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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): The Minister said just now, and in the letter that he sent to hon. Members, that the vast majority of officers would be better off under the proposal. A Home Office document gives examples of officers who would be better off. Will he give some illustrative examples of police officers who would be worse off? Who are the minority of officers who would be worse off?

Mr. Denham: With a service of 120,000 people, we could never make an absolute statement that no single officer would be or could be worse off because of their overtime pattern or whatever. If some would be worse off, it would be a very small number. The package is aimed at making the vast majority of officers better off, and the document to which the hon. Gentleman refers shows that. That has been recognised in the national negotiations with the Police Federation. Focus has been put on the proposed overtime changes, which has tended to obscure the fact that over a period younger officers would get to the top of their pay scale much more quickly, there would be potential for new earnings at the top of the pay scale, many officers would be eligible for additional payments, and there would be an across-the-board increase under the pay deal.

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I want to concentrate on the aims of the reforms of the pay system. They are not only about achieving a better pay system, but about modernising the system and ensuring that we make the best use of officers in the service.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): I commend the continuing effort to recruit and retain officers across the country, but does my right hon. Friend recognise that there continues to be a problem in London owing to the cost of the London economy and house prices? That is particularly important for civilian recruitment. Will he commend the example of the people of Pinner in my constituency, who have rallied to the concerns of the police about their capacity to keep open the front desk at Pinner police station? More than 80 volunteers have responded to that initiative.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Denham: In the current financial year, it appears that the so-called wastage rate of officers in London, which is under 5 per cent., is pretty much in line with that in other areas of the country. That is good news, and it reflects the enhancements in the conditions and pay for officers in London over recent years.

Innovative experiments are being carried out in several parts of the country involving closer working between the police service and volunteers. I was interested to hear about the example in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Denham: I shall give way to the hon. Lady, but then I must make some progress.

Annabelle Ewing: If the proposed police pay and conditions package is such a good deal, why did 94 per cent. of police officers in Scotland reject it?

Mr. Denham: It is clear from the ballot that a substantial number of police officers believed that they would be worse off, although they were wrong about that. It is a matter of regret that the federation did not campaign vigorously for the deal. [Interruption.] It is all very well the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) muttering from a sedentary position, but the reality is that the package proposes a substantial investment of new money. He would be advising police officers in his area wrongly if he were to suggest that he genuinely thought that they would be worse off. It has been our intention to make the vast majority of officers better off, and the deal that was reached at Christmas would do so. Clearly, people were concerned that it would not have that effect. There were uncertainties about priority payments, about which officers want further information.

We are now in a conciliation process, and we shall try to get agreement with the federation. We want to make that investment, and we want to make officers better off. That is our intention, but we must also have reforms, which I hope will be supported on both sides of the House, to ensure that we make the best use of officers in the police service, because that is also important and part of the basis on which investment must be made. My

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responsibilities are for England and Wales, but the federation and the employer's side in Scotland are involved in the police negotiating body.

Pay reform is only one area in which we need to support officers. Too much police training has for a long time been poorly organised and delivered. We cannot yet ensure that every officer has properly planned training, even if they are called on to fill specialist roles. We need to make considerable progress over the coming years on improving the training system, which will include developing the potential of the most able officers and enabling them to get to senior positions rapidly.

We need to develop leadership skills at all levels. Given that the basic command unit is the critical building block of effective policing, we must ensure that BCU commanders are properly supported and trained. We will work with the service to establish how the devolution of responsibility to BCU commanders and the integration of BCUs within the wider force can best be balanced. We will also support officers through better use of science and IT, including the development of the airwave communications system, and the automated fingerprint identification system, which was made available last year. The number of DNA records on the national DNA database is rising every month, and is now about 1.5 million.

As we support the police service and make the best use of the record number of police officers, we must also identify the very best of policing practice and find the best ways of ensuring that it is implemented in every part of the police service of England and Wales.

Over the coming year, we will establish a new National Centre for Policing Excellence. Building on the work of the existing crime faculties, the national centre will develop codes of best practice—for example, on how to conduct murder investigations, or how to run effective reassurance strategies that will draw on the best and most successful policing practice.

For issues of national importance, we must ensure that all forces adopt best practice, such as the implementation of the national intelligence model, which can be used to underpin the targeting of local nuisance and persistent offenders who blight a community, and effective action against organised crime.

The police standards unit is already working with police forces on the best ways to fight street robbery. As we develop agreed methods of assessing police performance, it will identify why some forces and BCUs perform better than others, and will support those that are not doing so well.

All those measures will improve police performance where it needs to be improved. We will work with the police service and the police authorities to achieve that. We cannot sit back and say to a town, a city or a community that is being let down that nothing can be done. If part of a police service were persistently to fail and a chief constable and a police authority failed to act and take the measures that other forces would take, Ministers and the Home Secretary must be able to respond—not to direct operations or to require the arrest of individuals, but to ensure that effective action is taken and proven best practice adopted.

No one would expect or would sensibly want such a power to be used widely, and it certainly should not be used arbitrarily, but those who would hold us accountable

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must allow us the ability to respond. We need to work with the police and police authorities to ensure that we are effective in tackling crime and criminals, in reducing the fear of crime, and in tackling antisocial behaviour. That has to be the test for the police service and for the Government.

I have acknowledged outside and inside the House that no White Paper on policing ever caught a single criminal, deterred a single crime or made people feel safer. What we do as a result of those policies and the way in which we implement police reform over the years to come will achieve that. That must be the aim and the test of all that we do. We have the responsibility to work for that aim, and I hope that the Police Reform Bill will give us the powers to achieve it.

10.9 am

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I welcome the opportunity to have a debate on the police. I welcome, too, the Minister's largely constructive tone, which is in stark contrast to the tone of his boss the Home Secretary on many policing issues; that is part of the problem that we face. On behalf of the Opposition, I entirely join in the tributes that the Minister, who rightly recounted the events of the past 12 months, paid to the police.

None of us in this House or in the other place can ignore the fact that we are here by courtesy of the excellence of the police in ensuring that we are secure, and can represent our constituents safely in the freedom in which we believe.

When the idea of a debate on the police was first mooted a couple of weeks ago—at least, that is when the Opposition first heard about it—it surprised me a little, not least because it is only a month since we had a debate on the police support grant, albeit that that was on one specific aspect of policing. Secondly, as the Minister rightly reminded us, the Police Reform Bill is in another place, and I expect that it will be here about the end of April—although the Minister may have a better idea about the timing than I do. Finally, the Police Federation has recently given the Home Secretary a bloody nose over the pay and conditions package.

Overall, therefore, despite what the Minister has said, the Government do not have a record of which to be proud. I do not want to be super-critical, but I shall now look back over the past few years before taking us forward to describe how the Opposition see policing developing.

There has been much debate about police numbers, and my hon. Friends have pointed out the reality of the situation, which differs from the twisted use of statistics in which the Minister would like us to believe. The fact is that police numbers fell by 3,000 in the Government's first three years in office, and that last year, when they had been in office for four years, police numbers were lower than at any stage in the past decade. That is not a record that any Minister should be prepared to defend.

Even the latest official figures, for last September, show the grand increase of 73 officers under this Government—hardly cause for acclaim. If the Minister can reach his target of 130,000 by next year we shall

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applaud him. It will be a welcome increase and I hope that it is achieved. [Interruption.] Before the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) giggles too much—

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