn to because the police are overstretched and the court delays are so long. More victims are giving up on the whole thing and walking away.
I understand that the right hon. Lady’s mission today is to paint a dystopian picture of crime, but before she elaborates, will she take the opportunity to congratulate the police on the significant falls we have seen not just in specific crimes such as burglary, robbery and knife crime, but in overall crime? She will know that the recently published crime survey of England and Wales shows that, in the year to September, overall crime was down 10% on pre-pandemic levels. Surely she wants to congratulate the police on that before enumerating their sometimes obvious but none the less difficult failings.
Let me be very clear. I welcome the huge amount of work that police officers do every single day of the week to keep our communities safe—the police officers and police community support officers who are overstretched; and the detectives juggling huge caseloads, which they struggle to keep up with because of huge shortages of detectives, because there has been no workforce planning by the Government year after year.
I welcome some the long-term trends in crime that started 25 years ago, but the Government’s amendment eliminates online crime, despite it having soared over the past few years. That is where we have seen some of the big increases in crime. Government Ministers may want to dismiss the huge fraud against pensioners who have lost their savings, the online scams or the grooming of children online, but we should take those sorts of online crimes and fraud immensely seriously, because they devastate and ruin people’s lives.
The right hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, and I wholeheartedly agree with what she says about uninvestigated non-violent crime causing people to lose hope. I keep hearing of people who do not bother reporting crime at all any more. Will she elaborate on Labour’s plans for online crime and, in particular, ID theft? A constituent of mine recently had her ID stolen, and it has cost thousands of pounds and caused consternation for her and her family. The police want to investigate but just do not have the resources.
The hon. Member is completely right. We have seen changing patterns of crime as criminals make the most of new technology, and the problem is that the police have not been equipped to keep up. That, ultimately, is the responsibility of the Government, so it is no use Ministers or Conservative Back Benchers blaming the police for the situation that the Home Office has put our police forces in and the fact that they have been unable to keep up with changing crime and the changing pressures on them.
We know that crime varies across the country. My right hon. Friend will share my horror that knife crime in north-east England has increased by 104%, from 1,077 incidents in 2015 to 2,203 last year. That is hundreds more lives impacted by the Government’s failure to get on top of serious crime in our region. We had some so-called extra money in Cleveland but still have hundreds fewer police officers than we did in 2010. Does she agree that a long-term, sustainable plan—
Order. A lot of Members want to take part in this debate. Using an intervention to make a speech when you have not indicated your intention to make a speech is, frankly, not in order.
My hon. Friend is right that what has happened on serious violent crime is among the most troubling. Since 2015 there has been a huge increase in knife crime and serious violence, and we have seen some criminal gangs change their model to be able to groom more children and draw young people into crime and, as a result, into violence. It is our young people who we see paying the price for the way in which criminal gangs have been operating. That is why we put forward proposals to strengthen the law by outlawing child criminal exploitation, to make it easier to crack down on criminal gangs. I urge Ministers who voted against that proposal to accept it and to take a much tougher line on the criminal gangs who are exploiting our children.
The problem is that from policing to courts, our NHS, social care, our trains and our economy, after 13 years of the Tories it just feels like nothing in Britain is working any more—that is the damage they have done.
The Welsh Labour Government’s Commission on Justice in Wales recommended that policing and crime policy be devolved to Wales, to be aligned with social and health policy, but some Labour MPs resist that, even though it is Mark Drakeford’s policy. Policing is devolved to Scotland, to Northern Ireland and even to Manchester. Could the right hon. Lady tell me whether it is likely that a Labour Government or Labour in Westminster would ever recommend the devolution of policing to Wales?
The Welsh Government already do take a different approach in a significant way: the Welsh Government have worked with police and crime commissioners in Wales to support and fund additional PCSOs, and that has made a difference in terms of neighbourhood policing on Welsh streets.
The Government have tabled an amendment to our motion so that they can vote against Labour’s plan to increase neighbourhood policing. That is what Government Members are voting for tonight—they are voting against Labour’s plan to increase neighbourhood policing. Instead, they want us to welcome their efforts to increase police numbers, but who cut them in the first place? It was Tory MPs and Tory Ministers who voted to cut 20,000 police officers from forces right across the country—from our neighbourhoods, from detective work and from response teams—and now they expect everyone to be grateful because they are trying to put some of them back. Twenty thousand experienced police officers gone. The Tories claim that they are on track to reverse the cuts. Actually, they are not, because the number of officers leaving policing has been increasing. For example, North Yorkshire police have said today that they are leaving 120 vacancies unfilled so that they can make their budget add up.
The police are not ending up on the streets, either. More of them are now behind desks because police staff have been cut and bureaucracy has gone up. More of them are dealing with mental health crises and missing persons. After 13 years of Tory government, the NHS and social care cannot cope, and the police are having to pick up the pieces, and there is a huge shortage of detectives, because there has been no national workforce plan, and everyone is having to try to plug the gaps.
There are 6,000 fewer neighbourhood officers and 8,000 fewer PCSOs, with the number of PCSOs having halved since 2010. Neighbourhood teams have been decimated. People say they do not see the police on the street any more—that is because, across the country, they are not on the street any more. No wonder it feels like Britain is not working. Communities are being let down.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. There are 3,500 fewer PCSOs now than in 2010, but it is not just the numbers; the estate is vanishing as well. She talked about people behind desks. In Ealing we used to have four police stations: Greenford, Hanwell, Ealing and Acton. Now there is only one. Does she agree that police need places to do their paperwork as well?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Right across the country, over the last 13 years, police forces have closed police stations. Some of them are now houses in multiple occupation with problems with antisocial behaviour—you could not make it up! That is a result of decisions that Conservative Ministers have made.
It is good to see the Home Secretary here today, because we do not see her that much. If I am honest, I do not really know what she does. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been put in charge of dealing with antisocial behaviour. The Prime Minister has taken charge on small boats. The Navy has been in charge of patrolling the channel.
It did not work, did it? No. That much-vaunted policy that they announced a year ago has ended up with record high levels of dangerous boat crossings.
The DLUHC Secretary is also deciding on the Prevent review and running Homes for Ukraine, while the Education Secretary, the Work and Pensions Secretary and the Treasury have taken over deciding legal migration policy and have cancelled the Home Secretary’s plan to bring back the net migration target and cut student numbers. The Immigration Minister has taken over asylum accommodation, because when the Home Secretary was in charge, she broke the law. The Security Minister has taken over security policy because she cannot be trusted not to leak. She is not charging criminals, because that has got worse. In fact, the number of prosecutions fell by 20% when the Home Secretary was the Attorney General. She is not sorting out the Windrush scandal because she has cancelled all that. She is not doing work on police standards or tackling misogyny, racism or violence against women and girls because she thinks all of that is woke.
There was all that fuss about the sacking this week of Nadhim Zahawi as the Tory party chair and Minister without Portfolio. The real Minister without Portfolio is still in office! But she does not get let out much. She does not even do TV or radio interviews. I do not think we have heard her in the morning or on a Sunday for months. She is the shadow of a Home Secretary. She is a shadow shadow Home Secretary, so why does she not just get out of the way and let somebody else do the job?
An absentee Tory Home Secretary is not new: successive Tory Home Secretaries have walked away from taking action to get justice for victims, to catch criminals or to keep communities safe. Knife crime is therefore 71% higher than seven years ago, stabbings are up 63%, and knife-enabled rape is at a record high.
The charge rate for rape is just 1.6%. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is down to the large-scale cuts to policing and the Crown Prosecution Service budget that conviction rates are so low and the overwhelming majority of victims are not getting the justice they deserve? After 13 years of Conservative Governments, they are allowing rapists to get off scot-free while victims suffer.
My hon. Friend makes an important point because more criminals are getting off under the Tories. As a result of 13 years of Conservative Governments, criminals are not paying the price. About 7,000 people will be the victim of theft today. Of those thefts, just over 4,000 will be reported to the police, but only 180 will face court. For thousands more victims, there will be no justice.
The worst figures of all are on rape. The Conservatives’ amendment to the motion shows how low they have fallen and how out of touch they are. The proportion of rape cases reaching charge is still two thirds lower than six or seven years ago, and it was too low then, but their amendment effectively boasts about an increase of a third in the number of adult rape convictions in the last year. The number of convictions in a year that they are talking about is 532, which is the equivalent of about one and a half convictions a day. That figure may be up from just over one conviction a day during the covid crisis the year before, but let us think about the estimated 300 women who are raped every day. Are we supposed to be grateful and applaud the fact that there might be a conviction in perhaps one and a half rather than one of those cases? What kind of justice does it provide for the other 298 women if just one or two of those rapists are locked up? What kind of shameless, failing Government think that they should boast about that appalling failure in justice for women and girls? I say to Government Members, “That is the motion that you will be voting for this afternoon.” They will vote against an increase in neighbourhood policing and vote to boast about a truly dismal record in tackling violence against women and girls.
Despite unprecedented levels of recorded rape and sexual offences, local authorities and charities are having to fight to keep open victim support services, such as women’s centres. Meanwhile, the long-promised victims Bill is nowhere to be seen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, alongside ending violence against women and girls, we must prioritise supporting the victims of crime?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: where is the victims Bill? Where is the opportunity to provide proper support for victims of crime, not just of domestic abuse and sexual violence, but more widely? They need support but, too often, the Government have turned their back on them and they have been badly let down.
Where, too, is the action to get specialist rape investigation units in all our police forces? Again, too often, the Government have turned their back. For all their talk about powers and sentencing, the reality is that they voted against Labour’s policy for new powers to clamp down on the criminal gangs that are exploiting and grooming children; they voted against Labour’s policy to increase sentences for rape and set minimum sentences; and they voted against Labour’s policy for increased monitoring and powers on repeat domestic abuse perpetrators.
The right hon. Lady asks about sentencing in rape cases. I point out that the average rape sentence is now nearly two years higher than after the last Labour Government. She talks about voting on rape sentencing. Extraordinarily, in Committee of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in 2022, the Opposition voted against a specific clause that saw people convicted of rape spending two thirds of their sentence in prison, rather than one third.
Yes, they did—I was extremely surprised. Perhaps she can explain to the House why Labour voted against keeping rapists in prison for longer.
The Labour party voted for minimum sentences for rape—to increase sentencing for rape. It does not matter what the sentencing powers are, however, if nobody is being prosecuted and sentenced in the first place; the number of people who are being prosecuted and sentenced has plummeted. Victims are not getting justice and record numbers of victims are giving up on the criminal justice system, because they have been so badly let down after 13 years of Conservative Governments. How can a prosecution rate of 1.6% be anything other than a total shame and dereliction of duty by the Conservative Government, Conservative Home Office and Conservative Ministers?
Let us remember, too, that the Conservatives voted to cut Labour’s counter-terror powers and ended control orders so that the terrorism prevention and investigation measures that replaced them are barely used. They also voted to cut Labour’s antisocial behaviour powers, so what is left is barely used. We hear that they now want to do something more on antisocial behaviour, because they are fed up with nuisance neighbours holding loud parties or with risky behaviour in the streets or in our cars, and they are thinking about bringing in more fixed penalty notices.
Well, the Prime Minister certainly knows all about fixed penalty notices. He is the first ever Prime Minister to ratchet up not just one but two penalties for law breaking in the space of 12 months. He is surrounded at the Cabinet table by multiple rule breakers and other repeat offenders, and he chose to ignore warnings about rule breaking by four of the Cabinet Ministers he appointed. As his Home Secretary and Justice Secretary—the two jobs most responsible for establishing respect for the rules and enforcing the law—he has chosen two people who he was warned in the autumn were under suspicion for breaking Ministers’ rules.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. What has this got to do with the matter that we are debating?
If I believed that Yvette Cooper was out of order, I would have said so.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
If Anna Firth does not see a connection between establishing respect in our communities for the rule of law and the rules and a sense of enforcement, and the behaviour of Government Ministers, including fixed penalty notices and law breaking by the Prime Minister, then she reflects the same problem. There is a culture across those in the Conservative party that there is one rule for them and another for everyone else. It is no wonder that no one takes them seriously on law and order any more.
Order. I said that I would decide when the line has been crossed; the right hon. Lady is in grave danger of crossing it.
With respect for the rules and the rule of law, Mr Deputy Speaker, I turn to the need for a new approach, because this situation is not fair for our communities. The collapse in neighbourhood policing and in justice for victims is not just making people feel less safe, but undermining our town centres and local economies, as well as undermining respect for the rule of law and the crucial trust that lies at the heart of the British policing model of policing by consent.
The right hon. Member is talking about respect and we are also talking about trust, and I think we have to acknowledge that trust in the police has been significantly eroded of late. Does she agree with me that neighbourhood policing is actually critical to rebuilding that trust? It is much better to see a police officer on the street who knows their local community and is known by the community, as opposed to one at a distance.
The hon. Member is exactly right. It is having police officers and PCSOs rooted in communities, who know their communities and can also respond to communities and community concerns, that helps to gather intelligence about offenders and perpetrators, helps to prevent crime in the first place and helps to build trust so that people feel more confident about reporting to the police. I agree with her that it is crucial, alongside the other reforms I was about to mention.
We would also introduce a new law on police standards, making vetting compulsory and being clear on mandatory standards on training and misconduct, with the very basic idea that, if a police officer faces allegations of rape or domestic abuse, they should be suspended, not just put behind a desk. Raising standards and increasing the community connections of the police is a really important way to support policing as well as to support communities.
I thank the shadow Home Secretary for her discussion of what she is proposing. I very much support community policing. Just Monday—yesterday—we had a meeting with the chief inspector back in Northern Ireland on the cutbacks in the police, and one thing he told us was that community policing will be central to any policing going forward. That is what we are doing in Northern Ireland. Does the right hon. Lady agree that that is what should happen here?
