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"It is for local agencies to decide on the most appropriate intervention for tackling antisocial behaviour based on...what will work best locally."
Local agencies do use ASBOs in very different ways: the approach is sometimes very different in inner-city areas, such as my constituency, from the approach taken in some rural areas up and down the country, and that is as it should be. Local agencies, including the local council and the probation service-all those people who work together-should be asking, "What is the
problem? What range of tools do we have to deal with it? Where can they most appropriately be deployed?" In some cases, that will involve acceptable behaviour contracts, exclusion orders or parenting orders. We have introduced a good set of tools to tackle these problems, so to try to pretend that ASBOs are some kind of top-down, Whitehall-imposed mechanism is simply wrong.
In Greater Manchester, extensive use has been made of these powers and the result has been very impressive; we have brought safety and security to people who felt that they had been abandoned by the police in the past. In Salford, the level of antisocial behaviour has fallen year on year; since 2006, it has reduced by 22.6%, which is a massive shift. Crime and antisocial behaviour was the biggest issue facing my constituents, but in the past couple of years more people have moved into Salford than have left, reversing a trend of the past quarter of a century. One of the fundamental reasons why people are now moving to the city is that they feel safe and secure. It is a great place to live, and businesses and families are coming to it. Without the powers on tackling antisocial behaviour, we would not have reached that point.
Of course, I would be the last person to say that those powers are a silver bullet or the complete solution, because they are not and they have their flaws. The breach rate is pretty high, but that is going to be the case because ASBOs are often used on people who are out of control, people who are prolific offenders with hundreds of incidents behind them and, as the shadow Home Secretary said, people who have reached the severe end of punishment after many other approaches have been tried. Even so, more than 40% of ASBOs are not breached-the antisocial behaviour stops. Let us also look beyond the headline figures. When action is taken after a first breach, 65% of people stop their antisocial behaviour. The figure is 86% in respect of a second breach and, provided action is taken, after three breaches nearly 95% of people say, "Okay, enough is enough, we are going to start behaving reasonably." So we have to persevere and we have to give ASBOs a chance to work. In conjunction with the range of other programmes available, including family intervention projects, which have been one of the most innovative things that we have done, bringing all the services together to tackle the underlying problems of antisocial behaviour, ASBOs have meant that we have been pretty effective.
Protecting people so that they can live in peace and safety in their communities has to be the top priority of any Government, and the Home Secretary has to live up to that challenge. If her desire to re-examine the powers on tackling antisocial behaviour is about making things easier and simpler, and about stripping out the bureaucracy, sorting out the criminal justice system and making sure that we are not mired in all of that difficulty, she will have my support in doing that. If, however, it means that we are going to water ASBOs down, diluting them, making them more difficult to obtain and putting obstacles in the way of the police and local authorities, I will oppose that tooth and nail, because our responsibility is to protect the communities that we serve.
We have heard a lot today about the further regulation of CCTV. I am none the wiser as to what "further regulation" means, but I know that CCTV, in my city and up and down the country, has made a huge difference to protecting local people. The hon. Member for Broxtowe
(Anna Soubry) confirmed that she wanted less CCTV, whereas other Members have said that they do not want that. I am not sure what the coalition view is, but this is beginning to sound like a jigsaw of policies to me and I would welcome some clarity.
In March, an incident in Eccles was caught on CCTV. Six violent males with a huge history of prolific offending were involved in a stabbing, and the information was collected on CCTV. Two of the men were seen in possession of large kitchen knives, waving them around and going into a store. A stabbing took place and no complaint was made-the person who was stabbed did not want to co-operate with the police-and the only possible evidence was from the CCTV. As a result, a prosecution was brought. They were charged with section 18 wounding, violent disorder and possession of an offensive weapon. They were sentenced to two years in prison and received ASBOs on conviction that prevent them from associating in the future. None of that would have been possible without access to the information from the CCTV.
Anna Soubry: The right hon. Lady will know that I said that I want fewer CCTV cameras. That should be the aim of everybody in this Chamber, because people should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of crime and from actual crime. That should be our ultimate aim. She makes a big mistake if she thinks that CCTV is some great panacea. In my experience as a criminal barrister, in many cases involving CCTV evidence, I have had clients who have told me that they went down that alleyway to commit the offence because there was no CCTV. The danger of CCTV is that it pushes criminality down the alleyways into other places. The real solution is to tackle the causes of crime.
Hazel Blears: Well, I wish the hon. Lady the best of British luck when she goes to her constituents and says, "We'll do nothing for years and years; we must tackle the issue of the causes of crime." Of course we must, but if she wants to stand up in front of her voters and say that she wants to see less CCTV in her community, I wish her all the luck in the world in putting forward that argument-it certainly would not wash with my constituents in Salford.
The Government's policy on DNA is an absolute mistake. The shadow Home Secretary has gone through all the detailed evidence on that and the overriding factor for me is the fact that in Scotland the Scottish police want to change to the system that we were promoting. They see that it makes sense, that it is evidence-based and that it will result in the capture of more serious murderers and rapists. Some 10% of the 800 people who were caught through DNA would have escaped under the Government's proposed system and the prospect of having 80 murderers and rapists roaming the streets of this country who could have been brought to justice is one that I would find difficult to defend.
The list goes on. Not only will we have cuts to funding, but we will have cuts to police powers on antisocial behaviour, CCTV and DNA. I want to say some words about the most serious threat that faces our communities and about counter-terrorism. What happened on 7 July brought fear to our communities and devastation to many families. I would say to the Government that there is no easy way to combat terrorism. The threat to
the UK has not diminished and that is why, when we are considering the review of counter-terrorism powers, we must be extremely careful to get the balance right between security and liberty and must not be tempted to shy away from difficult and sometimes controversial choices, such as control orders, that are not easy but might be necessary to protect our citizens from harm. When the Government are considering that review, I urge them to be prepared to think very carefully about getting that balance right.
My final point is about coherence. When we were in government, we did not do everything perfectly. I am sure that we did not succeed in everything that we wanted to do. However, we had a strategy to tackle every level of crime in this country, from antisocial behaviour to crimes against the person, serious and organised crime and terrorism. I do not feel that under this Government we have any kind of coherent strategy in place at all. It is about cuts, about pandering to this lobby and about caving in to this bit of populism. I genuinely feel that, if we are to protect the people of this country and to meet the highest responsibility of Government, we need a proper strategy. We will have less money, fewer powers, less effectiveness, more crime and less safety for the people whom we represent.
Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate because before the general election earlier this year I gave my views in Great Yarmouth on the importance and benefits of a directly elected police commission. I appreciate the chance to speak about that today. I also want to touch on the fact that I agree with a point made by one of my hon. Friends earlier: it seems somewhat surreal, having sat through the opening speeches today, to have been part of what felt like a hustings for the shadow Cabinet.
We have listened to the way in which statistics are rolled out, which can be useful in looking at the history and in planning, but what I am interested in and what I like about the Government's policy at the moment is that it is considering how we move forward to deal with issues in the future. Policy needs to move forward with the times. It is important that we look forward and understand the situation that we are in, as some of my hon. Friends have eloquently pointed out. We have an economic inheritance that we have to deal with and, as has been acknowledged by Opposition Members and as my hon. Friends have said, even a Labour Government would have had to make substantial cuts. With the comprehensive spending review coming up, the Government are going to have to take tough decisions, but I hope that they will, as the Budget made clear, be fair and allow us to retain important front-line services.
In my time as a candidate and in my days as a relatively new Member of Parliament, I have found it enlightening to see and understand how the police work, particularly the police in Great Yarmouth. Many of us in Norfolk have long felt-I know that other Members have made this point before me-that because we are a rural community, because the county is not
seen as being a high-crime area and because the police authority is small, our area has not had as much funding as it should have had. We have almost been left to our own devices and we feel left out in a way. However, we in Great Yarmouth are fortunate to have an excellent superintendent who has been considering out-of-the-box ideas about how to move forward and who has been working with the community to deal with and to prevent crime, helping to bring it down. That superintendent is still in place and is doing fantastic work.
When one looks at some of the work that is going on with community groups such as the Kickz project, which works with the police, local authorities, the local community and Norwich City football club, one sees that it is providing phenomenal opportunities to young people and is dealing with some of the antisocial behaviour. If my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has time in the near future, will he come to Great Yarmouth to see at first hand the phenomenal work that the Kickz project is doing, including very good work in really deprived areas? It is a very good example of how crime can be dealt with, of how the police are working with the community and of some of the things they can do. What interests me about releasing the police from some of the bureaucracy, red tape and tick-box culture that they have had is what a police team such as mine in Great Yarmouth will then be able to achieve, given what it has been doing already. I am excited about the opportunities and the benefits that will come when the team is really let loose to deliver.
When I did a night shift with police in Great Yarmouth, what really stuck in my mind was not just the plethora of paperwork that I had to sign and that they had to deal with on a daily basis for every little part of their job-one officer made a joke as an aside, but I understood his point, that there is even a form for them to fill in if they want to use the bathroom-but the most important point that they made to me, which was about the time that they have to take away from being on the beat to deal with any single issue. The example they gave was that, if someone broke a window after a night out in Great Yarmouth, to arrest them and to deal with the paperwork and telephone calls could take two officers off the beat for up to seven hours. Let us strip away that kind of bureaucracy and let the police get on with doing their job more efficiently and effectively. I fully support keeping more officers visibly on the beat, doing their job and fighting crime, which is what they want to do, what they are trained to do and what they do so well for us, rather than filling in paperwork back at the office.
I was interested to hear an Opposition Member mention the changes that are coming to the Audit Commission, particularly after yesterday's exchanges. I must make a similar point to one that I made in the Chamber yesterday: losing that input from the Audit Commission can only be good news for the police, as it is for our local authorities, because they will be able to do more about servicing their residents and keeping the streets safe if they have to worry a little less about ticking a box for an appointed quango such as the Audit Commission.
Like other hon. Members who have made this point, I like the idea of police authorities moving over to having directly elected commissioners because of the
transparency that will bring and the clear signal it will send about who is responsible. In the past few years, one thing that I have found that frustrates residents is not knowing who, across Government Departments, is responsible or accountable. One thing that we have suffered from more than anything in this country is the ability of the Government simply to move accountability away, through different layers of bureaucracy, red tape, agencies, quangos and different bodies. People feel that police authorities fall into that category because they generally do not know who the chairman of their police authority is.
I am fortunate that we have a good chairman, who will no doubt love the fact that I am talking in favour of police commissioners, given that we had a disagreement about that before the general election. That person is a councillor appointed by the county council, so he has political power behind him-the appointment is effectively political. It will be a real step forward, however, if we give local communities the direct ability to say who they want. If that person does a good job, they can then be brought back but, more importantly, people will know who is responsible and accountable, and there will be no hiding behind a Government quango, an appointed county council body or any other authority. In my experience, the police understand that that will not affect their day-to-day operational power to do their job. The proposal could therefore mean that there would be little practical change to their operational work compared with the situation under the police authority. The big advantage of the proposal will be clear and transparent accountability for the public, the importance of which we should never underestimate.
