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13 Mar 2007 : Column 53WH—continued

In the United States, climate change has risen significantly up the political agenda over the past two years, and, as my hon. Friend clearly outlined, the UK has participated in the debate that has been going on there. The significant focus that we placed on climate change during our G8 presidency led us to host the
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“Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change” conference in February 2005. The Gleneagles dialogue process that we set up following our G8 presidency has created a helpful space in which to have informal discussions about how to tackle climate change and the United States has been a key participant in that process. The US has also continued to participate in discussions on climate change as part of the G8 process and it took part in discussions during the 2006 Russian presidency and the preparatory process for this year’s summit at Heiligendamm under the German presidency.

The past year has seen the debate on climate change intensify in the US. That is true not only of the science of climate change, but, as I have outlined, the economics of action on climate change. Stern has played a pivotal role not only in the US, but worldwide in stimulating the debate that we need about the costs of delaying action as against the costs of acting now.

The ambition that the UK has demonstrated in its plans for phase 2 of the EU emissions trading scheme, and the European Commission’s work in enforcing tighter caps on other member states, have shown that action can be taken now. It is important to remember that although there is no coherent federal problem to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, individual US states are leading the way in addressing climate change.

The UK is pleased to be involved with and to support the development of initiatives such as the regional greenhouse gas initiative, a collaboration involving nine north-eastern states in a cap-and-trade scheme. The RGGI is intended to be expandable and flexible, and it is open to other US states and Canadian provinces.

Mr. Hurd: Will the Minister give way?

Ian Pearson: I will not, because I need to answer some of my hon. Friend’s points.

We are collaborating effectively with California on climate change and energy following the Prime Minister’s visit there in July 2006 and his joint announcement with Governor Schwarzenegger. In particular, we are offering practical help and experience on emissions trading.

We very much support the western regional climate action initiative that California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Arizona announced in February. We and the European Commission are also exploring the potential for linkages with the EU emissions trading scheme. We want to see the emergence of a genuinely global carbon market, but if that is to happen, it is important to ensure that trading systems have the capacity to be linked. The UK will receive a delegation from California in early April to continue our close work on the development of emissions trading and other climate change policy instruments.

The UK’s perceived global leadership on climate change means that we have also been asked to respond to interest at city level in the United States. In 2005, the UK played a role in promoting action at city level in the US and internationally, when London hosted the first large cities climate change summit, with participation from five major US cities. The initiative has now grown to include 40 cities globally, and 12 US cities will participate in this year’s summit.

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I should also mention the Clinton climate initiative, under which former President Clinton and the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles are taking forward work on climate change.

The changing political environment internationally and domestically—particularly at state and sub-state level, as my hon. Friend highlighted—is leading to a shift in business opinion in the US. American industries are beginning to take steps in the clean energy and green technology marketplace, and my hon. Friend mentioned several examples. The US business community is developing its position on climate change, and business leaders such as Jeff Immelt of General Electric and Jim Rodgers of Cinergy have called for long-term regulatory certainty and market-led mandatory policies. Although the majority of US industry still favours nothing beyond voluntary action, a number of blue-chip businesses, such as Caterpillar, Johnson and Johnson and Intel, argue that it is not enough. Therefore, it is not only the general political climate in the US, but the business climate that is changing, and the business community rightly sees increasing opportunities not only in developing new technologies, but in the carbon market.

I should also mention the work of major UK business groups and our contacts through international business, because organisations such as the CBI and the corporate leaders group reinforce the positive and progressive stances that US industry is increasingly taking. Our religious and faith leaders have also taken up contacts and discussed responsible stewardship of the planet’s natural resources with their US counterparts.

British legislators have also engaged in the debate on climate change. Last month, the president of GLOBE International from the UK chaired the third G8-plus-five legislators forum, which was hosted in the Senate in Washington. The forum brought together legislators from around the world, plus business leaders and civil society organisations. The discussions were positive, and I hope that they will help to prepare the political space for action on climate change by the G8-plus-five Governments. UK ministerial and official visits have also reinforced the UK’s message in the US on the wider implications of climate change.

Across a range of issues, therefore—at the legislative level, the state and local levels and the business level—we have a web of contacts. We are working with, and giving appropriate support to, those who want to take action on climate change, and we shall continue to do that.

In addition, we have a UK-US energy research and development memorandum of understanding, and my hon. Friend mentioned the importance of energy. There are currently three active projects under the memorandum of understanding and they are jointly funded by the US and UK. The US is also interested in collaborating with the UK to harmonise standards on renewable fuels and particularly biodiesel, and we continue to work closely with the US on those issues.

It is clear that there is a lot more work to be done if we are to secure international agreement on a post-2012 framework.

