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Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am sorry that I was late for the opening minutes of the Minister’s statement, but I have now had the opportunity to catch up. The Minister rightly praises Cheshire’s neighbourhood policing commitment, but the police authority and the chief constable have said that if they do not manage to secure an increase in funding, neighbourhood policing will have to be the first point for cuts. That seems ironic
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when taken with the other targets that the police authority has to meet, including anti-terrorism, particularly in relation to the adjacent Merseyside and Greater Manchester challenges and to the rurality of the area. What should Cheshire do to recalibrate the starting point, so as to address this historical problem and deficit and to ensure that we start from a point that is fair to Cheshire, rather than continuing to build in a penal regime?

John Healey: The formula for funding police authorities is consistent and it is fair to all authorities because it is based on the same criteria. I have to say that questions and elements of anti-terrorist activity are well beyond the formula and are normally provided by the Government in the form of special grants and special support. I will look further into the matter—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government may be able to tell me when I sit down—but I would be very surprised if what I have just said were not the case for Cheshire, when it is generally the case for other authorities across the country.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the Government’s contribution to keeping overall rises in council tax down to 4 per cent., which is a fine achievement? On Lincolnshire, may I second the representations of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), as Lincolnshire indeed deserves more resources. However, nothing can justify the quite unconscionable and egregious rise in the police precept from one year to the next of 79 per cent., which translates into an additional burden of £100 on a band D taxpayer in my constituency. May I give the Minister notice that I shall be writing to him in the next 24 hours, asking him to cap Lincolnshire police authority and to designate it forthwith?

John Healey: I welcome my hon. Friend’s recognition that this is indeed the second lowest ever average council tax rise in England. I look forward to receiving his submission as part of this process, which I will consider. May I tell Conservative Members that, judging from the letters and e-mails that I have personally received from Lincolnshire so far, my hon. Friend is probably more in tune with Lincolnshire residents? To date, I have not seen a single letter or e-mail that supports the rise. People are genuinely concerned about excessive council tax rises that put pressure on their ability to pay the week-to-week, month-to-month bills.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Notwithstanding the fact that council tax is at the
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very edge of acceptability for many people, I urge the Minister not to cap the Leicestershire police force and certainly not to require in-year re-billing. The authority is at the very top of the national league tables in respect of performance and overall professionalism. The current cost of policing is £2.67 a week, and the increase of 41p has been widely consulted on and broadly supported. Will he look again at authorities such as Leicestershire that are well adrift of the formula figure that they should receive? Over the last two years, it would have provided an extra £3 million a year on average, and the same is true over the next three years. When he reaches a decision, will he take into account the quality of the police force and the distance that is from the formula funding that it should receive?

John Healey: If my hon. Friend’s points are part of the case put by the police authority, I will, of course, take them into account. On the question of re-billing, every authority that has set an excessive budget or council tax level went into the process with their eyes wide open. The risk of re-billing, the cost of re-billing and the practical difficulties and disruption of re-billing are part and parcel of the consequences experienced by any authority if we finally have to take a decision to cap council tax rises and require such a step to be taken.

Mr. Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): The level of support from the Government over the past 11 years to my local authority in Great Yarmouth and, indeed, to the Norfolk police authority is unprecedented. Speaking as a member of the Great Yarmouth borough council before 1997, I know that we had to endure cut after cut after cut under the previous Administration. However, there is a concern with respect to the police authority that with the number of rural authorities on the list for proposed capping, the formula that is being set probably presents a problem. That issue clearly needs to be addressed. Will my hon. Friend take that on board before he meets those authorities, particularly the Norfolk police authority, to which I also hope to make representations?

John Healey: My hon. Friend will, of course, be aware that the funding formula for the police is largely based on policing need, and the characteristics of the areas concerned form a part of that. I welcome his recognition of the vastly increased funding for his area, which has been part and parcel of the record level and increase of police officers, and the record level of community support officers and, of course, police support staff, who also play a very important role in the general policing effort of his county and in the rest of the country.

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Policing in London

1.5 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,

I am pleased to move the motion, not least because, despite what some suggest, there is a good news story in the broadest sense about policing in London. At the outset of my short contribution, I want to congratulate the Metropolitan police on all the work they do for us in London and Sir Ian Blair on the leadership that he has brought to the success of policing in London.

It is important that the people of London know and understand what the Metropolitan police have achieved over recent years—from the lowest level of community support officer neighbourhood teams in each and every borough, all the way up to the leadership team around Sir Ian Blair. There are any number of suggestions—some of them simply wrong—about police numbers and capabilities, about the broad success in London, about crime and violent crime specifically, about transport safety in London and, not least, about neighbourhood policing. Many of them are not the case or simply do not stand up.

