Police: Expenditure Cuts — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 15th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Labour 3:00 pm, 15th March 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what impact the proposed cuts to the police service funding will have on operational effectiveness.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I welcome back this familiar question in a slightly different form; no doubt we will see it again. The Government believe that police forces can make the necessary savings while protecting front-line services and operational effectiveness. Last year's HMIC report identified £1.1 billion of savings that could be made while maintaining police availability. We have identified significant further savings, including through better procurement and sensible pay restraint.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Labour

I thank the Minister for his reply. Before the general election, the leader of his party-now the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nick Clegg-promised to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers. The reality, as a result of decisions that the Government have taken, is that we will have 10,000 fewer police officers. Is this not another example of the Deputy Prime Minister saying one thing to get elected and another when elected?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we all have to pay for what we get. I was not aware until I saw a chart in the Guardian on 23 February that the previous Labour Government went into deficit on the Budget in 2002, ran an annual deficit on it of between £30 billion and £40 billion from 2003 to 2008 at the height of the credit boom, and therefore left us with no spare capacity when the boom collapsed. That is why we all have to take these difficult decisions.

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Liberal Democrat

I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Does the Minister share my view that the police could provide better value for money by cutting perks such as chauffeur-driven limousines for senior police officers rather than by cutting front-line services?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I had better declare that I travelled several miles in the chief constable of West Yorkshire's car last week from one police building to another. There are of course areas where the police can cut, and a number of rather imaginative schemes are already under way. I was taken on that day to the Yorkshire regional hub, which the four separate Yorkshire police services now share for a number of operations. That is the sort of thing which we need to take further.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, how many front-line police officers will lose their jobs in order to pay for the politicisation of the police force through elected police commissioners?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we will come to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in good time. We have seen in the past couple of months the normal form of negotiation through the public media. I saw in early February a suggestion that Greater Manchester, for example, would lose nearly a quarter of its strength. We now hear Lancashire Constabulary, I am very happy to say, talking about possibly losing up to 160 policemen in front-line positions. We are beginning to discover that it will be not be as difficult as we feared. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary last week indicated that it expects much fewer police job losses than originally forecast. The Metropolitan Police, accounting for a quarter of all officers in England and Wales, has indicated that it will begin recruiting again shortly.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the widespread concern about the impact of cuts to police funding on the child protection role of the police? Can he provide some reassurance on this point?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, one of the principles of this Government is to reduce the different pots under which funding is provided to the police and to allow the police to choose how they spend their money. Some areas of the country require much greater effort on child protection than others. We look to police forces, authorities and, in future, the commissioners who will keep them under check to choose their priorities in the light of local needs.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

Does my noble friend accept that the Benches opposite may accept that the deficit needs to be reduced as a general argument, but that they will not agree to any measure in particular?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we all face a structural problem that the media and many of the public want higher quality public services and lower taxes. The call from the Labour Party for cuts in VAT, rather than to talk about how we pay for what we need in maintaining public services, is a good example of that.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, would the Minister care to answer the specific question about money being spent on implementing a policy which to my knowledge his party never voted for-single police chief commissioners? I declare my interest as having served for 20 years as a member of a police authority. Responsible chief constables are saying that to achieve savings of the magnitude needed, even if we accepted that they should be made, requires lead-in time. Rather than have these phoney elections, which will have to be backed up by panels to represent the whole community in the police authority, as the Government have accepted, would it not be better to spend the money on that? I have not met a single senior police officer whose priorities would be different from mine.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am deeply surprised that the noble Baroness was not aware of the 2006 Liberal Democrat party paper on public service reform, which did indeed raise the question of directly elected police commissioners, so it is not entirely new to our party. I understand that the Labour Party is proposing instead that one should have directly elected chairs of police authorities. I cannot quite get my head around how different that is from what we are proposing.