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Policing (Northamptonshire)

1 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I rise on behalf of my constituents in Kettering to discuss policing in Northamptonshire, and I thank Mr. Speaker for allowing me to do so, and the Minister for listening to my constituents’ concerns. Law and order and the fight against crime are the No. 1 priority for Kettering residents. There is huge concern about criminal activity and antisocial behaviour, at every level, and I am sad to report that many residents now do not report more minor crimes because they believe that nothing appropriate will be done about them. That is true in the towns in the Kettering constituency, and across Northamptonshire, but also in rural areas. Ahead of the debate I received a letter from Mr. Paul Tame, the east midlands regional environment and land use adviser to the NFU. He made the good point:

That, I am afraid, is a widespread feeling in the rural community. However, it would be remiss of me not to praise officers in Northamptonshire for their hard work. I spent 22 days last year on the police parliamentary scheme, with the Northamptonshire force, and I know first hand how hard police officers work and the effort that they put into their role. I thank them for their endeavours. Nevertheless, things are serious for policing in Northamptonshire. As always, I suppose, it comes down to finance. Yes, record amounts of money are spent on police there, but there are problems with the way the funding is allocated.

This year, with the roll-out of the safer community teams and the expansion of the Government’s police community support officer programme, there are an additional 25 PCSOs in the county, bringing the total to 163. That is 50 short of the Government’s original target of 213. However, although we have 25 more PCSOs we have a net loss of 11 police officers, as well as 28 support staff, to pay for them. I have raised that situation in the House many times and the Policing Minister is on record as saying that it is not Government policy to replace police officers with PCSOs. Nevertheless the effect of Government policy in Northamptonshire is precisely that.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining this debate and standing up for the people of Northamptonshire, as he always does. Is not the crux of the issue—so it appears to my constituents—the fact that we are losing police officers and getting more police community support officers, and the Government are trying to get policing on the cheap?

Mr. Hollobone: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and congratulate him on all the hard work that he does in this place to represent his constituents’ concerns. Our constituencies are both covered by the north Northamptonshire basic command unit area and,
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going by our experience, we will have more PCSOs on the beat, but we will also have fewer police officers. Recruiting and paying a PCSO is less expensive than recruiting and paying a full-time police officer. I know from first-hand experience that PCSOs do a wonderful job and are dedicated to their task, but they are unable in law to arrest suspects. They can only detain them while they await the arrival of a police officer with full powers. Residents are rightly concerned that they see fewer such officers on the streets of Wellingborough and Kettering.

The police authority is bending over backwards to fund the roll-out of the safer community teams. The early signs are that the community teams are working extremely well, but the police authority has had to dip into its reserves to the tune of some £600,000 this year. An extra £500,000 has been made available from the county council and the police authority has also identified efficiency targets of £3 million for 2007-08. However, it simply is not enough, and next year will be worse than this year, with, currently, the likelihood of a £5 million gap. The police authority has done extensive research on how it will fund policing in Northamptonshire, and has made projections to 2011 on the basis of the following assumptions: an annual increase of 2 per cent. in the central grant support; an annual precept increase of 5 per cent.; general inflation at 2 per cent.; pay inflation at 3 per cent.; and the continuation of the Government’s PCSO grant at 75 per cent. When it has crunched all its numbers, which it has made available to the Home Office, the shortfall by 2011 is some £20 million. That is the potential crisis facing us in Northamptonshire.

Of course, the force is already overstretched. There are about 490 people per police officer, whereas the England and Wales average is about 370, so already in Northamptonshire each police officer must do far more than the national average. That is before taking into account the huge increase in the county population that is projected by 2031. As a result of the Government’s housing expansion programme, Northamptonshire has been included in the Milton Keynes and south midlands sub-regional spatial strategy growth area. The population of Northamptonshire is due to rise from 660,000 people today to just short of 1 million by 2031. Today Northamptonshire has 1,347 police officers. To keep the police officer to population ratio the same, it will need just short of 2,000 police officers by 2031. There is very little evidence at the moment that the Government have the plans and strategy in place to fund that expansion in police numbers.

When the population rises, council tax and precepting will bring in additional revenues, but those are historic revenue streams, after the event. The Government need to identify some funding ahead of the increase in population, so that police numbers in relation to population do not get worse. It is alarming to think that with that increase in the population there will, unfortunately, be an increase in the number of crimes committed in the county. At the moment just short of 70,000 crimes are committed a year. On present trends that will be just short of 100,000 by 2031. Antisocial behaviour will increase likewise. People are very worried; we do not have enough police officers now, and the number is already starting to fall. Things are likely to get worse before they get better.