I do agree that that is what should happen here, and at the moment it is not happening. At the moment, we still have 6,000 fewer police officers and 8,000 fewer PCSOs, with rumours that PCSOs may face further cuts over the next 12 months, just at a time when we should be supporting and working with communities, instead of fearing that things may actually be going further backwards.
That is why Labour has set out plans for 13,000 additional police officers and PCSOs, funded by requiring forces to sign up for joint procurement and ringfencing some of the new recruits, to go alongside the new law on police standards. Police officers across the country are doing some phenomenal work, such as those remaining police officers who are based in our communities, the PCSOs who work very hard every single day of the week, and the officers who are attempting to solve crimes with huge case loads and facing real pressure and trouble. However, those officers need our support, and they need the additional neighbourhood policing teams in place to rebuild such connections.
Clearly, increasing numbers is very important, but does the right hon. Lady agree that, in addition, we need to give police officers the power they need to take a zero-tolerance approach where they need to, in being robust in tackling people who blight our town centres and make life a misery for so many?
I do agree that the police need to have the powers to tackle serious abuse, antisocial behaviour and problems in our town centres. At the moment, there are not police officers there; too often, they are not on patrol and they are not there. I would just gently remind the hon. Member that it was his Government and Conservative MPs who all voted to cut antisocial behaviour powers, leaving powers that just are not being used at all. Nobody is using even the antisocial behaviour powers they have, and it was Ministers and Tory MPs who voted to cut those powers in the first place.
My right hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. I just want to refer to hate crime. We have seen a massive increase in hate crime over the last 10 years from about 40,000 cases up to about 155,000 cases last year. Although we are seeing improvements in prosecutions, the figure is still less than 10% of cases. This makes a huge difference to our communities and to making sure that everybody feels safe. What are her comments on that?
My hon. Friend is right, and these are also the kinds of crimes—for example, homophobic assaults or racist threats—that can be hugely damaging, and these serious crimes also undermine community cohesion. It is really important that the police are able to respond and have the neighbourhood officers to do so, and also that they do the work on prevention—including, frankly, in our national health service and in our social services—to ease the pressures that the police currently face in dealing with missing persons or mental health crises.
We are calling on the Government to make a proper commitment to neighbourhood policing. What Labour would do and what a Labour Government will do is to have additional police officers and PCSOs back in our neighbourhood teams, supported to work with the communities. That goes back to the core Peel principle that the police are the public and the public are the police. The police are part of our communities in standing up for communities, but also in getting justice for them—getting the prosecutions and the justice that victims need and that they have been denied for too long. That is what Labour believes in. The Tories have shown that they are weak on crime, weak on justice and weak on law and order, and that is why we need a Labour Government now.
I beg to move amendment (a), to leave out from “House” to end and add:
“welcomes the Government’s efforts to increase police numbers, with 16,743 so far recruited and on track to meet the Government’s 20,000 target by March;
notes that there will be more officers than ever before in England and Wales;
recognises that, excluding online crime, overall crime is down by 50 per cent since 2010; notes with concern that the Labour Mayor of London has overseen a 9 per cent increase in knife crime while the number of young people assaulted with sharp objects is down nationally by 23 per cent since 2019; notes that adult rape convictions are up by a third in the last recorded year;
notes that the Safer Streets Fund rounds have funded 270 projects designed to cut neighbourhood crimes such as theft, burglary, anti-social behaviour, and violence against women and girls;
and welcomes the Government’s determination to back the police in giving them the powers they need to crack down on dangerous criminals and protests that wreak havoc on ordinary people’s lives.”
First, let me address the issue of the Hillsborough report. The Hillsborough disaster was a devastating tragedy, and we recognise the significant impact that it continues to have on those affected, their families and their communities. The timing of the Government’s response has been impacted by the need to avoid the risk of prejudice during any criminal proceedings related to Hillsborough. None the less, work has been under way, and has been undertaken across all relevant Government Departments and organisations to carefully consider and address the points of learning included and directed to them in the bishop’s report.
As the National Police Chiefs’ Council is independent of Government, it is for it to publish its own response independently of Government, and that is a step I welcome, but the Government remain absolutely committed to responding to the bishop’s report as soon as practicable. Our focus now is on engaging in a meaningful way with the bereaved families of the Hillsborough disaster prior to publishing the Government’s overarching response. It is critical that lessons can be learned from their experience and that they are not lost as we move forward.
Today’s apology from the police is welcome, but long overdue. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to commit to a Hillsborough law that would give victims of state-related death or disaster parity of legal representation?
I pay tribute to the indefatigable work by the campaigners, who have worked for many years to ensure that the truth is known and that justice is done. I am supportive of all work to help them ensure that their voice is heard in the process, but let me take that away and consider it fully before I give a meaningful response.
We have heard from the shadow Home Secretary, and—we are in the awards season—her performance is really worthy of an Oscar. She is strong on alarmism and strong on hysteria, but a little weak on facts. This Government are proud of our record on crime and policing. Since 2010—indeed, since 2019—we have delivered more police and less crime. Thanks to Government funding, our streets are safer and there are fewer victims of crime. I am not complacent, however, and I know that there remain many challenges. I will not rest until we restore confidence in the police and until everyone feels safer in their communities. So let us go through the facts.
I want to make some progress, and I will take some interventions later.
The first fact—achievement No. 1—is that this Government are on track to deliver the most police officers in the history of policing in England and Wales. We are on track to deliver 20,000 new police officers by March 2023, and in that regard I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel), for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse)—he was in the Chamber earlier—for their leadership of that mission.
In Nottinghamshire we have 405 more police officers as a result of the policing uplift. Many have gone into the neighbourhood policing team, so we have newbie officers in villages such as Keyworth and Ruddington. Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking Inspector Rob Lawton and his neighbourhood team for the brilliant work they do in Rushcliffe, and will she tell the House when the long-awaited review into the police funding formula will begin, so that great forces such as Nottinghamshire police can get the resources they deserve?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I join her in paying tribute to the police leadership in her county and her force. It is thanks to strong leaders in her police force that we have higher police numbers, more bobbies on the beat, and more visible, responsive policing at the heart of our local communities. We will begin consulting on police funding soon, so we can ensure that the resources and money reach the front line where they are needed.
The 231 new police officers in the West Mercia region are very welcome indeed. But this is not just about numbers; it is also about innovation, and West Mercia police has been very innovative with Shifnal Town Council, and potentially other town councils such as Newport, by having a community hub where there can be a permanent police presence. The capital and revenue costs are shared across the community, and there is a one-stop shop for a lot of public services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that model is worth looking at in more detail, perhaps to roll it out across the whole of Shropshire and the west midlands?
My right hon. Friend is right—there is huge innovation and good practice around the country when it comes to local policing. Police forces are using powers that the Government have given them, and using the numbers and resources we have given them, to be a bit more responsive and more visible, and to ensure that people feel safer and that crime is falling.
I will carry on and come back to the hon. Lady. From Greater Manchester to Kent, and from the Thames valley to the west midlands, on my visits around the country I have seen so many brave men and women join the police, coming forward in their droves to protect the public. On behalf of the British people, I thank them. Nineteen forces have already hit record levels, and the Met, Kent, Norfolk, South Wales, Suffolk, Warwickshire and West Yorkshire police all have the highest numbers of police officers in their history—higher than in 2019, higher than in 2015, higher than in 2010, and higher than the years when Labour was in charge.
Will the Home Secretary explain why in the west midlands we will still have 1,000 fewer police officers this year than we did in 2010?
The hon. Gentleman is just not right. As of
The Home Secretary is just sort of inventing things there. The police workforce statistics—her own workforce statistics—show that there are 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers, and 8,000 fewer PCSOs. Half the country say that they do not see police officers on patrol. How does she explain that shocking decimation of neighbourhood police?
I disagree with the right hon. Lady’s characterisation, but it is obviously helpful for her to play with the figures. If we look at how we are classifying roles in policing, we see that when it comes to incident and response management, numbers are up. On local policing, the 2022 figures were greater than those from 2015. She can move around the deckchairs and play with the figures all she likes, but the reality is that we are on track to have a record number of police officers.
Let me get back to the facts. Achievement No. 2: crime is down. Despite the naysayers on the Opposition Benches, since 2010, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales—the most authoritative evidence about crime complied by the Office for National Statistics—burglary is down by 50%, robbery is down by 45%, and violence is down by 46%. That is 500,000 fewer burglaries, 180,000 fewer robberies, and 700,000 fewer victims of violence than in 2010. Crucially, overall crime, excluding fraud and online crime, is down by 48% compared with 2010. I hope that Labour Members take this chance to reflect and apologise to the British people for the disgraceful state in which they left this country, and for objecting to our measures to fix the mess that they left.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way—she is generous with her time. Here in Labour controlled lawless London, crime is up, knife crime is up, burglary is up, and violent crime is up. Does she think it a good idea for us to take advice from the Labour party on how to clear up crime in our country, because I don’t?
I am afraid that Labour’s Sadiq Khan, who has overall responsibility for London’s crime and policing, has a woeful track record. When overall crime is falling, it is rising in London. When people are feeling safer around the country, they are facing more crime in London. I urge Labour MPs here today—there are some, but I think some of them have left out of embarrassment—to get on to Sadiq Khan, get on to their man in London, and tell him to start fighting crime.
The Home Secretary is being generous with her time. Obviously, the north does not like to be left out, so I point out that the second largest force in England, Greater Manchester police, also went into special measures under Andy Burnham’s mismanagement. Is that a more accurate reflection of what happens when the Labour party is running police forces than the drivel that we heard from the Front Bench?
I could not have put it better myself. My hon. Friend makes the point very powerfully. This is about empowering our police and crime commissioners around the country so that they can hold chief constables to account. We know that Labour is more interested in gimmicks and political correctness, rather than common sense, back-to-basics policing, and getting the basics right for people in our communities.
Of course there is more to do and we will keep fighting. Since I became Home Secretary, I have ensured that all forces are committed to attending every residential burglary. I have introduced legislation for tackling disruptive protests, and I have begun a package of work to improve police efficiency, with new counting rules, focusing the police away from non-crime hate incidents. I have introduced new disciplinary processes, plans for better vetting, support for non-degree entry routes, and the clear, hold, build strategy to take on serious and organised crime. I am reviewing the police’s approach to equality and diversity. It is clear for everybody to see—[Interruption.] Labour Members can carp from the sidelines all they like, but they have no plan whatsoever to help the law-abiding majority, while this Government are getting on with the job of delivering common-sense policing.
I believe in the police. I am in awe of their everyday bravery, and I am grateful for their sacrifice. But I want them to focus on getting the basics right. That means the highest professional standards and a relentless focus on cutting crime, with no politically correct distractions. It means common-sense policing.
The Home Secretary mentioned disciplinary issues in the police, and police and crime commissioners. Last week the other place debated the lack of action to progress the disciplinary case against former Chief Constable Mike Veale for alleged gross misconduct. The Government say that the issue lies with the PCC, and the PCC says that his hands are tied. Which is it, and what is the Foreign Secretary going to do about it?
When it comes to decisions and investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, that is an independent process in which I cannot intervene. What it comes down to is empowering chief constables to be able properly to discipline those police officers who fall short. That is why I am engaging in a programme of work to ensure that they have greater powers to take the right action to root out the poor officers in their ranks.
It is essential that the police work to win back public confidence and serve the law-abiding majority. We need visible, responsive policing treating victims with respect and care. That is why I called for the police to turn up to every single burglary—it makes a difference to victims and to the investigation. It is also right that all forces have now committed that officers will visit every victim after a crime such as domestic burglary. People should expect nothing less.
Will the right hon. and learned Lady commit to the police going out to every single incident of domestic abuse here today?
I will get on to what we are doing for women and girls. I am incredibly proud of the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which the Government pioneered and led and is providing a huge amount of resource and powers to those supporting victims of domestic abuse. People want to feel safe—[Interruption.]
Order. Opposition Front-Bench Members know how to behave.
People want to feel safe in their villages, their towns and their cities. The purpose of the police is to fight crime, not to engage in symbolic gestures on social media. That is common-sense policing. That is what the best officers want to do, and they need to be liberated to do their real jobs. We should not be afraid of the term “old-fashioned policing”. That is why I want everybody who has a passion to serve their country or community to feel welcome in the police, whether they have a degree or not. Policing needs the best, the bravest and the brightest to sign up, and not necessarily those who have or need a degree. That is why I asked the College of Policing to introduce a new non-degree entry route for recruits: common-sense policing by the people, for the people.
We are on the side of the British public, who want to go about their business in peace. That is why we introduced and passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force last year. It increased powers for our brave policemen and women and increased sentences for some of the most violent offences. What did Labour Members do? They voted against it.
That is also why we are delivering our Public Order Bill this year. We respect the right to protest, of course, but selfish and disruptive extremists have caused havoc for thousands of ordinary working people—people trying to get to work, to school or to hospital. Just last night, I introduced measures that would have made it easier for the police to take swifter action against groups such as Just Stop Oil. What did Labour Members do? They voted against them. Why? Because they are on the side of the eco-zealots and in the pockets of the militants. They do not care about the law-abiding majority.
We need to ensure that the police have all the tools to keep people safe. Stop and search is important in fighting crime, reducing violence and saving lives. The Met Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, and the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, Stephen Watson, have both said as much. That is why we have relaxed restrictions and are empowering the police to stop and challenge known knife carriers. It is why I am bringing in serious violence disruption orders imminently. In 2021, stop and search removed nearly 15,000 weapons and firearms from our streets and led to almost 67,000 arrests.
Is the Secretary of State aware that when stop and search is not done well, it has a huge negative impact on children, parents and the community? Too often, when the police have done stop and search incorrectly, that has gone on to affect communities negatively.
When we speak to frontline police officers and those who are affected because family members have been victims of knife crime or violent crime, we understand that stop and search is a vital tool not only in reducing violent crime, but in saving lives. The proportionate and targeted use of stop and search is an essential tool that I support the police using.
