Policing (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)

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

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 3:20 pm, 20th February 2008

The reason for my appearance in the debate, Mr. Gale, is that my constituency shares a lengthy border with Cambridgeshire, from St. Neots in the north all the way down the eastern side through Wrestlingworth, Gamlingay, Edworth and Dunton to the Hertfordshire border. The two counties are identical in character. Today, I want to raise some cross-border issues on which Cambridgeshire's resourcing affects my constituents. Cross-border issues do not always get much time or attention, so, although I do not expect the Minister to answer my points in detail, I feel it important to raise them for communities that often feel caught between two stools. I thank my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson for raising the issue and my hon. Friends and David Howarth for taking the debate forward. Of course, many of the issues that have been raised would be raised in Bedfordshire—the pressures in relation to rural crime and resources—but I do not want to spend too long on them, for obvious reasons.

I want to raise some of the difficulties that are caused by being in a cross-border area. First, postcodes are not always an accurate location finder in a county, because someone who lives in one county may have a postcode that refers to another. In that case, a call centre will sometimes misdirect a call and tell a resident who is waiting for assistance that they have phoned the wrong force, which causes immense frustration and upset. The Alington road industrial estate in Little Barford, which my hon. Friend Mr. Djanogly will know well because it is adjacent to his constituency, has had such problems. People have called the police, and it has taken a long time for the force from the right place to be sent. That lack of certainty is an issue for those people.

A second issue is the availability of resources to deal with partnership work on the borders. Naturally, forces with constrained resources will concentrate, first, on the Home Office targets set by the Government, and, secondly, on urban areas or areas of high-volume crime. Rural crime will never be high volume compared with urban areas within or just outside our constituencies, so if resources are tight in Cambridgeshire—my hon. Friends have made it clear they are—how much attention will be given to the cross-border partnership that is necessary to ensure some degree of protection for those who live close to a border between constituency forces? What time and effort can be spent on ensuring that there is more partnership work, that scarce resources are shared, and that when police are not available in one area it will be easy to call another force on the other side of the border, which may have officers available to deal with the problem?

Lastly, I want to raise an issue on behalf of my local National Farmers Union and its chairman Charlie Porter, who has been in touch with me on the impact of crime in some outlying rural areas. Rural constituents in cross-border areas feel not only that they are relegated to minor importance because they live in a low-crime area, but that their location on the border, whether it is the Bedfordshire or the Cambridgeshire side, makes their position even more precarious.

There has been a significant increase in the eastern region in recent months in thefts of metal, because the worldwide price for scrap has gone up very much. There is a travelling community in the eastern region that has in the past been able to pick up on thefts of metal, and there is concern about how those criminals are tracked from whatever source that might be. Again, if resources in the counties are tight, who will put time and effort into cases that cross borders and involve thieves who know what they are doing as they move through an area and how to resist attention, so that they can concentrate on their crime? There are stories of farmers in outlying areas who have been threatened and bullied, or whose wives were told when they put their heads out of the window, "Just get back inside, love. Leave us to do what we are going to do, and no one will get hurt," when there is no one else in the farmhouse to protect them. People are very frightened.

I raise those issues on behalf of the cross-border areas, where those pressures exist. I hope that the Minister will take account of cross-border issues when he gets a chance to respond, either today or in writing in due course.