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"cost cutting and improvements in productivity could, if relentlessly pursued, generate a saving of 12% in central government funding ...while maintaining police availability."
This is therefore not an argument about whether there need to be cuts to the police budget over the next four years; it is an argument about a cut of 12% or, as the Chancellor announced on 22 June, a cut of 25% for the Home Office, which he describes as an unprotected Department.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I assure my right hon. Friend that I thought of this question myself. On Monday I met the chief constable of Kent, who was concerned about the lack of information coming out of the Home Office. I do not know whether things were done in the same way when my right hon. Friend was Home Secretary, but although the Policing Minister said on Monday that we had to wait until 25 October for the comprehensive spending review, chief officers are now having to prepare their budgets without knowing even a ballpark figure for the cuts. Would it not be helpful if the Government could give an indication as to how much the figure could be, so that chief officers could prepare for what is inevitable?
Alan Johnson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. I do not think that the collegiate approach in this House has stretched as far as Members on the Opposition Benches getting the Government Chief Whip's crib sheet. I know that that was his own question, although I suppose that it might have come from our crib sheet. The issue is this: we would not have revealed before a CSR what the settlement was. That is why it is difficult to itemise the savings in advance of a CSR. What can be done-and what we did with the police in the policing White Paper-is to identify those areas that I have mentioned and ensure that the police and the security services understand that we were prioritising police and security. Also, in this year Parliament, including those now on the Government Benches, approved the allocation of funding, knowing that there would be another pay increase in the three-year police pay deal. What has happened now is that the Government have not only demanded more savings this year, despite having to meet that pay increase, but frozen the precept. The police are in a far worse position, including the chief constable of Kent, than they would have been had we been in government.
It is extraordinary that the Government should refuse to add policing to health, education and international development as an area requiring special consideration. The Chancellor is fond of quoting Canada as a precedent for the kind of savage cuts that he heralded in the emergency Budget, but the Canadian Government were not foolish enough to slash police budgets. Expenditure on policing fell by just 0.1% in the years following the Canadian Star Chamber cuts, and then rose steadily thereafter. The number of police officers dipped by at most 3%. In this country, the budget will be slashed by at least 25%, which means a cut in police numbers of between 35,000, as estimated by Professor Talbot, the respected criminologist at Manchester university, and 60,000, according to the magazine Jane's Police Review, which took what I hope is the exaggerated view that the cuts might amount to 40%.
The HMIC report means that there can be no further pretence that front-line policing can somehow emerge unscathed from this kind of budgetary carnage. As well as failing to protect central allocations, on which police forces rely for between 50% and 90% of their funding, the Government have placed a two-year moratorium on any increases in the local precepts. So much for localism. As a result, plans are already being drawn up in every police force throughout the country to cut the number of officers, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out. The 16,000 police community support officers, who are popular with the public and central to neighbourhood policing, are bound to go if there are cuts of 25%. As civilian staff, they are more easy to dispose of, which is why police forces such as Durham have already put every PCSO under notice of redundancy.
There was nothing about this in the coalition partners' manifestos. Indeed, the Lib Dems, who believed that this country was under-policed, were promising to use the money saved by scrapping identity cards to recruit 3,000 additional police officers. We now have the Government's own figures for the amount of money that will be saved by scrapping ID cards. I will willingly take an intervention from anyone on the Lib Dem Benches if they want to tell me how many police officers that equates to. Is it 3,000? No. Is it 2,500, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 200? No. If we used all the money saved by scrapping ID cards, we would get 117 extra officers, not 3,000. Would that we could look forward to any increase in officer numbers at all. It is now likely that the Lib Dems will preside over the loss of 3,000 officers every four months over the next four years.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the contribution of the Liberal Democrats. Many people have wondered whether this Government would be any different if the Lib Dems were not involved, but are we perhaps now starting to see how they are involved? When we look at the cuts in policing, the decision to put yobbos on to the street rather than in prison, and they ways in which the Government are on the side of the criminals rather than of the police, we can see that the lily-livered Liberals are indeed making their contribution to government, just as people were beginning to wonder what they were doing.
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. During the general election, the Conservatives and Labour were united in saying, "Don't let the Lib Dems anywhere near crime or national security-or immigration, for that matter." We remember some of their policies in that area. I do not blame the Lib Dems at all for the Government's policy on crime and policing. The Home Secretary has been careful to have only one Lib Dem in her team, and she is a very good Minister, but the Government have not allowed her anywhere near the important stuff in the Home Office. This policy cannot be described as a coalition approach. Certainly, the decision not to prioritise the police in the comprehensive spending review was made by the Conservatives.
I have mentioned the likely loss of police officers over the next four years. Let us have no doubt that cuts of this magnitude will also put national security at risk, as the most senior counter-terrorism officer in the UK has
made clear. Insufficient resources will inevitably lead to the closure of regional counter-terrorism units, to fewer surveillance teams to monitor suspects, and to a reduction in the number of police officers who work full time on counter-terrorism.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Was my right hon. Friend concerned about yesterday's announcement of the abolition of the Audit Commission? We are going to see massive cuts across the board, and the Audit Commission normally monitors, evaluates and supports the performance of the police. The cuts will have differential impacts, and in Swansea, 38% of the people are in public sector employment. They face massive cuts, and unemployment and education cuts are growing, which is fuelling more localised crime. Is he worried that we will not have the tools to assess what is happening, to enable the Government to channel resources to where they are most needed?
Alan Johnson: That is certainly an issue, particularly in the light of the HMIC-Audit Commission's joint report. We must take a rigorous approach to its conclusion that, if the Government cut more than 12%, front-line policing will be affected. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Audit Commission has been done away with; I hope that HMIC will not come next.
As police numbers reduce, so will their powers. I shall deal with DNA and CCTV in a moment.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on to other matters, may I tell him that I have been listening carefully to the points that he has made about cuts? He knows full well that his Government had pledged to make 20% cuts in public sector spending. If they were not going to occur in the Home Office, where were they going to be?
Alan Johnson: When we were in government, we decided to pick the priority Departments, and the chosen areas were health, education, international development and crime and policing. It is extraordinary that the present Government- [ Interruption. ] Hang on! I am answering the question. It is incredible that the present Government believe that international development, health and, to a certain extent, education must be prioritised, and that they are more important than crime and policing. Quite frankly, I can say as a former Health Secretary that we did not commit to increase the health budget above the rate of inflation. That budget was £110 billion. I went from the Department of Health, which had a £110 billion budget, to the Home Office, which had a budget of about £10 billion. We would have saved £73 billion; we would not have gone for a saving of £113 billion, which Boris Johnson described only yesterday as cutting too savagely and too deeply. It is a central feature of this argument that the Government are going too far with the cuts and that they are failing to treat crime and policing as a priority in the comprehensive spending review, even though it is a priority for constituents everywhere.
During the summer, the Home Secretary made a speech saying that we needed to "move beyond the ASBO". I want to make two things clear. First, the antisocial behaviour order is the most serious of a range
of civil powers introduced in 1998 so that the police, local authorities and other agencies could tackle the problem in a co-ordinated way. They needed to tackle the kind of behaviour that falls short of criminality but nevertheless destroys people's lives. These powers are not driven from Whitehall, as the Home Secretary suggested, but through community safety partnerships that involve community groups and social enterprises.
The second thing that we need to be clear about is that, where those powers are used effectively, they work. I shall lapse into what I hope is uncharacteristic immodesty for a moment when I say that they worked particularly well during my year as Home Secretary, when an additional emphasis was placed on the victim and on intensified activity in localities where public perception of antisocial behaviour was above average.
The social affairs correspondent of The Guardian said recently that these measures had had no discernible effect, but they had a discernible effect in the one place where an effect can be discerned-namely, the British crime survey. The Home Office, under the current Home Secretary, stated on 15 July that, whereas previous reductions had been in one or two specific areas,
"the reduction between 08-09 and 09-10"-
"reflects falls in the proportion of people perceiving a problem with almost all types of anti-social behaviour that make up the overall measure".
That refers to reductions in abandoned cars, noisy neighbours, drunkenness, drug use, youth nuisance, litter, vandalism and graffiti. Those are all issues for which there were insufficient powers prior to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The statistical release went on to say that antisocial behaviour was now at its lowest level since records began, with, for the first time, a majority of the population agreeing that the police and councils were dealing with antisocial behaviour in their local area.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman cites statistics. Forensic Pathways, an organisation in my constituency, has used Home Office data to show that, although the volume of crime has fallen in the past seven years, the detection and clear-up rates have not fallen. So the cost of crime, per crime, is going up, and the police are becoming less efficient. Does he not think that, rather than ploughing money into a broken system, it is better to get the bureaucracy off the backs of the police so that they can do the job we want them to do, which is to detect more crime?