Let us not forget London. Knife crime is a problem in London and, under Labour’s Sadiq Khan, rates are up by 11%. So, instead of carping from the sidelines, Labour MPs would be far better off using their time by encouraging their Labour man in London to demand that the police get back to getting weapons off our streets. On serious violence, the Government have backed the police with investment and support to reduce violence.
On that point, in London, knife crime is down by 16% over the last four years, whereas on average over the rest of the country it has gone up. Will the Home Secretary withdraw the point she just made?
The data I have is that knife crime has gone up in London, and there are really serious challenges when it comes to Labour’s management of policing in London.
Despite what the shadow Home Secretary said, knife crime in London has risen by 11%. That is proven by “Crime in England and Wales” from the Office for National Statistics, dated
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. We have made £130 million available over the financial year 2022-23 to tackle serious violence, including murder and knife crime. Take our violence reduction units, which have reached over 260,000 young people who are vulnerable, preventing them from falling into a life of crime in the first place. Our Grip police enforcement programme is supporting the police in the crime hotspots most affected by serious violence. Together, Grip and violence reduction units have prevented an estimated 136,000 violent offences.
We went further. Our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act introduced the serious violence duty: a new legal requirement for agencies to work together to prevent and reduce serious violence locally. What did Labour Members do? They voted against it.
Everybody deserves to feel safe everywhere. I am proud of our safer streets fund, which was launched in 2020 by the Government and has supported 270 projects around the country designed to cut neighbourhood crimes such as theft, burglary and antisocial behaviour as well as violence against women and girls. In Humberside, improved communal entrances to flats are helping to prevent drug dealing, and new storage units are stopping bike and motorbike theft. In Northampton, funding has supported improvements to the security of thousands of homes that were vulnerable to burglary with alleyway gates installed to prevent an easy escape for offenders. In Essex, the use of public space protection orders has resulted in a significant reduction in nuisance and antisocial behaviour.
I am conscious that the responsibility for antisocial behaviour has been moved across to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Does the Home Secretary think that is because the Prime Minister has no confidence in her ability to take that forward?
The hon. Lady is wrong. Antisocial behaviour is about a criminal and policing response to behaviour that blights communities. The Home Office leads on antisocial behaviour, but of course we work in partnership. Those who know about tackling antisocial behaviour will tell her that it requires a policing response and a heavy local authority response. That is why, working as a team, we need policing and local authority partners to work in partnership, and that is what my colleague, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and I are doing as a team.
Countless projects across the country have set up neighbourhood watch groups, increased CCTV and introduced wardens to improve community engagement, all to help the law-abiding majority. The crime survey for England and Wales estimates that there has been a decrease of 24% in neighbourhood crime since December 2019. However, let me be clear: drugs are an underlying cause of antisocial behaviour, which blights communities. The illegal drug trade wrecks lives and also requires a targeted approach. Our strategy on illicit drugs will cut off supply and give addicts a route to a productive and drug-free life, while reducing the recreational use of drugs. The Home Office has invested £130 million in that effort. Through our flagship county lines programme, we have closed down 2,500 county lines and made 8,000 arrests. We have safeguarded thousands more people, preventing them from falling into this wicked, destructive business. Border Force has made major seizures and Project ADDER—addiction, diversion, disruption, enforcement and recovery—is another success. That is all targeting the supply and use of drugs. We will continue, because this is so closely related to antisocial behaviour. That will include restricting access to nitrous oxide.
Tackling violence against women and girls is a priority not just for the Government but for me. Every woman in the Chamber will know that feeling—on the street, on public transport, at work or school, online, and sometimes, tragically, in the home—of feeling unsafe, on guard and threatened. That has to change. Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth is the first national policing lead on violence against women and girls. Addressing the issue is now a strategic policing requirement just like tackling terrorism, serious and organised crime and child abuse. I am proud of the action we have taken since 2010. Of course, there is more to do, but let us not ignore the huge and important progress made so far.
The Government have criminalised forced marriage, revenge porn, failing to protect a girl from female genital mutilation and virginity testing. We introduced Clare’s law, new stalking offences and stalking protection orders, and the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour. We passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and we are now backing a new law on street harassment. That is a track record of which I am proud.
Let me just say this to the Opposition Front Benchers. Labour, frankly, is in no fit state to lecture the Government about protecting women after the Scottish Labour party voted in favour of the SNP’s gender recognition Bill. If enacted, the Bill would allow predatory men to access women-only spaces. It would allow sexual offenders to more easily harm women, an obvious and serious risk to women’s safety.
The shadow Home Secretary was asked last year to define a women—she likes touring the media studios. She just could not do it, saying it was a rabbit hole she did not need to go down. Let me help her. The answer is an adult human female. How can the right hon. Lady even begin to fight for the safety of women when she cannot even define one?
I think a woman is an adult human female. I wonder whether the Home Secretary will commit that, when one is beaten up by her husband, every single call to the police on domestic abuse will receive a response?
I will just get back to the point I was making: the shadow Home Secretary does not have any legitimacy on fighting for the safety of women when she cannot even define one.
Rape and sexual violence are devastating crimes that can have a long-lasting impact on victims.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way, but she has not answered the question that my hon. Friend Jess Phillips asked. We have been very clear: women are adult females, and when they are abused, and when they are raped, they are not getting justice. Hundreds of women every day are being denied justice and denied the protection of the courts because no rapists are being prosecuted. The Home Secretary is refusing to commit to having police officers go to the homes of those adult females, those women, who are being abused every single day. Will she now commit to saying that the police will go to every single domestic abuse case—yes or no?
Let me get on to what we are doing on rape and serious sexual offences, and on domestic abuse. I am very glad that more victims and survivors are coming forward and reporting these crimes to the police. More needs to be done by the whole of the criminal justice system. Through the rape review, the Government took a hard and honest look at how the entire criminal justice system dealt with rape. In too many instances, it simply had not been good enough. In December we published a rape review progress report, setting out the progress made in the 18 months since the publication of the action plan. The number of cases referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service was up by 95, the volume of cases charged was up by two thirds, and the number of cases reaching the Crown court was up 91% compared to 2019 averages.
The wealth of evidence to the Home Affairs Committee is that specialist rape and serious sexual assault units in police forces mean that more investigations go better, with more prosecutions and victims being treated better. So why is it that not all our police forces have those specialist units? If the Home Secretary is really serious about being on the side of women, why does she not make all police forces have those units?
I am absolutely committed to getting better outcomes for victims of rape and serious sexual offences, and that does require more specialism. That is why Operation Soteria, which we initiated and we have driven forward, is focused on ensuring that there is much better collaboration between the police and the CPS, more specialism in the system, and better practice on the ground when it comes to supporting victims of rape and serious sexual offences through the investigative process.
The increase in the number of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers has been hugely beneficial for victims going through the process, which I am incredibly proud of. It has made a massive and significant difference to the timeliness of investigations and to outcomes. The big challenge we face is ensuring that victims of rape and serious sexual offences continue their support for investigations. We need to reduce victim attrition and increase the participation in, timeliness and progress of these very important investigations and prosecutions.
We cannot shy away for one moment from the fact that some police officers have behaved atrociously. That is why we are taking action to ensure that our police forces deliver the highest professional standards. I have made it clear to chief constables that they must take immediate action to get rid of anybody in their ranks who is not fit to wear the uniform. I have led the work for better vetting and better standards within the police. I am pleased that police chiefs have agreed to urgently check their officers and staff against the police database, so that they are better able to root out anybody who is unfit who may have slipped through the net. I am also reviewing the police dismissals process, because it needs to be easier to sack officers who behave in such a way. Police vetting guidance is being strengthened so that staff are clear about what is required and know they have a legal duty to go by the book. Lastly, the Angiolini inquiry will now cover wider vetting issues and toxic cultures within the police, as well as the cases of Couzens and Carrick. I back the police to raise their standards and restore confidence in their integrity.
In conclusion, it is a well-worn phrase but it bears repetition: keeping the people safe is the first duty of any Government. This Government have achieved a huge amount. I am proud of our track record of delivering more police and less crime, but we will never lose sight of the need to go further and of the greater work we need to put in. We stand unequivocally and unapologetically on the side of the law-abiding majority.
Order. There are, as we can see, a significant number of hon. Members who wish to participate. I am not going to put on a fixed time limit at the moment, but my estimate is that if everybody adheres to about six minutes, everybody on both sides of the House should be accommodated. It is up to Members whether they choose to squeeze their colleagues out.
I will bear in mind what you have said, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in today’s debate on crime and policing. As the Home Secretary has just explained, there are few issues as important as protecting the public and ensuring that our streets, communities and residents are safe. Indeed, it is the first duty of any Government to keep their citizens safe, yet successive Tory Governments seem to have failed in that primary duty over the past 13 years.
As we have heard today, the Conservatives’ record on crime and justice is simply dreadful. Crime rates are appallingly high, while charge rates and prosecutions have collapsed. That is not being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime; it is the exact opposite. This Government are letting criminals off and leaving victims and entire communities feeling abandoned. Not only have their policies failed to keep my constituents safe or to tackle crime in Coventry North East, but they have constantly focused on the wrong priorities and completely ignored the real issues that affect our communities daily.
The Government appear to have no policy, no plan and no strategy to deal with the problems in my constituency. My constituents have told me time and again about problems such as serious violent crime, knife crime, gang culture, drug dealing, domestic abuse, sexual violence and persistent antisocial behaviour. Over the past 13 years, our police force’s ability to tackle those problems has been diminished by successive Tory Governments as they have ruthlessly cut funding to the bone, dismantled neighbourhood policing and slashed officer numbers. After more than a decade of police cuts, the west midlands is finally getting more police officers through the uplift programme, but still nowhere near as many as are needed or as have been lost on this Government’s watch.
Consequently, as our police force has become more overstretched and as demand for its services continues to grow, I have heard complaints from constituents that there is no visible police presence in their area. They say that the police have been unable to physically attend the scene of a crime; that all they have received is a crime number and they are not sure what comes next; or that they have reported a crime but heard nothing more. I have also heard from police officers, who say that they simply do not have the resources to investigate every crime.
Let us be clear: my constituents deserve so much better, and so do our dedicated police officers, who do such a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances. They deserve a Government who will give our police force the resources it needs—a Government who will restore neighbourhood policing, keep our streets safer and ensure that more criminals are arrested and prosecuted. They deserve a Labour Government. Sadly, while this Tory Government remain in place, I fear that our police force will continue to be hamstrung, residents will continue to be let down and the streets of Coventry will continue to be less safe than they could and should be.
I find an immense irony in the Opposition motion. It is not lost on me, and it certainly is not lost on the residents of Rother Valley, that Labour’s position on crime is very confusing. The main thing that comes out of it is inaction and neglect, because crime and policing in South Yorkshire are the responsibility of the Labour party through the elected Labour police and crime commissioner.
We in Rother Valley have been at the sharp end of Labour’s low prioritisation of crime for years and years. Labour Members speak about a drop in police officer numbers, but it is this Conservative Government who are funding 20,000 new police officers across England and Wales, including by providing the Labour police and crime commissioner with funding for new police officers in South Yorkshire. So far, we have had an extra 1,763 officers across Yorkshire and the Humber, and we are on track for 20,000, which means that will be more police officers by the end of this Parliament then there were in 2010.
There are increased numbers, but the problem is that the Labour police and crime commissioner decides where police officers are deployed and what their priorities are. It is clear that the focus will be on urban areas such as Sheffield and Doncaster, while Rother Valley, as usual, will not get a look in. That mirrors investment by Labour-run Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, which always seems to take a “central Rotherham first” approach rather than sharing wealth and resources with areas such as Rother Valley.
We have a fantastic neighbourhood policing team across my area who do a great job with the resources available, but they are hamstrung by the “Sheffield first” approach in the PCC’s priorities. We are clearly being failed by Labour. Labour speaks about high levels of antisocial behaviour; I agree that there is too much antisocial behaviour, so why is it not a priority for the South Yorkshire Labour police and crime commissioner?
When challenged about his neglect of Rother Valley, the Labour police and crime commissioner claims that he does not make strategic decisions, nor does he make operational decisions, and nor does he set the budget. In that case, the people of Rother Valley would like to know what exactly he does. If he is not responsible, who is? In our country, police and crime commissioners have those powers. They are in charge—that is the whole point—yet he has chosen to leave Rother Valley out in the cold. That is just not acceptable. It shows that although Labour is quite good at talking the talk, when it comes to action it completely and utterly fails my constituents in Rother Valley.
To add insult to injury, the Labour police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire wishes to increase the police precept on local people. We all know that times are tough, so putting an extra burden on the good burghers of Rother Valley without a clear plan for where the money will go is just not good enough. We have heard from Opposition Members today about cuts, but what is especially galling is that not long ago the police and crime commissioner underspent his budget by £2 million. That was £2 million that could have been used to protect and serve the people of Rother Valley. It could have been used to reopen the much-needed police bases on Dinnington or Maltby high streets.
We all know that the increase in the precept will go to Sheffield or Doncaster, not to our area, which will see little benefit. My constituents have not forgotten that a previous superintendent promised two mobile police stations for Rother Valley, both of which were kiboshed by the present Labour police and crime commissioner. The people of Rother Valley will remember those empty promises and that softness on crime. [Interruption.] I hear an attempt at a sedentary intervention from somebody who is not technically sitting in the Chamber. If he wishes to join the debate, will he please come and join it? That really sums up Labour’s approach: Labour Members chunter from the sidelines, but when they are given powers, like the Labour police and crime commissioner, they abrogate responsibility. They talk the talk from the sidelines, but they do not walk the walk. I say, “Come to Rother Valley, walk the walk down Maltby or Dinnington high streets, and see the crime and neglect that is happening because of the Labour police and crime commissioner’s failure in our area.”
