Policing (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:13 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:13 pm, 20th February 2008

May I say what a pleasure it is to take part in a debate with you in the Chair, Mr. Gale? May I also say what a pleasure and privilege it is to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Djanogly, who is my neighbour? I also thank David Howarth and my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough on securing this important debate on policing in Cambridgeshire. It has been an issue for a considerable time, and it is right that we have a Minister here to take our concerns on board.

I must tell the Minister that this issue will not go away. Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament, the local police and other vested interest groups will not remain silent until the imbalance in the funding of Cambridgeshire police is properly resolved. I hope that the Minister does not intend to sum up with warm, supportive words that will not lead in practice to additional funding, because if he does, we and others will continue to raise this important issue. While I am talking about others who are dealing with this issue, let me pay tribute to Cambridgeshire's chief constable, Julie Spence, to Councillor Keith Walters, who is chairman of Cambridgeshire police authority, and to their entire teams, which do sterling work throughout the county, despite their limited resources and the difficulties that they face.

The funding for Cambridgeshire police is flawed. Over the period 2002-03 to 2008-09, the shortfall will be £17.5 million, and it will continue to rise and to impact on the local community. The problem has arisen entirely because the funding system relies on out-of-date population statistics and uses ceilings that prevent Cambridgeshire from receiving the additional funds that it rightly deserves.

As other hon. Members have said, we must recognise that Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, and I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will recognise that. There are two reasons for that growth. First, additional housing is rapidly appearing throughout the county. My constituency contains the southern third of Peterborough and 80 villages on the way down to, but not including, Huntingdon. The Peterborough part of my constituency includes a massive development called the Hamptons—it is one of the largest developments in western Europe—which is having a massive impact on the entire infrastructure of the area. Pockets of new housing are also cropping up all over the rural parts of my constituency.

Secondly, my constituency contains additional people from the migrant community. For the sake of good order and the avoidance of doubt, let me make it absolutely clear that neither I nor anyone else in the debate is talking about a race issue; the issue is about people management and recognising that more people are coming to Cambridgeshire, which is why local people want additional funding, including, in the context of this debate, funding for the police. I emphasise that, because I do not want the media or individuals either here or outside this place to take a different stance. The issue must be addressed sensitively and carefully, but it must be addressed. We must recognise that the migrant community creates different pressures, which perhaps do not exist in other areas, and I will return to that later.

The northern part of my constituency experiences all the issues that one could attribute to urban areas, such as antisocial behaviour, theft and assault. In such urban confines, the police do not have a lot of distance to cover, but they nevertheless struggle to deal as effectively as they would like to with all that occurs in their areas. What is more, however, there is, as has been said, a presumption among some decision-makers in Whitehall that all is well and good in villages such as mine in rural Cambridgeshire and, indeed, anywhere rural—the view is that everything is peaceful and quiet.

If any civil service mandarin in the Home Office takes that view, I suggest that they be seconded for just half a day to any hon. Member who has a rural patch in their constituency. We would be more than happy to take them to a rural village, where we could easily identify instances of serious crime. It is impossible for the police to give attention to some villages in my constituency, because of the distances that must be covered. I shall not repeat the points about the acute difficulties that arise in a mixed county with acute urban pressures as well as rural areas.

I want to outline the types of crimes that lead to extra pressure on infrastructure and the police, because the migrant community brings an international aspect. I have been particularly involved in campaigning on human trafficking. The Minister's approach to the issue is welcome, and I acknowledge all the hard work that he does and will, I am sure, continue to do to combat that evil, barbaric trade in human beings in the 21st century.

Last year, Cambridgeshire police undertook Operation Radium, which identified a number of brothels and instances of trafficking throughout Cambridgeshire, and the template for that operation is now being used by other police forces throughout the country. Cambridgeshire did all the hard work and homework without additional resources, and so other police forces will take up a ready-made solution to the question how to deal with that difficult problem. I am not saying that that solution will deal with it as effectively as we would like, but it has gone further than has been done before.

When people are found in the course of that work, it adds to the need for translation. The sum of £1 million in costs for a year has already been mentioned. Every year, additional translation costs of £1 million are required to deal with the migrant community. It is imperative that everyone in this country should have proper justice, but with that goes additional time. An issue that might normally take 10 minutes to deal with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has said, can easily take an hour, because of the need to wait for translators and deal with the different language.

There is also a cultural aspect, which was also mentioned earlier. Among some east European communities, there is a different attitude towards, for example, carrying knives, drink-driving or fishing. In Britain, anglers go fishing and, if they have a successful catch, they put the fish back in the river. Some of the new communities here take the view that that fish will be their dinner for the evening. We must get used to that cultural change, and additional manpower, both in the police and generally, is needed to deal with those cultural aspects.

Some of the civil servants are smiling at what I am saying, but perhaps they should come to some of our rural areas, in which case we might not need a debate such as this. It is precisely those issues, which we see every day on the ground, that are not being fully understood by civil servants and the Home Office. I hope that the Home Office will not do what it has done in the past, when the Home Secretary promised a summit and we were promised a forum. Today, I hope that the Minister says that action will be taken to recognise that the people of Cambridgeshire are not getting a police service that is as effective as the one that they deserve, because of the unique circumstances articulated in this debate. We need action, and I hope that the Minister will go some way towards alleviating our concerns.