– in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 1st February 2011.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the fall in the numbers of police officers and police community support officers.
My Lords, it is for the chief constables and their police authorities to make decisions on the numbers of police officers and police community support officers within their available resources. We remain confident that police forces can make the necessary savings through reductions in middle and back office functions, while retaining and enhancing their ability to protect and serve the public, with a particular focus on maintaining the front line.
I thank the Minister for her reply. With approximately 2,000 fewer police officers and a similar reduction in PCSOs since May this year, and given the estimates from the Police Federation that this figure could rise to 20,000 in the next few years, is it not the case that the ordinary family is less safe under the Conservatives?
My Lords, there is no simple link between police numbers and their impact; what matters is how the police are deployed. It is there that we look to see reforms in police forces so that they deploy their resources more effectively than is the case at the moment.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important that police officers and PCSOs are used for what they are trained for and not in roles that can be filled by civilian staff, who may well bring their own special skills?
My Lords, I entirely agree with what my noble friend has just said, as do the police. Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that it is not a question of police numbers but one of deployment and that we need to replace those who are being used in back offices and get them out on the front line.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government are creating a very turbulent atmosphere for policing by the combination of cuts, which are understandable against the background of the economic situation, the forthcoming review of pay and conditions, which is due to be announced soon, and the reorganisation of policing through elected commissioners and reorganisation generally, and that these changes, cumulatively, will require inspired political management and leadership from within the service if the public are not to suffer?
My Lords, the Government have great confidence in the leadership of the police and their ability to manage change. The police have grasped well the agenda that is before them. Of course the question of police remuneration is being looked at independently and we await the outcome of that.
In a Question for Written Answer two months ago my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked for a definition of "front-line police services". As of yesterday, he still had not had a response. Why not? Can the Minister now give the House the Government's definition of the front-line police services that they said they would protect from the cuts? Does the definition include the many specialist units, including the rape and domestic violence units, all actively involved along with officers on the streets in the fight against crime, which fell by 43 per cent under the previous Government? Can the Minister give the House an assurance that none of the approximately 2,000 full-time police officers already lost since the election was involved in those front-line police services? Finally, in the light of the Minister's previous answer, is she aware of the recent surveys that clearly show the link between numbers of police officers and levels of crime?
My Lords, the number of police officers has been reduced and the level of crime continues to fall. There is no simple link between the numbers of police officers and the levels of crime. The services that the police themselves wish to deliver to the public clearly include the prevention and investigation of crime and would obviously include the specialist forces dealing with certain different kinds of crime.
My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking that she will listen if the public, looking at the data on the incidence of crime that are being made available to them today, decide they would rather have officers from their local police service responding quickly to an incident of crime than a new-fangled commissioner of police? Are the Government listening to the public? I have yet to meet a member of the public who sees little connection between the number of officers in the police service and tackling crime.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for mentioning the Government's initiative on crime mapping, which was announced today and which in our view will enable people in their own localities to be much better informed than hitherto of the real state of crime in their localities and to have a direct relationship therefore with the police. It will be helpful to them that the police commissioners will have direct accountability to the localities and not upwards to the Home Secretary.
Is it not quite fatuous to keep on repeating that there is no relationship between numbers of police officers and good policing? Obviously effective policing depends on efficient deployment of the police and it should be the responsibility of any Government at all times to make sure that deployment is optimised. However, once you have the optimised deployment, surely more police automatically means better policing?
I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to enlighten us as to what the optimised level is. I did not say there was no link; I said there was no simple link. It is very clear that there is no simple link. Numbers of police officers began to decline before this Government came into office and the level of crime continues to decline. The level of crime began to decline in 1995, well before our predecessors came into office, and when police numbers were stable. There is no simple link between these two things.
How many briefing meetings has the noble Baroness had in the Home Office about a Question that has been awaiting answer since
I am afraid I am at a loss to know to what Question the noble Lord is referring, but I will look into it.
My Lords, I wrote down very carefully the answer that the Minister gave to a previous question. She said that there is no link between the number of officers and the level of crime. Does it therefore follow that if we had no police officers that would not affect the level of crime?
My Lords, I made it quite clear that I said "no simple link".
My Lords, in answer to a previous question of mine the Minister said that the responsibility for cuts in policing was solely with the chief constables, which I agree is correct. There are, however, a number of functions and skill sets that the police have that are nationwide. Will she agree to ensure that the Government look at these skill sets and capabilities to ensure that chief constables do not inadvertently remove those capabilities?
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we will certainly be looking at the maintenance of national level capabilities and that is of course why we have taken such care in the case of counterterrorism, where the funding has been kept stable. One of the tasks of the National Crime Agency is to ensure that national capabilities are maintained.
I understand it will cost a £1 million or so if the new elected political commissioners are put into position to oversee and to hire and fire chief constables. Would it not be better to spend that money on employing more police officers or PCSOs?
My Lords, the Government believe in the notion of elected commissioners and direct accountability to localities. It is for that reason that we are introducing this reform. We believe that it will result in more effective policing and more direct accountability to the people the police serve.