The Labour police and crime commissioner obviously has to work with the resources given by national Government. It is absolutely true that there are still fewer police on the streets of South Yorkshire than in 2010.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. That is great, because it lets me reiterate that the Labour police and crime commissioner deals with the resources given to him. So why did he underspend the police budget by £2 million? Now he wants to increase the precept, as he did last year. Why does he not use the money? I am a great fan of people using the resources given to them. The hon. Lady is right that we need to increase police numbers. That is why, by the end of the 2024 Parliament, there will be more police officers on the street than in 2010. We know that, and it is a good thing. We are ahead of schedule on improvements in South Yorkshire because people want to join the police force and want to do good in their communities.
Despite the clearly poor leadership in South Yorkshire—not just police leadership, but local leadership—this Conservative Government are delivering for my constituents. We are on target, with 16,743 police officers already, and we will meet the 20,000 target. On top of this Government’s no-nonsense, tough crackdown on crime, there will be more officers than ever before in England and Wales. Overall crime is down by 50% since 2010. Furthermore, the safer streets fund rounds have funded 270 projects designed to cut neighbourhood crimes such as theft and burglary, antisocial behaviour, and violence against women and girls. [Interruption.] I keep hearing chuntering on the Opposition Front Bench, but no interventions. Does Sarah Jones want to intervene? Once again, we hear Labour chuntering but taking no action.
May I just point out that 20 million people experienced antisocial behaviour last year? Will these 200 tiny little projects really make much difference to those 20 million people who had suffered the consequences of years of cuts from this Conservative Government?
That was an interesting intervention, belittling work that has been done. Something is better than nothing and, as I have said, that £2 million in the budget could have added a lot more, but it was not spent by the Labour police and crime commissioner—never mind; we will move forward. It is this Government who are backing the police and giving them the powers they need to crack down on dangerous criminals who prey on ordinary people.
My constituents are sick and tired of these political games that are being played when it comes to crime and punishment. They are fed up with Labour’s neglect of Rother Valley, and South Yorkshire in general, in favour of other areas. I call on the police and crime commissioner and on Labour to step up to the plate, get behind this Government’s crime-busting mission and work with us to reduce crime for my constituents, for Britons, and of course for Rother Valley, so that together we can support our police, crack down on crime, and make our country a better place still.
It is an honour to speak in this really important debate.
As colleagues will be aware, recent YouGov polling suggests that an astonishing 66% of Britons think the UK Government are handling the issue of crime badly. Given that more than 14 million people’s lives are blighted by graffiti, drug dealing and noise issues each year, is it any wonder that people across the UK are now concluding what we have known for some time: that the Tories have been too weak and too soft on crime and antisocial behaviour? While the Tory Government remain asleep at the wheel, it is only right that we use today’s debate to set out Labour’s plan to crack down on crime and pursue serial perpetrators of antisocial behaviour—and my constituents in Pontypridd and Taff Ely know all too well how much of a blight antisocial behaviour can be.
In recent years, communities across my constituency have been subjected to bouts of antisocial behaviour, particularly when cars with illegally modified exhausts are racing up and down main routes such as the A4119. Colleagues may recall that I have raised this issue before during similar debates, but it is such a concern to so many residents that I feel I must make the point once again today. Back in 2021, local news reported that residents of Talbot Green and Llantrisant in my constituency were left “unable to sleep” and afraid to use public areas because these modified exhausts, designed to backfire, could be heard echoing across the valleys so loudly that the sound was like a shotgun going off.
South Wales police must be commended for the work they have been doing to tackle this, particularly via Operation Buena, and of course I welcome the UK Government’s announcement last year that they would trial-launch “noise camera” technology in a number of spots across the UK, but the fact is that although South Wales police are doing excellent work with the very limited resources they have available, small one-off investments from the UK Government are simply not enough.
While petty crime and antisocial behaviour may be the most common type of crime that residents report to me, today’s debate is about far more than that. I am immensely proud that the previous Labour Government established neighbourhood policing, but across the UK since 2015 neighbourhood police officers have been cut in their thousands by the Tories. This may seem a distant memory now, but I remind Members that the previous Tory Prime Minister promised us 20,000 new police officers on our streets. We are all used to Tories breaking their promises, but even if the Government had stuck to that pledge, it would simply have returned officer numbers to the level that we saw before they cut so many in the first place.
The impact of these sweeping cuts cannot be understated. It matters because neighbourhood policing should be playing a vital preventative and proactive role in our communities, on issues such as petty crime and antisocial nuisance, but also on preventing some of the most serious criminal offences. As colleagues will know, I have argued—both as a shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and as an MP—that our policing and criminal justice system is currently failing thousands of women and girls. I do not need to remind Members that just 1.3% of rape cases result in charges being brought against the alleged perpetrators. Commenting on that shambolic and shameful statistic, the director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said recently:
“Women and girls are...being systematically failed by a system that’s meant to protect them”.
Of course, improved neighbourhood policing will not fix these issues overnight—the entire system needs to be overhauled—but the fact remains that everyone deserves to feel safe in their own communities, and the police must play a central role in that.
Ultimately, no discussion of how we can better equip the police to tackle crime is complete without our acknowledging that the Government have a significant role to play in rebuilding public trust. In recent weeks we have heard disturbing reports of serious failures by police to tackle the scourge of misogyny and violent attitudes against women and girls among their own ranks. I wish to put on record my own thanks to Inspector Leigh Parfitt and all the local police in my area of south Wales, who have provided immense support for me in recent weeks after I spoke out about Andrew Tate’s horrendous behaviour and abuse online. My inbox and my office have been bombarded with death threats and rape threats, and the police have been brilliant. Sadly, however, that is not the case for everyone who experiences the same.
Given the cases in London alone, from the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer to the strip-searching of young children such as Child Q, we must be able to hold Ministers accountable if we are to properly tackle violence against women and girls. After decades of neglect from the Tories, it is time for a Labour Government who will take crime seriously and reintroduce proper neighbourhood policing that residents can trust.
Finally, I want to touch on something that was mentioned by both the shadow Secretary of State and the Secretary of State. It is a topic close to my heart. A total of 12,344 days have passed since 97 people were killed at Hillsborough, but it was only today that the police acknowledged that there had been profound failings and they had got it “badly wrong”. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has said, the Labour party is committed to introducing a specific Hillsborough law and enabling those victims finally to have justice. Why will the Secretary of State not pledge the same?
It is a great pleasure to speak for the first time under your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Let me begin by saying, as many other Members have done, that crime is currently a huge issue in my constituency. Only a few weeks ago there was a tragic incident in which an 18-year-old man was stabbed and killed in Westgate Street at 3.55 pm. My prayers go out to him and to his family and friends, but also to all the Ipswich residents who will have experienced that. As is so often the case, this incident appears to have involved violence from members of one gang towards those attached to another gang, which so often erupts in broad daylight and is witnessed by unsuspecting members of the public. That has a chilling effect on our communities and is an issue of great concern to me.
It is important to acknowledge that since 2019 Suffolk has had 137 more police officers. We have made successful bids to the safer streets fund, and we recently made a successful bid to the shared prosperity fund, resulting in three new officers dedicated to patrolling the town centre during daylight hours. That is to be welcomed, although I should add that the national police funding formula needs to be looked at. If Suffolk were funded in a fair way, we would have more than 137 extra officers. I have been campaigning for that ever since I became a Member of Parliament, and Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner has been campaigning for it for about 10 years.
Fundamentally, my constituents want to see a high police presence in the town centre, and they also want to see it in their communities. More often than not, the police I talk to say they want to be out in the communities—there is an alignment between what they want to do as professionals and what their constituents want to see. Of course funding is part of this, but bureaucracy can also stand in the way of police officers getting out on the street. I recently met members of the Suffolk Police Federation to discuss their DG6 campaign, which I think also needs to be looked at.
When I talk to my constituents, one of the most common things I hear is that they no longer go to the town centre, the principal reason being that they do not feel safe. I say that cautiously, because I would never want to be accused of talking down the wonderful town that I represent. Indeed, I want to push back and say, “No, you should go and spend money and support our brilliant independent businesses in the town centre.” I would always encourage people to go into our town centre, but I think I would be doing a disservice to the—probably—thousands of constituents who have told me, in emails or directly, that they will not go into the town centre because they do not feel safe.
I think that part of the answer is a permanent increase in the police presence in the town centre, particularly at certain times of day, but another part is a zero-tolerance approach to crime and antisocial behaviour. If it is the case that groups of young men are hanging around, drinking alcohol and behaving in a way that puts people off and makes them feel uncomfortable, I would have no problem with a much more hands-on approach to moving those people on, and being less apologetic about doing so. We have no-drinking zones, but I do not think they are always enforced. When I look at the Labour approach locally to tackling these problems, I have spoken quite frankly about some of these issues.
I have also said that, if it is the case that certain crimes in the town are disproportionately committed by members of certain communities, we should be open and honest about that and not ignore it. We are a diverse town, and we should not seek to brand anyone as being more predisposed to committing certain crimes because they come from a certain community, but if there is an issue with one group acting in a way that is having a detrimental effect on the wider community, we should be open and honest about it.
Labour’s contribution to my comment, which reflects what thousands of my constituents have said, was to report me for—get this—a non-crime hate incident. I was reported on the database for having committed a non-crime hate incident because I made the comment that, if it is the case that certain crimes are disproportionately committed by certain communities, we should be open and honest about that. I do not think it is that controversial a view. It is also a view that is shared by millions of people in this country. We need to be careful and sensitive with the comments we make, but frankly if the stats and facts are there in front of us, we are not helping anyone by ignoring that data. This is an incredibly important point.
I do not think I would get the support of the local Labour party for having that zero-tolerance approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. I simply do not think I would get it. This is of course the Labour party that voted against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which I thought was the wrong thing to do. Whenever we talk about giving the police more powers—often the powers they have asked for, for example in the Public Order Bill—the Labour party votes against them. We also had the situation in which Labour actively tried to make a man Prime Minister who wanted to get rid of all prison sentences below six months. This is clearly not a party that is serious about being tough on crime. I think it would be hard to find somebody who is more likely to be calling for robust measures.
I guess my plea to the Government is that, although I welcome the increased investment and the fact that we are getting that increased police presence, at the end of the day, despite the increase in numbers, many of my constituents do not feel the police presence is high enough in their communities and their town centre. We have seen a significant increase following the tragic murder, but that needs to be made permanent. We have to support Suffolk constabulary in going after the gangs who are blighting the lives of thousands of my constituents. Yes, we believe in policing by consent, but I believe in a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour.
We have a situation where we have groups of young men hanging around the town centre, and thousands of my constituents are telling me that that is why they do not go in, because they do not feel safe. We have women going about their business, often in the evening, who will not go into the town because they would be made to feel uncomfortable. Recently, a constituent was stalked by a group of young men who followed her. Fortunately, she was supported by some other women and she got away safely, but these stories are common; they are not unique. We have to stop this. If I had £5 for every time a constituent said to me, “I don’t go into the town centre any more because I don’t feel safe because of the groups of young men hanging around”, I would be a billionaire. I can tell them they are wrong and that they have to go in, but that is what they think. Yes, I will push back when I think they are being over the top, but at the end of the day we have a problem. We have to get fairer funding for Suffolk police and a permanent high-profile policing presence in the town centre and in our communities, and we have to carry on to break the back of these gangs that are exploiting young, vulnerable people and committing acts that are having a chilling effect on the wider community, as happened in Westgate Street only a few weeks ago.
One of our main duties as politicians is to keep our country and our public safe from harm, yet in the latest statistics from West Yorkshire police, who cover Wakefield, robberies are up, thefts are up, vehicle crime is up and victim satisfaction with our police is down. Let us not forget that, nationally, arrests have halved—yes, halved—since 2010. From the number of emails and calls I receive about antisocial behaviour every week, I know that the people of Wakefield, Horbury and Ossett are deeply concerned about the level of crime in the area and also about their safety.
One of my first activities as Wakefield’s MP was to launch an antisocial behaviour survey for residents to tell me about their experiences of policing and crime in their community. The findings were stark. Residents were most concerned about dangerous driving, drugs and vandalism. Only 8% thought that their neighbourhood was safer now than in 2010, with 50% believing that it was less safe. More than a third said that they did not see the police at all. I could spend the next hour detailing the horrific cases that I have received, but the gist is that, despite the diligent work of police officers and forces across the country, people have lost faith in the police.
The most recent statistics show that more than 25,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour are reported every week, but time after time I hear residents say that they have not even bothered to report such incidents to the police because they think it is a waste of time. The figures confirm that feeling, because 94% of crimes result in no one being charged. That is appalling. That 25,000 figure cannot reflect the actual levels out there. If people do not report the crimes, they cannot be investigated. We know these are artificially low statistics that are leading to fewer police resources going into those areas, so the crime and suffering in those communities continue. We must stop this cycle of decline in our police.
People desperately want a plan to reduce antisocial behaviour and crime in their communities, but how can that be delivered by a Conservative Government who have cut 6,000 officers and 8,000 PCSOs? I started this speech by saying that one of our main duties in this House was to protect the public from harm. It is about time we invested properly in community safety and put neighbourhood policing at the heart of our communities. That is why Labour’s plan, championed by my right hon. Friend and neighbour, Yvette Cooper, is so important. It will put 13,000 additional officers and PCSOs into our communities so that people can be sure that, when they need the police, there will be someone there to keep them safe. We will strengthen policing standards so that people can have more confidence in their police.