When the new licensing laws came in, I was excited about having the ability to start getting to grips with the pub culture in the area that I represented as a councillor, so I was hugely disappointed when we discovered that nothing could have been further from the truth and that it was almost impossible to curtail even the opening hours of some public houses. Changing the licensing laws will allow local authorities to do what most residents think that they can do: create policy and start to map out sensible ideas on controlling licensing hours and licensed premises in their areas. That can be only a good thing, which is why I fully support the Government's proposals.
We have a major hospital in Great Yarmouth, so I have seen the impact of alcohol-related crime in an accident and emergency department. Alcohol also has knock-on effects throughout the health service, as hon. Members have said, and it can result in costs to the community and the health service directly. If our new policies can address that problem, we will make huge economic savings and communities can move forward. We could also make progress on dealing with the teenage pregnancy problem in Great Yarmouth because that is something on which alcohol clearly has a huge impact.
I look at the situation from the point of view of what my residents want. I want them not only to be safe on their streets and in their homes, but to feel safe on their streets and in their homes. If they know who is responsible for decisions about local policing and see police officers working on the street to solve crimes, rather than dealing with bureaucracy and a tick-box culture, it will be a great step forward. From spending time with the police
and seeing the extent to which their work is intelligence-based, I know that they are a huge asset to our community, so if our community is able to see more of them because they are doing less paperwork, that can only be for the better, which is why I fully support the Government's stance.
Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): If local people in Islwyn and others throughout the country were to draw up a wish list, I am sure that a request for more police officers would be at the top of it. If police officers are seen on the beat, the public not only are seen to be protected, but feel protected.
It is an absolute duty of the Government to protect the public through investment in our police service and by building strong and secure communities in which the law-abiding majority are supported and the vulnerable protected. That is why I worry about the message that the Government send to the general public when they talk about cuts in police numbers. Cuts affect not only police numbers on the ground, but the organisations that have been set up to combat crime and antisocial behaviour.
In Islwyn, the Safer Caerphilly community safety partnership scheme works with local partners to reduce crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour, substance misuse and the fear of crime. I was worried when the Home Secretary said that we lived in a high-crime country because what message does that send to people who are fearful of crime? The big issue is not so much crime itself, but the fact that people are afraid of walking down the street and becoming a victim, however real or imagined the risk is.
Our partnership has improved local policing and community safety since it was set up five years ago. The scheme has been hugely successful, especially at reducing crime and antisocial behaviour. I have no doubt that such schemes were instrumental in the 43% reduction in crime between 1997 and 2010. I know that not everything was perfect under the Labour Government, but even the most sceptical or cynical person would say that that is an impressive record of which we should be proud.
The Safer Caerphilly community safety partnership faces an uncertain future because of fears about funding. Gwent police authority has made it clear to me that the planned cuts in police funding would significantly impede the police's ability to maintain the high standards for which they are renowned. Senior police officers in my constituency are adamant that if funding for the Safer Caerphilly community safety partnership scheme is pulled, the ability of local officers to keep a grip on criminal and antisocial activity and maintain community relations, which is so important, would be severely hampered.
Gwent police have already reduced their budget by 8% in the past 12 months through efficiency savings. Of their current budget, totalling some £120 million, staff costs account for 83%. Tinkering with cost outlays such as uniforms, patrol cars and everything else that goes with policing would not be enough to meet the Government's spending reduction targets. Inevitably, cuts would have to be made to police numbers. It is clear that a reduction in funding would make it operationally almost impossible for police authorities to maintain their current effectiveness in areas such as prevention of
crime, civil disorder, terrorism and antisocial behaviour and the promotion of community cohesion. The question we must ask ourselves is: how will the budget deficit be tackled-surely not by risking the safety and, indeed, the lives of the law-abiding majority who play by the rules? Officers have also expressed to me their dismay at the Government's plans to scrap the policing pledge-a policy introduced in 2008 that is widely seen as having driven up standards, as well as accountability and public confidence in the police nationwide.
At the same time as the cuts, the Government are setting up a hugely expensive plan for the introduction of popularly elected police commissioners. Essentially, that will make a politician head of the police force, with the same mandate as we have. I am sure that they will follow policies that they think are popular, however short term they are and however damaging they may be. It seems nonsensical to me that, on Monday, the Government introduced a Bill that aims to reduce the number of politicians in this House, but they want to create more jobs for politicians. Police authorities around the country have condemned the proposal. Fortunately for all of us here, we live in a climate where there is little public appetite for more elections, but unless the policy is seriously thought out and Ministers put some meat on the bones of the policy this evening, we run the risk of seeing the election to key positions in public life of wholly unqualified maverick extremists whom we all know in our local areas.
Furthermore, elected police commissioners would require significant and costly staffing assistance. Such staffing is not provided for in the Government's plans. That is why I am asking for more detail. Perhaps I am being cynical, or perhaps that is an example of a lack of serious thought being given to the proposal. I am worried-the policy is truly radical, yet no information is coming down to us. It is important, not just for us as politicians, but for police authorities and superintendents, to know what elected police commissioners will do. In August, members of Gwent police authority told me that they had received no information-they do not know how the police commissioners will be established.
The Government have provided no evidence for why the reform is necessary, or why the current system is in need of change. None the less, they seem intent on carrying out a costly and untested reorganisation of policing in England and Wales. Bringing politics into day-to-day policing and law enforcement is nothing short of a dangerous move. It is my serious fear that the sensitive and emotive nature of criminal justice will, in many cases, lead to reactionary, short-term populism from a police commissioner who has his eye on his next election.
Robert Halfon: What the hon. Gentleman says is somewhat surprising to me. Surely, by his logic, any election could produce an extremist. I do not believe that the British people would vote in that way. The idea of having an elected commissioner is to ensure that there is a local person accountable to the local population that the police serve.
On the question of accountability, the point that I am driving at is that we will be electing a politician, and I envisage-indeed, I am sure-that only political parties will be able to fund a campaign for the
post of police commissioner. I cannot see an ordinary person from the community having the money or the resources to become a police commissioner, so the measure will only introduce politics into policing.
That point brings me on to another, because we could see a situation in which certain groups spread fear about others for the simple purpose of electoral advantage. Young people might be demonised, as they are all the time in the press, and that has no place in modern society, so I urge the Government to look again at the proposal and give it some serious consideration.
I have tried to be brief, and in closing I must say that people want to feel safe. They want to know that, should they become a victim of crime, they can look to the police to protect them, so I say to the Government, do not risk the safety of the public by introducing such swingeing cuts.
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I have spent a lot of time in my constituency since being elected three or four months ago, and during the recess I managed to meet and have a good discussion with two chief constables. Indeed, I am very lucky to have two very good chief constables residing in my constituency. We have some tough times ahead, as they know, but they struck me as two powerful individuals who know where they can make a difference in their forces.
We will have to make cuts of 20%, but the two chief constables struck me as business people who realise that times are bad. This is not the first time that we have been in this position, and those cuts have to be made. Some 85% of the police budget goes on people, so there will inevitably be a reduction in numbers, but just because there is going to be a reduction in police numbers and in recruitment, that does not necessarily mean that crime will go up. They went through in detail how they were planning and hoping to limit the effect on front-line policing.
Toby Perkins: I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's conversation, because I am sure that many Members have met their local chief constables. He mentioned that they would be able to limit the effect of the reductions that we will have to make, but did they explain what they would have to do? Will the hon. Gentleman touch on what they said they would no longer be able to do? I am interested to hear that they did at least admit that the cuts would affect the service that they are going to provide.
Graham Evans: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. They went on to talk about backroom staff and how they can reduce significant labour costs among the back office, civilian staff whom the police employ. They also discussed putting back on to the beat those policemen who, for whatever reason, undertake back-office duties.
Unnecessary paperwork also keeps front-line police officers in the station, and the two chief constables talked about ways of reducing it, as the House has discussed over the past few hours, and ensuring that officers return to front-line services. I do not try to paint a pretty picture, however, because there are some difficult
decisions to make. Those chief constables have to make them, but they are going to do their utmost to ensure that front-line services are not affected.
I come from a business background and have personal experience of trying to cut costs while adding value and ensuring that, at the front end, customers do not see the consequences of those cuts. The police are in a very good position to do something similar. Time will tell, but I hope that it bears out my belief that the situation is not as gloomy as some people say it is. However, there are some difficult decisions to make.
Having spent some time with the two chief constables, I visited Runcorn police station, where a new inspector was in town. He told me that he was bringing a new broom out of the cupboard and going through the police station. He had managed to increase the clear-up rate in that area by 20% within a few short weeks. I asked him what sorts of things he did to enable him to achieve that, and he said that he had found that there was misinterpretation of correct procedures and of who are the best people to clear up the casework. I was struck by the fact that there are examples of best practice that can be shared between divisions and, indeed, police forces. Many police forces do not communicate with one another. If cases of best practice were communicated between one constabulary and another, efficiency savings could be made.
A lot of it can be down to leadership and management. A sergeant in Runcorn who had been in the Cheshire constabulary for 25 years told me that he had spent most of his career arresting members of the same family. I found it quite disturbing that one could spend a 25-year career arresting the grandfathers and fathers of the same family. I cannot help feeling that we do not go to the core of the problem of continuous crime. Antisocial behaviour orders have a lot of merit. However, unless we get in to see the families who have blighted the community of the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), and so many communities in my constituency, and stop them repeating these crimes, it goes on and on, with three generations of the same family being unemployed, facing social deprivation, and causing unnecessary and disproportionate problems within their communities. If we could get into these families, one by one, their communities would not have these problems.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Of course we must keep our eye on the public sector deficit, but I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in celebrating the fact that the Gloucestershire constabulary will end up with more policemen out and about as a result of reforms driven by the recent expenditure announcements. That is good news for the good people of Stroud, Dursley, Cam and elsewhere. There are more policemen out and about compared with last year, which is great news.
I pay tribute to some of the good work that was done by right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches during their time in government, with measures
such as Sure Start, which gets into families at a very early stage to try to give them the best start in life, so that as the children grow older they should become responsible citizens. In my experience as a police officer, and when speaking to the police officers in the Cheshire constabulary, I have found that too many young people go off the rails too soon. That is why I would like some of the good work of Sure Start to be followed up. Other agencies, working with the police, need to get involved in getting individuals off drug and alcohol abuse. Jobcentre Plus should get involved with these people to try to get them making a proactive and genuine contribution to the communities that they have blighted. I appreciate that this is a long-term thing that was started by the previous Government during the past 13 years, but an awful lot of work still needs to be done in certain communities in my constituency.
I will be supporting the amendment, because something has to change. Directly elected commissioners may or may not be a good idea that may or may not work. In my experience as a police constable, having worked in these communities, I have seen that the Cheshire constabulary is doing a good job, but I believe it could do better, and I would like directly elected commissioners to be given at least a fighting chance.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): I open by saying that I agreed with much of the contribution of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans). It is interesting that both he and the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) talked about good practice being carried out by police officers in their communities. On that basis, it is clear that the Labour Government have not totally prevented good practice over the past 13 years.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and other colleagues have said, we would never say that everything is perfect. There will never be a perfect way to tackle crime, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said. However, when it comes to challenging crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities, the cup is half full, if not even more. There has been a change in attitudes towards law and order over a number of years.