It is great to hear Conservative Members accepting that crime has fallen, as they spent so long dancing around the issue under the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). They were told off by the UK statistics authorities and by everyone who looked at the matter. Some people in the police force are looking askance at what this Government are doing. I mentioned the record under the previous Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) is right that the conviction rate needs to be tackled as well, but under the previous Conservative Government, it was not just the conviction rate and the detection rate that had not been tackled, as crime reached 4.6 million-a doubling-under the Tories. There was a 168% increase in violent crime and a
405% increase in burglary. Of course, the Labour Government can be criticised for aspects of what happened over the last 13 years, but what no Conservative Member can do is to suggest that somehow crime has gone up when that was in fact their legacy. If Britain were ever broken, it was broken between 1979 and 1997. The statistics I am citing are not mine; they are the Home Secretary's.
The death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter last year shocked this House and shocked the country. It had a profound impact on me as the incoming Home Secretary. That is why I wanted to intensify action. There is no evidence from this tragic incident that it is time to move beyond the ASBO. All the evidence, summarised so astutely by the coroner in that tragic case, showed that the police and local authority in Leicestershire were acting as if they lived in the pre-ASBO era, when no powers existed. One police officer said at the inquest that antisocial behaviour was nothing to do with the police. He was wrong. It is certainly not the responsibility of the police alone, but the police are responsible for it. That police officer was wrong, but 13 years ago, he would have been right. We have to be careful not to return to those days. The Home Secretary speaks of the need to tackle the root causes of this kind of behaviour as if she is unaware of Sure Start, free nursery education, family-nurse partnerships, family intervention projects, the education maintenance allowance, the huge increase in apprenticeships, the 30% increase in the number of kids from deprived areas going to university and all the other measures introduced by the Labour Government-yes, to be tough on the causes of crime, as well as on crime itself.
Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is providing us with an excellent list of the range of powers available to deal with the very complex issue of antisocial behaviour. It is not just about enforcement, as it is also about tackling the causes. Does he agree that the victims of antisocial behaviour disproportionately live in the poorest parts of our communities in Britain? Someone living in a nice leafy suburb behind a gated community might not appreciate the misery still caused by antisocial behaviour. That is why we need the powers to deal with the problem.
Alan Johnson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who did a great deal during her time at the Home Office to pursue this agenda. I think that all social strata can suffer from this problem, but she is right in what she says about poor areas. That is why we must never go back to the days when the typical response to this problem on the Labour Benches was saying that we should not get involved in it. We did; we have; it succeeded. We pioneered restorative justice. We began linking drug treatment to prison sentences. We trebled investment in prison education. As a result, reoffending is down by 20% and youth reoffending by nearly 25%.
The Home Secretary said in her July speech that for 13 years people had been told that
"the ASBO was the silver bullet that would cure society's ills".
I want her to give me one example-just one-of a Minister ever making any such claim. We never did. It took a whole range of measures to deal with the spiralling
crime that we inherited, and that is what we did. As usual, the only thing wrong with the Home Secretary's pronouncements is the facts.
Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): If the ASBO was such an excellent policy, will the shadow Home Secretary please explain why the chief constable in my local area wrote an article published in The Daily Telegraph on 30 July saying that
"we need to give people the confidence to tackle anti-social behaviour. In Germany, two thirds of citizens would intervene in public; in this country, two thirds would not. Referring everything to the police, and the legal system, is not the answer to every problem-nor is it affordable."?
Alan Johnson: There it is, this is another "big society" argument-or "do it yourself": there will not be any PCSOs and police numbers will be cut, so do it yourself. Actually, that article did not in any way contradict what I am saying. There is not one police officer or local government officer in this country and no one on a crime and disorder reduction partnership who does not understand that people have to work together using a range of measures, including getting communities involved. It works successfully where communities have decided to turn their own communities around, but they get help. What the Government are now proposing-the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) could not have put it more succinctly-is that people will get no help in future. That is the Tory argument that we are countering. As I said before, the Home Secretary is often accurate on everything except for the facts.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Following the irrelevant drivel that we have just heard in the previous intervention, is my right hon. Friend aware that Inspector Damian O'Reilly of my constituency, who has just won the Greater Manchester police's community police officer of the year award and has been entered for the national finals, wrote to me to say:
"Were ASBOs to be abolished it would be devastating for both the community and the officers who put much effort into obtaining them, the problems would reoccur and the only winners would be the criminals?"
Alan Johnson: Yes, I agree. As I mentioned, ASBOs are the most serious of the range of measures to combat antisocial behaviour, as an acceptable behaviour contract or a simple letter to the parents of a miscreant might be enough to stop it. What we introduced, as the coroner in the Fiona Pilkington case pointed out, was 15 measures that the police and local authorities could use, dependent on severity of the behaviour. ASBOs, as I say, apply at the more severe end, but all those measures need to be used together, depending on the problem.
Geraint Davies: Will my right hon. Friend give way again?
Alan Johnson: No, not again, if my hon. Friend does not mind; I have already given way once to him.
On DNA, the Home Secretary says with the smug piety that can have come only from working closely with the Liberal Democrats that our proposed way forward on the DNA database was disgraceful, because, she says with eyes blazing, it meant that the DNA of
innocent people would be retained. That is what the right hon. Lady says and I see her nodding her head; it is a viewpoint that she uses against us. The fact is, however, that she proposes to do exactly the same. The difference is that we would keep the DNA profiles of those innocent of both serious and non-serious offences while she would keep the former but not the latter. Furthermore, we would both take the DNA from all those arrested and keep it for a sufficient period to check against previous crime scenes. The logic of the lofty argument that she has got from the Lib Dems- [Interruption.] I will come on to the issue of six years in a few moments. The logic of the argument that innocent people's DNA is being kept is that we should not take DNA from anyone until they are convicted. Let me explain how nutty that proposition is; it is so nutty that it is not even a Lib Dem conference policy-always a good gauge of whether something is extraordinarily daft.
There is no evidence whatever that those arrested but not convicted of a non-serious offence have any lower propensity to be re-arrested than those arrested but not convicted of serious offences. I repeat-no evidence whatever. If there is, we will no doubt hear it put forward from the Government Dispatch Box. Mark Dixie, the man who brutally raped and murdered Sally Anne Bowman in her front garden, was on the DNA database because he had been arrested but not convicted of a pub-fight-a non-serious offence. If that DNA link had not been made, a guilty man would have remained free to rape and murder again and an innocent man, Sally Anne's boyfriend, who had dropped her off outside her home after a blazing row witnessed by passers-by, would probably be serving a life sentence. Steve Wright, the murderer of five prostitutes in Ipswich, was on the DNA database because he had been arrested for suspected theft. He would not have been on the database under the Scottish model, which this Government want to adopt.
Furthermore, while the Scottish model retains the DNA of those arrested but not charged for three years-I come to the issue raised by a sedentary comment from the Minister for Immigration-rather than for six years as we propose, it also allows the police to extend the period of retention for unlimited further two-year periods. The next time Members hear the Home Secretary accuse Labour of wanting to retain the DNA of innocent people for six years, they should remind themselves that she wants to adopt the Scottish model. She wants to adopt a system that allows the DNA of innocent people to be retained indefinitely; a system that has no evidential support; a system that, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, would cost an additional £158 million to administer because of all the bureaucracy involved in the two-year reviews; and-most important-a system that would have probably left 26 murderers and rapists unconvicted had it been in force last year.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): There is not a shred of evidence for that.
The Minister is in the Home Office now. He can seek the evidence. It comes from ACPO's research, and it comes from Home Office statistics. That is why I used it when I was Home Secretary. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and I used it when we steered through legislation that
was agreed to by the Minister's colleagues. [Interruption.] During the wash-up period, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said, "No way will we agree to this", but they agreed to it. They could have stopped it, but they did not. I hope that that is because they have begun to realise their sheer folly-and I assure them that they will discover what folly there is in the actions proposed by the Government.