In West Yorkshire, we have already seen what Labour in power can do. Our Labour Mayor, Tracy Brabin, has secured funding for 60 new police officers and PCSOs across the Wakefield district. That is the kind of difference we need: actual bobbies on the beat to protect our public. This proves that Labour is the party of law and order and the party that will protect our communities and punish offenders with tougher sentences, but until we have Labour in power nationally, my constituents in Wakefield, Horbury and Ossett are left crying out for action from this Conservative Government. That is why I am very pleased to support the motion today.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow Simon Lightwood, but I must say that neither I nor any of my constituents in Southend West would recognise the picture put forward by the Opposition today. Not only do those of us on this side of the House believe in cutting crime and building safe communities, but we have actively voted for it. That is why we introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which has the central objective of cutting crime and building safe communities. Opposition Members opposed that legislation. They opposed new laws to give the police the powers and tools they need to protect themselves and the public.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act includes the ability to increase sentences for those who attack our brave emergency workers. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning Stoke-on-Trent Labour Councillor Jo Woolner, who was recently arrested for assaulting an emergency worker? When Labour said that they were fighting hard all year round in Stoke-on-Trent, none of us realised that they meant it quite literally.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that example to our attention, as he illustrates my point and gives me the opportunity to change my glasses.
Labour Members also opposed the law that will keep serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer, so they are in no position to lecture us on tougher policing. Frankly, every Labour Member who voted against the 2022 Act should be ashamed of themselves.
Making streets safer was one of my key priorities when I was elected a year ago, which is why I particularly welcome the fact we now have 16,743 new police officers, as we head towards 20,000—395 of them are in Essex and 20 of them are on our streets keeping Southend safer.
It is not just the numbers. We are also investing in police funding, which is up £1.1 billion on last year, to £16.9 billion in 2022-23. Essex has benefited from £432,000 of investment through the brilliant safer streets fund, which is already making our streets safer. The money has had a real impact on the ground, with overall crime down 10% and neighbourhood crime down 22% since 2020.
In the city of Southend, we are lucky to have a brilliant local police force. I pay special tribute to Inspector Paul Hogben and his team, who work tirelessly to keep our streets safer not only through sheer hard work but by innovating at a rate of knots. The excellent Operation Union takes an events mindset to policing our summer seafront. It was trialled last year in partnership with the council, transport networks and tourism and hospitality traders to tackle emerging issues and to prevent and detect crime. I cannot think of a better example of community and neighbourhood policing. As a result of Operation Union, we have now seen 7,437 hours of police patrols, which has led to 294 stop and searches and 106 arrests, taking criminals off our streets and making our community safer. That is not the only thing Southend police have been doing. I could mention numerous community initiatives. Operation Grip has recorded a 73.5% drop in violent crime and a 32% fall in street crime.
Unfortunately, however, one partner in Southend is not so helpful: our local Labour-Lib Dem coalition council, which is failing to keep our streets safe. Not only is it turning off our street lights at night, making vulnerable women feel unsafe, but it has taken more than a year to replace six lightbulbs on one of our footbridges, plunging women and tourists into complete darkness on a very dangerous bridge. I say to our Labour-Liberal council, “No more prevaricating. No more passing the buck. Fix our lights.”
I also made it a mission to support our police on knife crime, and I was proud to help the police obtain two new state-of-the-art knife poles, which are easy to move around and can detect all manner of offensive weapons. They have been a huge success, allowing our local police to confiscate a vast number of nitrous oxide canisters and to remove knives from our streets.
Knives take lives, and we must do all we can to remove them. Labour’s record on knife crime is abysmal. Sadiq Khan has let it rise by more than 11% in London over the past year. He is not keeping Londoners safe.
As a coastal community, Southend has its fair share of knife crime. One crime that came to my notice over Christmas involved a 17-year-old who purchased a two-foot zombie knife and had it sent straight to his door. Had our brilliant community police officers not taken the initiative to look for the packaging, they would have been unable to confiscate the knife because there were no violent images on the blade or handle, as proscribed by the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. Knives are not toys, but a quick Google search brings up any number of sites selling zombie knives with names such as Fantasy Master for as little as £40, and they can be sent direct to people’s homes. We must do more to get these knives out of homes, out of the hands of young people and off our streets. I want to see the loophole in the Act closed and I want to see us make more effort to ensure these offensive weapons, which are already proscribed under the Offensive Weapons Act, are not allowed to be sold online, manufactured or imported—it is already illegal and we must enforce that measure.
Thanks to successive Conservative Governments, overall crime is down by 50% and neighbourhood crime is down by 48%. Southend has a brilliant police force. This motion is an insult to every one of my brilliant community police officers, and for that reason I will certainly be voting against it.
Neighbourhood policing is at the heart of the safety of our communities, and it is something to which I committed during my campaign in Chester just a couple of months ago. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their local community.
Having worked alongside Cheshire police officers over the past 12 years as a local councillor, I know how committed they are and how hard they work to protect our local communities. I thank them for everything they do to keep our communities safe and, in particular, I welcome Chief Inspector Darren Griffiths to his new role in charge of Chester’s policing. I have worked with him before and would work with him again. He is an excellent officer.
What deters crime and antisocial behaviour more than anything else is the visible presence of uniformed officers, but we need more of them in Chester and across the country. The current challenges of violent crime and the exploitation of young and vulnerable people through county lines are serious, and officers are working hard to tackle them. Given the scale of serious and organised crime, Cheshire police has made it everyone’s business to gather intelligence on the street and across our county. Everyone is playing their part, but it simply underlines the absolute necessity for more officers to do this essential work.
Sadly, it does not seem that the Government are on the same page. The numbers speak for themselves. Nationally, 6,000 neighbourhood police officers and 8,000 PCSOs have been cut. In the north-west, PCSO numbers have almost halved under the Conservative Government, falling from 806 to just 411.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful point. Does she agree that effective policing is dependent on numbers? That is just a fact. And does she therefore share my concern that we will be losing 75 neighbourhood police officers in Northern Ireland? That will have a detrimental impact on effective policing in Northern Ireland, and it is all down to the Budget.
Order. May I gently say that Mr Speaker deprecates the concept of Members walking in and intervening in a debate. If Members want to intervene, they need to be here during the debate.
I agree with Carla Lockhart. At the current rate of recruitment, it is highly questionable whether the Government will achieve their target of replacing the 20,000 police officers by the end of March.
I will elaborate on the national numbers in my winding-up speech, but it is important to get the numbers for Cheshire on the record. The previous peak number of officers in Cheshire was 2,262 in 2007. The number of police officers in Cheshire on
Nationally, the overall charge rate stands at just 5.5%, which is unacceptable. The charge rate is even lower for some crime types, including only 4.1% for theft and 3.2% for sexual offences. Labour’s former Cheshire police and crime commissioner was committed to delivering a dedicated PCSO for every community in the county. Now, under a Conservative police and crime commissioner, there are plans to increase the policing precept by 6.4% while services are slashed and public service desks are closing, including the much valued desk at Chester town hall. In essence, constituents will be getting less for their money. That is the result of 13 years of a Conservative Government, and their cuts, neglect and failure. Our communities, our constituents and the victims of crime live with the consequences of this Government’s failures, as do our police officers, who are struggling to do more with less. Labour has a plan to make our communities safe again. Labour is committed to tackling crime through community policing. We are determined to deliver more bobbies on Chester’s streets. The Conservatives have had their opportunity and they have failed. It is time for them to move aside for a Labour Government who will be tough on crime.
Order. In order to try to accommodate all colleagues who wish to participate, I am now placing a formal five-minute limit on all speeches.
I read today’s motion and listened with care to the opening remarks from Yvette Cooper. It seemed likely to me that her speech had been written by someone in London, who has never left London and never cares that their world view is so narrow that they never get out of London. Let me invite Opposition Members to hear what Lancashire’s police are achieving, as perhaps some lessons could be learnt.
Recently, in the past couple of years, we have elected a Conservative PCC. That has been coupled with the appointment of a wonderful new chief constable, Chris Rowley, and a transformation is under way in community and neighbourhood policing. The picture painted today by Opposition Members is unrecognisable on the ground in Lancashire. The new leadership has already delivered improvements and has ambitious plans for the future. What have Andrew Snowden, our PCC, and the chief constable achieved so far? Let us start at the grassroots, where they have championed and boosted our wonderful PCSOs; in Leyland, we have Tony Wojnarowski, who will be very embarrassed that I mention his age, depth of knowledge and engagement in the community, and James Slater. I was honoured to go out with him to see his work in the community. He does not want to be a police officer; both he and the leadership recognise that we are talking about distinct and important roles within neighbourhood policing.
Under Labour’s previous PCC, police stations were closed in Lancashire. Local policing structures for neighbourhood policing were left to wither, unencumbered by leadership, supervision or support. The new leadership team have created dedicated neighbourhood and response team structures, which Labour removed previously. The new team have also reopened police stations, not least Leyland’s, which the Labour PCC shut. Now, cars and cops are much closer to our communities in Leyland; they are not coming 40 minutes from Preston or Chorley, and are able to respond much more quickly to crime and antisocial behaviour. That is thanks to that leadership team and this Conservative Government investing in policing in the communities and areas that people want, not investing in Labour’s woke projects.
We have heard lots about antisocial behaviour. Last Friday was spent productively at Samlesbury Hall, where the last of three antisocial behaviour conferences took place. It was led by the PCC and the chief constable, pulling together all the different people who have a role in this, including local council leaders and community support officers, to make sure that the police are leading and encouraging those who have the answers to some of the problems to work together on our streets. We heard from local inspectors, including Inspector Moys and Chief Inspector Chris Abbott, on the specific operations they are running in individual town centres to work on this. They are bringing perpetrators to justice if necessary, but doing so with a recognition that sometimes these are vulnerable youths. They are also making sure that there is support in the room for those individuals—diversionary activities, advice and help. They even talk to the parents, among other things. That is a community policing-led neighbourhood response and Lancashire is wonderful about it.
Will my hon. Friend also recognise the safer Lancashire neighbourhoods fund that our PCC has introduced to Lancashire, which takes money off criminals and puts it directly back into the communities? Does she agree that our PCC has done more for Lancashire in the past three years than the previous Labour PCC did?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I was going to refer to that later, but let me say now that that is innovation brought by heart and commitment from a Conservative PCC, not a Labour political placeholder. Across South Ribble, in Leyland, Penwortham and Chorley and West Lancashire, these actions are happening before the increase in police numbers—this is about leadership and policing structures. Not all of them are arrived and ready; they are still being trained and are in new roles, yet all this is happening.
Let me summarise what has happened to neighbourhood policing in Lancashire in the past three years: we have reopened Leyland police station, as part of a wider programme; we have dedicated neighbourhood response officers in South Ribble; we have superb PCSOs—not only are they part of the community, but they are supporting it; we have more officers on the beat, with at least 612 to come for Lancashire in total; we have a new antisocial behaviour problem solving unit, who are co-ordinating efforts of all other partners, including local councils—I encourage them to engage—and, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend, we have an innovative safer Lancashire neighbourhood fund, where local communities can bid in to confiscated proceeds of crime to help detect and prevent antisocial behaviour. As the former Policing Minister said earlier, it is the leadership that makes a difference. Perhaps those on the Opposition Benches, having heard about these actions, successes and ambitions of the new leadership team in Lancashire, might get out—
I am nearly done. Perhaps the Labour Front Benchers might get out of London and come to receive a warm Lancashire welcome from the Conservatives. It will be warm regardless of the viewpoint of these Members, but it will probably be better if they focus on delivery and stop playing politics.
I want to put on record my thanks to my local police in Lancaster and Fleetwood, who go above and beyond, often clocking up overtime, which they are not always paid for—I hope I will have time to come on to that later—building trust with vulnerable members of the community and doing the job because they want to make a difference to the community in which we live. Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge the community anxiety about last week’s firearms incident on the Ridge estate in Lancaster and urge people to come forward with intelligence if they have anything on that.
If I had been speaking in this debate 18 months ago, I would have confidently told the House that organised crime and drug dealing was the No. 1 issue in Fleetwood and that increasingly it was causing huge anxiety for residents in the town. However, in the past six months neighbourhood policing teams have executed 20 drugs warrants in the Fleetwood area, with more to come. That is thanks to new leadership under our new Inspector Martin Wyatt and his sheer determination to sort things out. He has had to fight and push for detective resources and proactive policing teams to come into the town, but this means officers can now act on community intelligence and concerns. I wish to acknowledge that Inspector Wyatt is backed up by the support of Chief Superintendent Karen Edwards, who, as the divisional commander of west division, sees the value in this work. I put on record my thanks to Karen as well.
Although things have been turned around, it is fair to say that there is still a lot to do, because the cuts to policing in Fleetwood are still being felt. We used to have custody cells in Fleetwood, but they were cut. Officers making arrests now have to drive from Fleetwood to use the custody cells in Blackpool. That takes officers off the frontline and increases the vulnerability of the detained person, who has to be transported further away. Similarly, we have had cuts to policing resources in Fleetwood that saw us lose a fully resourced CID unit and the police staff who were providing that behind-the-scenes support, which frees up officers’ time to do the jobs that only they can do.
Fleetwood is a town at the end of a peninsula, which means that, when our resources are removed and things are centralised, we lose out. Suddenly, it is our police who are travelling to do their job. When it comes to making good use of police officers’ time, the crisis in our NHS means that officers are tied up waiting for ambulances and sitting in mental health units with patients, instead of ensuring that they can do the jobs that only they can do.
I wish to address the issue of how we remunerate our police officers. I put on record my thanks to the Lancashire Police Federation for the statistics that it provided to me. Eighty seven per cent. of Lancashire police officers feel worse off financially than they were five years ago. Eight in 10 officers are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their overall remuneration. Anecdotally, in private conversations, police officers have told me that if they had the power to strike, they would do so, because it appears that the Government are not listening to them. Ninety four per cent of Lancashire officers are now saying that they do not feel respected by the Government.