I welcome the examples of best practice that have been given, and they have occurred partly because of the direction that the Labour Government provided. We were more focused on community policing and on the police working with other organisations, whether they are local authorities or, as the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth said, football clubs. In making important changes, we recognised that tackling crime and disorder in our communities could not be the preserve of police officers alone.
As a former Home Office Minister, I feel frustrated about the challenge of making best practice more mainstream. I was interested when I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), because as a Home Office Minister back in 2003 I visited Wales. That was some years ago now, but I saw there examples of the type of community and neighbourhood policing that we have thankfully seen in England in recent years. There was an attitude and approach in parts of Wales that was not being picked up elsewhere at the time. Although I have the greatest regard for many people
from the Association of Chief Police Officers whom I have met over the years, I believe that it has failed as an organisation to see best practice and say, "This is what we should have more of."
I link that point to one about accountability. I would not like Government Members to characterise Labour Members who are passionate about tackling crime in our communities as being anti-accountability, or as believing that the current structure of police authorities is perfect. I have said in previous contributions that I am not a cheerleader for the idea that everything is absolutely great.
If we are to talk about the big society, we need to consider how we can give our communities information about best practice so that they have the power to demand more of it. A bogus argument is sometimes made that communities are somehow so different from each other that nothing can be learned. I do not believe that, and I do not believe in reinventing the wheel. Communities should look to other areas to see what has worked and what has not. Yes, they should make the service bespoke for their area if they need to, but for goodness' sake, they should seize best practice with both hands. If they want to rebrand it, they can get on with doing so, but they should not be so paternalistic and parochial about their own patch that they cannot see the wood for the trees.
I hope that in our discussions in the months ahead about the accountability of the proposed elected commissioners, we will think beyond simply what such a commissioner can do and consider how to ensure that there is accountability, because chief constables also have to be held to account. I attended a lunch a few months ago, before the recess, at which Sir Paul Stephenson spoke. What he said about a number of issues was interesting, and I was intrigued by what he was prepared to admit. When it comes to bureaucracy-I put my hand up and admit that those in government can always do more about it-he said that too often, he had seen his colleagues at the most senior level add layers of bureaucracy over and above what the Government were asking.
The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth, who has now left the Chamber, talked about officers having to fill out a form to use the bathroom, but I can say with pretty much 100% certainty that that was not a diktat from central Government, even if it somehow emerged in his police force. Although we must consider Government bureaucracy, we must also examine ways in which the forces themselves create bureaucracy. That is clear in procurement, with forces being parochial about having their own design of car or uniform that is different from those elsewhere. I wish the coalition Government the best of luck in dealing with that, because it is not easy. There are incredibly strong vested interests in all areas of public policy, including crime and law and order.
I might be out of sync with my Opposition Front Benchers on this, but whatever went wrong, it was a shame that the previous Government did not get to a better place on creating larger police forces. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), who talked about a larger force for Scotland while at the same time having local units based on local authority boundaries. I sign up to that. In the last policing debate in which I spoke, I said that people in Doncaster are more interested in what Bob Sanderson
is doing-he runs our local police-than in what the chief constable is up to down in Sheffield. The local police force is what counts.
On accountability and neighbourhood policing, I am pleased to report from my experience in Doncaster that although the monthly meetings between the police and members of the community-councillors are also often involved-on how neighbourhood policing teams can best focus on what people are most concerned about had a bit of a rocky start, I am now getting feedback from the police, the public, councillors and those working for local authorities that they are starting to gel and to work. Those meetings are an important part of local accountability, and they are important in ensuring that the police and agencies who work with them understand local policing concerns.
We have heard much discussion of police officers. Departments and outside agencies will face cuts not of 20%, but of anything between 25 and 40% cuts, and we know that 70% of the police budget is spent on paying officers' wages, so it is impossible that there will not be substantial cuts in police numbers, which I am very concerned about. The Government's solution-or part of it-is that we should recruit 50,000 additional special constables. I do not know where that figure comes from, but there are currently 15,000 special constables, so expecting an additional 50,000 volunteers is ambitious. The Government also expect those unpaid, part-time volunteers to replace full-time, professional police officers. I worry about that. Special constables make a great contribution, but they are not a substitute. For one thing, they have only to work for a minimum of 16 hours a month, but for another, they must fit their police hours around paid employment and family life. They cannot be required to turn up for work at particular times or on particular days as part of an organised strategy to bear down on the different sorts of crimes that are committed in our neighbourhoods. The truth is that chief constables cannot plan their forces around volunteers.
Although this is a Home Office debate, we need to touch on penal policy, responsibility for which has been split off to the Ministry of Justice, because punishing crime is an important part of effective policing and dealing with crime in our communities. It is a complicated matter. Prison has many functions, of which rehabilitation is one, but that has not always been carried out as effectively as it ought to have been. However, prison also protects the public from serial and dangerous offenders. We have only to ask police officers to find out about the respite that a community can get if, say, a serial burglar who has committed 40 crimes in a few months is put in prison after everything else has been tried.
We should have an informed debate on policing-it is too important for a back-and-forth debate. I believe that we last had a commission look at the role of the police in 1962, so perhaps it is time to think about another commission. The debate is about more than the deficit; it is about creating a 21st-century police force.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and if I may return a compliment that she was good enough to pay to me before the recess, I hope that it is not too long before she makes the journey down from where she sits today on to the Front Bench. It would be stupid for me to stand here as a criminal barrister of 16 years standing and say that nothing was achieved by the last Administration in 13 years. Many of the things that were done were different, new and effective. But between the two sides of the House, there are some fundamental differences of approach that stem from a difference in the philosophies that drive us to our political parties.
Those differences were exemplified for me by the speech by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). He said, with some pride, that under the last Government we had established a police service as opposed to a police force. I could not disagree more with that policy and all that was done to achieve it. It has been hugely harmful not only to the police, but to our society, that we now have police officers who are confused about their role. They should be a police force-a presence on our streets-and not part of social services. In some instances, yes, some officers work beautifully and properly with, for example, youth offending teams, and add something to the process. However, as any parent knows, what stops children from doing something that they should not do is not the fear of what might happen to them if they are caught out, but the fear of being caught out. If people do not think that they will ever be caught, they will carry on doing what they should not do. That is why I want to see some fundamental changes in our police force.
I want the police force to be a police force and a presence. They are public servants, paid for by the public and accountable to the public, but I want them to be on the streets making their presence and their force known.
Mr Lammy: I respect the manner in which the hon. Lady makes her remarks, but will she acknowledge that my remarks were particular to certain communities and incidents? She will be well aware of the various inquiries and reports that established that the black community in particular was some way from experiencing a police service.
As a criminal barrister, I could speak for ever about this subject, but the clock is against me. I am pleased that one of the first things that the coalition did, to enable our police officers to get on and do the job that they want to do, was to allow our custody sergeants to charge some minor offences. I would like custody sergeants to revert to having the decision about charge on all matters, working in co-operation with the Crown Prosecution Service. They should take the responsibility that they always used to have for the charges that the accused should face. Changes can always be made as more evidence is gathered and leading counsel and other counsel can also play their part.
We all want to see less form filling and bureaucracy. Opposition Members have to accept that for ordinary police officers-whom many of us have dealt with on almost a daily basis in our working lives-that is a true and real frustration. It holds them back from doing the job that they want to do. We have to restore and build confidence, not just in some of the communities to which the right hon. Member for Tottenham referred, but across Britain. We have to restore the confidence of the public in our police. How many times have Members gone along to a residents' meeting, or knocked on a door while canvassing, and someone says, "You know what, there's a real problem with kids hanging around outside the Co-op"? It is called antisocial behaviour, but it is actually often low-level criminality. One hears that complaint and asks, "Well, have you rung up and complained about it?", but then one hears the riposte, "Well, what's the point? The police never come out, and if they do come out, they won't do anything about it, and if they do do anything about, it won't get to court." And so it goes on. We have to break that cycle, and that sort of work has to start now. By reducing the form-filling and bureaucracy, we will begin at least to make our police more efficient. However, we have to stop this idea that there is no point in contacting our police because they do not have the time or will to do the job.
When it comes to the police and what they give back, I want to see some big changes in how they think and operate. When police officers commit offences, whether like the assault on Ian Tomlinson that lead to his death or like the case in which a police officer recently received a custodial sentence of six months, I want police officers prosecuted fairly, vigorously and swiftly, just like anybody else. There should be no bounds, and the police must be prosecuted properly.
I also want police officers to be prosecuted when they give perjured evidence in court- [Interruption.] I see hon. Members nodding. I know of the work of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). Like many in the criminal justice system, we have sat in court and heard officers on oath tell lies. That has happened, and we know of it. We also know that they have never been brought to book. That has to change. There is a duty on the Crown Prosecution Service, judges, counsels and solicitors to make those complaints and for them to be taken up, if we are to restore confidence in our police service.
When police officers fail to do their job-I suspect there might be a few more nods of agreement from hon. Members-when they fail to disclose material, as they are statutorily obliged to do, when they fail to seize the CCTV or, if they have seized it, to view it rather than destroy it, or when they fail to disclose it to the defence or put it on to the schedule of material to be disclosed to the defence, those are important matters that should not be left to rest, but must be taken up by the police and acted on in order to restore confidence in our police.
New police officers have a two-year probation period, during which they have to prove themselves to be hard-working, conscientious individuals, and if they get things wrong or do not work hard
enough, they can be asked or forced to leave the force. However, after that two-year probation, it is very difficult to remove police constables from the police force, so some police officers can-how shall I put this?-work less hard than others. Does my hon. Friend have a view on that?
Anna Soubry: Absolutely. That concerns me. I had a case in my constituency involving somebody whom I thought had been wrongly removed from the police force. He quite rightly said to me-indeed, I knew from my own experience-that many officers had done far worse than him, in my opinion and, more importantly, the opinion of others, but had retained their jobs.
I am concerned about the training of police officers. Why are all police officers not at least taught keyboard skills? Those of us involved in the criminal justice system know that it still takes two police officers to take a section 9 statement. In this day and age, that is bonkers. There must be a better way. Think of how many police hours would be spent back on the streets or doing other work if it did not take two police officers, in most instances, to take a written statement. There must be better ways of doing that.
I am concerned that so many cases are no longer investigated by an officer of the right rank. I was involved in a prosecution case-unusually, because I did not prosecute much-involving a section 20, grievous bodily harm offence. The investigating officer was a police constable who had only come out of his training two years before. I have defended people accused of rape where the investigating officer was a detective constable. I know I sound the age I undoubtedly am, but in my day-many others would say this-a detective inspector always investigated the offence of rape. No disrespect to the many detective constables I know, but what happened in those cases was quite wrong. Rape is a serious offence and it requires a senior officer to investigate it. I am concerned that serious offences such as section 20s are no longer being investigated by properly trained detectives, but by the uniform branch, to use that term. I am far from convinced that things are being properly investigated; in other words, that justice is being done to everybody-victims and those accused.