As for CCTV, we still do not know what the coalition means by its reference to greater regulation, or why it considers that there is a problem. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) that that reference definitely came from the Liberal Democrats, but we do not know what it means. Given the existence of the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act, all of which apply to the authorities responsible for public-space CCTV surveillance, it is difficult to gauge the problem, but in the light of the portentous speeches of the Deputy Prime Minister, we must conclude that the Government want fewer CCTV cameras because the Liberal Democrats have consistently accused the last Government of introducing a "surveillance state".
I support CCTV and reject the argument that it offends civil liberties. Indeed, it protects the civil liberties of our citizens-and, as we have seen recently, those of the occasional cat dropped in a wheelie bin. I agree with the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who, in 2007, wrote this-it is excellent-in his local newspaper:
"I had been shown a community centre on a council estate that had been burned down in an arson attack... If only there had been CCTV, the attack might have been prevented or the perpetrator caught.... to those who claim that this all heralds a Big Brother society, I say, why should innocent people worry that someone is watching out for their safety?"
The right hon. Gentleman spoke for Britain then. The vast majority of the population would support what he said, although sadly it is not the view of the pseudo-libertarian Government of whom he is now a member.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): First, the episode of the cat in the bin was filmed not by state-controlled CCTV, but by CCTV that belonged to the householder. [Interruption.] There is a big distinction. Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that many leading members of his party have expressed concern about the 13-year legacy of the last Government, and about the fact that the balance between policing and civil liberties has tipped in the wrong direction? All that we seek to do is redress that balance. It is critical to a right and proper society that policing and the rights of the individual are balanced correctly, but the right hon. Gentleman's party failed to achieve that in 13 years.
Alan Johnson: Well, that went on a bit.
I am perfectly well aware of what kind of CCTV caught the cat in the bin. Mine was a throwaway remark, and I now wish that I had not thrown it away. But it is good to hear that the hon. Lady believes that we went too far, and wants to reduce the number of CCTV cameras. That is her point, is it not? Good.
I can tell the hon. Lady about the level of bureaucracy that will have to be introduced if the CCTV cameras are to be taken away from Catwoman's observer and every
other private household. It simply cannot be done. As for CCTV in public spaces, it is already governed by all the legislation that I mentioned earlier.
Anna Soubry: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Alan Johnson: No, I will not give way again. It was tedious last time, and it would be tedious again. If the Government want to strike a blow against the surveillance state, they should sack Andy Coulson, not take away CCTV cameras.
We recently learned of another power that was due to be introduced, but is now held in suspended animation. This is a serious point. I refer to domestic violence protection orders, which received cross-party support earlier this year. They are designed to protect instantly women and children who are under threat. ACPO, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Women's Aid and the Home Affairs Committee urged their introduction to close a major gap in public protection. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Committee.
There was no dispute whatsoever about the need for that measure, but although the Home Secretary has said that her
"ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls",
she presides over a regime that is threatening the enormous progress that has been made in tackling domestic violence over the last 13 years. There has been a 64% reduction since 1997. I am pleased to see that the Attorney-General is present, because he, with rather more grace than the Home Secretary, has recognised the significant increases in successful prosecutions and the sharp fall in the number of discontinued cases, as well as the amazing reduction in domestic violence. However, as the Home Secretary will agree, there is much more to be done in this crucial area.
Thankfully, the Government were forced into a U-turn on anonymity for rape defendants-mainly, I have to say, owing to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who pursued the issue tirelessly. I think that it is time to execute the same manoeuvre, and to get on with introducing domestic violence protection orders as quickly as possible.
Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Domestic violence is an issue that should worry Members throughout the House, as, indeed, should all forms of violence against women. If the last Government were so concerned about it, however, can he tell me why it took them 12 years to produce a strategy to end it?
Alan Johnson: The answer is quite simple. The Home Secretary ought to do some research. From 1998 onwards we did not need a strategy, because we had introduced an action plan involving the changes that led to the reduction to which I referred. [Interruption.] The statistics that I quoted came from the Attorney-General and from the Home Office. If we had waited 12 years to introduce any measures to deal with this issue, we would not have reduced domestic violence by 64%.
As I said earlier, during the biggest global recession that we have experienced since the 1930s, crime fell by 9%. During the recession of the 1990s over which the
Conservatives presided, it rose by 18%, and domestic violence doubled. That was the legacy of the broken Britain that we remember from those days. It is ridiculous of the Home Secretary to suggest that because we published a strategy to deal with domestic violence against women and young girls and then moved to the next stage, we did nothing for 12 years. We did nothing for 12 years except reduce domestic violence by 64%, and produce all the other statistics quoted so generously by the Attorney-General.
I have dealt with the reduced resources being inflicted on police forces with restricted powers. Let me now deal with the third part of the triple whammy: the imposition of elected commissioners to replace the hundreds of experienced councillors, magistrates and other citizens who sit on our police authorities. Here we see the "we know best" arrogance of the Government in all its depressing detail. The public did not vote for the abolition of police authorities at the general election, or for their replacement by an elected commissioner. This model is opposed by the police, by local councillors of all political persuasions, by ACPO, by the Association of Police Authorities, and by practically everyone who knows anything about policing.
The Local Government Association, under a Tory stewardship, says it does not believe that introducing directly elected individuals is the best way in which to strengthen police accountability. The association believes that such action
"will weaken the ability of the police, councils and other public services to cut crime."
It could also "fragment local partnerships" and make a "place-based budgeting approach"-I am not sure what that is-"more difficult" to operate. Yet the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has said:
"we are not going to consider other models, this is the model we are going to introduce, that is the coalition agreement."
And so we have a rushed White Paper, "Policing in the 21st Century". Incidentally, the Conservatives also produced one of these in 1993; it was called "A police service for the 21st century", so the titles do not change much but the content certainly does. They published the more recent document on 26 July for an eight-week consultation period over the summer break. Helpfully, at the back of the document there is a code of practice on consultations, which includes the criterion:
"Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible."
Irrespective of where we stand on the political spectrum, the topic under discussion is a major issue about which there are deep reservations. To quote from the code of practice, it is "feasible and sensible" to have a longer consultation than 12 weeks; there is no argument whatever to curtail it.
The first objection to the proposal is its puzzling inconsistency in relation to the approach to elected mayors. While a referendum is necessary if a city or town might have an elected mayor, no such public consultation is proposed for the equally profound step of introducing a single commissioner to replace the collective and diverse wisdom of police authorities-and this, again, from a Government who preach localism.
There is, of course, an attraction in direct accountability; indeed, when we were in government we looked at the issue not once, but twice. However, the difference between
us and the dogmatic zealots who now occupy the Treasury Bench-I excuse the Attorney-General from that-is that we consulted properly. Our 2004 consultation found overwhelming opposition to direct elections. Respondents pointed out the dangers of extremist groups succeeding on low turnouts, single-issue groups dominating, a move to a more short-term approach with re-election dependent on quick wins rather than long-term objectives, the politicisation of accountable bodies and the lack of public appetite for elections and the cost of running them. However, the case for directly electing the 17 members of the police authority-which is what we consulted on and which was Liberal Democrat policy at the last general election-is much stronger than that for the replacement of police authorities by a single elected commissioner. This is the most ill-considered and pernicious aspect of the proposal.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan looked at this issue in his 2008 review. He expressed the great fear about a single person with a political mandate exerting pressure that too readily conflicts with operational judgment. He pointed out that it may also be an impediment to collaboration-which, rightly, is a major part of the Government's White Paper-since the vote for the post will be on localised issues rather than the largely unseen issues of cross-border collaboration.
Flanagan made a number of points from a policing perspective, but an even stronger argument concerns the loss of a body of people who are geographically diverse as well as diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and background. The Government propose a new body-a police and crime panel-to oversee the commissioner. That is meant to provide the checks and balances. The body will, however, have no say on policing and no veto over the commissioner's decisions. Therefore, we face the prospect of having an elected commissioner who, as the White Paper makes clear, will have a team of personal appointees, and a police and crime panel to overview the commissioner but not the police, whose overview will be conducted by a single commissioner whose decisions are final. Somewhere in all of this will be elected councillors-and in some places elected mayors. Chief constables will have to find their way around this maze, with all the additional costs involved, while trying to cope with the biggest financial upheaval the police service has ever faced.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): If it is okay to elect a Prime Minister and local councillors, why is it so wrong to give a local community the chance to choose the kind of policing it wants for its neighbourhoods? Why are the right hon. Gentleman and his party so hostile to local democracy?