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I want to focus today on the matter of prolific and persistent offenders. They are particularly nasty individuals, who commit the bulk of crime throughout the country. That is especially relevant in Northamptonshire. In the north Northamptonshire basic command unit area, probably about 50 individuals commit the bulk of the crime. At every opportunity, when I was taking part in the police scheme, I asked officers what could be done for policing in north Northamptonshire if those people were somehow taken out of the equation. Every officer, at every level, said, “There would be no problem at all, Philip, because those people commit the bulk of the crime. If they were locked up or taken out of the equation we could concentrate on the zero tolerance measures that everyone wants.”

I bring to the House’s attention the case of a persistent and prolific offender, whom I shall call William. The police had to jump through hoops to bring him to justice. He is a real person, but I have disguised his identity. He is a 26-year-old male with 20 convictions for 62 offences. He was released from prison in early October after serving just under four years in prison for burglary and possession of controlled drugs. In October, after his release, the Kettering area suffered a significant increase in dwelling burglaries—double the number of the previous month. Police intelligence indicated that William was responsible for those burglaries. At the end of October, William and an associate were arrested on suspicion of burglary after, bizarrely, voluntarily handing themselves in at their local police station. They were released on bail pending further inquiries.

Six days later, William was arrested again on suspicion of carrying out another burglary in Kettering. That home owner was able to name him as the offender. In custody, he was searched and found to have a knife concealed in his underpants. He was then further arrested for being in possession of an offensive weapon and charged with that offence. He was bailed to appear in court and released. Within two days, he was arrested again and charged with witness intimidation because he had visited the burglary victim’s home and made numerous threats, including that he would burn the victim’s house down.

On another occasion, William was arrested for breaching his bail after being stopped in Kettering within his curfew time. In his possession was a bladed article. When he appeared before the court, the remand application was turned down, despite his long record of bad behaviour, and he was bailed to his brother’s address in nearby Corby. However, that was in direct breach of his brother’s tenancy agreement. His bail conditions also included a curfew and the conditions that he should not visit Kettering except to attend court and should not communicate with the victim.

In early November, police officers acting on received information attended an address in Kettering and found William asleep in the rear of a vehicle, in direct contravention of his bail conditions. He was searched and found to be in possession of a small quantity of jewellery and some white tablets. He was arrested on suspicion of the handling and possession of controlled drugs. In a further search, in custody, a piece of foil with what appeared to be heroin stains was found in a cigarette packet hidden in his trousers. In his cell, he
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tore apart his mattress and was charged with criminal damage. He also refused to move his arm from the hatch on his door and assaulted a police officer when police attempted to move his hand. He was charged with assaulting a police officer and held until his court appearance in early November, when he was at long last remanded in custody by magistrates.

Regrettably, four days after initially being remanded in custody, William was released on conditional bail by magistrates at his next hearing. Again, his bail conditions specified that he should not enter Kettering. The bail address was that of a relative in Northampton who confirmed to the police that William did not have permission to live at his address. A statement was taken, and William was again sought for breach of bail. Two weeks later, he was found hiding at an address in Kettering and arrested for breach of bail. In addition, a warrant was issued when he failed to appear at court on 15 November, and he was wanted for questioning about further burglary offences. When he was brought before the courts, he was finally remanded in custody. Eventually, at the end of February 2007, Northampton Crown court sentenced him to a total of 27 months in prison for burglary and other offences.

Throughout the period that William was at large, not only was he was arrested six times, but police intelligence and crime patterns suggest that he was criminally active. Substantial police resources were used to try to curtail that activity, but that would not have been necessary had he been remanded in custody earlier. That example was very detailed, but it shows how a known persistent and prolific offender alone accounted for a doubling in the burglary rate in Kettering when he was released from prison. The police had to jump through hoops to bring him to justice, including by arresting him six times.

Having drawn that case to the Minister’s attention, I ask two things of him. First, will he please find the time to meet the commander of the northern Northamptonshire basic command unit to discuss how the police and criminal justice systems can get to grips with known persistent and prolific offenders in a more time-efficient manner? Secondly, given the huge scheduled increase in population in Northamptonshire by 2031, will he meet the Milton Keynes and south midlands inter-regional police board to discuss how on earth we are to overcome the under-funding of the police in Northamptonshire? They should also discuss sensible funding increases for the next 25 years.

1.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) on securing the debate and on opening it so eloquently, and I thank him for the way in which he put his points. I shall address his last points first. I am sorry to hear about the problems with the prolific and persistent offender he mentioned. I can imagine the frustration that his constituents and others must have felt about that case. Such matters are a concern, but they are for the courts to deal with—not me.

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