Let me turn briefly to what underlies this debate, which is the cuts. It is disingenuous of Labour Members not to face up to the reality of their legacy and the situation that we have been left with. Even if they had won back in May, they know in their hearts that they, too, would be faced with a deficit and would have had to make the sort of decisions that the coalition is now making. That would mean chief constables being placed in a position, as they all are, of having to make serious and long-term cuts in their budgets. I have been to see my chief constable. She has spoken to me frankly and we have discussed the situation. I have no doubt that one of the consequences in my county will be a reduction in police stations. That does not please me, but a clever, thoughtful and resourceful chief constable will use this situation as an opportunity to say, "How can we improve the service that we give to people? How do we become a better police force in this county? In facing these cutbacks in our budget, we could actually be brave and radical in how we operate."
I know that the clock is against me, but I have to respond to what has been said about CCTV cameras and to bundle in something about ASBOs. I have no
difficulty with the concept of ASBOs, but I support much of what my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) said. They have been used effectively, like CCTV, as a sort of sticking plaster. Let me refer hon. Members briefly to a case that I have in Stapleford, a town in my constituency. We have a problem with antisocial behaviour, and there are those who, if I may say so, do not really think outside the box who say, "Put a CCTV camera up. It'll solve the problem." However, it will not, because the trees are overgrown, and even if there were a camera, it would not catch the street. However, the real point is that a CCTV camera will only move the problem on. The real solution, especially to so much youth offending, is to do what we have said we will do, which is look at the causes of crime and begin to tackle the social problems that have led to this increase in criminality.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady's thoughtful speech. She is right to say that there is a difference in analysis, but none the less, she brings her experience to bear and it was a pleasure to hear it. However, after listening to her speech and many of the other contributions that we have heard, I also felt that there was a bit missing. She says that she has spoken to her chief constable and she is in no doubt that there will be fewer police stations, but with the cuts that we are talking about, the reality is that we will have fewer police officers. Some 80% of the police budget goes on people. We will not save that money simply by shutting a few buildings down. When she says that an excellent chief constable will look at the current situation and create a better service with less money, she is indulging in a myth. It is really unfair to the people in our communities, who rely on the Government and the police to keep them safe, to continue to allow them to believe that the police will be able continually to achieve more with less.
When the hon. Lady says that Labour would have had to face the same choices, she is not quite telling the truth, because the Conservatives have chosen to double the speed with which the deficit is paid off. Now that they have made that decision, we will have extra cuts. The shadow Home Secretary made it absolutely clear that there would have been cuts; he listed some of them for the second time, for the benefit of the Home Secretary, who had missed them the first time round. He was quite specific about them.
We also put in our manifesto that front-line policing would be protected, and that is key. A Government's first duty must be to do all that they can to keep their citizens safe, and that is a duty that Labour understood well. It was demonstrated by the 17,000 extra police officers-compared with 1997-who are now patrolling
Britain's streets, 350 or so of them in Derbyshire, and by the 16,000 police community support officers introduced by Labour. The PCSOs have moved from being scorned by the press to being greatly valued by the public, who can see the contribution that they are making. As the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice admitted yesterday, the Labour Government were the first in history to preside over a consistent reduction in crime.
In addition to fighting serious crime and tackling the new threats of more complicated terrorist networks, more sophisticated paedophile rings and increasingly complex international drug and crime cartels, the Labour Government also gave the police far more significant powers to reduce antisocial behaviour than ever before. It was interesting to hear the Home Secretary claim that one of the problems was that the police had too many different powers. She implied that they were like joiners with too many tools, standing by a wall unsure which hammer to use, and that the extra powers at their disposal were somehow slowing them down and preventing them from getting on with policing. That was a rather strange thing to say.
The antisocial behaviour powers gave the police the ability to deal in a different and more effective way with the low-level antisocial element that exists in every constituency in the country. The Home Secretary showed us a window into her mind earlier, when she said that there was an increased perception of antisocial behaviour in poorer communities. Was she suggesting that, in regard to antisocial behaviour, the only difference between a poor community and a wealthy one was that poor people felt as though they were suffering as a result of it, and that if the millionaires took the trouble to look out of their castles, they would see all the terrible things going on outside the castle walls? Her reference to the perception of antisocial behaviour was quite revealing about her mindset and her view of the job that she has come into.
Like me, the police I have spoken to were staggered by the Home Secretary's decision to abandon the antisocial behaviour order powers. They say that those powers have done much to help them to work with community groups, with tenants and residents associations, and with local councils to clean up the streets. It seems incredible that the Government should choose to strip the police of a power that is clearly working, at a time when all parties are concerned about reoffending rates. About 65% of recipients of an ASBO did not reoffend, and 93% desisted after their third one.
We have also heard a lot of talk about the effect on communities of antisocial behaviour orders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke of the situation in his community. Chesterfield has a different environment, but our antisocial behaviour problems also lead on to low-level crime and, if those problems are not tackled at an early age, people can go on to become serial offenders who will be found guilty of much more serious crimes. I know that that is the experience of Members on both sides of the House. People have been driven out of their homes by vandalism to their car, for example. Every morning, when they come out to go to work, they do not know whether their tyres will have been let down or their wing mirrors smashed, or whether a big scratch will have appeared on the bonnet. Those might be considered lower-level crimes, but if they are not dealt with, the perpetrators will
decide that they are above the law and one thing will lead to another and their crimes will become more and more serious.
We need real honesty in this debate about what we expect from the police. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made the important point that we now have an opportunity to reconsider the role of the police and decide what we want them to do. With the level of the cuts that are coming, the role we expect of the police is going to change drastically. There is no point anyone pretending otherwise.
The Home Secretary said that she wants to strip all the targets away so that the police have just one basic target-to cut crime. That fails to acknowledge the many different aspects of police work where no crime has been committed. If we see a man on a bridge who looks as if he is going to throw himself down on to the motorway, we are going to call the police-but no crime has been committed; it is just a man stood on a bridge. I would like to think that the police of the future would still turn up at such an incident. If not, we would be living in a very strange world.
When I was out with the police, they explained to me another problem they have with the mental health wing of a local hospital. There is a secure unit there and patients from it are sometimes given a pass to go out. The pass might be for three, four or 24 hours. At 23 hours and 59 minutes, there is no problem, but at 24 hours and a minute, the police are called out to find a missing person. Again, no crime has been committed, but the police are called.
We need to be sensible in this debate about what to expect from the police. I would certainly like to think that all Labour Members would join me in assisting the Police Minister in fighting his corner to get recognition for the message he wants to send out about what we want the police to do. Road traffic accidents provide another example. A huge amount of police time is taken up attending them, but no crime has been committed in most cases. If the responsibility of the police is only to stop crime, they might stop going out to road traffic accidents. Again, this shows the simplicity of the message; it might be attractive to the readers of tabloid newspapers, but it does not reflect the complexity or reality of what the police do. I am not advocating that the police should not turn up to road traffic accidents or should not turn up when a man is about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. What I am saying is that if we take the Home Secretary at her word, we need to think about the sort of service that we will end up with.
Mr Buckland: The hon. Gentleman, in making his point attractively, risks missing the point of the scenarios he has described. I can think of a number of crimes that might have been or could be committed in the circumstances he describes, particularly in the case of road traffic accidents-starting with dangerous driving, to name but one. Frankly, he is not making a good point; if he has any better ones, I would like to hear them.
Toby Perkins: I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman could understand the basic point I am making-that the police do a hell of a lot of work that does not actually involve cutting crime. I simply gave a number of examples.
We also need to look at what some of the backroom people do in the police service. I would not pretend that if we spoke to 100 police officers, none of them would complain about bureaucracy. I have spoken to senior police officers and I know that they do complain about it. Equally, however, I have not met a single police officer who believes that 25% cuts to the budget can be made by cutting the forms. That is not realistic. Much bureaucracy falls outside the Home Office remit and, as some of my hon. Friends said earlier, much of police bureaucracy arises from the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS requires such high evidential standards before it will take cases to court that the police have to provide a tremendous amount of evidence to back the service up. A lot of it takes up time. If we are going to remove such bureaucracy, we will have to accept that the police are likely to achieve fewer prosecutions. The CPS might have to take more cases to court, but that might increase the justice budget, so we would be saving on the one hand and losing out on the other.
My hon. Friends have also referred to other back- office functions-the massive amount of work done on counter-terrorism, for example, or on breaking international drug rings and international crime syndicates. The police also have people whose work is dedicated to the reduction of domestic violence. What often happens there is that the police put in a great deal of work to get the evidence together to achieve a prosecution, only to find that the victim of the violence has subsequently patched up the relationship and decided not to prosecute. The police have specialist teams dealing with child sex abuse. Such people may not be considered to be front-line police officers, but I should like to think that in any civilised society they would continue to work in the police force, and I believe that the narrowness of the new police target will be counterproductive. Far from being a Whitehall diktat, the policing pledge was put together by senior police officers who wanted to specify the standards of policing that people could expect wherever they lived.
I referred earlier to Liberal Democrats' contribution to the policing policies pursued by the present Government. People ask what the Liberal Democrats are doing, but in this context their influence is clear, whether it involves their wish to get rid of ASBOs, their opposition to the DNA database-without which, as we have heard, 26 more murderers would be out on the streets-or their justice proposals, which mean that yobbos and criminals would not go to prison, but would be out on the streets as well. It is hardly surprising that someone who was on the run decided that it was well worth supporting the Liberal Democrat party financially: he may have felt that there was some benefit in doing so.
I wonder what happened to the Conservative party. I suspect that Lord Tebbit is turning in his crypt at the current Tory policies. The Tories seem not to understand, as he did, how poorer communities and people in deprived areas have been badly affected by crime. The Government are showing a lack of honesty about what will be faced by people on the streets if cuts of this magnitude are made, and a lack of awareness of what it is like to live in a deprived community that is under pressure from criminals. They do not seem to understand what it is like for people to wake up not knowing whether their properties will be left alone that day, or to go on holiday not knowing whether their properties will be broken into.
The current lack of vision about the best way in which to spend police resources leaves our police force, our communities and the value of a law-abiding, decent society dangerously exposed. I urge the Government to think again before pulling the rug from under the feet of our police.
The debate has focused on a number of issues, notably accountability and cuts, but I want to talk about the situation in my constituency. I want to talk about what has gone wrong, the cost of crime and some of the solutions. I accept that great strides have been made in fighting antisocial behaviour, and that major reforms and successes have been achieved in Harlow. Recent operations have succeeded in targeting the few prolific offenders who cause the majority of the problems. Nevertheless, the town still suffers from the highest violent crime rate in Essex and from a high rate of burglaries and car thefts, and in terms of crime and disorder, some of its estates suffer from the worst 10% of deprivation in the British Isles. We also have serious problems in specific areas such as the town centre.
Although crime in those areas is not always reported to the police, I find-like other Members-that local residents often contact me about it, and mention it to me frequently in surgeries. That is why I consider this debate to be so important. We have some very effective police officers in Harlow and some good leadership in Essex, but I believe that in the wider United Kingdom there has been a breach of trust between the police and the public. The umbilical cord has been cut. Raymond Chandler, the American novelist, said:
"Crime isn't a disease, it's a symptom."
It has already been said that Tony Blair promised to be tough on the causes of crime, but the last Government approached prevention in a chaotic way. For example, sadly, they rewarded family breakdown by penalising couples in the welfare system, and they also failed to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price.
