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Bob Russell: If those talks include back pay, that will be welcome. The Home Secretary must accept that the Government’s refusal to honour in full the independently recommended pay award has caused considerable damage to police morale. The total sum of money, spread right across Government funding and
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all police officers in England and Wales, is around £40 million. Surely the Government can afford to pay that, particularly bearing in mind that it is roughly the sum paid to West Ham footballers.

Jacqui Smith: As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has already made clear, we are keen, on an ongoing basis, to discuss with the Police Federation and all other representatives of police staff the wide range of work that we can do both to recognise the important contribution that they make, as we do day in and day out, and to move forward on the issue of police pay, as I have outlined.

I have been clear in the explanation that I and the Government have given for the staging of the police pay award this year. The recommendation from the police arbitration tribunal was for me to consider; it was, effectively, the same as a recommendation from the police negotiating board. I had a responsibility to make a decision that was right for policing, for the affordability of policing and for the taxpayer. It was also right that that decision should be in line with the publicly stated pay policy and the Government’s commitment to keep inflation under control.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Some 205 Members of the House and the Select Committee on Home Affairs have unanimously called on the Home Secretary to pay the award. It is now clear that the suggestion made by some in the Government that 800 new police officers would be made available because of the extra resources is completely untrue; rather like the terracotta army, it is good to look at, but would not protect the Home Secretary. As the issue is so important and in the national interest, will she not put it before Parliament for Members to vote upon?

Jacqui Smith: Parliament, in Westminster Hall—my right hon. Friend was there—was indeed able to debate at some length last week both the issue of police pay and, quite rightly, its relationship to policing funding as a whole. Let me be clear, as I was in my response to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell): there are a range of issues involved in the decision that I made, and one of them is certainly affordability. It is the case that £1 allocated to policing cannot be spent twice. The point to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred was simply that £40 million is the equivalent of the retention of 800 police officers. That is not an unreasonable point to make when one is making a case about the Government’s pay policy, fairness to all public sector workers and affordability for police budgets as a whole.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am interested in the Home Secretary’s rhetoric, but the fact remains that Nottinghamshire constabulary has been deeply affected by this decision. Its morale, which is always a matter of great concern to the chief constable, has been seriously dented. May I invite her to come on to the front line, to see exactly what the implications of her callous decision are?

Jacqui Smith: Throughout this whole process, I have tried to avoid the rhetoric that has, on some occasions in the House and elsewhere, been more evident among
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those who oppose the decision than those who are trying to explain it. I frequently go out and visit police officers on the front line. I did so last Thursday, for example. I am always impressed by their dedication to their job and their success in reducing crime, but in order to support that, I need to take seriously my responsibility for the affordability of policing, the number of police officers available and the sustainability of the budgets that we put in place. As a Minister, I also need to take seriously our responsibility for public sector pay as a whole and for keeping inflation under control.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Two weeks ago, a policewoman carrying out her duties was shot and injured. Surely this must send a message that we should backdate police pay fully. If the support staff in police stations are being fully paid, and police community support officers are getting the full increase, why are those who are fighting on the front line and risking their lives not getting it? That is unacceptable and unpalatable. Please, let us look at this issue now.

Jacqui Smith: There are many police officers who put themselves in danger and, in some cases, are injured or even killed while policing our streets. That is why it is absolutely right that, in the range of public sector pay, the overall benefits package for police constables and the police service generally is not only fair but highly competitive. In relation to pensions, allowances and yearly increments, it rightly includes generous allocations in comparison with other public sector pay awards. As I have mentioned, however, the issue of consistency also needs to be borne in mind when we look at the police pay awards. It is of course the case that, among the pay awards negotiated for 2007, only the armed forces and junior doctors received a better pay award than police officers. That is the reality of the situation. Nevertheless, I have now made it clear that I want to look at how we can move forward to the multi-year pay deals based on the index agreed, which will give certainty and recognition to police officers in a way that they deserve.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): During the debate on police pay last week, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing refused to answer this question, so I hope that the Home Secretary will now do so. Does she think it fair that police officers are getting a smaller percentage increase than other police staff and police community support officers?

