Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Ms Lawrence: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler: I will not give way. I thought that I had made it clear that I will not be giving way again. Others want to speak, and we have already had to listen to the lengthiest speech from a Minister on the Government Front Bench in a three-hour debate that I can remember.

The strength of a force such as the City of London is now below the 1979 level, posing the question whether this Government want it to continue. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who is in Committee at the moment, has already taken up the issue.

Four years ago, the then shadow Home Secretary quoted the views of chief police officers. Those chief police officers have made it clear that they are not remotely happy today. Even more significant is the view of the Police Federation, which represents the bulk of policemen and policewomen. It says:


In that, I believe that they speak for a vast number of policemen and policewomen.

Let us not believe that all commitments on police and crime were made before the election. A number have been made since, including a notable one from the Prime Minister himself. In September, on the day before the Prime Minister's speech to the Labour party's conference, the political editor of The Times predicted that the Prime Minister would endorse the zero-tolerance strategy following his talks in New York with the mayor of New York.

The political editor of The Times is a notable safe pair of hands. As it happened, he predicted exactly what the Prime Minister would say. In the unmistakable words of a new Labour scriptwriter, the Prime Minister endorsed the policy of zero tolerance, when he said:


Three months ago, I went to New York to look at the city's zero-tolerance policing policy, which has been outstandingly successful. Calling it zero tolerance is an inaccurate description. It is, in effect, proactive policing. At its centre are morning meetings, where precinct captains are personally held to account by the chief of police. The number of robberies, burglaries and murders are traced and, above all, the action being taken to solve them is checked. The result is that crime has fallen by 40 per cent. New York, which used to be almost a byword for lawlessness, has been returned to the people, and citizens are moving back into the city.

What was the prelude to that zero-tolerance policy? The strength of the police in New York was increased by 7,000 officers. I met no policemen in New York, nor any

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1110

criminologist to whom I talked, who would argue that the policy would have been so successful without those new police officers. Indeed, police numbers in the rest of the United States are also going up, and emphasis is being put on that. The Government have no such policy--we have heard it from the Minister. The policy that this Government are pursuing is that numbers will come down.

In New York, 40,000 policemen police a population of about the same size as London. Here, we have 26,000 police officers, but worst of all, the numbers are reducing. Over the past 18 months they have decreased by almost 600, and in my view there are further reductions to come. It is simply not possible to achieve the kind of success that has been achieved in New York with the kind of policies being pursued by the Government.

The issue goes beyond the detection of crime. It affects the nature of our police service and relations between police and public. We do not want a remote a police service. We want a police service as near to the public as we can get it. We await the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. One of its central points will be relations between police and public. I shall in no way prejudge the results of that inquiry. We must learn the lessons of it--I make that clear.

I hope it will be recognised that relations between police and public in London are generally better than in any other European capital that I have visited. I have studied the police in most other European nations. I do not argue that things cannot be improved--of course they can--but we must avoid demoralising the police and generalising about the service. It would do the police the greatest harm if they were under the pressure of numbers and could not respond properly to the problems of the public.

In that regard, I say to the Minister that I am opposed to the idea that the police should be replaced, as advocated by one chief constable, by local authority patrols marked "Police Compliant" moving round the high street, drawn from the welfare-to-work programme and funded by central Government. Indeed, I would be tempted to laugh off that suggestion from a chief constable, had not the Home Secretary been quoted as saying that the chief constable's plans were "a real possibility".

We have an organised police precisely because of the breakdown of such arrangements. I am no more impressed when the Home Secretary says:


However, the Home Secretary gives a self-evidently absurd example. Of course there never was an age in which every street was constantly patrolled. Everyone knows that. Everyone agrees with that, but there was a time when there were more police patrols than there are now, and when chief constables did not have to envisage local authority patrols in their town centres.

The Government's reply, which we heard again today, is that that has nothing to do with them--it is all up to the chief constables and the police authorities. The fact is that for the Metropolitan police, the Home Secretary is the police authority. He must have a view. He should have

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1111

a view on police numbers nationally as well. One of the key objectives that he sets the Metropolitan police is to provide high-visibility policing to reassure the public.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is not just numbers, but the abandonment of areas? In my constituency in Essex, we face the closure of a police station in Ingatestone, and the removal of policing from rural areas right across the constituency. As a police officer remarked to me, we will simply move crime around the rural areas.

