Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ms Blears indicated assent.

Mr. Gale: The number of size 10 boots on the beat hour by hour, day by day, has not increased. The number of hours the police spend sitting on their backsides on swivel chairs in offices filling in forms might have increased, but that is not what the man on Margate seafront or the lady in Herne Bay high street want. They want those size 10 boots out there and those mark 1 policemen's eyes on the streets, doing the job that they are trained very well to do. They do not want them to spend seven minutes standing on a street corner filling in a stop form.

If I, as a policeman, were to stop six people, I would have to spend some 45 minutes filling in forms. [Interruption.] The Minister shakes her head, but only a couple of months ago, the previous Home Secretary sat roughly where she is sitting and said, "I have done this." For obvious reasons—I make no disparaging remark in pointing this out—he had it done for him, but the fact remains that he dictated the responses and somebody wrote them down. But he did so sitting at a desk, not on a wet November night on a platform at King's Cross station, or in Margate high street. There is all the difference in the world between those situations.

Highly trained police officers are now being required to handle—with the back-up of armies of civilians—targets, surveys and audits until they are coming out of their ears. The Home Office has quite properly laid some emphasis on "criminals brought to justice", for which we now have targets. Is that not what the police are for? Do we not want criminals to be brought to justice? Yes, but what qualifies as a criminal brought to justice? Conviction and sentence? No. The answer is: caution, or conviction and sentence. So let us assume that I am a reasonably senior police officer who wants to hit his target for "criminals brought to justice". I say to my boys and girls, "Go out there, grab people off the streets
2 Feb 2005 : Column 894
and get 'em cautioned." A caution is a conviction—a "criminal brought to justice". It is a police record—fingerprinted and perhaps DNA-tested—that counts towards my target, but it does not make the public feel much safer. It is much easier than spending five hours filling in forms, case-building, taking a criminal to court and spending the day in court, only to watch someone let him go whistling down the street with a five-shilling fine; however, it does not do the job.

I know that the Minister takes these things seriously, but I should point out that this target—it is just one of many—is not working and will not work. Because the Home Secretary wants results, the figures are being manipulated. I know that not from any officer in the British Transport police or—I should hasten to add—in the Kent police, but from a very senior police officer to whom I spoke only a couple of days ago about this very subject. So I would be extremely cautious about these massaged figures.

I turn finally to the local issues facing Kent. Kent's police are underfunded. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) both pointed out, these new policemen are paid for not by the Home Office—let us get that idea out of our heads—but by the county's ratepayers. The money is coming from the precept—the rates. Our policemen are trying to police the front-line roads into the United Kingdom from the UK's major ports, through which come most of the people from mainland Europe. They are also trying to police the channel tunnel and Kent's airfields, and to deal with the problem—and it is a problem—posed by asylum seekers. None of that is satisfactorily taken into account in the formula on which the police grant is based. I think that Kent is being short changed.

I want to ask the Minister three specific questions. First, who is going to pay for the additional policing that will inevitably arise as a result of the introduction of the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003? Who is going to pay for the extra coppers? As an aside, will the Minister either tell me or find out from the Lord Chancellor what has happened to the millions of pounds that were paid to the licensing magistrates for a job that is now being done by the local authority? It seems to me that millions of pounds have just disappeared into thin air. If I am right, let us give that money to the police and contribute towards the cost of what many people regard as a lunatic piece of legislation.

Secondly, will the Minister tell me when Kent will receive the £14.8 million still outstanding from the Home Office in respect of the cost of looking after asylum seekers? The leader of Kent county council, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, wrote to the Home Secretary on 24 January about that money, which has been outstanding for two years. Kent has to set its budget on 7 February, so please can we have that £14.8 million owed to us? If the Minister can persuade the Home Secretary to be really generous, perhaps we can have the interest on it, too.

Finally, the Minister referred in her opening remarks to delegated training. I have no particular problem with the concept of delegating training to the county forces, but if we are going to do that, are we delegating the costs as well? Will the county force now pay for the training that used to be provided centrally, or will some of the centrally provided money follow the coppers to the
2 Feb 2005 : Column 895
county force for training? That is clearly an important matter. If the Minister answers those three questions, I will probably be a happy man.

3.46 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I was not initially planning to speak, but I should like to make a couple of points in response to what the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said about licensing. I disagree with his general comments about that subject, because police officers in Gloucester, particularly in the Gloucester and Forest division, told me that it was good not to have so many people coming out of the pubs on to the streets at 11 o'clock, which causes so many problems for the police on Friday and Saturday nights.

Police officers are, however, discussing the issue of when the new licensing laws should apply. The culture in this country is not the same as on the continent, and the rightness of bringing the new licensing laws into force just before Christmas was certainly debated by police officers in my constituency. They took the view that the culture would not have seeped in by that time and that people would not have been sufficiently used to it. The police feared that implementing a radical change around November could bring them additional problems with binge drinking late into the night, particularly around Christmas time. Perhaps the Minister can provide some comfort for the officers who brought up that matter.

Our debate today is focused on settlements. In Gloucestershire, the settlement was 3.77 per cent. Obviously, we would have liked more. At the same time, officers told me that they had achieved record reductions in crime—particularly in burglary, but in many other respects, too—over the past 12 months. They managed to achieve great things, despite the fact that, historically, Gloucestershire has not been the best funded area. To do that, the police had to look into how they cut their cloth and they had to modernise and innovate.

There are 61 community support officers in the county, 18 of them in my constituency. Another seven or eight are due to join shortly, with more to follow—up to about 25 such officers in all. However, 31 of the 61 were funded above and beyond the match funding figure. Achieved through additional resources within the county, that has made a huge difference on the streets. I heard what the hon. Member for North Thanet said about having size 10s on the street, but we need to include size 7s and 6s as well.

Ms Blears: And even smaller.

Mr. Dhanda: Yes, and as the Minister would agree, we are not just talking about the size of the men, either. Many more women are now PCSOs, just as there are more female Labour Members in this House.

My local constabulary has taken other measures as well. It has civilianised the custody detention officers, which has meant that 17 more police officers are able to go out on the streets.

There is another important aspect to funding formulas. My constituency of Gloucester is an urban area in a rural county. It has pockets of real deprivation,
2 Feb 2005 : Column 896
which present tough challenges to the police. In Gloucestershire, Cheltenham and Gloucester—the latter in particular, and disproportionately—need additional policing resources. I urge Ministers to consider the problem in the longer term, to determine how to tackle problems arising in urban communities in largely rural areas.

On top of the match funding procedure and the work to bring in additional resources through innovation, the rural police fund and the crime fighting fund have allowed us to build a force of more than 1,000 constables over the past few years. With more than 1,200 officers in total, the Gloucestershire force has never been so large in all its history.

Another aspect is the capital spending that is taking place. Our police headquarters was always a rather dilapidated building in Cheltenham, but that is being sold and a new, state-of-the-art building is being erected in my constituency, at a cost of £25 million. A shortfall of a couple of million pounds in private finance initiative credits has been made up by my hon. Friend the Minister, which goes to show that the Government have facilitated the building of new police headquarters, just as they have made it possible to build more than a 100 new hospitals around the country.

Next Section IndexHome Page