Alan Johnson: This is a very different issue from that of elected mayors, because they have a broad remit. We introduced elected mayors, and we agree that the Mayor of London should chair the police authority. The trouble is that he finds doing that too hard, so he has stepped down and his unelected deputy is now chairing it. We agree with the Mayor chairing it, however; that is very important.
To answer the hon. Gentleman's question, I believe, as do many other Members on both sides of the House, that the narrower a post's remit, the more difficult is the argument that we should elect someone to the post by individual ballot, which I presume is why the Government
are not suggesting electing the local leader of the health service or the local chair of an education authority. This is a fundamental argument. If there is a broad remit, part of which is policing, election is fine, but if someone is being elected to a post that addresses only one narrow remit, then I think it is wrong. I have serious concerns about this, and the Flanagan consultation showed that they were widely shared.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that one of the problems with having elected police commissioners-or whatever they are going to be called-is that policing organised and serious crime, which we do not necessarily hear about on our doorsteps but which reaches into our communities, will get deprioritised and will not be attended to as seriously as it should be?
Alan Johnson: I think that is absolutely right, and on this there is no difference between the Front Benchers. The Government refer in their White Paper to the "golden thread" of connectivity. That is a very important point; indeed, Sir Paul Stephenson made it in a recent speech. It is more and more the case that police forces have to co-operate across borders to tackle terrorism, cybercrime and serious organised crime.
Several generations of police reformers in the USA have regarded the British model of insulation from political control as a solution to their problems of corruption and partisanship. They also consider that the fact that America has literally hundreds of police forces makes their job really difficult. The point is that they cannot go back-once this kind of measure is introduced, that is it; there is no return. I therefore think the Government are being extremely foolish in going down this route. They suggest that there will be no political interference and that the commissioner's powers will be little different from those invested in a police authority now, which begs this question: what is this upheaval for?
The Government say there is the problem of the invisibility of police authorities and we agree, as do the APA and the LGA. That is why so much effort is going into addressing that invisibility issue without jeopardising either the effectiveness of the really good people involved, who have served their communities well, or the crucial principle of the operational independence of chief constables.
I think there is a better solution and I offer it to the Government in a spirit of political generosity. If the Government are wedded to some measure of direct accountability, I believe a solution might be direct elections for the chair of a police authority while leaving police authorities in place and certainly not causing this huge upheaval- [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I did not catch the sedentary comment of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice; if he wants to intervene he can. I think that such elections would be a far better way forward and that the Government should seriously consider that alternative. Instead of the eight-week consultation period, the Government should opt for 12 weeks at least so that these issues can be properly debated. I also believe that if they decide to plough ahead with this they should at the very least give the local population a chance to decide in a referendum whether it wants to maintain the current system or move to a single directly elected commissioner.
On police powers, I say in the same spirit of political generosity that the Government should maintain the DNA legislation, which they supported in the pre-election wash-up, until 2012 when the database will have been in operation for six years. At that point there should be a review of the actual evidence, instead of us just having the projections that inform both our model of six years and the random guess plucked out of the air, which is how Scotland came up with the three year option. Then we can decide properly on the relative merits of the two models. Otherwise we are going to wipe all the DNA information from the database after three years and find out after six years that it is irrefutable that we needed to maintain that information for that length of time to catch murderers and rapists.
The Government should also not reduce the number of public-space CCTVs. I do not wish to interfere with the CCTVs outside Mrs Smith's house at 42 Acacia avenue. We do not need to reduce CCTV coverage in public spaces.
On the most important issue-on police funding-the Home Secretary has to fight her corner to ensure that policing and security are prioritised in the comprehensive spending review and that cuts in the police budgets do not exceed 12%. As this Government's honeymoon period draws to a close, they are vulnerable on many issues, none more so than crime and security, where the issue is not about political vulnerability; it is about the vulnerability of our citizens as they seek to go about their daily lives. Despite the successes of the past 15 years, from Howard to Johnson, the battle against crime and disorder has to be stepped up, not scaled back. I warn this House and Members on the Government Benches that the Government are taking the wrong approach and that by refusing to listen and consult they demonstrate not their commitment to civil liberties, but their failure to protect the most important civil liberty of all: the right to be safe from crime and disorder.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add:
"notes the appalling fiscal deficit left by the last Government and reiterates the urgent need to restore the nation to economic health; recognises that the police will need to play their part in reducing that deficit; and welcomes the Government's proposed policing reforms, which will deliver a more responsive and efficient police service, less encumbered by bureaucracy, more accountable to the public and, most importantly, better equipped to fight crime."
The text of the Opposition motion and the 50-minute speech that we have just heard from the shadow Home Secretary provide yet more proof, if any were needed, of the utter state of denial of the Labour party. From listening to the shadow Home Secretary and reading the motion, one would wonder how on earth Labour lost the election; it had such a perfect record on everything. Let me just remind the House of its record. Labour doubled our national debt and left us with the biggest deficit in the G20. As much as Labour Members might now like to pretend otherwise, if they had won the election, they would have had no choice but to take action to reduce the deficit. We know that they were
already planning 20% cuts-they just did not have the guts to tell us where those would come from. This afternoon, however, we were told by the shadow Home Secretary that they were going to come from health, defence and local government -[Interruption.] Labour Members say that he did not say that, but I asked him where the cuts were coming from and he said, "Well, they weren't going to come from policing and education" and that he would have taken-
Mrs May: Perhaps he is going to tell us now.
Alan Johnson: The right hon. Lady really does need to follow the debate and to read the documents. Some £75 million was to come from police overtime, £400 million from procurement and £500 million from process. This was all set out in the pre-Budget report, the Budget and last November's policing White Paper-£1.3 billion-worth of savings. The Government can keep parroting that we have never set all this out, but the trouble is that we have and it is available to look at.
Mrs May: I say to the shadow Home Secretary that the intervention that he has just made was not the answer given to the question that I put to him earlier about the cuts and on which I was just commenting. The Labour party went into the election promising 20% cuts. He claims that those would not have come from the Home Office budget. I asked him where they would have come from and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has made clear from a sedentary position, the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that they would have come from health-that is what the shadow Home Secretary was saying.
If the shadow Home Secretary will not listen to me-he does not appear to wish to listen to me on the issue of cuts-perhaps he will listen to the following:
"When ... Alan Johnson"-
"the coalition for protecting NHS spending against cuts being inflicted elsewhere in Whitehall, Labour looks as if it is indulging in opposition for opposition's sake. Comfortable it may be. But it will not bring Labour back to power."
Those are not my words, but those of the former Labour Cabinet Minister, Alan Milburn. So let us hear no more nonsense from those on the Labour Benches about police budgets and police numbers.
Labour's denial is not just about police funding; it is also about its record on crime and policing. I had hoped that the shadow Home Secretary would use the freedom of being in opposition to get around the country and to be out there meeting people and finding out what they really think about what is happening. He might, thus, have learned about the booze-fuelled violence that takes place in too many of our town centres at night, and about the gang crime in our cities and the antisocial behaviour that makes so many people's lives a misery. But judging by his speech today, and indeed by the motion, he has not bothered to find out what people actually think-
Wait a moment. That is a shame, because there are occasions when the shadow Home Secretary
stops playing party politics and is a bit more candid about his record and about our policies. On licensing, for example, he has said:
"I regret not doing more to tackle the problems caused by binge drinking during my period in office. The Government"-
"is right to stop alcohol being sold below cost price. It's something we should have done."
Alan Johnson indicated assent .
Mrs May: I welcome the support that he is, obviously, going to be giving to those measures when they are introduced in the police reform and social responsibility Bill.
Alan Johnson: I have been listening.
Mrs May: The shadow Home Secretary listens selectively to one or two of the things that we say; I have just made the point that sometimes he is willing to put aside party politics and to make statements of that sort. Sadly, we did not hear any of those statements in the speech that he has just given. Instead, we heard the familiar rewritten history of the past 13 years. Let us examine some of the claims that Labour makes about that period. It hired a record number of police officers, but it bound them so tightly in red tape that they are available on the streets for only 11% of their time.
Alan Johnson: That is not true.
Mrs May: The shadow Home Secretary says that that is not true. I remind him that that figure comes from the very Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary report cited in his motion.
