Rural Policing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:42 am on 16th January 2001.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 9:42 am, 16th January 2001

I totally agree. Anyone who has been a parish or town councillor--I am still a town councillor--will know that, trying to stop a licence being re-granted, or a new licence being granted, because of the allegations of what and to whom they sell, is the bane of our lives. The problem is that we have never had so much alcohol out on the streets and young people drink to excess. We need to examine that. The Government pledged to produce an alcohol strategy, but it is a long time coming, and that is not unconnected to the problems of policing and law and order.

There is of course a link to drugs. Much of the criminality in the market towns in my constituency is, sadly, drug-related. It is too early to judge the drug trialing and testing orders, but among those who know about them, they seem to be popular. Hopefully, they provide a way in which we can get a grip on criminality.

It is worth mentioning that in Gloucestershire we have been innovatory with police information points. Better communication may be one way to countermand negativity among people who feel that their police are not sufficiently present. We look forward to full implementation of the radio project, but it will not come without some teething problems, if planning permissions are anything to go by. People want more policing, but they do not seem to want the masts that allow the proper communication required for better policing. I do not say that they are wrong to question where those masts go, but it does hold up the ability to communicate.

Police information points are, in effect, holes in the wall, so that people can pass messages on, sometimes in confidence, which is very important. That links in to neighbourhood watch schemes, which are popular in my area and continue to grow, but need continual re-investment, because they are so important. Those who run them deserve congratulation.

Another issue is how to bring more people into policing, not necessarily full-time police officers. It is sad that we have lost special constables, and we need to re-evaluate the importance of volunteering. Being a police officer is an important way in which people can use their time as volunteers, and we must always encourage them. It is a way in which they can test out whether they like the job. Specials sometimes serve for 20 years, sometimes for less. Any time is invaluable, but we need to recognise how important these people are and give them every opportunity to go on to what they want to do and to be a special part of the police force.

The idea of parish police officers is interesting. Devolving power in the benefice of the parish means that information, knowledge and the ability to pre-empt problems can be dealt with locally. As always, there are dangers in two-tier policing. Such officers might not be respected or might be abused by being required to do low level work. However, parish officers are an interesting idea, and no one should have a monopoly of ideas about what we should be doing with policing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman for North Norfolk that there are many interesting ideas.

However, none of that gets us away from the fundamental role of the police, which is to be out on the streets, talking to people and catching criminals. The fundamental dilemma is that those things do not always match. We have to persuade the public that not seeing the police does not necessarily mean that they are not active. Impossible though it is to ask for both, we should be striving to achieve that. If my hon. Friend the Minister were able to overcome such an impossible dilemma, it should serve as his epitaph.