|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
25 Mar 2010 : Column 149WHcontinued
Mr. Hanson: I am not sure whether that is good enough. We need to know, for example, whether, in the event of the hon. Gentleman's holding my position, the 2010-11 budget, which has already been approved by the House of Commons and ring-fenced for police community support officers, would be un-ring-fenced for next year-never mind subsequent years.
Andrew Rosindell: As the Minister knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) is the shadow police Minister. He, unfortunately, cannot be here today, so I, the shadow animal welfare Minister, am replying on his behalf. If the Minister wants to direct his questions to my hon. Friend, he might be able to answer better than I can, but I do not think that any shadow Ministers can make funding commitments at this stage.
Tom Brake: I think that what the hon. Gentleman is saying, in a roundabout way, is that no, he cannot give that guarantee.
Andrew Rosindell: No, I am saying that we are not prepared to be rigid about such things at this stage. We do not know what we shall inherit on 7 May. We do not know what the situation will be. The Minister painted a wonderful picture of PCSOs and I agree almost entirely with what he has been saying, but we should not close our eyes to the need to examine areas where there are problems, and to consider where we can improve. That includes looking at resources and how best to spend them. As I said a moment ago, I do not believe that we are best placed to make those decisions. It is down to the local police, the borough commanders and the chief constable to make the decisions that they know will be best for their communities.
I will not, therefore, give funding commitments today. However, I will say that a Conservative Government will of course put crime fighting at the top of the agenda, unlike what we have seen of the Labour Government, under whom cuts were made. My constituency has suffered from that, losing a local police station in the early days of the Labour Government. That was long before Boris was Mayor of London, in case the Minister is thinking of mentioning that; regrettably, the Collier Row police station in the north of my constituency was closed, despite a campaign by the then Labour MP who unfortunately failed to persuade her colleagues of the need to keep it open.
Today we have excellent PCSOs who deal with both the Havering Park and Mawneys wards. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington will probably use much of the speech he made today in the next edition of the Liberal Democrat Focus. That is probably why I was yawning-I was thinking about reading it. However, people in my constituency are not confident that crime is being dealt with effectively under the Labour Government, or that a borough such as mine, Havering, in outer London, is treated fairly in funding. We do not get the police cover we need. We value our PCSOs, and they do an excellent job, but they can be better. We need to work with them to give them greater powers and more consistency in what they do, and to ensure that we use resources to best effect.
I want to give two examples of what I mean. I spoke earlier about PCSOs being based on electoral wards. Perhaps the Minister can tell me on what logical basis
that is the right boundary for dealing with policing. There is no sense in it. Unfortunately, we are in a bureaucratic mentality, in which we think, "Let's base PCSOs on a ward boundary and ignore the realities on the ground, and the fact that boundaries go through roads, estates and communities to make equal electoral numbers in the wards." That is not logical and it is ineffective policing.
Collier Row in the north of my constituency is divided into three wards. There are PCSOs for one side of the road and a different group for the other side of the road, in the same shopping centre. That is complete nonsense and is not an effective use of resources. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington rightly pointed out that if the allocation were based on proper neighbourhoods and communities there would be pressures to do with positioning, because of the difference in crime statistics for different parts of the constituency. That would inevitably be so, just as it is at the moment. I am sure that Sutton and Cheam and Romford have far fewer police per head than Hackney, Newham and inner-London areas.
In some respects that process goes too far. Outer-London boroughs need more policing, but where crime rates are higher, police resources will inevitably be used more than in the leafy suburbs. Also, if PCSO boundaries were based on communities and neighbourhoods and not on electoral wards there would, indeed, be some large and some small communities, and therefore fewer PCSOs in one area than another. However, all those matters should be decided locally. Allocations should be flexible and based on what is right for the community in question, rather than on some bureaucratic template that does not result in policing to the best effect on the ground.
The Minister referred to my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) and for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). The Conservative party and the shadow Home Secretary have made it clear that we, as the party of law and order, will always ensure that the police, whether they are fully trained police officers or community support officers, will be given the full support of any incoming Conservative Government. What neither the shadow Home Secretary nor I can do is look at the issue with the eyes of those who have already been in government. The Minister has that privilege at the moment, although things might change in a few weeks' time. When that happens, we will be able to respond to the issues from the position of being in government, but we cannot do so today.
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman must address the fact that when his party was last in government, crime doubled and the number of officers fell. That is why people are entitled to know exactly what his party proposes to do about funding. The Conservatives have said that they will ring-fence some spending for some Departments but not for others. People reading this debate will want to know whether the hon. Gentleman's party is considering a 17 to 20 per cent. cut per Department to budgets that have not been ring-fenced.