Alan Johnson: I shall say two things on this. Those on the Government Benches are deriding Michael Howard so, first, I should say that it was the White Paper called "A police service for the 21st century", produced under Lord Howard, that introduced all of the target regime and suggested that the Home Office should be able to appoint the chairs of political authorities. Some of that was the right thing to do. I know that he is derided by those on the Government Benches, but Michael Howard was actually a very successful Home Secretary.
My second point deals with the HMIC's figure on availability. HMIC talks about the percentage of the police who are available at any one time to be on the streets. The police work in shifts, and some police officers are sick, some have to be in court, some deal with counter-terrorism and some deal with child pornography, so that statistic is meaningless. Many police officers have been quick to point that out. There is no way in which under the previous Government that availability rate would have been any higher.
I say to the shadow Home Secretary that I am deeply disappointed in what he is saying. I will tell him who that statistic means something to-it means something to my constituents, and to those of other hon. Members, when they do not see police on the streets. They know the reality, but sadly the shadow Home Secretary is not willing to accept it. The reality is that because of things that his Government did we have seen that police officers have been tied up in bureaucracy
and red tape, kept in police stations filling in forms when they could have been out on the streets, where people want to see them and where they want to be.
This is not just about the bureaucracy faced by police officers; the previous Labour Government passed a record number of laws, but left office with nearly 900,000 violent crimes taking place a year. They spent a record amount on criminal justice, but they left office with 26,000 victims of crime every single day. Labour Members might think that that is a record to be proud of, but we do not and neither do the British people.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Could the right hon. Lady tell us how many of those victims would support her suggestion to get rid of antisocial behaviour orders or would support the reduction in the number of CCTV cameras? Has she ever come across a constituent who wants to see fewer CCTV cameras?
Mrs May: Once again, the trouble with the Labour party is that it is making up things about what our policy is, purely in order to meet the arguments that Labour Members want to bring into this House. On CCTV, we have said that we want better regulation of it and automatic number plate recognition-ANPR-and it is right and proper for us to introduce that. If the Labour party thought that there was nothing to be done about CCTV, why did it start looking at introducing somebody to examine the regulation of CCTV? The regulation of CCTV is important and I suggest to the hon. Lady that she does not go around trying to suggest that the Government are going to get rid of CCTV cameras as a result of our policy to regulate those cameras better.
The hon. Lady has given me a welcome opening here, because I wanted to go on to discuss not only the record of the previous Labour Government, but what we are going to do- that is despite the fact that this is an Opposition day debate. I want to talk about how we as the new coalition Government will deliver effective policing that cuts crime in an era of falling budgets, because we on this side of the House are determined not only to tackle the legacy of debt we have been left with by the last Government, but to make sure we deliver high-quality public services even as we reduce public spending. If we are to succeed, the policing reforms I announced to the House before the summer recess, which were so derided by the shadow Home Secretary, will be vital.
Despite spending more on criminal justice than any comparable country, we remain a high-crime country-the chance of being a victim of crime here is higher than almost anywhere else in Europe- [ Interruption. ] Those on the Labour Front Bench are making lots of comments from a sedentary position, but that is again part of the denial. The idea that this country is somehow a wonderful world where people do not experience crime or antisocial behaviour because of the impact of the last Government is completely false. We remain a high-crime country and we need to do something about it. The complacency on the Opposition Benches about this issue is, frankly, breathtaking.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the figure, which is in the White Paper, comes from the international crime victims survey, which was last carried
out in 2004 and surveys 2,000 people-in comparison with the British crime survey, which surveys 45,000 people-and sometimes takes its statistics from those convicted, a very important point that was raised in an earlier intervention, and sometimes has nothing to do with the level of crimes? It is not a basis for saying that we have the highest crime rates in Europe. Will she confirm that?
Mrs May: What I will confirm is that yet again, in this debate, we have seen from those who made up the Labour Government an unwillingness to accept what people out there see and feel on their streets. It is about issues of crime and levels of crime in this country that are not acceptable. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about the figures, I think that figures such as those that I quoted earlier-26,000 victims of crime a day and nearly 900,000 violent crimes a year-are not figures to be proud of. They are figures that we need to deal with. We need to do more and that means unfettering the police and allowing them to get out on the streets and to do what they should be doing, which is dealing with crime.
Hazel Blears: The right hon. Lady is right that there is always more to do in tackling crime. The Labour party has never been complacent about how important these issues are to the British public. However, does she not accept that there is now the lowest risk for more than 20 years in this country of becoming a victim of crime? Of course we are not perfectly safe but we are an awful lot safer than we used to be under previous Governments.
Mrs May: I am disappointed in the line that the right hon. Lady has taken. She made an important and valid point earlier in her intervention on her right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary about antisocial behaviour and the important fact that all too often the perception of antisocial behaviour is worse in deprived communities and those communities that are among the poorest and most vulnerable in our country. My point is very simple: none of us can be complacent about levels of crime in this country. We need to find the ways in which we can reduce crime and in which we can help the police to do their job.
Mrs May: No, I will not give way at the moment.
That is why we want to restore that connection between the police and the people that we believe has been bogged down by bureaucracy and damaged over the years.
Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Northamptonshire people have little to thank the previous Government for. They reviewed formula funding in a way that benefitted the county and then failed to implement it. They admitted that the population figures used were incorrect but failed to act on them and they cheated Northamptonshire police out of millions of pounds a year. On that basis, will my right hon. Friend meet a delegation from Northamptonshire and, I hope, talk about reviewing formula funding?
Mrs May: Either I or the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice would be very happy to meet delegations of colleagues, but I must say to my hon. Friend that the Lincolnshire Members of Parliament have already got in before him to discuss their bid on formula funding. However, as I have said, I am happy to meet such a delegation, as is the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.
Let me turn to the point about the accountability of the police and the policing reforms that we will put forward in the police reform and social responsibility Bill. Our changes to the accountability of the police will be crucial in ensuring that they once more become crime fighters instead of form writers. Central to those reforms is the idea that we want to get rid of the inefficient and ineffective processes of bureaucratic accountability, where power rests with Whitehall civil servants, and replace it with direct democratic accountability, with power placed back in the hands of the people. Not only will that make the police truly responsive to the needs of the public, but it will mean a more efficient and innovative police service, free from the meddling of central Government. We can be as aggressive as we like in cutting police paperwork-and we are-but we will never achieve the culture change we need until we deal with the driver of the problem and that is Whitehall.
As I noted earlier, according to the recent report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary that is cited in the motion, only 11% of police officers are visible and available to the public at any one time. It is not as if the Opposition were not warned about that when they were in power. The shadow Home Secretary has quoted Sir Ronnie Flanagan, but he said in his review that the difference in paperwork now compared with when he was a front-line officer was "truly staggering". Jan Berry, the last president of the Police Federation, said:
"As a result of Government diktats, the service has been reduced to a bureaucratic, target-chasing, points-obsessed arm of Whitehall".
The last Government did not listen, but we will. Already we have cancelled the top-down public confidence target and scrapped the policing pledge. We are reducing the reporting requirements for stop and search and we are scrapping the stop form in its entirety. We will return charging decisions to officers for minor offences and we will reform the health and safety rules that stop police officers intervening to protect the public.
That is just the start. Shifting the model of accountability from the centre to local communities removes the need for pages and pages of bureaucracy and it removes the temptation to Home Secretaries to issue initiative after initiative.
Keith Vaz: Of course, we welcome the steps taken by the Home Secretary to reduce bureaucracy, but the previous Government were also committed to reducing bureaucracy. That goes back, as the Home Secretary has said, to the Flanagan report. Will she commit herself to ensuring that Jan Berry, when she delivers her final report, can continue the good work that she is doing in monitoring the level of bureaucracy and advising the Government from outside the Home Office about the need to continue along this path?
We obviously look forward to the results of the further work that Jan Berry has been doing in this area. The right hon. Gentleman started his intervention
by commenting that the last Government intended to reduce bureaucracy, but the problem was that they did not. We have come in and within a matter of months we have shown specific examples of where we can reduce that bureaucracy.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): On that point, my recollection is-I think that the shadow Home Secretary said this in his contribution-that the previous Government did make some progress on bureaucracy. My concern, particularly on stop and search and stop and account, is that we have a long history in this country of recognising that they can have particular effects on particular communities. I hope that the right hon. Lady will be sensitive, particularly in relation to my constituency, to the fact that we have a long past during which this issue has been at the absolute apex of concern about crime. I do not want to see the sort of problems that we had in the 1980s again. When she says that bureaucracy is being reduced as regards stop and account, will she say whether there will still be accountability for stopping ethnic minorities, in particular?