Jacqui Smith: I read the debate, and I know that my right hon. Friend answered questions on a range of issues at some length. The Government do not actually have a role in setting the pay of police staff and PCSOs, so that is not something that we are held responsible for— [ Interruption. ] It is a fact. We do not.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I inform the Secretary of State of my dismay that she is going down this road? Not only is her decision giving disproportionate offence to public servants and causing considerable political collateral damage to the Labour Government, it is also unfair. It will embarrass Ministers in other Departments who try to argue that trade unions and other representative organisations
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should adhere to decisions made at arbitration. I understand that the Home Secretary’s own Ministers argued about whether the arbitration decision on prison officers’ pay should be adhered to. She cannot have it both ways.

Jacqui Smith: It is precisely because I believe that we should, and do, have fairness across the public sector that I have taken this decision. I should like to make a point about the nature of the arbitration in these circumstances. The police arbitration tribunal is an automatic part of the police negotiating machinery. It does not involve some kind of decision being made, after no agreement has been reached by the police negotiating board, to go off to an independent tribunal; it is an automatic part of the process. The result of the police arbitration tribunal should legally be treated in the same way as a recommendation from the police negotiating board. This is a different kind of arbitration from the type that some colleagues have been arguing about. It is more akin to the sort of advice that Ministers might receive from a pay review body. As my hon. Friend will know, Ministers have taken the decision to stage the increases recommended by many pay review bodies both this year and in some previous ones—

Andrew Mackinlay: What about the prison officers?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend shouts out, “What about the prison officers?” from a sedentary position, but prison officers had their pay award staged to the same value as have police officers this year. That is all part of the fairness that we are pursuing here.

Local Policing Priorities

5. Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What steps she is taking to give local communities a greater say over local policing priorities. [177762]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Throughout England and Wales, neighbourhood policing teams are giving local communities access to local policing and community safety services and influence over community safety priorities in their neighbourhoods. South Wales police, for example, have established partnerships and communities together meetings, bringing the police, the community and other agencies together to agree local priorities.

Mrs. Moon: Operation Hutton, carried out by Bridgend police earlier this year, resulted in the arrest and prosecution of more than 40 drug users and dealers. In December, while burglaries in south Wales rose, in Bridgend they fell by 22 per cent. and there was also a 17 per cent. fall in thefts from cars. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Bridgend police on tackling these local priorities of cutting drug dealing, burglaries and thefts from cars?

Jacqui Smith: The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) tells me that he has visited Bridgend, and I certainly will join my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) in congratulating the Bridgend police, as well as its community partners.
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I suspect that the success seen there in bringing down car theft and burglary depends on the dedication and commitment of police officers, but it also needs, as my hon. Friend suggests, local people to feed into those priorities and community partners to work alongside the police. This provides a very good example of crime falling as a result of bringing those partners together effectively.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give credence to the idea that, where it is the settled will of a local community, we should elect police commissioners?

Jacqui Smith: Some important questions need to be answered about the future of police accountability, which is precisely why we have asked Sir Ronnie Flanagan to look into that issue in his report. We expect his report soon and we will then consider what it says and other issues around local accountability as we bring forward our Green Paper.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that engagement between local communities and their local police force is essential in providing information and direction for the police, while also providing reassurance to the public? What assessment has she made of the impact of police community support officers in building up that mutual advantage?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes the important point that policing at a local level cannot be successful unless it has the trust and consent of local people, while also being informed by what local people have to say. The 16,000 police community support officers, who are now at the heart of our neighbourhood policing teams, have been crucial in building up that trust and making policing more visible. It is they whom local people can talk to—day in, day out—and who can work with local people to identify priorities and to ensure that crime is being reduced. I suspect that my hon. Friend sees PCSOs as I do—as a very big success, making a big contribution to policing and reducing antisocial behaviour and crime. That is why I, unlike some Opposition Members, have been forthright in my support for the work done by police community support officers.

Neighbourhood Policing (East Anglia)

6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When she next expects to meet representatives of East Anglian police forces to discuss neighbourhood policing. [177763]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): Last February or March, I believe, I had the great delight of visiting Sheringham and Norwich to discuss neighbourhood policing, among other things. I am also happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that on 23 January I am meeting representatives from the Norfolk constabulary and I have no doubt that neighbourhood policing will feature in our deliberations.

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Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that Norfolk constabulary, as well as being the most successfully improved force in the country, now has 52 safer neighbourhood schemes? Is he also aware that Norfolk is set to lose £2.4 million under the formula funding review, and faces a nil increase in the rural policing fund, which is vital to safer neighbourhood schemes, which could be put at risk by an overall £7 million funding gap? All Norfolk is asking for is a fairer deal in the policing settlement. What advice does he therefore give to this excellent constabulary?