We see this elsewhere, too. There has been much comment in the debate about closed circuit television. I am in favour of it when it cuts crime, but the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), came with me a few years ago to visit a company in Harlow called Rotatest which trains people in how to use CCTV. It has shown, through using Home Office studies, that about 80 or 90% of CCTV in this country is not fit for purpose either because it does not comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 or it is not operated properly or the machinery is not working properly. In 2006 alone we spent about £250 million on CCTV that was not working in the way that it should.
Only a couple of years ago, the deputy chief inspector of the Met, Mick Neville, said the system was an "utter fiasco", with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using security cameras. Although Britain now has more cameras than any other European country, he said that "no thought" had gone into how to use
them. We must have CCTV, of course, but I would like us to prevent more crime so that we need fewer CCTVs. It is not that we do not want CCTV; rather, we want to prevent crime so it is not needed in the first place.
Another problem is the micro-managed target culture of the previous Government and the bureaucracy, in part driven by the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) when he was head of Tony Blair's policy unit. The Opposition talk about cuts, but three years ago when they were in government they established a National Crime Reduction Board and then gave it no budget. They talk about cuts, but for all their spending they left England and Wales with double the crime rate of the European average. The Home Secretary said earlier that there were about 900,000 violent offences in 2009. The House of Commons Library has shown that that rose from 618,417 such offences in 1998, so there has been a huge rise in violent crime.
The Government's reforms are urgently needed for Harlow, because there is not just the social cost of families blighted by crime, but there is also the huge cash cost, which is hurting the recovery. Labour Members have talked about cuts and expenditure, but they must accept that their policies led to crime now costing more than £3,000 for every family in the UK each year. Given that there are about 40,000 family households in my constituency, the cost to Harlow could be in the order of £120 million a year.
During the election campaign, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice visited with me a newsagent in Nazeing village that had been robbed three times in three weeks. This shop was just one of many whose profits were suffering because of crime. When we legally oblige police constables to spend 50% of their time on paperwork, we deny people the power to shape local policing and this is the sad result.
What are the answers? First, I would like to congratulate chief superintendent Mr Simon Williams and chief constable Mr Jim Barker-McCardle, as despite the challenging economic situation they have no plans to cut the number of front-line police officers in Harlow and intend to keep the police station in Harlow open for 24 hours a day. They are demonstrating that a smarter public sector can deliver more for less, even when it spends 80% of its budget on people. Earlier this year, before we entered government, Essex police had to cut £2.5 million from its budget, and it did so without any effect on front-line services.
We must also restore the trust between the wider public and the police, and the umbilical cord between them. That is why I am a passionate advocate of the Government's policies to reconnect the police with the communities that they serve, which include having the direct election of a police commissioner. I cannot understand the opposition of Labour Members to making the police more accountable to the communities that they serve. We also propose reducing police paperwork and bureaucracy, so that constables can spend more time on the streets; introducing regular beat meetings, so that residents can hold the local police to account; and publishing more detailed local crime statistics.
We also propose to have more specials, and it is tragic that their number has declined by 6,000 since 1997. I completely disagree with the comments made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) about specials. There is scope for greater community
involvement in policing. For example, Essex has one of the largest forces of specials in England. In early-day motion 520, I welcomed the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice that there is a "huge untapped potential" for recruiting more specials, and I suggested transforming them into a Territorial Army-type force. That would enable specials to cover more policing duties and would offer excellent value for money. Specials are also a genuinely local force and a valuable source of community intelligence.
I am not asking for extra money, but rather for the Government to refocus their resources to incentivise special constables, so that they can work more hours and develop professionally. Following many tragic fatalities on the railways near Harlow, I have called, including in my early-day motion 598, for a similar volunteer force of special rail guards to be established to improve safety on train platforms. In a time of scarce resources, special constables offer a big society answer to the crime problems we face, not only in Harlow, but across the country. I am talking about having fully trained constables with real powers who give a few hours a week to their local neighbourhood. We already have 600 in Essex, and let us hope we have more soon.
Guy Opperman: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is scope to widen the training and opportunities available to the existing special constables, so that they can carry out alternative tasks on a more big society basis?
Robert Halfon: I am saying completely the opposite. I am saying that for the special constables we should create a model similar to that of the Territorial Army. We should have a special constable force and its officers would be paid for the hours that they do, in the same way as TA people are paid.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am in favour of volunteers, but not as a substitute for the real thing-that is the danger of the position taken by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). One of the lessons that Labour learned from the Conservatives in the 1980s and early 1990s was the importance of the law and order agenda. That had a profound impact on the Labour party, and the tragedy is that the coalition has forgotten that lesson. This Administration seem to have the wrong priorities.
I would have liked to have been party to the coalition talks and to have discovered how no priority was given to basic safety and security when they sat down to plan this great document. How did the Administration arrive at the conclusion, based on all their experience of their manifestos and the election outcome, that the electorate wanted to prioritise spending on international development and health above all else? I would like to see that put to a referendum or discussed in one of the Deputy Prime Minister's question and answer sessions around the country. When I talk to voters, they tell me that the Administration have got that wrong.
I was about to say that we have already seen a cut in this year's core funding for the police. Most chief constables and police authorities anticipated that and they have taken some steps to prepare for it. That is what Programme Paragon in the west midlands is partly about; it is a reorganisation of the police to get better efficiency and use of personnel. Now we are faced with even more severe cuts on top-cuts to magistrates courts, to police, to probation, to prisons and to the entire criminal justice system. There is no area where the axe will not fall. It is inevitable that that scale of cuts will lead to a rise in crime and public alarm. That is a given.
One of the areas where this Administration are falling down and could learn lessons is that Labour listened to professionals and to the public about their concerns on crime. That is why crime was down when we left office-we listened and we took on board the concerns. The danger here is that the Administration are not listening and that we will all pay the price further down the line.
I want to make it clear that I accept the argument for cuts. I do not happen to revel in them-unlike some of the people on the Government Benches-but I accept the argument. There should be savings and cuts-I have no problem with that. I think it was the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) who said that he wanted to see some savings in standardising equipment purchase and in national procurement. So do I, and that is why they were in the White Paper that Labour produced. If I remember correctly, that White Paper also contained our pretty ambitious plan to cut police overtime, something that the coalition has taken on board.
I have no problem with trying to make such savings and I think, frankly, it is utterly dishonest of the people opposite to pretend that we are saying anything else. We can argue about the scale of cuts and about the impact on the economy, but to stand there and try to pretend that we are not saying that is downright dishonest.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with a Government seeking greater efficiency, but it is a question of numbers and scale. I happen to agree with Her Majesty's inspectorate
of constabulary and the Audit Commission that cuts in excess of 12% will affect the capacity to police our streets. It is as simple as that. Sir Paul Stephenson has made it clear that the scale of cuts being planned will mean a much smaller force in London as we prepare to police the Olympics. I am not sure that anyone has given sufficient consideration to what that might mean.
I personally think that we will see two effects from the Government's actions. First, we will see a freeze on recruitment-that is already happening in the west midlands-and a freeze in promotion. Ultimately, that will drain morale and lead to a stunted, unbalanced and defensive police organisation. We will also see the reverse of civilianisation-the very opposite of what the Home Secretary claims that she wants.
Civilians, who are obviously easier to sack than police officers, are going to be forced out, and police officers will then have to be redeployed to take on some of those civilian tasks. Rather than seeing crime fighters, we are going to see trained police officers back on front desks acting as receptionists. They will be answering phone calls about minor matters and carrying out back-office admin tasks. They will not be out on the streets but be back in the offices reverting to doing simple typing tasks. Reverse civilianisation will be the effect of sacking civilians because they are easier to dispose of, and their work will still have to be done by police officers. That will be the consequence.
I am concerned that eventually chief constables will be driven, probably in despair, to use what is known as regulation A19 to sack officers who have completed 30 years of service. Perversely, that makes sense at force level because those people draw some of the highest salaries; it has an immediate impact on the budget because salaries are the largest part of the budget. However, the consequence is getting rid of some of our most experienced police officers. That means getting rid of the people who contribute most to the job while the public still have to pick up the tab for their pensions and any pay-off arrangements that were made in persuading them to go. That approach makes no sense in the long run and is a classic short-term economy with long-term ramifications. I understand that the West Midlands police force, which is admittedly the second-largest force in the country, is looking at losing about 2,000 police jobs as a result of what is planned. To give an idea of scale, about 14,000 people are employed by the force.
It is easy to trade statistics in debates such as this, and we have heard one or two already, but I want to draw attention to one that has caught my eye. Cardiff university recently demonstrated that there were 64,000 fewer violence-related attendances at accident and emergency departments in 2010 compared with 2001, which represents a fall of 15%. We should pay attention to that independent research, because it tells a story about violent crime and it rather contradicts some of the myths that we have heard recently. I commend it to the Government and I hope that they will be willing to follow it up. There is also the British crime survey, which is not so popular with the Government, certainly not since they were rebuked by Sir Michael Scholar for misusing statistics. I often wonder how long it will be before we hear a statement that the UK Statistics Authority is to be abolished in the interests of Government efficiency.
As I have said, one reason for Labour's successes in law and order was that we paid attention to the concerns voiced to us by the public and professionals. That is the real story behind why we introduced antisocial behaviour orders. We recognised the need for a measure that would address the types of antisocial behaviour that the police and the public were telling us they were powerless to deal with. ASBOs are not perfect, but they are better than nothing. What we need is a measure that allows people who are constantly on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour and are not being helped by their police or local authorities to go directly to court and ask for something to be done. That would be much more effective.
The bureaucracy that the Home Secretary worries about is not inherent in ASBOs. The problem is the bureaucracy and dilatory behaviour of councils such as the Lib Dem-Tory coalition authority in Birmingham. That is why it takes so long to deal with antisocial behaviour. It would be much better if the Government put some energy into tackling that bottleneck, rather than taking away one of the tools that people generally feel is making a difference. Deciding to abolish ASBOs without a sensible alternative is like turning one's back when people are suffering the worst kind of torment. It suggests that the coalition is already out of touch. I am sure that if Ministers had spoken to people about this, they would not be setting out such a proposal.
It is good that we use technology to tackle miscarriages of justice and to catch people who thought that they had got away with it. I worry that the Government's position on DNA is pseudo civil liberties posturing and doubt that it is reasonable or rational. I am not against a review of CCTV, and given some of the points made about Project Champion in Birmingham, there might be a good argument for a review. However, if the Government seriously think that ANPR and CCTV are not needed in the fight against crime, they are totally and utterly wrong. On CCTV, we should, if anything, be worrying about how we will find the resources for the next generation of cameras. Addressing that point in conjunction with regulation would be much more useful than simply going along with the wheeze that we can get by without them.
The Government talk a great deal about freedom, but I detect a certain degree of intolerance and authoritarianism behind the mask. The Audit Commission might cause a problem-abolish it; the Association of Chief Police Officers might be awkward-emasculate it; police authorities might not play ball-scrap them. The Government talk about localism and the big society but move in the opposite direction. They are destroying the links between ordinary people and the criminal justice system, and their obsession with cuts that go beyond economic sense will destroy neighbourhood policing.
