That the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 92) (HC 877) on Special Grant for Asylum Seekers Support (Adults and Families of Asylum Seekers) for 19992000, which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.
The humble petition of residents of South Bedfordshire showeth
That the traffic congestion in Dunstable and Houghton Regis, and the consequent rat-running in the surrounding villages, is appalling; that the people of South Bedfordshire have had to put up with the congestion for far too long; that plans for local bypasses, in place as long ago as 1936, have been repeatedly ignored; and that a proper bypass will enhance the quality of life for all who live and work in South Bedfordshire and is vital for their future.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House shall urge the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that a northern bypass is built for Dunstable and Houghton Regis, extending the Leighton Buzzard southern relief road, the A505, from its junction with the A5 to the M1 and on to the A6 and that an HGV ban (other than for access requirements) is imposed through Dunstable and that the A5 through Dunstable is detrunked as a result; and that at the same time the Secretary of State shall undertake a detailed study into the most suitable way of achieving a link from the northern bypass to the Woodside Industrial Estate to relieve congestion in Houghton Regis and the Poynters Road and Luton Road areas of Dunstable and to provide uncongested access for businesses to the M1.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
The Petition of St Bonaventure's Parish, Bristol,
Declares that poorer countries should be able to lift themselves out of poverty.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to push for Fairer International Trading Rules,
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Declares that they are concerned about the insufficient sentences imposed by magistrates for driving offences; that in a recent case in Hull, the court fined a driver £200 and disqualified him from driving for 12 months despite having established that he had no car insurance, no MOT, defective brakes, two defective tyres, defective lights, a defective windscreen washer and no registration plate and that, sadly, the driver in this case had hit a nine-year old boy, resulting in the boy's death, and that the driver had failed to report the incident to the police.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for the Home Department to review the range of sentences available to the courts in such cases, and to take such measures as lie within his power to ensure that magistrates use the full rigour of the law at their disposal.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport): When I was standing at the taxi rank at Euston following my arrival in London on Monday, I noticed a sign saying, "You are safer in Merseyside than you are in London". I do not know what effect that sign is supposed to havewhether it is meant to make one get back on the train to Merseyside or to make people look over their shoulder while they stand at the taxi rankbut it is none the less a fact.
I want to engage the Minister in what I hope will be a constructive and thought-provoking dialogue about the position of Merseyside police. I apologise to him and to you, Mr. Speaker, for keeping us up so late, but I want to present a reasoned case for increased resources for Merseyside. I know that the Minister will probably say that under the comprehensive spending review, everyone will get increased resources. Increased resources are the order of the day. The Government's coffers are now open and largesse is pouring out.
There has, however, been a systematic failure by the Home Office to appreciate what policing Merseyside means. Historically, there has been a stand-off between the Home Office on the one hand and Merseyside police authority and the Merseyside police on the other. Merseyside police authority and the Merseyside police have repeatedly said that they want more resources, but the Home Office has remained firmly indifferent. I am a veteran of that process. Many years ago, I was a member of the Merseyside police authority when it was a truly democratic body, and went down to London with an all-party delegation to the Home Office. I saw the then Home Secretaryto give the House an idea of how long ago that was, the post was held by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). We complained about the cuts facing us, our problems and the lack of police manpower. We were given sympathy and, I think, tea, but not very much money. Part of the problem was that the Home Office was persuaded that demographic factors were against the Merseyside area. The population was falling so why, in the circumstances, should more police be required? Logically, I suppose, the Home Office could have argued that fewer police were required. I dare say that it was encouraged when subsequently some crime figures in the Merseyside conurbation went down, particularly in connection with burglary. When they did not go down, they did not necessarily go up at the same rate as in other conurbations.
The Home Office said one thing, the police authority another, and Merseyside police reiterated the views of the authoritythat scenario has been repeated year after year. I want to dwell for a second on the reaction of Merseyside police, which is constructive, rather than negative. The force has progressed civilianisation throughout the force, so that front line officers are doing front line duties, and ancillary tasks not related to policing are taken on by civilians. That is commendable and desirable, and in line with Home Office policy.
The police have therefore done what they can to keep their house in order against a background of what they believe to be insubstantial resources. In turn, they have addressed some of their internal problems. In the early stages of the police authority's existence, there was a distinct tendency to save money by forcing expensive, highly paid officers into early retirement. That saved money one year but, of course, cost money in subsequent years. The police authority backed away from that strategy, and has since taken an intelligent approach to managing its resources. To be perfectly honest, absenteeism figures for Merseyside have not been the best in England. The police have paid attention to that and brought the figures down. They have done their best to resolve their problems against the background of the resources that they have, but the fundamental problem is that on Merseyside there is still a manifest fear of crime and a perceived and real shortage of police.
That registers as public concern, especially about public order offencesyouths creating annoyance in local streets, and more substantial annoyance in town centres, where crime occurs. There is general public concern throughout the whole Merseyside area, and certainly in my constituency.
Something that worries, excites and energises the public is the reaction time of the police when dealing with crime. The fact is, if there are not enough police, few of them can reach the scene quickly.
Clearly, the public want the police not just to deal with crimes when they occur, but to be there so that crimes do not occur. They want a more visible and effective police presence. The entire Merseyside community wants a greater degree of neighbourhood security. That can be provided only by a proper number of uniformed, trained police. Although other strategies have been tried, such as community wardensI do not in any way denigrate such a schemeit is a fact that only a uniformed, trained bobby can have the impact on a scene of disorder that the public expect, want and legitimately look to the police force to provide.