I said that I would address the issue of unpaid overtime. We do not pay the first four hours of overtime each week for inspectors and above, and that is creating a progression problem. Pay arrangements in policing are out of date, and an overtime buy-out for senior ranks agreed in 1993 is no longer fit for purpose due to the increased complexity and reduced frontline and support resources. If only constables and sergeants can earn overtime, why would a good police sergeant seek promotion for more stress and less pay? Good policing needs good leadership and it is important to attract the right candidates and retain them with fair renumeration.
I wish to put on record my thanks to three PCSOs from Fleetwood—
Will my hon. Friend expand on the value of PCSOs in the local community?
PCSOs are an invaluable resource in our community. I wish to talk about three PCSOs from Fleetwood: Ben Arnold, Neil Thomas and Nick Barber. The trust and engagement that PCSO Ben Arnold has gained with young people have been exemplary. In the past 12 months, youth antisocial behaviour in Fleetwood has reduced considerably, and much of that is down to Ben’s dedication to engaging with the local teenage community. Ben knows them all by name, and they know him.
PCSO Neil Thomas has done excellent work on a long-term ASB issue at a local park. He managed to regain the trust of some of the main complainants, so much so that one of them even became a PCSO herself, after being inspired by her involvement with Neil and the team.
Nick Barber is a veteran and a brilliant PCSO. He builds excellent community relations and takes ownership of problems. He has been instrumental in building community relations over the past 18 months, and tenacious in following up community intelligence and turning it into positive results.
The story from Fleetwood, from the leadership, the detectives, the police officers and the PCSOs, is a testament to the power of neighbourhood policing and the real difference that it can make.
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way in her speech on the value of neighbourhood policing. In Lancashire, the number of neighbourhood police has fallen by 44% since 2015. Does she agree that the PCSOs and officers of whom she speaks do so much good work that we need to put those neighbourhood officers back on the streets of Lancashire?
I hope that, what comes across in my remarks, is the value of PCSOs and the difference that they make to the community that I represent. Indeed, I know that the senior police leadership team in my county are always glowing in their praise of the PCSOs, and I hope that that is what has come across in my contribution today. However, that does not take away from the fact that I remain deeply worried that, in Lancashire, we are seeing police officers retiring and leaving at a faster rate than we are recruiting, I agree with those who have told me that their pay is too low for the dangerous job that they do, but I am optimistic that with more resources, including custody cells and CID capacity, in communities such as Fleetwood we can really turn around the trend that we have been seeing with organised crime and drug dealing. If the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire could commit to visiting Fleetwood, I would love him to meet some of the amazing individuals who serve their community with passion and a determination to make Lancashire a safer place in which to live.
Unsurprisingly, I rise to speak against the motion this afternoon. Before I explain why, I wish to pay tribute to my local policing team led by William Rollinson. I was out with them last week, seeing the selfless work that they do on our behalf, even during this difficult time for policing in general.
I am against the motion because it does not address the full range of actions on which this Government are focusing in relation to policing and crime, and because it does not acknowledge the Opposition’s failure to back any measure that has been taken by this Government in making the population of this country safer.
Earlier, the shadow Home Secretary said that she did not know what the Home Secretary was doing. Well, I know what the Home Secretary is doing—she is leading by putting more police on the streets in my community and communities around the country. I also know what the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Front Bench are doing—they are consistently opposing everything. They opposed the Public Order Bill, which gave our police more powers. They oppose the National Security Bill, which gives the security services and law enforcement more powers. They have always talked down the increase in police numbers that this Government have brought forward, and that undermines the role of policing and neighbourhood policing in this country, because they are consistently saying that there are fewer police on the streets than there were when we came into government. As the Minister outlined, there will be more police on the streets once the 20,000 uplift has happened.
Labour Members needs to take their responsibilities as an Opposition very seriously. They have consistently opposed any actions that this Government have taken. When I was a parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office, following some very good colleagues who are currently Parliamentary Private Secretaries on the second Bench, the shadow Home Secretary consistently opposed without putting decent policies forward herself. She just opposed all the time, to try to make this Government look weak, when this Government have addressed policing in the strongest terms that we have seen for decades.
That plays out in the fact that 16,500 police officers have been recruited ahead of time for our 20,000 target, requiring an extra £540 million. I am pleased that in Hampshire that equates to 500 more officers, who will be keeping my constituents safe, and sometimes me as well. That is because of the leadership of the former Home Secretary, the former Prime Minister, the current Home Secretary and the Policing Minister in delivering that.
Those increases in police numbers have meant that crime has been reduced. Since 2010, overall crime has reduced by 50% and the number of young people assaulted with sharp weapons has dropped by 23%. I have found it extremely irritating during this debate to hear shadow Ministers consistently criticising the policies of this Government, but not taking into account their own elected politicians who run policing in this country, such as Sadiq Khan in London, where crime has gone up by 11%. In Manchester, a force has gone into special measures. Not once did the Labour party call out its own politicians for their failures in office; Labour just wants to be opportunistic in this debate.
As I mentioned, I was out with my force last week and saw police engaging with businesses and people on new housing estates, talking about issues such as antisocial behaviour, vandalism and traffic issues. That is neighbourhood policing being delivered every day because of the extra officers put forward by this Government.
I ask the Minister for reassurance on two things. First, the recruitment is happening, but I would like to make sure that retention follows. When police officers do a degree as part of the recruitment process, will the Minister keep an eye on that to ensure that they do not leave the force after they graduate? Secondly, may I lobby the Minister on a fair funding formula for Hampshire, which is often under-resourced for its demographics, with two big cities in Portsmouth and Southampton and an ex-railway town in Eastleigh? I hope that we will be able to get a speedy solution to that.
This is not a long speech, but I was horrified by the tone that the Opposition took. This Government are delivering on policing and delivering on crime. Crime is down and numbers are up. It is about time that the Labour party and the Opposition used their time to have a constructive debate about policy. So far in this debate, we have heard nothing from them but carping, without holding their own side to account where they are in charge of police.
I echo the calls made in this Chamber for a Hillsborough law. I also thank all the police officers, PCSOs and support staff in Cheshire Constabulary; they are dedicated public servants and I am proud, with other politicians, to work alongside them to ensure that our communities are as safe as possible. In some cases, officers give life and limb, making the ultimate sacrifice. I recognise that ultimate sacrifice and pay tribute to them, as I know hon. Members across the House do to their police services.
People’s safety is one of the greatest priorities of any Government of any political persuasion. Our constituents should be able to enjoy life to the full in safe communities, and community policing should be at the heart of neighbourhood policing. However, the Conservatives’ record in government has simply been dire. The Tory story on crime is a record of crime going up, charge rates going down, prosecution numbers tumbling and local police stations being shut. The number of officers on our streets—frontline police—has been slashed by 20,000, as has the number of support staff. Let us not forget this hokey-cokey of getting rid of experienced officers and then playing catch-up.
Our constituents are not fools; they see the reality on our streets. The Conservative party is soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. Indeed, two Prime Ministers have committed crimes very recently. There are more than 3,000 reports of antisocial behaviour every day, and rape and sexual offences are at record highs, but action against dangerous criminals is found seriously wanting. Knife crime is considerable—up by more than 70% since 2015. That is just the tip of the iceberg. It is what you get after 13 years of Tory Government with a policy of austerity to cut vital resources in our neighbourhoods.
Ask any constituent up and down the land if police—bobbies on the beat—are visible, and the answer from many would be a resounding no. Indeed, as the shadow Home Secretary my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper pointed out, the number of people who say they never see a police officer has more than doubled since the Conservative party have been in government.
Figures from 2022 show that in the north-west, PCSO numbers have fallen by 47%—almost half—compared with 2010. In my own patch, despite heavy protests from me, other Cheshire Labour MPs, councils and residents, we have sadly seen the closure of public service desks in Runcorn, Northwich and beyond—a plan chiselled by the Tory police and crime commissioner. The number of PCSOs—the eyes and ears in our communities—has been slashed by 40. Now, my constituents face the serious threat of the closure of Runcorn and Northwich police stations, and of many more across Cheshire.
As I understand it, the Conservative police and crime commissioner now wants to raise the precept by 6.4% during this cost of living crisis. He blames central Government for an uplift of 1.8%, which is in reality a real-terms cut given that inflation is at 10%. It is a hefty price for my residents to pay. It is a hefty price because of the failure of this Tory Government, who are dumping those increases on my local residents.
In conclusion, I thank Cheshire police, as I did at the beginning of my remarks. They could do an even more wonderful job if they had the resources, 13,000 additional police officers and PCSOs, and the right technology. What a wonderful position that would be. It is why we need a Labour Government.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I have listened with interest to contributions from both sides of the House. Although we may have different political views, we all care about our communities, so I want to take the tone down a bit to focus on them and on ensuring that we in this place do the right thing.
I thank Hertfordshire police, as well as the policemen and women who work on the parliamentary estate to keep us safe. I know from conversations with my local police force and with police around the estate that each and every one of them is passionate about ensuring that the few rotten eggs in the service are quickly removed, and rightly so.
My beautiful South West Hertfordshire constituency has unfortunately seen an uptick in attempted burglaries, so there is a fear and perception of increased crime, which, although not necessarily reflected in crime figures, has a material impact on my community. I will continue to work constructively with the excellent chief constable of Hertfordshire police, Charlie Hall, as well as with the excellent police and crime commissioner, David Lloyd, and his deputy, Lewis Cocking. They fully understand what is required to combat crime and how to ensure that my residents feel safe and secure.
I had the opportunity last week to speak to the Hertfordshire Police Federation about the issues its members are seeing on the frontline. While we will continue to talk about funding, the thing that my hon. Friend Paul Holmes spoke about that really struck me was recruitment and retention. Retention is a real issue that will be with us in the future, if not necessarily today, and I look forward to the Minister addressing those questions posed by my hon. Friend.
Rather opportunely, Sharon Long, the clerk of Chorleywood parish council, has sent me an email this afternoon, while I have been in this debate, that she had received from PC Waller of the local policing team in Chorleywood. Police advice on prevention is one of the things I wanted to talk about today. We can continue to be at the forefront of fighting crime with intelligence-led operations, which is the right way to do it, but that requires our community to do some basic things such as making sure their doors are locked and their alarms are on, particularly if they are going away. There are also such things as timer switches for lamps.
I will give a word of warning, if I may, about social media. I know all of us in this place use it, but if someone is likely to be away from their home or residence for a while—for instance, for a holiday—my strong steer is to post those trips and great memories after they have come back, otherwise all they are doing is advertising to potential burglars that they are not around, and therefore the burglars can take their time in scoping out the place and breaking in.
As the House will know, my beautiful constituency of South West Hertfordshire benefits from the M25. The downside of being so close to great transport links is that our communities are vulnerable to outside crime. As a former victim of crime, I know how devastating it can be when one’s home is burgled or burglary is attempted. I urge the Minister to continue to ensure that our communities are educated on the right things to do. That is not just the job of the police, however. As well as such programmes as neighbourhood watch, we have our great partners in local government, who inevitably have more contact with our communities than the police before things go wrong.
The police in Hertfordshire have reassured me that they will attend each and every burglary. A scene of crime officer will attend, a detective constable will be allocated to the crime team to investigate and a detective sergeant will review each and every burglary to make sure nothing is missed. The police have minimum standards of investigation to be completed. They will check CCTV, do house-to-house investigations and conversations and deliver burglary prevention packs. Intelligence-led operations are key to all this. I know that my constituents in Loudwater in Chorleywood are watching with eagerness. They want to feel safer, and I am sure my colleagues in Hertfordshire police will ensure that happens.
It is an honour to speak in this important debate this afternoon. After 13 years of Tory rule, crime is up, prosecutions have plummeted, criminals are being let off the hook and victims are being let down. Our communities up and down the country are fractured, torn apart by fear. That is the legacy of this Conservative Government.
The first duty of any Government is to protect people and deliver justice for victims, yet just two weeks ago, in the Government’s response to the Justice Committee’s report on the victims Bill, which we are still waiting for, they rejected victims of antisocial behaviour being recognised as victims, denying them access to support services and underplaying the toll that antisocial behaviour takes on an individual, which leaves them feeling unsafe in their own home or unable to venture out into their local community. The cumulative impact of antisocial behaviour causes immense distress and suffering, affecting mental and physical wellbeing, work relationships and ultimately quality of life.
I know that communities in Cardiff North have experienced antisocial behaviour day in, day out, whether that is Friends of Forest Farm in my patch falling victim to repeat arson attacks or my constituent suffering a miscarriage due to the stress of antisocial behaviour by her neighbours.
Antisocial behaviour is often symptomatic of more serious criminal behaviour. Drug gangs taking over specific areas or cuckooing a property to sell drugs generate a great deal of antisocial behaviour locally, which is symptomatic of serious violence and drug offences. Thirteen years of crippling cuts to vital crime prevention services and a hollowed-out youth custody service mean that young people are getting sucked back into crime, making our communities far less safe. We need an urgent solution. Labour’s community and victim payback board would restore faith and help tackle the crime that is blighting our communities. The blatant disregard for victims of antisocial behaviour shows nothing but contempt for such vulnerable members of society.
This Government have also created a huge backlog of 60,000 cases in the Crown court and 350,000 cases in the magistrates court, leaving dangerous criminals going unprosecuted. The backlog is a direct result of Conservative incompetence and poor political choices. They chose to underfund the system for more than 13 years, closing 260 courts. Rape has effectively been decriminalised, with nearly 99% of rape claims not resulting in a charge or a summons. The charge rate is 1.6%. Hundreds of women are being let down, traumatised by the most horrific crimes and with never a hope of seeing justice. In the tiny minority of cases that are prosecuted, victims face a 1,000-day delay from the initial report of an offence to completion. Rapists and serious criminals walk free in our communities because victims are dropping out and court cases are delayed. Justice delayed is justice denied.