Mr. McNulty: I would remind it simply that in 2008 we are providing £3.7 million—37 per cent. more than in 2006-07—for neighbourhood policing, that its 2008-09 funding for neighbourhood policing, including police community support officers, will be £3.8 million, and that it now has 133 more officers than in March 1997, 176 PCSOs, 271 special constables and more than 1,000 police support staff. I commend the Norfolk force for all that it does, as it is very much improved and getting better. I look forward to sharing that celebration when I meet representatives on 23 January.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): The Minister will know that his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary met the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, another hard-pressed police authority, before Christmas. The Minister will also know that Cambridgeshire’s population is the fastest growing of any county in England. When will the Government look again at reviewing the funding for Cambridgeshire constabulary to reflect that fact, so that we can put more police on the beat?

Mr. McNulty: It would have been useful if the hon. Gentleman had phrased his remarks around an acceptance that this year, I think for the first time in two or three years, we have moved towards the new formula. We have resisted a ceiling for the police grant, and authorities such as Cambridgeshire, neighbouring Bedfordshire and others have been rewarded or gained in that context. I have said recently to Bedfordshire that I am happy to talk to it further about the time delay between growth in population and the formula for police grant, and I am happy to extend that invitation to Cambridgeshire.

Gun Crime

7. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of Government policy in reducing gun crime. [177764]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We have made significant progress in efforts to reduce gun crime since 1997. We have increased enforcement operations, introduced tougher legislation and given more powers to the police and courts to deal with offenders. We are also empowering communities to take local action against guns and criminal gangs.

Simon Hughes: When so many people are still being killed with guns, and eight teenagers were killed by guns on London’s streets last year, Ministers will accept that we are not yet winning the battle against gun crime.
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In addition to pursuing the welcome proposal, minimal though it is, of dealing with deactivated guns, would they be willing meet my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), Mr. Brian Paddick, our candidate to be Mayor of London, and me, to discuss a much more robust policy than currently applies, including protecting potential—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is far too long.

Mr. Coaker: I am not sure about the hon. Gentleman’s request for a meeting, but he will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s announcement about taking action on deactivated firearms. We are responding to what the Association of Chief Police Officers has asked us to do with respect to deactivated firearms. That is what we intend to take forward, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned last Thursday. Clearly, in tackling guns, there is an awfully long way to go. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to point out that young people are being killed on the streets of London and elsewhere. We will continue to take what action we can to make a difference.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): May I ask a sensible question on the back of this? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will recall that I asked a question before Christmas on the Rhys Jones murder and gang and gun crime. May I return to that issue? My right hon. Friend visited Liverpool on Thursday to meet the affected community and police officers. On the back of that visit, will my hon. Friend the Minister update the House on what more can be done on deactivated guns and gun and gang crime?

Mr. Coaker: I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has taken a keen interest in the work of the Merseyside police on this issue. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary went to Merseyside to see the work that the police were doing, and made an announcement about deactivated weapons.

As for the general issue of gun crime, we should think about enforcement as well as legislation, and in that regard the Merseyside police were very proactive during a recent day of action. My hon. Friend asked what else we should do about gun crime, however, and it is clear that we must think about prevention as well. We must try to establish how we can prevent young people from using and carrying guns in the first place, and examine all the various diversion programmes.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Will the Minister clarify whether the Department is now prepared to back ACPO’s proposals for anonymity for witnesses from an early stage of investigations rather than from the arrival of cases in court, so that impunity for gang and gun offences can be ended?

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and we welcome what he and ACPO have said about witness protection. We are considering what action to take. If we want to ensure that gang members and those who commit the most heinous crimes are brought to justice, we must give people the necessary confidence to come forward and give the evidence that must be heard in court in order for the perpetrators to be prosecuted.

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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Minister will know that in Scotland we have a particular problem with airguns, about which the Scottish Government have made several representations to the Home Secretary. If the Home Office will not act decisively to end the scourge of airguns in Scotland, why for goodness’ sake can the matter not be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so that the Scottish Government can do so?

Mr. Coaker: We have made it clear that we do not wish the matter to be devolved. We believe that the issue of airguns and, indeed, of all firearms is best tackled on a United Kingdom basis.

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