Merseyside police have recognised the need for proper neighbourhood policing schemes and the need to be properly embodied in their community. They have done all they can to involve themselves in their community, to involve themselves with youth and to involve themselves in various sporting occasions where people who may be
That is all very good. It is entirely desirable and in line with Home Office policy, as I am sure the Minister would agree. However, it is against a background of a perceived fall of 500 in the police force in Merseyside. That is not a fabricated figure that I have produced for the occasion. It has been repeated by the chief constable on several occasions. He believes that there has been a historic fall in police numbers, and Merseyside has to live with that.
Last year, for the council tax payer of Merseyside, the facts were stark and not too encouraging. The precept for the police last year went up by 11 per cent. It would have gone up more, had it not been for the fact that £1.6 million of balances were used. It could conceivably be more next year. For that sum, there were no extra police. There was no contribution to the increasing number of police who are required by the Government across England. Worse stillthis is a point on which I will press the Ministerthere is the spectre of matters getting worse.
Last year Merseyside police managed by virtue of having a damping grant. The expectation is that that damping grant may not be there in future under the comprehensive spending review. Simply to make ends meet next year, therefore, there may need to be a higher rise in the council tax or a bigger problem for the police budget.
Other problems, which I am sure the Minister would recognise, although he is not prepared to do anything about them, because in a sense they are historic, are the substantial problems created by the burden of police pensions on the police budget. It may interest the Minister to know that last year it was calculated that more retired policemen were funded out of the police budget than active policemen. That is why the leader of the local city council, Councillor Mike Storey, asked for an investigation into how Merseyside was being policed.
I believe that the Home Office has not appreciated the reality of the situation facing Merseyside police, and I should like the Minister to comment on that. It is not just a matter of how many people there are to police; it is a matter of the policing task that the force has to perform. Merseyside police are doing not just a local job, but a national job, and some would say an international job. Liverpool is a port, it has an airport and it has all the problems associated with that.
I am reliably informedthe source is the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agencythat 60 per cent. of all drugs consumed in Scotland, which I imagine to be a considerable amount, are routed through Merseyside. Fifty per cent. of all Customs and Excise seizures have Merseyside links. Merseyside is identified by criminal intelligence as the main distribution centre for class controlled drugs and increasingly is a major centre for black market cigarettes.
That is a national and an international problem. It draws substantial sums out of the mainstream budget available for ordinary policing in Liverpool. The police calculate that the figure could be about £14 million. That excludes any contribution to the national crime squad. In addition, following any attempt that the police make to address the issues of well organised crime, costs are incurred by schemes such as witness protection. There is some very high profile, very expensive crime in Liverpool, and my
To be fair, crime has fallen in Merseyside, which could now be said to be safer than other conurbations. I have seen statistics that appear to suggest that, and perhaps the claim on the poster outside Euston station is not too far from the truth. The invisible crime, however, is serious, and it is never far away. Last month, in my own constituency of Southport, which people might consider to be a safe, law-abiding place, two individuals were beaten to death with baseball bats in a drug-related crime. That crime, undoubtedly horrific in itself, will also be very costly to clear up, as all such crimes are.
On a parochial note, both my own constituency and Liverpool are developing tourist industries involving substantial amounts of European, private, Government and local government funding. That investment is pouring in, but with it come tens of thousands of extra visitors, who appear on a seasonal, nightly or occasional basis. No adjustment is made for the extra policing needs that that provokes. I hope that the Minister will give some thought to how the expansion of the tourist industry creates additional policing needs and requirements.
A big event in one part of the Merseyside conurbation seems to take resources from another. Even a simple event such as Liverpool playing at home can draw policemen out of Southport, St. Helens and other parts of the conurbation, because manpower is spread very thinly. That is particularly manifest at night, and Liverpool and Southport both have a thriving night life. There is clearly a need to control that environment and to provide a safe and secure environment in which young peoplenot just young people, all peoplecan enjoy themselves without fear of crime. That is not easy in a conurbation in which the police recognise that one third of security firms have criminal connections.
Correlated with the thriving night life must be a vast amount of unreported crimesome minor, some major, but an awful lot of it preventable. If I had a few extra policemen in Southport to stand at a taxi rank at pub closing or club closing time, I could almost certainly guarantee a significant reduction in incidents and a safer environment for all and sundry.
I am making a plea to the Minister to consider Merseyside a special case with regard to police resources and manpower. I have read with interest the comprehensive spending review, and I note that it speaks of technology. It is, however fairly unspecificperhaps the Minister can be more specificabout people, bodies and police. That is what we require: human beings to staff the force. I have nothing against technology; it makes an important contribution to the fight against crime, but, so far as we are concerned, there is no substitute for manpower. In fact, any attempt to make it a substitute for manpower would really ruin matters.
To keep a presence on the streets, Merseyside police have been driven at times to evacuating the police stations. At such times, people call the police only to find that they are not there, or to be confronted by an exotic call-waiting system. The call-waiting system that the Merseyside police have is bizarre in the extreme; it seems to have been built for business, not for the needs of people who urgently require the police. I have genuinely been
I understandperhaps the Minister can confirm thisthat the police force on Merseyside is soon to be inspected. I welcome that, and I hope that there is nothing to hide. I know what we want, and I think I know what the Minister wants, namely a peaceable, active, economically vibrant Merseyside. That is what I want, too, and I hope that we agree on the ends and the means. The comprehensive spending review needs to offer some hope for the area's long-standing ambition to have more police. Does he accept that Merseyside has peculiar features that may require additional policing?
If earned autonomy is the Government's theme of the moment, we in Merseyside have surely earned something. We are hampered by organised crime and challenged by commercial expansion, and we have been discouraged by successive Home Secretaries, but still people have tried their best to make do with what resources we have, trying actively to develop a strategy of neighbourhood policing. I am sure that the population devoutly wishes that it will work, but we really need the police numbers to deliver, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some hope that we will get them.