We need to understand too—I know that everyone in the House does—that London is very well served by the Metropolitan Police Service in the fight against terrorism. All hon. Members know that the Metropolitan police were seen at their finest in the wake of the 7/7 attack and the two subsequent failed attacks of 21/7 in London and the incident in Glasgow. Lessons are, of course, to be learned from each and every one of those instances, and they surely have been learned.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Many of my constituents travel to and work in London, and they are very interested in policing in the capital, particularly on our transport networks. Does the Minister therefore welcome Conservative proposals to increase the number of police community support officers in the safer transport teams by 440 and to recruit an extra 50 British Transport police officers to patrol our mainline stations?

Mr. McNulty: I would if those who proposed such policy developments could justify and sustain the funding for those extra PCSOs—

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNulty: Wait a minute. What I would not accept is the costing that has been suggested so far, because it is rooted in the old Transport for London budget, so the money that is supposed to be there for 400-odd extra PCSOs on our transport network is simply not available any more. It has been spent. If the hon. Gentleman can suitably enlighten us, I would, of course, be delighted to give way.

Mr. Johnson: Since the Minister asked a question, I would be delighted to enlighten him. Let me tell him that Londoners, given the choice between spending £63 million on further publicity for the Mayor of London
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or having 440 transport PCSOs on the buses, would rather spend £16 million, which is what I am proposing to spend, on another 440 PCSOs on the buses. Is the Minister in favour of that? Yes or no?

Mr. McNulty: In the first instance when the proposal was thought up, the money was to come from Transport for London. Now, however, that and a whole series of other supposed innovations from the hon. Gentleman representing somewhere in Oxfordshire are not to come from those areas suitably designated in the first instance, but from some magical little pot rooted in the public relations budget in the Greater London authority. The slightest scrutiny would show that his overall spending plans are neither sustainable nor justified. He is as cavalier with the facts in that regard as he is in so many other aspects of his political life.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I am slightly confused by the position of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) because Tory assembly member Richard Barnes has openly said of police in London:

Conservatives have called PCSOs “plastic policemen” in the past, so where has this sudden support for PCSOs come from? Since the Mayor was elected, there have been 850 extra police officers on London’s transport system—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mr. McNulty: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. We know that an election is forthcoming, but the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) does his case no good by traducing what is in place and the success that there has been in the London context. He cannot talk about having some sort of regard for—finally, because he has not done so for most of the time that he has been in the House—the safety of people on London’s transport network without recognising the significant work and investment that has taken place thus far. Far too often, in all that he does in his attempt to be Mayor, he treats Londoners like idiots. People have put in much hard work, whether through TFL, the British Transport police, the Metropolitan Police Service, or whatever. Day in, day out, PCSOs and front-line police officers make our transport network, buses included, far more secure than in the past. That is not to say that there is not still work to be done, but the hon. Gentleman does his case no good by trying to suggest that violent crime is going through the roof—

Mr. Boris Johnson: It has.

Mr. McNulty: Not in London, with the greatest respect.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con) rose—

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con) rose—

Mr. McNulty: I shall come to the outer fringe of London—Surrey—first and then Essex.

Richard Ottaway: Croydon is very much a part of London. May I try to take a different tack? A recent survey showed that 46 per cent. of Londoners said that they did not feel safe in their neighbourhoods at night. Does the Minister find that understandable?

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Mr. McNulty: Over the past few years, the safety figures for London have been going in the right direction much more readily than they ever did in the 1980s and early 1990s. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said to his non-London colleague, that one must start from the premise that outer London boroughs are far better served with policing than they have ever been before. My borough is in exactly the same position in that there is a difference between perceived and actual levels of crime, and that is especially marked in outer London boroughs. The situation has changed enormously thanks to the embedding of safer neighbourhoods teams throughout London, but I accept that the perception is hard to shift. However, I do not do so in the stark, black-and-white, knockabout terms that he is suggesting. He has made serious contributions to London debates. Indeed, I believe that he was his party’s London spokesperson for some time. I accept that the perception of crime remains a serious matter that we need to deal with.

Mr. Scott: Does the Minister accept that one of the concerns of my constituents in Ilford, North and people throughout the borough of Redbridge is that they do not feel secure on buses especially? They were promised that there would be better policing on buses, but that has been an abject failure. It has not happened.