No party, let alone the Liberal Democrats, can say at this stage what will happen in the event that any of us are in government after the election.
Of course we all understand the need to get the public finances back in order. They are in a disastrous state today; £1 of every £4 that the Government spend is borrowed. We cannot go on like that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has made clear, an incoming Conservative Government will seek to restore fiscal responsibility in public expenditure and get the economy back on the right track. We can argue for the rest of this debate about what cuts might or might not be made, whether the next Government are Labour, Conservative, Labour-Liberal Democrat or Conservative-Liberal Democrat.
Tom Brake: Or Conservative-Labour.
Andrew Rosindell: Or any possible combination of parties. We can argue all day about it, but none of us can honestly state what the situation will be after the election. We all have to consider what we must do and what the right decisions are, based on the needs of the communities concerned balanced with the importance of getting the public finances back in good order.
Tom Brake: What the hon. Gentleman is really saying is that the Conservative party proposal for the next election is, "Vote for the Conservative party for change, but we can't actually tell you what we're going to do if elected on 7 May." Is that his prospectus?
Andrew Rosindell: Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what the Liberal Democrats would do? How can he possibly predict what tough decisions they would face? Not that they will be in that position; they have not been in such a position for many decades. But if we woke up on 7 May and found that we had a Liberal Democrat Government, they would face the same dilemmas as an incoming Conservative Government or a re-elected Labour Government.
We can all make party political points about what we might cut or keep, but we know that the real, hard decisions were not announced yesterday in the Budget. They have been put off. The real decisions about public expenditure-there is no doubt that we are in a dire position-will have to be considered properly in a later Budget after the general election is done and dusted.
Mr. Hanson: The safe and confident neighbourhoods strategy was launched by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and signed by four Ministers, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sir Hugh Orde, the Conservative chair of the Association of Police Authorities and the Minister for Social Justice in the Welsh Assembly. The strategy makes the commitment that I outlined in my speech to the House this afternoon. Will the hon. Gentleman support its implementation in the event that he comes into government, or will he scrap it?
Andrew Rosindell: The fact that the strategy has been signed by lots of Labour politicians does not mean that I can say that I will follow it to the letter if I am in the Minister's position in a few weeks' time. I cannot give such commitments at this stage; it would be irresponsible to do so. We can confirm that we support the principle of PCSOs and the necessary funding for them, but we cannot discuss the level or the implementation in any great detail today.
I am being honest with the Minister. I think he is trying to hook me in a political sense, but that will not work. My party is being up front with the British people. We are not giving commitments about public expenditure that cannot be made until we have examined how bad the economic and public spending situation is after the election.
Mr. Hanson: Does the hon. Gentleman then refute the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell? His hon. Friend said:
"Doing away with PCSOs is something I'm looking at at the moment."
Andrew Rosindell: I do not know in what context that remark was made. I would have to consult my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell to find out. Maybe he was thinking of upgrading PCSOs; I do not know. I cannot speak for him. He is not here today. If he were, I am sure that he would be only too pleased to clarify his remarks.
I can only reaffirm to the Minister that the Conservative party believes that PCSOs play a valuable role. We support the work they do and we want to enhance their role within local communities. We are all constituency Members of Parliament. We have all come into contact with PCSOs and worked with them on a local level in our communities, wards or whatever they are called. We believe that they are doing a good job.
Let us not fall out over the principles. I cannot predict how they will be carried forward in the coming years as we face difficult economic choices, but I hope that whoever forms the next Government will continue to value PCSOs and work to allocate sufficient funding to maintain numbers.
The Minister obviously takes great pride in the fact that his Government created PCSOs, but according to my statistics, they promised 28,000 of them in 2004. That has not happened. We have only 16,000. They initially promised 28,000 PCSOs by 2008, but then they cut the figure to 16,000. The Government have not exactly followed through on their commitments on that issue. It highlights the fact that a Government cannot always predict circumstances-how things will change or what funding will be available.
As the Minister said in the Chamber on Monday during Home Affairs questions, things change. I think that was his answer to one of his own Back Benchers. Things will inevitably change after the election, whoever is in power. The difference is that my party is being rather honest with the British people, whereas the Government are covering up the economic catastrophe that our nation faces and that only an incoming Conservative Government will be able to address properly.
There are many examples-I will refer to one or two in a moment-of PCSOs who have proved to local communities how worthy they are. We can all think of examples from our constituencies, but I will give a few examples from elsewhere to prove that it is not a local thing. We are grateful to the local PCSOs whom we know particularly, but there are examples further afield.