In my role as shadow Minister for victims, I speak to survivors day in, day out. So many tell me that their experience of the criminal justice system was worse than the crime itself. One survivor told me that she felt it was safer to stay in her abusive relationship than to face the justice system. What does that tell us about this Government’s record for keeping people safe? Being elected to this place comes with the responsibility of keeping the public safe. This Government have catastrophically failed at every stage to do that, and members of the public are paying the highest price. Labour is the party of law and order. The next Labour Government will rebuild neighbourhood policing and deliver more bobbies on the beat, just as we are doing in Wales.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Anna McMorrin. Wherever people live, they should be able to feel safe, secure and protected from harm. When they call the emergency services, they should be confident that they will respond. But after more than a decade of Conservative Government, more constituents than ever are getting in touch to say that they do not feel safe in their own home or local area due to crime, antisocial behaviour and, sadly, the police being so stretched that they cannot attend all call-outs.
Between 2010 and 2019, the number of police officers in South Yorkshire fell every single year. Though there has been some recovery in the last three years, there are still fewer officers on the streets of South Yorkshire today than when Labour left power. That is simply not good enough. These are not just numbers; the fall in officer numbers has real consequences for people’s lives and puts pressure on police officers who are doing their best to serve their community.
I would like to focus my remarks on antisocial behaviour. Across Barnsley East in the last year I have heard reports of antisocial behaviour having a significant impact on people’s lives. It is welcome that some issues have been resolved but, unfortunately, far too often it is a recurring problem. Buses have been the target of antisocial behaviour in Grimethorpe, where one service had to be suspended for a time after it was deemed unsafe for drivers and passengers. In Brierley, residents have contacted me again this week about the ongoing issues with roaming dogs that have attacked children and killed farm animals. Meanwhile, in Darfield, constituents have written to me about a whole host of issues including windows being smashed, stones being thrown at traffic and verbal abuse being shouted at bus stops. A serious incident took place on the Cudworth-Monk Bretton border when a car crashed into a resident’s garden, and in Hoyland, another constituent had his house damaged by reckless driving.
Tackling antisocial behaviour often involves a number of different agencies and organisations, from residents’ groups to charities, local councillors, the local authority and, of course, the police. In the majority of these cases, the police have done their best to intervene, investigate and issue offenders with appropriate disciplinary measures. In Bank End in Worsbrough, for example, when a dangerous disused police building was being accessed by local children, I was pleased to see that the building was demolished after a number of representations.
However, with incidents happening so often throughout Barnsley East, many residents have told me they are worried that these behaviours, which are already causing them great distress, will spiral out of control. Labour supports a crackdown on antisocial behaviour and the delivery of important preventive work through neighbourhood policing. A Labour Government would introduce new police hubs and neighbourhood prevention teams, which would ensure a renewed visible police presence in local areas.
I know that police officers work incredibly hard, often under difficult circumstances, and I put on record my thanks to them. I meet the local police regularly to discuss their initiatives for preventing and responding to crime, but for those to be a success, they need sufficient resources, and they need a Government who take victims seriously, rather than one who are soft on crime and its causes.
Trust in the police has eroded, as we have heard from Members across the Chamber. We need policing by consent to be renewed and restored across many communities. Being an officer can be highly demanding and extremely stressful. Throughout my working life, I have worked with police officers and police staff, and many of them are dedicated and committed to doing an excellent job. However, my focus in this debate will be on children and neighbourhood policing. I add that I have many families and friends in the service, and friends who have retired.
Members will recall the shocking case of Child Q, and many will know that it is not an isolated case. Last year, data requested by the Children’s Commissioner for England found that a quarter of all strip searches conducted on children between 2018 and 2020 took place without an appropriate adult being present. That means they had no carer, parent or trusted adult present—how unsafe and how unaccountable that is. It is traumatic enough for an adult to be strip-searched, but for a child it is even worse. It is probably terrifying; they may feel humiliated and very scared, and it can happen from as young as 10 years old.
The issue of how children are treated by the police goes much wider than that. Research conducted by Dr Miranda Bevan at Goldsmiths, University of London found that children held in police custody often do not have a full understanding of their rights. They describe being kept in unsuitable conditions and spending hours detained in cells. In fact, Home Office data published in November 2022 found that 41% of child suspects were held in police custody overnight, sometimes for a full weekend. Police remand children five times more than the courts, which indicates that something is crucially wrong in policing and detaining children. That figure is far too high, so I ask the Government to commit to addressing it.
Unfortunately, these problems are just the tip of the iceberg of concerns about how children are treated in police custody. Following the Casey report, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner admitted that hundreds of corrupt, racist and misogynistic police officers were still serving. The police are there to serve. The Government must invest in raising policing standards, with zero tolerance of abusive police officers; a focus on recruiting, retaining and training officers; and investment in community policing. That will increase trust and confidence in the police among all communities from all backgrounds, and especially diverse backgrounds.
Children’s rights must be respected, women deserve to feel safe walking on our streets, and victims of crime need justice. Last month, I wrote to the Minister regarding an inquiry of the all-party parliamentary group on children in police custody, and I was grateful to receive a response. I reiterate that it cannot be right that 41% of children were kept in a police cell overnight according to the Home Office. What are the Government doing to ensure that this is not happening across our country? The Government need to keep children safe at all times.
I draw the House’s attention to the fact that I am the proud father of a police officer who joined the West Midlands police two years ago on a degree apprenticeship programme. He is finding the work that goes on in the police force extraordinary.
For the past 13 years, Tory Governments have failed to tackle crime. After they reduced funding significantly, our police services are now fatally under-resourced, so more victims are left without recourse and perpetrators grow more brazen in their defiance of the law. Local communities feel abandoned, as the police presence has plummeted. Faith in the justice system is at an all-time low, which means that we are experiencing an underreporting of crimes and a growing mistrust between the public and our institutions of justice. That is a direct consequence of Tory mismanagement, which has left our police and our courts in dire need of more resources.
The overall charge rate for crimes is now 5.5%, with rates in some areas much lower. The number of rape cases has hit an all-time high. In my constituency, more than 43.4% of cases in the past year have been violent and sexual offences. Women fear to leave their own homes or to walk the streets alone, and it is easy to understand why. Many constituents have come to me in fear because of antisocial behaviour on their doorstep. Those I have spoken to at West Midlands police express their dismay at being unable to keep up with growing demand in their area, although Inspector Fitzpatrick leads a fantastic team in my constituency.
The result is that communities feel unsafe and unprotected, while our police services continue to struggle. Yet it is all too clear what is needed: neighbourhood policing, which, when fully resourced, helps to reduce the incidence of crime in local communities. With officers embedded in communities, and known to them, the public gain greater trust in policing services, so they feel empowered to report crime and to help the police to achieve their goals.
I know first hand the fantastic work of neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency. I also know the difference that it would make if they were given proper funding so that they could do their job without hindrance. Under the last 13 years of Tory Governments, however, 8,000 PCSOs have been cut and voluntary resignations from the police have increased by a staggering 70%. I ask the Minister: where is the evidence that the Government’s commitment to neighbourhood policing will continue and it will get to the levels in 2010? Why are they cutting PCSOs, given the huge increase in antisocial behaviour? What will they do to improve the police presence in local communities, so that our people and communities feel safe?
I start by extending my deepest condolences to the First Minister of Wales, the right hon. Mark Drakeford MS. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House send his family our love and prayers following the sad news of his wife Clare’s sudden passing at the weekend.
This is an important debate because keeping our communities safe and secure is one of our most important responsibilities as parliamentarians. This issue is a priority for many local people in Newport West, from Pill and Allt-yr-yn to Caerleon and Rogerstone. After 13 years of Tory Governments, the Conservative legacy is simple: criminals are being let off and victims are being let down. The Conservatives have turned their backs on communities, run down our vital public services and undermined respect for the rule of law. Too often, when things go wrong, no one comes, nothing is done and there are few consequences for law breakers.
We all know one simple thing: Labour is the party of law and order. The last Labour Government cut crime by a third and rolled out neighbourhood policing across the country. The number of recorded rapes and sexual offences has now hit a record high, but the charge rate for rape is still shockingly low, at a disgraceful 1.6%. Knife crime is up more than 70% on seven years ago, with knife-enabled rapes at record highs. We need action from this Home Secretary, not this obsession with closing our country to the world.
I cannot rise in a debate on crime and policing without touching on the recent stories of misogyny, racism and corruption within Gwent police force, my local police force, following an investigation by one of the national Sunday newspapers. Like many others in Newport West, I was horrified by what I read in the press, and I extend my sympathy and solidarity to all those targeted and affected by this disgraceful behaviour. I have had a number of the women affected contact me, and the details of the incidents they experienced are truly shocking.
It is clear that the culture in Gwent police needs to change, just as it does in the Met in London, and I want to pay tribute to our chief constable, Pam Kelly, for her commitment to ensuring that Gwent police force serves its people and, importantly, represents them, too. She needs to call out and confront this culture wherever it is to be found, but I also want to acknowledge all those officers who work hard, who respect the people and who do the right thing. I will do what I can as the Member of Parliament for Newport West to help to ensure that policing by consent remains the order of the day.
On that point, yesterday I raised a number of written questions about the Independent Office for Police Conduct. It is vital that it speeds up its work and helps to process issues, concerns and problems. I would be grateful if the Minister touched on the effectiveness of the IOPC and what is being done. I do not want the investigation into misogyny in the Gwent police force to be delayed by the IOPC dragging its heels as it leads the investigation.
Keeping our communities safe does not appear to be a priority for Tory Ministers, and that is why I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition led the Crown Prosecution Service as the Director of Public Prosecutions. In that role, he locked up serious criminals and terrorists, and stood up for victims and their families. This stands in stark contrast to recent Conservative Prime Ministers—obviously, bar Mrs May—who have broken the law in office and undermined respect in local communities up and down the land.
Every woman, man and child has a right to feel safe and secure in their homes and in their community. They should never have to fear going out to learn, to live or to work, but far too many do. The Conservatives are weak on crime, with millions of victims paying the price, and it is a price they cannot afford to pay.
The last Back-Bench contributor is Margaret Greenwood. Can I therefore remind those who may be in their offices that the wind-ups will begin in five minutes, and they should make their way to the Chamber if they have participated in this debate?
I begin by joining my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and other Labour Members in calling for a Hillsborough law now.
Under the Conservatives, we have seen the destruction of neighbourhood policing, with a drop of 6,000 neighbourhood police officers and 8,500 police community support officers. The Conservatives’ destruction of neighbourhood policing has consequences, as my constituents know only too well. In Wirral West, we have seen horrific violent crime in recent months, devastating families and leaving communities damaged and anxious for themselves, their families and the future.
Young people from the Woodchurch estate recently took part in a theatre for democracy event organised by the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. A statement from the group that worked with the young people in Woodchurch has shared some of its findings with me. It said:
“Crime, gangs, and gun violence were all brought up often when talking about what the young people at the Carrbridge Centre in Woodchurch were worried about in their area. These young people’s ages ranged from 10 to 14, and they felt scared about the issues going on in their neighbourhood, and felt they couldn’t do anything about it”.
These young people have a right to feel safe and the Government are failing them. There have been 11 firearms discharge incidents and two fatalities in Wirral since April 2021, the second highest figure in Merseyside, behind only Liverpool. Violent attacks are harrowing for victims, families and local communities.
Following a spate of incidents in Liverpool last year, the then Home Secretary announced support for the local community, including £150,000 additional funding for trauma-informed support in local schools and mental health provision, and a further £350,000 to expand the “Clear, hold, build” pilot, intended, as she put it,
“to disrupt Merseyside’s corrosive and deadly organised crime groups”, to other areas in Merseyside affected by organised crime, predominantly focusing on Knowsley and Liverpool. Following the tragic murder of a young woman in Wallasey, the four Wirral MPs and the Merseyside police and crime commissioner, led by my hon. Friend Dame Angela Eagle, wrote to the Home Secretary to ask for similar support to be provided for Wirral, and asked for a meeting to discuss the issue. We have not yet had a response from the Home Secretary on this most urgent matter—[Interruption.] I see she has just arrived in her place, so I will repeat the point. The four Wirral MPs have written to her asking for a meeting to discuss the crime situation in Wirral and for more support for our communities. We have not yet had a response from the Home Secretary and we desperately need one. I hope she will advise the Minister who sums up the debate when she will respond to our letter and meet us to address the issue of crime in Wirral.
It is the first duty of Government to keep citizens safe and the country secure, and the Government are failing to fulfil that duty. Conservative cuts have led to the loss of 983 police and community support officers in the north-west since 2010—a loss of 47% of the workforce—leaving those left to carry out those duties overstretched and under-supported. In England and Wales, the cuts have led to the loss of 8,655 PCSOs—a cut of 51%. No wonder neighbourhood policing is suffering.
Figures from the House of Commons Library show the impact of Conservative austerity on police officer numbers. They show that in 2010 in England and Wales there were more than 143,000 police officers, but by 2018 that figure had fallen to around 122,000. Last year, the numbers rose to around 140,000 officers, but that is still lower than in 2010 and does not make up for the damage that Conservative cuts have done. It has been a similar story in Merseyside, where in 2010 there were more than 4,500 police officers. Numbers dwindled every year thereafter until 2019, by which time there were fewer than 3,400—over 1,100 fewer than in 2010. Numbers have started to increase again, but, as of last year, Merseyside was still short of 450 officers compared with 2010.
The loss of hundreds of police officers means the loss of a great deal of experience and intelligence, and leaves remaining officers under immense pressure in what is a difficult and important job. I pay tribute to officers and PCSOs in Wirral West for the work they do in difficult circumstances.
We need investment in policing so our communities can feel safe and officers are properly resourced. The next Labour Government will rebuild neighbourhood policing and deliver 13,000 extra neighbourhood officers and PCSOs, putting police back on the beat. We urgently need a Labour Government to ensure that people can live their lives free from fear and anxiety. Our communities deserve no less.
