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Public Disorder — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 11th August 2011.

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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) 1:00 pm, 11th August 2011

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for agreeing to answer specific points on policing and the role of the Home Office. I have no doubt that the actions of police forces up and down the country will come under intense scrutiny in the next few weeks and months but none of us should underestimate the bravery of thousands of police officers and other emergency workers in the face of the shocking and indefensible lawlessness that we have seen in the past week. On Monday night, 44 officers were injured in London alone. They have done us great credit and we are very grateful to them.

In criticism that has been made-and will presumably continue to be made-of decisions by a number of police forces we should not underestimate the complex challenge faced by police chiefs in these difficult circumstances. I, too, want to pay tribute to my own chief constable in the West Midlands, Chris Sims, for the careful and measured statements that he made yesterday and the leadership that he has shown. That calm response to a highly dangerous situation was influential in ensuring that the forecast troubles in Birmingham yesterday did not happen.

I pay tribute to Mr Tariq Jahan and his extraordinary courage in the comments he made yesterday following the tragic death of his son and two others, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir. Community leaders in Birmingham, Members of Parliament, councillors, the police and representatives of the community worked very hard yesterday to defuse any potential racial tension. I am proud of what they achieved. I endorse the remarks of the most reverend Primate that we should seize the moment. Surely the noble Baroness is right in terms of using this to bring our communities together.

There will be many inquiries and reviews of policing. In my brief time, I just want to put three or four points to the Minister. We know-my noble friend referred to this-that it essentially took four days to ensure that London was secure for its citizens. Can the noble Baroness confirm that the situation in London was due not to a lack of powers available to the police or a lack of willingness to use them but to the sheer lack of police numbers? The police were able to respond and restore order when they had a massive injection of police officers into the capital, an increase from 6,000 to just under 16,000.

Secondly, I want to come back to the important issue of funding. Can the noble Baroness give me some assurance that the Government will revisit the intention to reduce police funding by 20 per cent? Many Ministers have responded to this point in the past few months saying that they do not believe that those cuts will impact on frontline services. The noble Lord the Leader of the House repeated that this morning. Can that seriously be maintained in the face of actual reductions in frontline officers, in the forced retirement of some of our most experienced policemen and the indications that some frontline officers are being withdrawn to provide back-office services because of the redundancies of civilian staff within police services?

The estimate is that there will be a reduction of 16,000 police officers at the end of this four-year period. That is the very number of police officers who are now staffed in London over the next 24 hours to secure the peace of the city. Will the Minister respond to ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde, who wrote today of the challenges that those cuts are having on each force up and down the country? Will the noble Baroness the Minister give some assurance that the Government will take this opportunity to review their intention to take the police Bill through Parliament?

Faced with a series of reviews and a huge set of challenges, the last thing that the police forces in England and Wales need is the imposition, less than nine months away, of elected police commissioners in place of current police authorities. The risk of the politicisation of our police forces and the inevitable undermining of the authority of chief constables can serve only to reduce further the morale of our police men and women and the confidence of the public.

What of the Metropolitan police force? Who could underestimate the challenge that they face in maintaining public order, in the continuing investigations into phone hacking, in their counterterrorism responsibilities that they face and in the Olympics? There is no permanent police commissioner in place at the moment. When one is appointed, he or she will be the third commissioner who will serve under the auspices of the Mayor of London in a four-year term. How on earth can that provide the leadership and stability that the Metropolitan Police so need? Surely that cannot be the model that the Government want to extend to the police forces of England and Wales. How can the Government justify the expenditure of £100 million on the election of police commissioners when police forces up and down the country are facing such reductions in their overall funding?

The Government also need to think about their overall law and order policies. The Prime Minister said today that we need a criminal justice system that scores a clear, heavy line between right and wrong. I thoroughly endorse that proposal. But why are the Government so disparaging about some of the measures that the previous Government brought in, such as closed-circuit TV or dispersal orders-the very mechanisms that have been used effectively in the past few days? And why are the Government encouraging softer sentences to complement the reduction in prison numbers and prison places? In view of the utterly outrageous behaviour that we have seen in the past few days, surely that should be an opportunity for the Government to review their policies again and ensure that the public are given the security and confidence in public order that they need.