I spoke at a charity event in Worcester the other week along with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin). I invite hon. Members to ask her privately-not in the Chamber-what a largely Tory audience thought about elected police commissioners. I will tell hon. Members why we will have such a short consultation on that: because the Government know that the proposal does not make sense. It is a fix, just like the Deputy Prime Minister's boundary review, that will not work.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House. I hope that I shall not use my full allocation of time because I know that several hon. Members still wish to play their part in this wide-ranging debate. The shadow Secretary of State went through the gamut of policy in general, talking about not only policing but wider issues of criminal justice, and I shall be as faithful as possible to the parameters that he set in his opening speech.
The preceding speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) was revealing in the sense that he said that the Labour party learned a lot about what people wanted during the '80s and '90s. However, it seems to me that Labour learned a lot about what tabloid headlines demanded rather than about what was happening on the ground. The Labour Government's increasing distance from the reality of people's lives was reflected by their culture of legislative incontinence and increasingly centralised control that must have made police officers-from chief constables down to those at ground level-feel that at times they were being made to revolve on the spot. The consequences of the lack of clarity-the ever-changing parameters set for the police-were manifold. I shall concentrate on several that were worrying.
The first casualty of the previous Government's obsession with centralism and targets was trust in the ability of constables and more senior police officers to take decisions-decisions on the priorities that they wanted to set in their localities, on the appropriate responses to complaints of crime, and on whether a suspect should be charged. One of the most fundamental powers available to the police was rudely taken away from them, and I am delighted that the new Government will restore in part that discretion to the police. I take this opportunity to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) in urging the Government to go further and to restore the power of charging completely to police officers. Let me tell the House why I believe that.
In recent years, there has been an increasing obsession with the need for the investigating authority to get everything precisely in order before the decision to charge. That fad-that obsession-has led to debates in this House, before the election and since, and in the media about detention periods prior to charge. We have hotly debated the subject, here and elsewhere, with wildly and dramatically conflicting views expressed about civil liberties. I am left wondering why we have ended up in that position. Why is there that obsession with the need to delay everything before the decision to charge?
Time and again, when police officers made the early decision to charge, it provided the key incentive to the investigating authority to get on with the job of investigating the case thoroughly, preparing it for trial and making sure that victims and witnesses were not kept waiting. Then, the decision to charge was removed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The advice before charge system involves an often experienced police officer having to telephone a CPS lawyer, probably located some distance from the police
station, and reinvent the wheel by explaining everything to that lawyer, only to be told that the lawyer was not seized of all the necessary information and the key decision to charge would have to be put off. That has led to real frustration, not only on the part of police officers, but also, and crucially, on the part of witnesses who, having made their statements, have been asked to wait for months-sometimes for more than a year-before giving evidence. What effect does that have, first, on the ability of the witness to remember events clearly and, secondly, their enthusiasm to come to court? Those are fundamental problems that I saw at first hand, time and again, during my years in practice in the Crown court.
Another consequence was the culture of clear-ups-the driver whereby the police had to resolve unsolved crimes. It did not seem to matter what the crime was; what was important was getting that clear-up. The outcome was essential. It did not matter if the crime was serious; as long as the box was ticked and it was moved off the system, everything was okay. That is not a reflection of public opinion or public confidence, or of a Government who are learning the lessons and listening to people. It is a complete negation of what the public interest is and what the public really want.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): If that point is juxtaposed with the other part of the Government's plan to have democratically elected leaders of local police authorities, if a candidate stood on a manifesto of clear-ups and won, would such a policy be allowed?
Mr Buckland: Obviously, there will be a distinction between police commissioners getting involved in day-to-day operational duties and their other role, but I think it will be perfectly in order for candidates to debate that question and how we deal with the clear-up issue. That is a matter of legitimate public concern and debate, so I do not see any problem with dealing with that. It would be a different matter if on a day-to-day basis, a particular case were in some way influenced by a commissioner. In terms of the remit of that elected official, that would be to stray into the wrong territory.
There was a rather absurd reversal of roles, whereby senior Ministers-a succession of Labour Home Secretaries-wanted to outdo each other in order to sound tough on crime. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) is not in his place, but he described his era as a golden age: a year of broad sunlit uplands, peace and tranquillity, as he stood with a shining sword in hand, on his way to the new Jerusalem. Juxtaposed with that, senior police officers increasingly sounded like politicians and had to defend the indefensible. Their language became more and more obscure, and they did not sound like police officers anymore or like the representatives of a police force-a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe made and I strongly support. Something was rotten in our state, and, if this Government had not acted quickly to recognise that, something would continue to be wrong.
I shall not give way at this point, because I need to develop this point. I am delighted that in place of that rotten rhetoric, we have a sense
of honesty and reality when it comes to addressing what is going on at the coal face of the criminal justice system.
A major part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was on antisocial behaviour, but by assuming that there will be a wholesale abolition of the structure, an assumption that other Opposition Members repeated, an Aunt Sally has been set up. When the Home Secretary in her paper described the process of moving beyond ASBOs, she meant development and improvement, rather than wholesale abolition.
I shall propose a few sensible simplifications of the system. The criminal ASBO, or CRASBO, is a waste of time and should be removed. At the end of a Crown court trial, when a defendant has been convicted, punished and has received his sentence, an application is made, almost as an afterthought, for a criminal antisocial behaviour order, which is often poorly drafted, ill thought-out, unworkable and unenforceable.
When it comes to the rest of the ASBO structure, we have a system of "Thou shalt not", a prohibitory system telling the subjects of those orders what not to do. There is a case for allowing the greater use of mandatory orders. They encourage positive behaviour and particular steps that an individual should take to improve their behaviour, rather like what was done with antisocial behaviour injunctions under the Housing Act 1996, the year before Labour entered government, which was amended in later years. I met representatives of my local authority in Swindon during the recess to discuss those issues, and I am grateful to them for their constructive submissions in this respect. The authority has a very proactive antisocial behaviour team, and it will make submissions to the review in due course.
I turn to my other concern, which I share with the local authority. The Government have rightly said that the rather lengthy and cumbersome process of obtaining ASBOs in court must be streamlined. There has been a discussion about whether the forum for the imposition of ASBOs should move wholesale to the county court, but I agree with my local authority that we should urge caution. I would suggest that the magistrates court is a quicker, more effective and better forum for the resolution of a lot of antisocial behaviour orders. If new, streamlined procedural rules need to be developed, then that can be done.
My fundamental point is that we need to move away from what has been a tendency by authorities to reclassify crime as antisocial behaviour. The whole thrust of the legislation passed by the previous Government was what one might call the Heineken approach-to refresh the parts of our social problems that the criminal law could not reach. I am afraid that the principle has been undermined to a worrying degree as a result of the target culture and the need to avoid "criming"-that is a dreadful word, but I have heard it used many times; I do not accept that it exists in the English language-particular complaints, driving them down the antisocial behaviour route.
That is not the approach we should adopt. We should use ASBOs as a bolt-on to the existing criminal justice system. They should be used judiciously and carefully-not with a scattergun approach-to try to deal with a range of wholly unsuitable scenarios. Local authorities such as mine in Swindon use many stages before they resort to ASBOs. I encourage that approach across the country, while recognising that in each different locality local bodies should be free to make decisions based on their own priorities.
I did not recognise in any way the remarks made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) about centralist authoritarianism as regards the new Government's approach to dealing with crime. I oppose the motion and commend the Government's approach.
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I was not going to participate in this debate, but I was struck by the absence of discussion of a particularly important issue that is of the utmost concern to my constituents: the problem of serious youth violence, gun and knife crime, and the gang culture that still exists in some of our major cities.
During the election, I spoke to many mums and dads who told me that while they recognised that serious gang members had been taken off the streets, they were still very fearful for the safety of their sons and daughters. My concern about the Government's proposals to reduce police numbers and the amount of resources that are available to our police forces across the country is that our police will not have the same ability to tackle this very important and serious problem in many of our communities.
"The other day my son was threatened at knife point and had his phone taken on the very street where we live. To my absolute horror the police knew all of the gang member's names, their street names and they knew they all carry knives and guns."
My constituent went on to tell me that he had discovered on YouTube links to this particular gang-videos with hours of footage that, in effect, act as recruitment videos for the gangs. One video had 15,925 viewings, and I was appalled by some of the imagery contained in it.
I take this opportunity to ask the Government to set out in more detail what initiatives and plans they have to tackle this very important issue in our constituencies. I appreciate that it is not all about the police, and that organisations that can provide positive, accessible role models to our young people are critically important. It would be remiss of me, as the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East, not to bring this incredibly important issue to the attention of the House and to ask Ministers present here today to provide some assurances about what their Government will be doing to tackle this problem.
Those were the only points that I wanted to make. I had not planned to make an intervention in the debate, but as the issue had not cropped up, I thought it was very important to put it on the record, and I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to do so.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): At the heart of this debate is a single issue: what would we all cut? How would we all approach the difficult dilemmas that we face? Police budgets are, by definition, an emotive subject, as anyone who has sat in the Chamber this afternoon can appreciate. Every one of us wants to have the maximum possible number of police. However, health, education, defence, justice and all the other matters that we have to address are also emotive. To look at the police budget on its own without considering other issues is naive and does not approach the full problem.
The simple question is this: is anyone above budgetary cuts? I do not believe that we are, or that the police are. All the police officers whom I speak to-I have done nine murder trials and spent the best part of 20 years working with officers-accept that things have to change. We do not have to explain that in terms of class or Thatcherism. Those things do not apply, because it is simply about maths. As we all explained up and down the country, if someone spends £400 but earns only £325, the maths simply does not add up. I see no problem in approaching that problem by saying, "This must change."
Toby Perkins: Seeing as the hon. Gentleman has set up his contribution based on the economy, he might choose to reflect on the fact that there is a fundamental difference between our parties. The Labour Government proposed to reduce the deficit, but not by nearly as much as the new Conservative Government. Because they are increasing the pace at which we are repaying the deficit, they will have to cut more and there will be fewer police on the beat and more crime. That is a fundamental difference in approach.
Guy Opperman: I disagree totally, because we are tackling the deficit earlier and will not have the problems that we would have had if Labour had kept delaying the cuts and spending as though there were no tomorrow. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that 6 May was the tomorrow, and his party lost it.
In Hexham, the police have already taken a small budgetary cut. I walked the beat with them barely three weeks ago. They are doing an amazing job of looking after their area and are perfectly able to cope with the difficulties that they have had thus far. Who knows where the future will ultimately lie? However, they understand and appreciate the problems and they know that there are ways forward. As the assistant to Barack Obama put it, "We should not waste a crisis." It is often in the difficult times that we can re-evaluate who we are, assess what we are doing and review what we are going to spend our money on in future.
I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) and by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) in his excellent speech. The latter spoke with great eloquence, having been a police officer himself until nine years ago. He indicated, for example, that higher police numbers do not necessarily equal less crime. The example of Belgium is well known. There are very significant numbers of police-the highest numbers in Europe-yet the crime level is massively increased.