Mr. McNulty: That might look nice in a central office press release, but it is simply not the case. Whoever the competitors for the mayoral election or any subsequent election, they should not treat Londoners like idiots. It is not the case that safety, and police and security presence, on our transport network and hubs has somehow diminished over the past five or 10 years—quite the reverse. Does more need to be done? Absolutely—no one is claiming otherwise—but people should not start from a year-zero perspective, because every time that the hon. Member for Henley does so, he traduces the very good work that is done day in, day out, by our PCSOs—whether in the BTP or MPS. That is not in the interests of the people of Ilford.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend’s support for the Metropolitan Police Service and the initiatives that have been undertaken in London. Does he agree that if we are congratulating the authorities on improvements and the reduction of crime over the past five years, we must include in that the Mayor of London, who has consistently supported additional police officers throughout London since his election? He has been solely responsible for the neighbourhood policing initiative that has done so much to reduce crime in local areas.

Mr. McNulty: I absolutely agree. The Conservative party has had an on-off—now on, apparently—love affair with PCSOs and all that they do. It is simply not right, Ceausescu-like, to rub out history entirely and say that the Conservatives have always been at one with the Metropolitan police’s arguments on PCSOs. Some Conservative Members—not many among the congregation today—have spent the entire 10 years in which I have been in the House traducing the very existence of PCSOs. I am glad that that is not the case now.

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Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): The safer neighbourhoods teams have been a phenomenal addition and they are greatly appreciated by local people. Does the Minister agree that they need to be embedded in an estate property that is in the ward that they are policing? That is Met police policy, but it is not happening. Will he have a chat with the Metropolitan police about ensuring that that happens, especially in Highgate ward?

Mr. McNulty: That is a reasonable point, whether about Highgate or elsewhere. As I have discovered in my area, it is not always possible to do that. I know that the principle of getting the teams as close as possible to the wards that they serve—ideally within them—governs what the Met does, but that is not always possible. Slowly, as the teams become far more embedded, they are shifting from temporary areas across London to more satisfactory ones. Although the Met and everyone else would like to meet the aspiration that every team should be located in the ward that it serves, that is not, to be fair, entirely practical or always possible.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Minister will be aware that I have supported PCSOs since the moment the idea was raised in the House.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) said that neighbourhood policing was to the credit of just the Mayor of London. The Mayor must be given credit for doing quite a good job, but he has achieved that only by working closely with local authorities of any political colour. In the hon. Gentleman’s area, I suspect that the Conservative-controlled London borough of Enfield has worked extremely well to make such projects successful. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) will be keen to build on such partnership arrangements in the years ahead.

Mr. McNulty: So keen that the hon. Member for Henley has not mentioned that at all during his entire life in the House, but that is by the bye. In fact, on the rare occasions that he has been in the Chamber, he has not troubled us terribly much with questions about any matter relating to London at all.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): I find it hard to believe that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) is at all serious about fighting crime in London when he suggests that he will cut the Metropolitan police’s reserve budget, which is in stark contrast to the current Mayor of London’s commitment to putting an extra 1,000 uniformed police on the streets of London. Will the Minister comment on the difference that that would make? We should give the Mayor of London credit for rolling out neighbourhood policing right across London over the past two years in advance of that happening nationally, which has made a significant difference to my constituents and people throughout the whole of London.

Mr. McNulty: I can only agree with my right hon. Friend. We have a candidate who has delivered substantially for London and throughout London. During that entire period, the Conservatives have gone from ice cold, to cold, to tepid and then to lukewarm,
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and there is now a vague recognition from them that what the Mayor, Sir Ian Blair, the MPS and the Metropolitan Police Authority have done increasingly matters to London. I welcome any latter-day Pauline conversion to the concept of neighbourhood policing throughout the country. However, I have to say that, historically, it has been rather tepid and lukewarm from the Opposition.

I know that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has been a fan of PCSOs from the very start and that he did not cast on them the aspersions cast by others. When we get it right and police and PCSOs complement each other, things work well. I take slight issue with what he suggested in relation to the remark about the Mayor made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). It has taken the leadership of the Mayor and, I say, Sir Ian Blair to push on and push through safer neighbourhood teams in every area.

Having said that, safer neighbourhood teams are far better and far more effective when, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, they work closely with local councils, regardless of their political colour. I am happy to report that that is happening much more. Again, I say, “Please don’t revise history.” Some—not always just Conservative or Liberal Democrat councils, I freely admit—have come late to the table, although they now understand how neighbourhood policing and neighbourhood management can work so well.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. McNulty: I give way to Leyton and Wanstead.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Can he give an assessment of what Londoners are supposed to make of this statement by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson)? He said:

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