In West Denton last month, a big pile of rubbish was set alight by teenagers, who threw petrol bombs at firefighters when they arrived to tackle the blaze. Communities are scared of arson, and no wonder: cases of antisocial arson went up by 25% last year. In one horror home in Cleveland, a den for crack deals with Rambo knives, antisocial behaviour has made lives in the community a misery, with litter everywhere, assaults outside the property and local residents terrified, and no wonder: knife possession is up by 15% on pre-pandemic levels, with more than 6 million Brits witnessing drug dealing or drug use last year, and 3,000 reported incidents of antisocial behaviour every single day.
In Lancashire just a few days ago, young people were throwing rocks in a shopping centre and careering around the car park on quad bikes. Communities are scared of antisocial behaviour, and no wonder: more than 35% of people—more than 20 million people—have witnessed antisocial behaviour in the last year. People all over the country know exactly what this feels like. They know what broken Britain feels like. This is Tory Britain.
So what went wrong? Today’s debate has laid it bare. First, they came for our police officers, cutting 20,000 across the country. Then they came for our PCSOs, cutting half the entire workforce. Our wonderful specials did not escape—8,000 down—and police staff who do the vetting, the training and the forensics have been cut by 6,000 since 2010. Then they came for the courts, with cuts leaving victims waiting years for any hope of justice and turning away from their cases in record numbers. Now they are coming for our public services. The transport network is in ruins, hospitals are at breaking point, and our police are spending hours—days—dealing with mental health cases. In one force, mental health-related calls are up by more than 450% since 2010 because there is simply no one else to pick up the pieces.
The worst thing is that they are coming for our future, too. Support services for our kids have been decimated, with mental health, Sure Start and youth work cut, cut, cut, so our lost boys and lost girls are a lost generation. What about victims? They have simply been ignored. Charge rates have plummeted and victims are not reporting crimes; they are simply walking away.
I turn to the results. We have heard eloquently about the impact from hon. Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) talked about the pictures in their communities of the effect of crime. Tom Hunt talked about the fear that people have about going into town centres. My hon. Friend Simon Lightwood talked about the number of arrests having halved nationally since 2010 and how, in his survey, only 8% feel safer than they did in 2010.
My hon. Friend Samantha Dixon talked about the impact on neighbourhoods of the cut in PCSOs. My hon. Friend Cat Smith talked about the police staff cuts. We need to free up officer time for them to be in the neighbourhood, but now we have warranted officers doing police staff jobs. They cost more money, and that is not what they should be doing.
Paul Holmes might want to check some of his facts. He said that there are more police on our streets than ever before and that crime in London is up by 11%. Neither of those things is accurate. Perhaps he will want to correct the record. My hon. Friend Mike Amesbury summed it up by saying that people in our constituencies are not stupid; they know the truth.
In response to the shadow Home Secretary, I gave the source and figures that show that, in London, under this Mayor, crime was up by 11%. Perhaps she would like to correct the record.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. When he talked about crime, he was actually talking about knife crime. Knife crime was up across the whole country in the last year, because during covid the whole country had a drop in knife crime. In London, over the last four years, knife crime is down—unlike in the rest of the country, where it is up. [Interruption.] I will leave Conservative Members to check their own figures at a later date.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative Members are just concentrating on London and do not give a damn about the rest of the country?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful intervention. We cannot level up without tackling crime.
My hon. Friend Anna McMorrin made a powerful case about victims being left behind and the impact of the victims Bill. My hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock talked about the impact of antisocial behaviour, and my hon. Friend Janet Daby talked about the impact on children. My hon. Friend Ruth Jones talked about the impact of misogyny in Gwent policing, what needs to be done at a national level and the Home Secretary’s lack of action on that front.
The number of criminals facing justice has fallen. Arrests have halved. Charge rates have plummeted. We have a 7,000 shortfall in detectives, who have huge case loads. The public see what is happening. In the most damning indictment of the Government to date, More in Common yesterday published research based on tens of thousands of people across the country showing that 68% now believe that the police have given up trying to solve crimes such as shoplifting and burglaries.
I am finding it difficult to reconcile the hon. Lady’s exhortation about crime with the record of her and her party. Every time the Government bring in legislation to crack down on crime and restore order, her party votes against it. How does she reconcile that? Does she agree that it is quite simple: we should be catching and locking up many more people than we do, and locking them up for longer?
I gently remind the right hon. Member that the number of arrests has halved since his party came to power. Perhaps he should focus on that.
In the research of tens of thousands of people, only 25% of the public think the police do a good job of being visible in local areas, only 26% say the police do a good job of tackling antisocial behaviour, and only 24% say they do a good job of tackling crime. People even said that there is no point in investing in improving the community if it is just going to be vandalised by criminals. We agree: you cannot level up without tackling crime.
Where is the Government’s plan? Where is their righteous anger that it is poorer communities who are the greater victims of crime? Where is their apology for cutting 20,000 police officers, claiming for years it would have no impact whatever on crime and then rushing to replace them when they finally admitted that perhaps it did? Where is their apology to our police forces who are under greater pressure but are paid 20% less in real terms than they were in 2010? What is their plan? At the very least, surely they can support Labour’s motion today to put more police and PCSOs on our streets in our neighbourhoods? And how can they boast in their amendment that rape convictions have risen from one a day to one and a half a day?
A Labour Government will fix the mess this Government have created. Where Conservatives have dismantled neighbourhood policing, Labour will put 13,000 police and PCSOs back on our streets preventing and fighting crime. Where the Conservatives have weakened antisocial behaviour powers, Labour will bring in tougher punishments. Where the Tories have forgotten about our young people, Labour will prevent crime with youth workers in custody suites and A&E, and mentors in pupil referral units. Where the Government are making hard-working taxpayers foot the £5.1 billion excess bill for their own catastrophic mismanagement of the long-delayed new radio network, Labour will save millions from shared services and procurement. Where the Home Office pushes blame to local forces and never takes a lead, Labour will be an active Government legislating for national standards on policing, vetting and misconduct. Where the Government pay lip service to violence against women and girls, Labour will put RASSO units in every force and fast-track rape cases. Will the Minister respond to the question earlier from the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Jess Phillips? Will the Government commit to the police going to every case of domestic violence, as well as every case of burglary? Where the Government stoke division on wokery, Labour will get serious about catching criminals. Where the Government ignore victims, Labour will put them at the heart of everything we do.
People are tired of feeling their problems will be ignored, and that their values of community and respect are being ground down by a Government taking a backseat on law and order. The next Labour Government will bring back security and respect to our communities. We will bring back public faith in policing, prevent crime, punish criminals and protect communities. It can’t come soon enough.
It is a pleasure to be here winding up this afternoon’s debate. I would like to start—I am sure speaking for people on both sides of the House—by thanking, and paying tribute to, the vast majority of the 145,000 dedicated police officers up and down our country who, on a daily basis, put themselves in harm’s way to keep us, our families and our constituents safe. Our thanks go out to them.
The speeches from the Opposition, starting with the shadow Home Secretary, painted a picture of dystopian misery which flies in the face of the evidence and the statistics. Let us start by calmly reviewing the figures produced by the Office for National Statistics in the Crime Survey of England and Wales, the only set of crime statistics endorsed by the ONS. It lays out exactly what has happened in the last 12 years, since 2010. Let us go through some of the key figures, so no one is in any doubt.
Overall crime—excluding fraud and computer misuse, because they came into the dataset only in 2016—has gone down by 50% in the past 12 years. Criminal damage in the past 12 years has gone down by 65%. Domestic burglary in the past 12 years has gone down by 56%. Other household theft is down by 33%. Robbery is down by 57%. Theft from the person is down by 52%. Vehicle-related theft is down by 39%. The figures for most of those crimes—serious crimes that affect our constituents—were twice as high under the last Labour Government. I am looking forward to hearing the apology from the shadow Home Secretary, who was a Minister in that Government, for presiding over crime levels 12 years ago that in many cases were double what they are today. I am sorry to burst the Twitter bubble for Opposition Members, but those are the facts.
Speaking of facts, let us come on to the topic of this afternoon’s debate: police numbers. Opposition Members have concocted some concept of neighbourhood policing. I can tell the House that police forces have different ways of reporting officer numbers, including incident response and neighbourhood policing numbers, but if we look at frontline officer numbers, which are the relevant measure, they tell a very different story.
Let us look at total police officer numbers, because that is what our constituents care about. The police do important jobs on our streets—of course they do—but they also investigate rape, detect crime, protect us from terrorism and so on. The most recent figures came out just last week, so there is no excuse for not being up to date. There were 145,658 extra officers as of
This will not be confirmed for a few more weeks, but based on our recruitment trends it is likely that we passed the previous peak about two weeks ago and had a record number of officers. I expect that that will be confirmed in April, when the figures up to
Thank goodness for the Minister and all his great work in the Home Office, and thank heavens for our splendid Home Secretary. The Minister is right that the Labour party has a vested interest in despair, as we have heard today, but in addressing police numbers, will he look again at rural areas? The police funding formula militates against them. He would expect me to do no less than make a robust case for Lincolnshire. Will he meet me to discuss it?
Of course I will. My right hon. Friend, as always, speaks with great authority and wisdom. I can tell the House that we will shortly be consulting on a new police funding formula.
I welcome the debate that the Opposition have chosen today, which has highlighted the fact that we will very shortly have a record number of police officers. In fact, in 19 of our 43 forces, we already do. I was particularly surprised that two Cheshire Opposition Members chose to mention police officer numbers, because in Cheshire we already have record numbers of officers, as we do in 19 forces.
Can the Minister explain why there are 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police on our streets and 8,000 fewer PCSOs in neighbourhood teams? That is what communities can see, right across the country. That is why, compared with 13 years ago, twice as many people now say that they never see the police on patrol.
I do not recognise that calculation around neighbourhood numbers. What I do recognise is the police statistics published last week, which show that we are on the cusp of setting a record number of police officers in this country’s history. I expect that to be confirmed in April, so I look forward to the shadow Home Secretary congratulating the Home Secretary on her accomplishments. By the way, I was rather struck by the amount of time the shadow Home Secretary spent personally and unjustifiably attacking a Home Secretary who has been working so hard to deliver these numbers.
Time is short, but I will respond to one or two points that have been raised. My hon. Friend Anna Firth made some very good points about knives, such as zombie knives and machetes, which are extremely dangerous. We will shortly to be consulting on banning more of those dangerous weapons to keep our constituents safe.
I have very little time. I do apologise, but I must make some progress.
There is clearly more work to be done in relation to serious sexual offences. In the year to June 2022, there were 1,371 prosecutions for rape. The number rose by 15% year on year, but it is still low. More work needs to be done, which is why, by June this year, Operation Soteria will be rolled out across the country.
Let me now respond to the question about police attendance in cases of domestic violence, because it was an important question and it was asked two or three times. According to the authorised professional practice of the College of Policing, police officers should attend every incident of domestic violence unless there is a personal safety reason—to do with the victim—why they should not do so. In some cases it may be more appropriate to deal with the offence confidentially, outside the domestic setting, but that is what the authorised professional practice already says.
There is a great deal of work under way on efficiency. We are working on reforming the Home Office counting rules and the incident reporting rules to remove bureaucratic burdens from the police so that they can be busy chasing criminals rather than filling in excessive paperwork, and I congratulate Chief Constable Rowley on the fantastic work he is doing in that regard. We are also working with our colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care on ensuring that the NHS and ambulance services do more to alleviate mental health pressures on policing, and I thank Sir Stephen House for the work he is leading in that area.
Questions about police misconduct were asked by Ruth Jones and others. Next month the College of Policing will set out an expanded set of statutory guidance on vetting. We are checking police officers against the national police database, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services is checking up on the 43 recommendations that it made a couple of months ago, and the Home Office is reviewing the police dismissal procedure to ensure that officers who do commit misconduct can be dismissed more quickly. The hon. Member for Newport West asked about the speed of IOPC investigations. Speaking frankly, I must say that that does concern me, and it is an issue I will be raising with the IOPC.
Let me finally turn to the absurd and extraordinary claim that somehow Labour purports to be the party of law and order. If we look at Labour’s record in office around the country, we will see the truth. We can look at Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, closing police stations and presiding over an 11% increase in knife crime year on year. We can look at the west midlands, where the Labour police and crime commissioner, despite having received a 10% real-terms increase in funding in 2015, is proposing to close 20 police stations. The shadow Minister, Sarah Jones, talks about antisocial behaviour. We both come from Croydon. She has got a cheek: it was a Labour council in Croydon—a bankrupt Labour council—that scrapped the graffiti cleaning team. Goodness me! And, only a few months ago, we saw Labour Members vote against keeping rapists in prison for longer.
There is only one party of law and order, there is only one party delivering record police numbers and there is only one party that has cut crime by 50% in the last 12 years, and it is the Conservative party.
Just to inform the House, I will first put the question on the Opposition’s main motion. If that falls, the question on the amendment will be put.
Question put (
If you are forcing a Division, Mr Bone, you must follow your voice and you must vote that way.
The House divided: Ayes 308, Noes 1.
Question accordingly agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House welcomes the Government’s efforts to increase police numbers, with 16,743 so far recruited and on track to meet the Government’s 20,000 target by March; notes that there will be more officers than ever before in England and Wales; recognises that, excluding online crime, overall crime is down by 50 per cent since 2010; notes with concern that the Labour Mayor of London has overseen a 9 per cent increase in knife crime while the number of young people assaulted with sharp objects is down nationally by 23 per cent since 2019; notes that adult rape convictions are up by a third in the last recorded year; notes that the Safer Streets Fund rounds have funded 270 projects designed to cut neighbourhood crimes such as theft, burglary, anti-social behaviour, and violence against women and girls; and welcomes the Government’s determination to back the police in giving them the powers they need to crack down on dangerous criminals and protests that wreak havoc on ordinary people’s lives.