I hope that the Government will consider the fact that in a constituency such as mine, which is 1,150 square miles, the vital issue of rural crime has been treated very differently from other crime over the past 13 years, and I hope that things will improve. That point encompasses why I oppose the closure of the magistrates court in my constituency. The proposal is that we will have no magistrates court in our 1,150 square miles. I do not believe that that is the right way forward, hence my strong opposition to such a measure.
My final point is this. I ask myself why the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the shadow Home Secretary, gave the speech that he gave today-it has been mentioned this afternoon on several occasions. Some described it as an application to the post-election shadow Cabinet, but I am not sure that it was. I take the view that he expressed amazing reverence for Lord Michael Howard. He seemed to disregard all Home Secretaries between Lord Howard and himself, when we reached, as others described it, the delightful sunlit upland of "the year of Johnson", as he called it. That was very eloquent. According to him, the world went from the "prison works" policy of Michael Howard to him, but he disregarded the ASBO age of John Reid as Home Secretary and the CRASBO-criminal antisocial behaviour order-age of Charles Clarke, and indicated that we simply arrived in the year of Johnson when everything was sunlit and perfect.
I thought that the Howard-Johnson alignment had a future, but then I remembered that that was the name of a rather dodgy hotel chain in America that provides a kind of cut-price service. Lord knows where we could go with that. I support the Government, and I urge people to reconsider their approach. I accept that there are contrary arguments-police budgets are always emotive-but the Johnson alignment is not the right way.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The ability-indeed, the right-of people to live in security is the most fundamental achievement of society, and Government Members who too often give the impression that public is bad and private is good should remember that only the public sector can deliver a police force in which the public have confidence.
Like many hon. Members, I do not have an intimate knowledge of the police, which is why I was pleased to have the opportunity to go on patrol in Newcastle with Northumbria police a few days ago. I was taken to Newcastle's Bigg Market by a local police sergeant and a police community support officer. For those who are unfamiliar with Newcastle, all human life is in the Bigg Market, from those who beg and sing for their supper, to the better-heeled student visitors and tourists, and all those for whom alcohol and entertainment form part of a good evening out. I was struck by the difference between the policing that I experienced then and the policing that I experienced during the Thatcher years.
Police Community Support Officer James Maguire and Sergeant Michelle Jahangiri had a deep understanding of the needs of the Newcastle community and of Newcastle's priorities. They told me how neighbourhood meetings, which my right hon. Friend the Member for
Don Valley (Caroline Flint) described so eloquently, enabled them to understand better the community's priorities. I also saw for myself how the balance between PCSOs, who liaise directly with the community, and other police officers, means that the latter have more time to address the more pressing policing issues. That balance is important to successful policing.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, spoke of wanting a police force, not a service. I believe very strongly that the people of this country want both. Policing is a service. Force alone will not resolve the kind of policing issues that we face today, when it is the respect and trust of the community that is so important. The hon. Lady spoke of how children require the knowledge of supervision, but those who elected me are not children. They require a police force, but they also require a partner in the policing of their streets. That is why the changes that Labour and the investment it made in policing as part of a community service have been so important in Newcastle and across the country.
The reduction in crime under Labour is clearly related to improved and increased policing, but it is also related to our actions elsewhere in Government-in the economy and in social services. As several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, everything was not perfect. There was still much to do, especially in the area of mental health care. The events in Newcastle before the summer showed how closely related effective mental health care provision is to the demands on our police. But the plans of the coalition Government will increase enormously the burdens on the police while cutting the resources that they have available.
Cutting the area-based grant, for example, will mean that in Newcastle we may lose our taxi wardens, who have been so successful in reducing violence at taxi ranks. Cutting the future jobs fund will inevitably lead to more unemployment, which will in itself increase the burden on the police, as well as leading to increased crime. Abolishing antisocial behaviour orders will not only take away from the police an important tool that they can use, but will take away a form of reassurance from our communities, in some of the most deprived areas of our cities.
More generally, risking a double-dip recession, which will inevitably lead to higher unemployment, will present our police with huge new challenges. At a time when the police will face an increased burden, it is recklessness taken to extremes to propose cuts of between 25% and 40%. It is understandable, perhaps, that the Liberal Democrats should be liberal with our security and fail to consider the consequences of a free-for-all on our streets. But the British public would expect that the Conservatives would do all that they could to conserve crime-free streets. This betrayal of our security will not be accepted. For that reason, I support the Opposition motion.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con):
I declare an interest in that I spent this morning, as a member of the Kent police authority, working with the chief constable on getting cracking on finding these savings. He has bravely set out his plans to find a 20% reduction, which
is his assumption, and he is working towards that target. There is one element of the motion that I welcome, and that is the recognition from Labour Members that it may be possible to reduce spending on the police by up to 12% without affecting the front line. However, that raises the question why they did not do that.
In Kent, we have been working to do that, and have the second-lowest precept in the country. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). We are collaborating with Essex: we have a single command for all serious and organised crime, and we have a single IT system and single purchasing. Unlike a lot of areas of the country and the regional talking shops introduced by the last Government, we work to find those savings. There are a lot more savings to be found in bureaucracy as well, for example, through not always having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service to charge, and working with the CPS, the probation service and prisons, and perhaps trying to make them more responsive locally and get people working most efficiently.
The best thing we can do to help with the savings is introduce directly elected police commissioners, who could deliver efficiency and give the public the necessary savings. Every year, the police authority in my area receives perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 pages. The formality of that process should be replaced with a single individual working with the police efficiently to deliver what the public want. That is how to deliver better policing and to find these savings. Opposition Members failed to do that, and did not deliver in government. This Government will deliver.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): We have had an interesting debate, and the level of interest in crime and policing provision has been demonstrated by the fact that 22 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken. That is a significant number of people who have expressed an interest in the concerns before us.
I would like to start be reiterating the Opposition's central charge against the Government's proposals to date. The record of the previous Labour Government was one of achievement and one of which Labour Members can be proud. It drove forward changes that I am proud of today and introduced cultural changes to the police service, but it will be put at risk by the Government's actions in the next few weeks and months. In particular, that record will be put at risk-this is the major charge in the motion-by the proposals to cut the resources of the police service. That proposal, which was actually encouraged by the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice-they did not fight the Treasury-will mean that we will face potential major reductions of 20 to 25% in the police service budget. That will create major difficulties in the future- [Interruption.] The Minister says, "How do you know that?" I know it because it was stated in the pre-Budget report and indicated to police forces across England and Wales. I hope that that does not happen, but I expect it to do so.
I am talking not just about funding issues, but about the policy choices that the Home Secretary and the Minister are making over CCTV, DNA, domestic violence protection orders, control orders, the direct election of
police officials and penal policy. That will all put us on a collision course-it has the potential to drive crime up and to lose us the record that we have had to date. I am proud of what the Labour Government did. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) all praised the work of the previous Government.
We should remind ourselves of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) said. The crime survey has shown that crime has fallen 43% since 1997, confidence in policing is up, violent crime fell by 42% in those 13 years, overall personal crime fell 41%, household crime fell 44%, vehicle crime fell, convictions rose, there are more people in prison and we have longer sentences. As a result of that, crime is down by 43% overall, as I said. I am not saying it was perfect, because it was not. If an individual is subject to a crime, to them it is 100% crime. [Interruption.] I am being heckled about reoffending rates, but those actually fell by 20% under the Labour Government. The number of new entrants into the criminal system also fell under the Labour Government, because we made the required investment in many areas.
Members on both sides of the House have mentioned that we have record numbers of police officers-143,734 police officers and 16,000 police community support offices. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden and my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) mentioned that they value the fact that PCSOs provide that service on the streets, giving reassurance. Those officers were not there, in any shape or form before the previous Labour Government came to power. There are also 17,000 more police officers now than in 1997. That investment has made the difference in reducing crime. I simply put that on the record, because although what we did was not perfect, it shows that we made a difference for people in constituencies throughout the United Kingdom by reducing crime.
We did that not just because we put resources into policing and police community support officers, but because we also did what Tony Blair said we would do, which was try to tackle the causes of crime, as well as crime itself. The past three years have seen the youth crime action plan, putting money into prevention work across the country and supporting after-school activities, weekend initiatives and a range of measures to help tackle crime and the causes of crime; putting money into antisocial behaviour initiatives, with the thresholds that we set until March this year to try to encourage local councils to have minimum standards; and looking at issues such as family intervention projects and Sure Start. Indeed, the word "gobsmacked" came to mind when I heard a Conservative Member say how much they welcomed and enjoyed Sure Start. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner)-in a sedentary intervention, albeit a prescient one-said, "Aren't the Conservative Government pledged to abolish Sure Start?" We will see in due course.
Tackling the causes of crime and putting resources into policing and police community support officers made a difference. Crime fell under the previous Labour Government. However, that is not to say that we would not have made savings had we been re-elected on 6 May. Indeed, let me point to the White Paper that I produced as Policing Minister in December last year, supported by my right hon. Friend the now shadow Home Secretary, to show that not only were we trying to take forward policing initiatives; we also recognised that we could, should and would have saved money by doing things more efficiently.
Those efficiencies included reducing the overtime bill by £70 million-the hon. Members for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) made points about that-and developing national procurement standards for police officers' uniforms, beat cars and air support, thereby saving resources in what our 43 forces do; standardising procurement of body armour; cutting stop-and-search paperwork; piloting the transfer of Crown prosecution powers to the police for lesser offences; and looking at encouraging voluntary mergers, with a £500 million fund that I put in place as Policing Minister for that purpose. Government Members raised the question of exposing and developing good practice. The Quest programme, which we supported, did just that; indeed, it extended it, including in Weaver Vale, Cheshire, Runcorn and Warrington. In total, savings of more than £1.3 billion by 2014 were identified by the then Labour Government.
Those savings would have been seen through by the Labour Government, but the choice that the Conservative Government are making is to go beyond that. They are doing what my right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned, which is cutting public spending because they believe in cutting spending, not because they need to tackle the deficit now. That is the choice that the Conservative Government have made. Every right hon. and hon. Member on the Labour Benches went into the election with a commitment to maintain health, education, and policing and crime expenditure. We were elected on that basis- [ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary indicates that that is not correct, but that was in our manifesto, upon which we were elected. I confess that it did not reach the hearts of all parts of the country, but it secured us the mandate to argue today for that expenditure for the future.
What have we seen from the coalition Government? In July, we saw cuts of £125 million to a budget for this year that they agreed in February and which we proposed when we were on the Government Benches as Ministers. We are now seeing cuts of potentially 25 to 40% in the number of police officers, which, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Leicester East and for Salford and Eccles, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said, will damage the ability of police officers on the streets. I happen to contend that, funnily enough, investment in police officers and community support officers has meant that crime has fallen accordingly. The chief constables of Humberside, Gwent, Kent and Cambridgeshire have all predicted deep cuts that will have a profound impact on the crime-fighting abilities of their forces.
As if that were not enough, we find that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is starting to dismantle some of the policies that have made a real
difference on the ground in our communities, including tackling antisocial behaviour through the use of antisocial behaviour orders. I am extremely surprised by that. I grew up in the 1980s, and I believed that the Conservatives were the party of law and order. That is what they told us, every week and every month. That is what they told us all the time. Now, antisocial behaviour orders have been shown to make a real difference on the ground in stopping antisocial behaviour, with 65% of recipients stopping offending when the ASBO is put in place, and 95% stopping after their third order has been issued. However, the Conservative coalition is going to dismantle that system.