Mrs May: I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's concerns. He makes particular reference to his constituency, and there will be others who will share his concern. That is why, as I said, we are reducing the reporting requirements for stop and search. We fully recognise that we need to do that in a sensitive way that notes and deals with the issue that he has raised.
In addition to dealing with bureaucracy, we will introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners-single, named individuals who will be democratically accountable to their communities. That accountability will be real and will be provided not by invisible police authorities-surveys show that only 7% of people know that there is a police authority they can go to if they have a problem with the police-and not by Ministers hundreds of miles away in London, but by people themselves. The police commissioner will be somebody whom people have heard of, whom they have voted for, whom they can hold to account and whom they can get rid of if they do not cut crime. So we will leave local crime fighting to local crime fighters, but we will not forget cross-border, national and international crime. It is an irony that for years the Home Office has tried to micro-manage local policing from the centre while it has neglected policing at the national level. That is why we will establish a national crime agency with a proper command structure to fight serious organised crime and to control our borders.
I understand that it was only yesterday that the Opposition added antisocial behaviour to their motion. The shadow Home Secretary spent quite a bit of time on it in his speech, but he forgot to mention his own quote about the last Government's record on antisocial behaviour, when he said:
"We became a bit complacent...we...dragged our feet by not making it a priority."
He claimed that the police have the powers they need to deal with antisocial behaviour and that there is a range of 15 options that they can use, but the fact that there are so many options is precisely the problem. We have individual support orders, acceptable behaviour contracts, antisocial behaviour injunctions, antisocial behaviour orders and criminal antisocial behaviour orders. There is a whole list of options that increases the bureaucracy
and complexity and means that in many areas, the police, councils and local people find it very difficult to decide what is appropriate, and that all too often things are not applied.
The shadow Home Secretary should also know that three quarters of incidents of antisocial behaviour are not reported and that more than half of ASBOs are breached. Again, that is not a record of which to be proud or on which to be complacent. That is why we need to look at the whole toolkit that is available to the police in dealing with antisocial behaviour. No number of sanctions is a match for local policing that is responsive to local needs. That is what this Government's police reform agenda will deliver-simpler, smarter sanctions that are faster to obtain, easier to enforce and that provide a strong deterrent and a real punishment.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): One of the main problems encountered by those dealing with ASBOs has been the inordinate length of time it can take for applications to succeed, only for people then to find that the problem that they were dealing with has gone away or has transmogrified into something else. Secondly, CRASBOs, or criminal ASBOs-I am sorry about using that acronym, or euphemism; it does not matter-are totally ineffective. They are afterthoughts that are bolted on to convictions and their enforcement has been nothing short of lamentable.
Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes a very strong point about the panoply of ASBO powers that are available. The important point is that the bureaucracy involved in getting an ASBO means that, all too often, nothing is done, because it takes so long to get something enforced. That is why so many communities up and down the country find that the orders are not working and why they continue to suffer from antisocial behaviour.
Geraint Davies: Will the right hon. Lady give way?
Mrs May: Oh, the hon. Gentleman has been bobbing up and down all afternoon, so I will give way to him.
Geraint Davies: It is very generous of the right hon. Lady to see me. I could not sit any closer; I have been doing my best. Will she say how her Government expect to reduce the number of short-term prison sentences-now a clear and amplified ambition-at the same time as getting rid of ASBOs and the current means of reducing those short-term measures without a massive escalation of crime and antisocial behaviour in the community?
Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman should not try to second-guess what may or may not be in the sentencing review that will come from the Ministry of Justice. There is a commitment to reviewing sentencing and I suggest that he should wait until that comes out, when he will be able to make his comments.
One area that I want to speak briefly about, which has not been touched on much today, is the unmitigated disaster of Labour's Licensing Act 2003. One in three people who turn up in accident and emergency have alcohol-related injuries, and alcohol-related crime and disorder costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion every year. When that legislation was introduced, we were promised a café-style culture, but five years on the police are still fighting an ongoing battle against booze-fuelled crime and disorder. So we will overhaul Labour's Licensing
Act to ensure that local people have greater control over pubs, clubs and other licensed premises. We will allow local authorities to charge more for late-night licences, which they will then be able to plough back into late-night policing in their areas. We will double the fine for under-age sales and we will allow authorities permanently to shut down any shop or bar that persistently sells alcohol to children. We will also ban the below-cost sale of alcohol to ensure that retailers can no longer sell it at irresponsible prices. As I have said, I welcome the support for that which we will have from the Opposition.
In today's motion and in the shadow Home Secretary's speech, he and the Opposition have fallen into the trap of thinking that they need to oppose everything the Government do just for the sake of it. They are denying the legacy of debt that they have left to this Government and they oppose the Budget cuts that they had planned to make. In denying their record, they oppose the police reforms that they once proposed, so let me try to shake the shadow Home Secretary out of his state of denial. Police officers are available on the streets for just 11% of their time and there are 900,000 violent crimes a year and 26,000 victims of crime every single day. That is the legacy of the Labour party and it will be up to the coalition Government to put things right.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): As hon. Members will see, there is a 10-minute limit on speeches and the usual rules apply as far as interventions are concerned.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I am very grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this point in the debate. I have to start with an apology: the Jewish new year starts at sunset and therefore I shall not be able to attend the winding-up speeches because the imperative of the synagogue is greater than the imperative of the Whips.
Crime is a concern that never goes away. Whatever the statistics say, and whoever quotes those statistics, crime against one's family or oneself is, for most people, the only crime. That is natural. However, statistics show that crime in many categories has gone down and that the number of police has risen. The Greater Manchester police cover my constituency, and the statistics that they have issued over the past few weeks, while not perfect, as they never will be, are encouraging. They show the beneficial effect of both the dedicated work done by our police in Manchester and more widely and the policies that the Labour Government implemented.
In my constituency, taking into account the continuous and justified concern about law and order issues that there will always be, the record is even better. Statistics that have been sent to me by the police in my area show that 76.5% of users of the law and order mechanism were satisfied with that service. That is remarkable because the satisfaction of the population will always be affected by crime levels and the effect of crime on themselves. Remarkable figures have been issued for my constituency showing reductions in antisocial behaviour, burglary, vehicle crime and robbery. We also have remarkable figures on the detection of serious sexual
offences, domestic abuse, racially or religiously aggravated crime, burglary, vehicle crime and robbery. Our figures on levels of crime are a great credit to the police, so I thank the police in my constituency, and those more widely in Greater Manchester, for the wonderful job that they do. I repeat that that does not mean that the statistics are perfect, but they are getting better all the time.
Given the commendable record of the police and the fact that they have close relations with the community, what will the Government do? First, they will spend a lot of time meddling with administration and, secondly, they will make huge cuts in spending. The Home Secretary kept on saying-it was like a mantra-that we have a coalition Government, so let us look at what the Liberal Democrat manifesto said. It included the heading "Cutting crime with more and better police", even though there will be fewer police. It said that
"more police are needed on the streets...to provide a longer arm for the law",
but the number of police on the streets, like the number of police overall, will be cut. The manifesto said that, if the Liberal Democrats had any voice in government, they would,
"Pay for 3,000 more police on the beat",
but there will be fewer police on the beat. I can say to the Government and the Liberal Democrats that we will tell everyone in Gorton again and again that, while the Liberal Democrats will make promises, if they are ever involved in government, they not only fail to deliver them but then turn them on their head. We will not allow the Liberal Democrats in my Gorton constituency or those more widely in Manchester to get away with that. What the Liberal Democrats promise and what the Home Secretary foreshadows will not happen.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, but if I have time, I shall certainly give way.
We must also consider the situation surrounding antisocial behaviour orders. We pioneered ASBOs in Manchester and have a remarkable record on that. Inspector Damian O'Reilly has just received the Greater Manchester police's community police officer of the year award and will be entered in the national finals in November. He has given me information about how ASBOs have dealt with gangs in my constituency. That has been praised by a judge. When certain people who had been detected and rounded up by the police were found guilty by that judge, he said:
"It's time to give Ryder Brow"-
"back to the residents".
Inspector O'Reilly-he is someone who is doing this work-says that he has found ASBOs
"to be really effective in breaking up the dynamics of problematic groups".
"Were ASBOs to be abolished it would be devastating for both the community and the officers who put so much effort into obtaining them, the problems would reoccur and the only winners would be the criminals."