PCSO Paul Tunnard chased a vandal who had deliberately damaged a patrol vehicle. Paul and his colleague were away from their vehicle in Leeds-a long
way from my constituency-talking to members of the community when they noticed that someone had attacked a police van. They looked around and rapidly spotted a suspect escaping. PCSO Tunnard commandeered a bike from one of the young people to whom he had been talking and set off in pursuit. He then grabbed the 17-year-old and arrested him on suspicion of causing damage to the motor vehicle.
In another example, PCSO Nick Hammill was on routine patrol at Leeds bus station when he was approached by a woman concerned about a man who was behaving strangely and aggressively towards members of the public. Nick approached the man and held one of his arms. While he was attempting to detain him, the man pulled a large kitchen knife from the waistband of his trousers with his other arm and held it above his head. With assistance from passers-by, Nick bravely managed to disarm the assailant.
Another example is Mark Fitzgerald from south Salford, who won the PCSO of the year award at the Salford division excellence awards. He helped to set up home watch schemes and delivered hundreds of letters to residents containing tips on how to keep property safe. He also talked to them on a personal level and included messages on the electronic public display board. Thanks to Mark's efforts and the fact that the residents took his advice, the number of domestic burglaries between October 2009 and January 2010 was lower than in the same period the year before.
A common antisocial blight on our communities is dog mess. Recently, Jeffrey Griggs from Hodge Lea in Buckinghamshire was convicted for the second time in three months of letting his dogs foul in an open place. His dogs were spotted on a grassy area by the local PCSO, who slapped a £50 fixed penalty on the repeat offender when he made no attempt to clean up the mess. Griggs did not pay the fine and was brought before the magistrates in Milton Keynes, where he admitted the offence and was fined £100. The magistrates also ordered him to pay £200 in costs to the council. That is a simple but effective way in which PCSOs have made a difference in our communities. We can all think of examples from our constituencies and I will not reel off more, but we all value the work of our PCSOs.
I believe firmly that we should continue with PCSOs and that policing should be community-based. People should be able to identify and get to know the local PCSOs in their neighbourhood, and should feel confident and safe in approaching them and involving them in the activities and events of the local community. Only then can PCSOs be used to best effect.
I say to the Minister that we need to keep PCSOs, but that we need to reform the system. First, they should be given proper uniforms, and I am pleased that he said that in his speech. Uniform is important because if it does not command people's respect, it does not do the job that it needs to do. It is vital to bring in a proper uniform that people recognise and respect.
Secondly, we must ensure that resources are used effectively. I ask the Minister to consider one particular issue. The Collier Row police station in my constituency, to which I referred, is still owned by the Metropolitan police, but it seems to be an empty building or at the least used as an office. It is no longer open to the public and has lain empty for 10 years since it was closed. However, the Met has opened a little shop, or room, in
the area for PCSOs. Such rooms have popped up all over the place. They are not open to the public, but are places where PCSOs go to carry out administrative work or have a cup of tea. Is it worth spending money on such local bases, or could resources be used to better effect elsewhere?
I believe that PCSOs should be based on communities, not ward boundaries. I hope that the Minister will consider that at national level. It is no good spending money on PCSOs and working to fight crime when the system prevents crime from being fought effectively because of such boundaries. I believe that is happening because PCSOs are based on electoral boundaries, rather than on communities.
Hon. Members present are from different parties, but we all believe in upholding the rule of law, to ensure that the streets are safe for our constituents and that criminals, yobs and those who make our communities unsafe are tackled. To do those things, we must use the limited finance available to us to best effect. The Conservative party believes in the principle of localism. We want to give the local police, the local authority and the local community power over what goes on, not for it to be prescribed by central Government. I assure you, Mrs. Dean, and the Minister that should there be a new Conservative Government on 7 May, this country will have a Government who believe in and uphold the rule of law, and who will give the support that is needed to ensure that the public are protected and that crime is fought.
Mr. Hanson: With the leave of the House, Mrs. Dean, I shall respond briefly to the debate.
This has been a useful debate. Although there have been only a few speakers, it has shed light on the approaches of the different political parties to the future of police community support officers. I am grateful for the contributions of both Front-Bench spokesmen and for the interventions of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) from the Back Bench.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and I value police community support officers and believe that they strengthen confidence, help to tackle crime and should be supported. I welcome his commitment on that. He mentioned several issues that I hope I can help him with. First, he spoke of incentivisation to ensure that officers stay in a particular place and maintain links with the community, which is extremely important. Paragraph 1.15 of the safe and confident neighbourhoods strategy states that we will look at developing a scheme to incentivise officers, including PCSOs, to stay in their communities. We are currently working through that.
Tom Brake: In case the Minister misunderstood my point, I was saying that the system of officers being allocated to a post in a particular station for many years changed because there were issues of corruption and of officers establishing inappropriate relationships with local families. Has he taken that potential problem into account and how does he see it being tackled?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|