The policing pledge, which sets minimum standards of service for the communities that we represent, is also going to be thrown out of the window by the Conservative coalition. The ability to use DNA to bring criminals to justice is also to be thrown out of the window, despite the fact that, in the debate on the Crime and Justice Bill before the election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported proposals under which people who had not been convicted of a crime-but who could potentially have been criminals-would have had their DNA stored. I look forward to a day that could be disastrous for the Government, if people are committing crimes when they could have been prevented from doing so. People could be killed, injured, raped or attacked, but individuals- [ Interruption. ] I say to the Deputy Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), that there are balances to be struck in this regard. An individual might have been caught by the police but not charged. His DNA might have been collected. In 90% of cases, according to our current research, such a person could potentially commit a crime in the future. I look forward to being able to say that we could have prevented some of those crimes from being committed.
Mrs May: I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving me this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that we have not ditched domestic violence protection orders. We have deferred their introduction to ensure that, if we take the decision to carry on with them, they will be the most effective way of dealing with the issues that we all agree need to be dealt with. They have not been ditched.
On the issue of CCTV, there is certainly a need for regulation, but individual Government Back Benchers have said- [ Interruption. ] Well, when we were in government, we were considering proposals for regulation. The fact is, however, that the present Government believe in reducing the number of CCTV cameras and in ensuring that they are not deployed to the extent that we believe they should be. Hon. Members have given their views on that as well.
At the same time, a massive reorganisation of the police service is now pending, which will result in police
forces taking their eye off the ball when it comes to fighting crime. The introduction of directly elected commissioners will cost £50 million. Nothing has yet been said about their roles and responsibilities, about who will set the precept, about qualifications or about staffing. The Government are developing a whole range of issues that will ensure that the police focus on reorganisation and not on their core business of fighting crime in the community at large.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles mentioned control orders, the fight against terrorism and the Prevent budget. These are serious issues, but the Government are setting the needs of what they view as civil liberties against the need to protect the community at large. Again, I look forward to examining those issues in detail, so that we can hold the Government to account on terrorism, international crime, drug running and regional crime.
The Labour party would have maintained the resources for fighting crime and developing policing. We would have increased the efficiency of the police service and allowed the police to look outwards to the public they serve. We would have strengthened the police authorities and ensured that crime continued to fall, as it did during the 13 years of the Labour Government. I look forward to taking on the Government on these issues. We will expose their softness on crime while ourselves adopting the position of the party of law and order. We shall expose their failings over the weeks, months and years ahead.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Let us start with what is agreed on both sides of the House. We agree about the importance of tackling crime. Hon. Members of all parties have spoken about the importance of dealing with crime in their constituencies and of making their communities safe. We also agree about the importance of the police in tackling crime and the need to support them. We should all join in thanking the police for the work they do.
Beyond that, however, agreement ended, and we heard two kinds of speeches, reflecting the divide in today's politics-the divide between this coalition Government and the Opposition who are stuck in the past. It is a divide between the realists and the reformers on this side and the deficit deniers and big spenders on the other side. Government Members understand the importance of, and the responsibility to deal with, the deficit. We understand the importance of organisations, whether they be in the private or the public sector, spending their resources wisely.
We heard good speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) and for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), reminding us that it is not just the number of police officers, but what they do, that matters. How available are they to the public? We should all be sobered by the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, issued just a few weeks ago, telling us that only 11% of the police-about a tenth-are visibly available to the public at any one time. We should ask ourselves the question why. Why is there not greater efficiency in our police service; can the money be spent more wisely? The report also said that higher spending forces are not necessarily better than
other forces and it proposed savings by greater use of civilian staff-some forces are doing that; others are not. As the Chairman of the Select Committee recommended, we need better procurement; we also need more effective collaboration and more back-office savings.
Hazel Blears: The HMIC figure of 11% of officers being available on patrol has been much discussed today. What is the right hon. Gentleman's target over the next 12 months? What does he think he can deliver when it comes to having more officers on patrol?
Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady has not understood the new world, has she? We want to move beyond targets. We do not believe that public services are improved by the targets of which she was so fond.
That issue was reflected in the second group of speeches, which called for more spending. Never mind that we spend £14 billion a year on the police-50% more over the lifetime of the last Government. These speeches-not least the right hon. Lady's-called for more authoritarianism. Never mind about civil liberties: to hell with those, and who cares about the deficit? That was the substance of the shadow Home Secretary's case.
The shadow Home Secretary said that we should not cut, that we should not make any savings in respect of the police and that we should protect the police, but take no action to protect civil liberties or reform police accountability. That was his contention. Let us deal with those matters in turn.
In his winding-up speech, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said that the Opposition would have maintained resources for policing, while the Opposition motion says that the previous Government would have maintained core funding. Yet, on 20 July, on "The Daily Politics" in a debate with me, the shadow Home Secretary said that his Government would have cut by "£1 billion a year"-a cut of 12%. There was the admission that they would have cut spending. Now, however, they say that they would have maintained resources. They do not know what they would have done, but we know what they would have done.
Just a few weeks ago, we know that Labour Members voted against a reduction in police spending, which this Government had to make in order to deal with the deficit. That reduction was by 1.5%, but Labour Members voted against it.
How, then, can we take seriously the shadow Home Secretary's contention that he would have cut by £1 billion? The truth is, as we know, that the Government who left office bequeathed to the country £44 billion-worth of unspecified spending cuts. Those were cuts that they were going to make. They would not say how, but we know that they were in the order of 20%.
I have said this consistently, and I will say it again very slowly. We set out in the November White Paper, the pre-Budget report, the Budget and other public documents savings of £1.3 billion over the next four years. That is about 12% of the Home Office budget. The HMIC report, to which the Minister referred, said that with a lot of effort it was possible to save 12% without affecting front-line services. That is the argument.
Nick Herbert: The right hon. Gentleman says that he would have protected police spending. So which budget would he have cut more deeply? Would it have been health? Would it have been defence? Of course Labour Members will not tell us, but we do know that HMIC has said that £1 billion a year-12% of the budget- could have been saved through better and wiser spending. We will not know the availability of resources until the outcome of the spending review on 20 October, but we are determined to protect front-line services.
When he was Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman would not guarantee police numbers. Perhaps that is not surprising, because we know that police numbers across the country were starting to fall on his watch. He knew that he could not guarantee the funding, and he knew what was around the corner.
The second part of the shadow Home Secretary's contention was that we should make no attempt to protect civil liberties. His entire attack was based on what we planned to do in relation to the restoration of those liberties. The Labour party's position is straightforward: the DNA that is taken from innocent people should be retained. The shadow Home Secretary based that on the argument that crimes would be solved, so why should he stop there? If the end justifies the means, why not take DNA from everyone? If the Labour party is suggesting that all people are potential criminals, they should believe that that would deal with crime. In fact, the end does not justify the means. Labour, the party that proposed 90 days' detention without trial, still does not understand that if we undermine liberty and erode public confidence in law enforcement-if we take away freedom-we do not make people safer at all.
The third part of the right hon. Gentleman's contention was that we should not accept the need for reform of policing. The Government believe that we must replace the bureaucratic accountability and top-down targets of which the last Government were so fond with democratic accountability, rebuild the bridge between the police and the public and reduce Home Office interference, so that we can give local people a real say over policing in their areas.
Labour Members raised various spectres. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke of the risk of politicians being in charge of police forces. Who else should be in charge of police forces, other than elected people? Police forces must answer to someone, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it might be right and proper for them to answer to democratically elected people. The shadow Home Secretary raised the spectre of extremism. That is a constant cry from the Labour party. The British national party won just 2% of the vote in the last election, but it suits Labour's argument to suggest that extremists will be elected. We on this side of the House say, "Let us trust the people when it comes
to who will be elected to these positions." The people will decide who should represent them and hold the police to account.
We are determined that local authorities will still have a role on police and crime panels, and are determined to press ahead with this reform. The shadow Home Secretary said that the reform simply was not necessary. Why? Why, in 2003, did the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), propose directly elected police authorities?
"For many people",
"the question of who is responsible for what in terms of keeping communities safe is simply unclear. We must rectify this. Strong, transparent accountability is vital for community confidence."
"We are...committed to introducing a stronger link between those responsible for delivering policing and the public they serve. We will legislate to reform police authorities, making them more democratic and more effective in responding to the needs of the local community."
Do Opposition Members think these arguments have changed? If they were right in 2003 and 2008, why are they not right now? Indeed, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) simultaneously said we should reject further restructuring-his motion says that-and proposed a third reform. He suggested just a few hours ago at the Dispatch Box that we should have directly elected police authority chairs. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, "Three strikes and you're out. You've reneged on your promise to reform police authorities twice; why should we believe your latest back-of-the-envelope proposal to do it again?"
We, however, are determined to drive forward with our programme of reform, and it is reform that does not end at the greater accountability of local police forces. It includes measures to deal with serious and organised crime, the creation of a national crime agency, and placing police forces under strong duties to collaborate so they can cut costs and tackle crimes that cross force borders. It also includes a serious programme to tackle bureaucracy and to give the public more information through crime mapping and information about crime that is really happening in their streets-not statistics, which, frankly, the public no longer believe. It includes, too, proposals to reform the pay and conditions of police officers, and we start from the position, as we do across the public services, that we trust the professionals. That is why we want to return charging decisions to police officers, as was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and for South Swindon (Mr Buckland).
The reforms move beyond policing, too. There are reforms of the licensing laws to deal with the problem of 24-hour drinking and reforms to the toolkit of antisocial behaviour measures to ensure the police and local authorities have the ability to deal with that problem.
We do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's rose-tinted view of the years of the last Government. We do not accept what he described as the "glorious year of Johnson".
Where did that glorious year end up? It ended up with 10,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour every day, 100 serious knife crimes every day, 26,000 victims of crime every day and 1 million victims of violent crime a year. That is not a glorious record. Five million to 10 million crimes a year is not a glorious record; that is not a record about which the Labour party should be remotely complacent, yet Labour Members rise from the Opposition Benches and suggest nothing more needs to be done to deal with crime other than the ineffective remedies they proposed before.
What did the Labour Government spend their time doing? They spent it wasting money by amalgamating forces, creating bureaucracy with reams of guidance, introducing a policing pledge and spending £6 million a year on doing so, and, of course, creating new laws: 50 Acts of Parliament and 3,000 new offences, and not just offences that would help deal with crime. After all, did these offences make people safer? No, they did not. With their new laws, the Labour Government introduced 24-hour drinking and the so-called café culture, and they downgraded cannabis. They also released 80,000 offenders early under their end-of-custody licence scheme, which, of course, they scrapped just before the election was called. Above all, they spent and wasted industrial sums. They are in double denial: they created the deficit and they are failing to deal with it. We say that we cannot go on like this, spending more than three times the entire budget of the criminal justice system-that of the police, courts and probation service-on debt interest every year. We are determined to deal with the deficit and it is our responsibility to do so. That is the difference between the two sides-we are driving radical reform and they are stuck in the past.
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