The Home Secretary states-although it is impossible to say how she knows this-that only a proportion of antisocial behaviour is reported. She seems to suggest that that is an indictment of ASBOs, but only a minute proportion of rapes are ever reported by rape victims-a tiny number of women report rapes-so does that mean that we should not have legislation to deal with rapists? The right hon. Lady puts forward an utterly absurd argument.
No Government have ever had a perfect record on law and order, but the Labour Government improved things and made it possible for the police at the sharp end to improve the situation in my constituency. Time will tell what will happen as a result of the Government's proposals and the objectives that the Home Secretary set out today. If she is right, we will have to acknowledge that, but if she is wrong, the Government will be to blame and they will have to carry the can. What they are doing is likely to make the criminal more rampant while the householder who is burgled and the person who is knocked down on the street become more vulnerable.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: But neither the right hon. Lady nor I can provide statistics for next year or the year after, and we will judge her on them.
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): I should start with a declaration of interest in that not a single word of my speech has come from the Chief Whip's crib sheet, despite the fact that my right hon. Friend was born and bred in my constituency.
We have heard a lot of speculation about the possible effect of cuts. As it happens, that was pure speculation, given that we do not know what the settlement will be following the comprehensive spending review, and Labour Members have not had the good grace to tell us where they would make cuts. However, I want to try to nail one issue by moving the debate away from the stale analysis of inputs of the past 10 years and towards an assessment of outputs. During its 13 years in government, the Labour party was incredibly successful at one thing in particular: persuading the country that only by putting more in could we possibly get more out. That is why the debate about effective policing is always focused on numbers of police rather than what they actually do, as we have heard.
Labour Members have always followed a simple equation: more money equals better public services. They therefore believe that simply having more police and PCSOs automatically means that there will be better policing, irrespective of what those people do all day-whether they are in cars, on patrol, filling in forms or responding to jobs. The Opposition seem incapable of acknowledging that simply having more police officers doing more administrative and bureaucratic tasks leads to lower morale and, ultimately, less effective policing.
Labour Members have extended the argument of looking at inputs rather than outputs to the public sector as a whole, but if their argument is true-if more public spending genuinely equals better public services-this country should have some of the best public services in the entire world. Given the amount that we have spent,
borrowed and spent again during the past 13 years, we should surely have the best public services in Europe, but the sad reality is that we are at the bottom of many league tables because we have the worst services.
Labour Members will remind us that we have more police than ever, with 140,000 full-time equivalent officers in England and Wales, but let us not make their mistake of thinking that having record numbers of police means that we have record effectiveness of policing, because almost the opposite is true. Despite the record numbers of police, there is huge public dissatisfaction with the service. Significantly, the public's attitudes towards the police are negatively related to personal experiences of the police service. The shadow Home Secretary likes to cite the British crime survey, but according to its 2005 public satisfaction report, although 89% of people were satisfied with their initial contact with the police, only 58% were satisfied with their follow-up contact. Only 50% of all respondents thought that the police in their area did a good or excellent job, and that was down from 67% in 1994. According to the BCS, therefore, such satisfaction decreased massively under the previous Government from 67% to 50%. A 50% satisfaction rating is a very poor performance by any institution; similar surveys rate doctors, teachers, judges and the NHS higher-unsurprisingly, only politicians score worse.
At the same time as we have record spending on the police, we have declining public satisfaction with the service they receive. That leads me to my key point: if more money does not equal better public services, it cannot be the case that less money will mean worse services. Why, when there is a record number of police officers, do the public still routinely say when asked that they feel less safe? Is it something that only Members on this side of the House understand? Only in the public sector is Labour's absurd notion that better results can be achieved only with more money propagated. In the private sector, if better outcomes or more efficient production are needed to sell more work or deliver better results faster, spending more money is pretty much the last thing that those in that sector think about. If the customer is not happy, they do not put up the price; they look to take costs out of the business and seek ways to make efficiencies, improve processes, reduce overheads and stop spending time on administrative and bureaucratic tasks. If they conclude that efficiencies are needed to lower the price and stay competitive, then, by God, that is what they do.
Siobhain McDonagh: I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. We all accept that the service is not perfect. Does that mean that he believes that better outputs will be achieved with fewer police officers on the street?
Mr Burley: I think better outputs are possible with fewer officers if they are better directed and not spending their time doing administrative, bureaucratic and ultimately futile tasks that do not benefit the public in any way.
To continue the comparison with the private sector, Sainsbury's employs 150,000 people in this country and is creating 5,000 new jobs through store openings this year because of-not despite-saving £4 million this year in administration costs by moving its entire staff recruitment process online. Tesco's has just taken £3 million out of its cost base, simply by rationalising how meeting
rooms are booked. Those successful businesses are competitive because they are fit and lean, constantly seeking ways to reduce costs and inefficiencies while giving the best service to the public.
Caroline Flint: When police forces were inspected for outcomes, often, in terms of reducing crime, they were doing well in those categories, but one area where they did not do quite so well was communicating with the public. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the police should spend more resources on communicating, or should they spend their resources on police officers fighting crime?
Mr Burley: I think the police should spend their resources on fighting crime. Communication will follow if they are doing a good job and the public are happy.
My question is this: if the private sector can make those efficiencies while giving better services and products, why can the police not do the same? What exactly are all the extra police we are constantly told about spending their time doing? As we have heard, Home Office figures have revealed that police officers spend more time on paperwork than on patrol-just 14% of police officers' time is spent on patrol, compared with 20% on paperwork. Of the 81,000 officers who patrol our country, including detectives, traffic police and neighbourhood watch teams, just 17,000 will be on duty for an average eight-hour shift. With 14% of their time spent on patrol, only 2,400 officers are out and about at a given time-just one in 58 of a record number of police officers is patrolling the streets at any one time. No wonder Jan Berry, former chairman of the Police Federation, commented:
"People hear about a record 143,000 officers and it sounds a lot, but the reality, as these new figures show, is quite different. The Government obsession with targets and data collection, as well as the failure to provide an effective system to share information, has resulted in officers spending less time on the beat and this can only be at the expense of the public."
Even way back in 2001, a study by PA Consulting for the Home Office found that police officers were spending as much time in the police station as they were on the streets. For five hours a day-more than 50% of the time that the officers were on a shift-they were sat in the station. The study also found that most of the time spent in the police station was spent dealing with incidents and making inquiries; only 17% of police officer time was spent on reassurance patrol; and only 1% of police time was spent proactively reducing crime. The study also unearthed a startling statistic: if the amount of time a police officer spends on the beat could be increased from one fifth to two fifths, the police presence on the streets of England and Wales would effectively be doubled, without a single extra officer being recruited. Clearly, there is considerable scope to free officers to spend more time out on the beat, and a massive dividend to be gained from doing so.
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points about efficiency and productivity, but does he accept that much of the bureaucracy is not in the police station, but in the courts system, which ties our police officers into giving evidence, preparing case files and having a huge amount of paperwork? I recommend to him the argument that more effective liaison with the criminal justice system is essential if we are to get more productivity.
Mr Burley: That is an entirely fair point, and I agree, but the focus of this debate and of my speech is on police bureaucracy.
That leads me on to a pledge, which I am sure Labour Members recall, made in 2002 by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). He promised a "bonfire of the paperwork" to free up more police time, which he said would save 90,000 hours a year. The Home Office then set up a policing bureaucracy taskforce, which published a report with 52 change proposals, which it claimed would
"enable patrol officers to invest the time equivalent of 22,500...in improved quality of service on the streets."
The taskforce said that that would be achievable within three to five years, but today-nearly 10 years later-not a single update has been published nor follow-up audit made available on how many of those recommendations were implemented and whether that was successful.
The reality is that the recruitment of additional police officers and a public commitment to develop neighbourhood policing will have little impact unless the major bureaucratic obstacles facing the police in this country are removed. The annual cost of non-incident-related police paperwork in England and Wales has been estimated to be about £625 million. Police have to produce planning and review team performance improvement reports, more than 100 pages long, every month. Paradoxically, under Labour, while the Home Office increasingly attempted to micro-manage the police from the centre, it showed weak leadership in other areas of policing, where I think the centre has a role to play in driving through reforms and improving collaboration. Huge savings could be made from, for example, ensuring IT compatibility, joint procurement and sharing of back-office functions such as fleet management, uniforms and administration.