Sir Norman Fowler: The Essex force is one of those that has been badly affected by the settlement. My hon. Friend, typically, raises an important issue for his constituency. I know from my postbag that the same complaint is repeated time and again around the country. It is not confined to Essex or the home counties. The Government should wake up to the complaint coming from ordinary people throughout the country.

Those people will not support a policy of smaller police forces, with fewer policemen and policewomen on patrol, and with substitute inadequate patrols set up to fill the gap. The public do not want that, nor do the police. It would weaken the link between police and public, and it would diminish the reputation of the police service in this country.

We will oppose the order this afternoon. We will oppose further reductions in the police service. The Government constantly speak about manifesto pledges and the mandate that they have. One thing is certain: they have no mandate to reduce the strength of the police service.

2.35 pm

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): I shall raise the problems faced by the Dyfed-Powys police authority, the police force that has responsibility for my constituency, the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Ms Lawrence) and the whole of west and mid-Wales.

The increase in funding that the Dyfed-Powys police authority will have for the coming year raises considerable concern, I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend the Minister of State. The increase can hardly be described as an increase at all. It is close to a standstill or--to use the word in vogue--stability.

Many figures are bandied around about the efficiency of police forces, and one sometimes treats them with scepticism. However, as I understand it from those who are experts in such figures and targets, the Dyfed-Powys police force probably has the highest crime detection rate of any force in England and Wales. It is also probably one of the most efficient police forces, if not the most efficient, in England and Wales.

The published increase in funding is to be 0.8 per cent., but that figure should be halved. I am told that 0.4 per cent. of the increase relates to additional and improved security at ports in the county of Pembrokeshire. Hon. Members will understand that. The increase is thus a mere 0.4 per cent., against a general inflation rate of 2.5 per cent. I would not argue that every public authority should have an increase corresponding to the general rate of inflation, but the Chancellor's target for inflation is 2.5 per cent. The figures provided to me by the chief constable are for an increase of 0.4 per cent.

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1112

The national increase for the entire police settlement is, as I understand it, 2.6 per cent.--my hon. Friend said 2.7 per cent. Against that figure, I argue that an increase of 0.4 per cent. is extremely low and, indeed, dangerous. The annual budget is £50 million, and the 0.4 per cent. increase comes to £200,000--merely a standstill, and not enough to enable the force to maintain its efficiency.

My hon. Friend made much of the 2 per cent. efficiency savings. He mentioned a global figure that could be reinvested. What would the figure be for the Dyfed-Powys police authority, if it must absorb that 2 per cent? As it is already extremely efficient, it will be difficult to extract another 2 per cent.

The Dyfed-Powys force will face considerable problems. Next year the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will have to be absorbed into the system, which will cost money. Sadly, in west and mid-Wales, there is an increase in drug activity. Cases involving heroin and crack cocaine are causing grave concern to the chief constable. No doubt similar problems exist in other parts of the country, but we have not experienced them before in west Wales. If there are cuts in funding, there will have to be cuts in policing. I do not know what effect the settlement will have. Perhaps a number of police constables will be lost.

My hon. Friend, in an engaging and interesting speech, got himself a little lost when he rightly told us that more money does not mean that police forces will be more efficient. I entirely accept that one cannot just throw money at a problem, but I am not sure where his logic, or the lack of it, led him then. Certainly one member of the Bar is not the right person to criticise another member of the Bar for sophistry. I shall be kind and say that, at that point in his speech, my hon. Friend was at least verging on sophistry and casuistry, but perhaps one should not say any more about that.

There will have to be cuts. Perhaps they will not fall on police constables; perhaps they will be across the board. But they will have some effect on my excellent police force, which is probably one of the most efficient in the country. Formulae and needs assessments come and go, but Ministers are there to rise above these algebraic equations sometimes and determine these matters. I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider the matter. The consequence will be that the battle against crime in mid and west Wales will, next year, be less effective.

There is a further consequence. If a force as efficient as Dyfed-Powys is not given any more money, people will start to wonder what is the point of being more efficient, and having better and better target figures for the clean-up of crime as next year they will have less money. I am sure that people will not stop trying to be more efficient, but people do feel that way. Even if the chief constable does not feel like that and operates in a wholly rational way, people lower down may feel that way, and that is bound to affect the morale of an excellent police force.

Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to look at the matter again. I know that Back Benchers always say that they are not talking about large sums of money--but in this case, I am not. At the margin, it is a little sum for the Government but, at the margin, it is a considerable

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1113

amount for the Dyfed-Powys police force. I ask my hon. Friend to set aside these quadratic equations, these formulae, and try to transcend them a little--


Next Section

IndexHome Page