That is why I am delighted that the coalition Government are no longer focusing on police numbers-we are not playing the numbers game. Instead, we are focusing on police outcomes, improved by clearing away bureaucracy and inefficient, wasteful practices. Yes-referring to the shadow Home Secretary's remarks-we need a big society, because the alternative to a big society is a big state, and not only is a big state unaffordable, but it infantilises people and discourages them from taking responsibility. It is Labour's big state that leads directly to the sort of horrendous incident that occurred in Manchester in 2007, when two police community support officers stood by as a 10-year-old boy drowned in a local pond, because the health and safety rulebook said they could not intervene. If the coalition is to leave the police forces of the United Kingdom one major legacy, let it be this: it is time once again to allow the police to serve the public, rather than the statistical whims of Ministers in Whitehall.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I should like to contribute to this debate from the point of view of my constituents and the needs of my constituents. What concerns me about radical cuts to the police service is that we will see the end of safer neighbourhood teams as we currently know them.
Safer neighbourhood teams were introduced in the teeth of opposition from the advocates of traditional policing. The arguments were that police in panda cars, driving around in response teams, were a far more effective way of reducing crime than safer neighbourhood teams. I am not a policing analyst, but my experience suggests that, when it comes to tackling crime, confidence and belief in the police, and the process of becoming connected to one's local police team, are more likely to be more effective than the response teams that we have traditionally seen in the Metropolitan police area. Discussions with my local area commander and with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner have reinforced my fear about the cuts in safer neighbourhood teams. They are easy to cut and get rid of, because they have gone against the trend of policing over the past 50 years.
Mr Graham Stuart: The hon. Lady knows that earlier this year the shadow Home Secretary talked about making 20%-plus cuts. She says that she does not want to see cuts in safer neighbourhood teams, so will she share with the House where she would like to see the cuts made, and where she thinks priority should be placed on the savings that, unfortunately, her Government's legacy made necessary for whoever were in power?
Siobhain McDonagh: The shadow Home Secretary has already identified this afternoon where the cuts would be made in the Home Office budget, and we believe that safer neighbourhood teams should be our priority, because our tax-paying constituents want to see that and believe in that. They want to see their police out there on the beat, to know their names and to know their police community support officers.
In 2011, we will see the end of the Mayor of London's financial commitment to PCSOs. What will that mean at that time? The PCSOs were much derided by Conservative MPs and by the press when they were introduced, but they have been a tremendous addition to traditional policing, because, on intelligence gathering, PCSOs have the confidence of local residents and are able to discuss concerns with them. I appreciate the point that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) made about the mistakes that are occasionally made, but when one brings in any new service or public administration, our urgency and desire to introduce them sometimes outstrips our ability to consider all the options and eventualities. Yes, in the early days of PCSOs, mistakes were made in service provision, but they have been amended and PCSOs are well embedded in our areas.
PCSOs are perhaps most effective in those areas where people are less inclined to speak to the police, and among the groups and communities that are most alienated from the police and from all sorts of Government bodies. That is because PCSOs are more likely to be from an ethnic minority, older and different from traditional police officers. Many people in my community, particularly in Pollards Hill, feel closer to their PCSOs and find it easier to discuss matters with them.
I also say to the hon. Member for Cannock Chase that policing is about not just tackling crime, but community confidence, people's ability to speak to their police officers and a feeling of safety. That involves communication and the police's ability to communicate. The police do not necessarily have those skills, because they go into
the job to tackle crime; we-the political we-have to provide them with those skills and with the ability to communicate what they do. However effective the police become at tackling crime, the ability of the media and all sorts of people to decry what the police do can be so effective as to make people unaware of their achievements. They have not only to tackle crime, but to be seen to tackle crime, and that is why communication and communication skills are so important.
Mr Stewart Jackson: In that typical way of new Labour in government, however, did not safer neighbourhood policing panels become very process-focused organisations? The aim of communicating with local people was a laudable one, and we could afford to do so in good times, but it was also a displacement activity, because one only had to talk to most basic command unit commanders to find out that the number of prolific and persistent offenders remained high. Those people were on a carousel in the criminal justice system, and safer neighbourhood teams did nothing about that problem, and nothing, in particular, about antisocial behaviour.
Siobhain McDonagh: Can I absolutely oppose what the hon. Gentleman says, accept that safer neighbourhood teams were perfect and argue that their shift patterns were always correct? No, of course I cannot. I fought against the balance of shift patterns in my constituency. Are there problems with the fact that shift patterns have to be printed 18 months in advance, and with requests for uniformity among the teams? Yes. But my police teams in each ward in my constituency know exactly who their prolific offenders are, where they are and what they are doing, and their intelligence assists the other, reactive police teams in the division.
The amount of intelligence on, and knowledge of, communities is so much more significant now. That becomes really important in an area such as mine in south London, where population turnover is so huge and quick, and where from all over the world groups of people with different practices and ideas come to live, often becoming the foremost victims of violent crime.
The antisocial behaviour order has not been 100% successful, because no measure is 100% successful, but, on the idea that they should be scrapped because they are breached 50% of the time, I must ask, do we scrap laws on burglary, fraud or anything that we like because there is a recidivism rate? No, we do not. We have to try to find out why people continue to commit antisocial behaviour and deal with them. We are on a journey, and the police are entering an area that used to be occupied by different forces of control, whether they were the extended family, the stronger community or church and religion. Our communities are very different, and the idea that people are going to go out and tackle antisocial behaviour, confront people whom they do not know and put themselves in a vulnerable or frightening position is unrealistic.
We must see the police out there, taking action. They have to be there for people, when they need them and in the way that they need them, but I am absolutely convinced that huge, swift cuts in the police service will reduce the number of police whom we see on the street. A reduction in police on the street means that our most vulnerable constituents will have less confidence in the police, and that fewer crimes will be tackled, and in the end that cannot be what we want.
Our discussions in the House are so different from those that I have with my constituents. I have never met a constituent who has told me that the police have reduced our civil rights; my constituents want to see more effective ways of dealing with antisocial behaviour. I have never met a constituent who wanted to get rid of CCTV; all my constituents want more, because it makes them feel safe and confident. I just do not understand how some MPs can make the speeches that they do. I am absolutely confident that they would not go back to their constituents and make such speeches, because they are so out on a limb when compared with how people feel.
A reduction in the number of police officers is against all our interests, and against the interests of our constituents. I ask Government Members seriously to consider that when the matter comes up on 20 October.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), from my neighbouring constituency, who, as always, does a very good job of defending her constituents' priorities. She said that she has never come across anyone who has complained about their civil liberties being impacted by the police. Well, having spent five hours contained by the police at the G20 protest, I personally feel that on that occasion my civil liberties were infringed, along with those of 2,000 or 3,000 other people who were present at that event.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who has unfortunately just left the Chamber, was very helpful in telling us what he was going to tell his constituents about what the Liberal Democrats were doing in the coalition Government. I wanted to tell him-he will have to read it in Hansard-what we will be telling his constituents about the economic scorched earth policy that his Government adopted when they were in power. We will also point out to them that he, like many other Labour Members, suffers from the characteristic amnesia that has afflicted the Labour party since the general election.
I was greatly entertained by what was not exactly a leadership bid by the old Home Secretary, but at least a bid to secure his position as shadow Home Secretary in any future Labour shadow Cabinet. His speech may have had some credibility on the Labour Benches, but those in the wider country will perhaps have wanted a demonstration of some humility for the part that he played in creating the calamitous economic car crash that the coalition Government now have to turn around. But of course he made no such acknowledgement of the part that he played, nor of the fact that we have had to borrow £150 billion in the past year. I am afraid that with his rather facile asides he demonstrated the same ingrained-perhaps it is ingrained in his DNA-denial culture that is far too often demonstrated by Labour Members.
I am critical of the previous Government's economic incompetence, but not uniformly critical of their record in power. They achieved some very positive things of which they can be proud. For instance, I support the
safer neighbourhood teams. I support the role that police community support officers play and the impact that that has had not only on crime locally but on the perception of crime. I hope that irrespective of what police forces up and down the country will face as a result of the economic circumstances that we are in, they will be able to maintain their presence on our bstreets. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) did a good job of demonstrating how much can be achieved in increasing police presence on our streets. That does not necessarily require there to be more police officers but simply better use of the available time.
The consultation paper "Policing in the 21st century" sets out where the coalition Government are going. I welcome the debate that they have kicked off in relation to several police and justice issues, whether it be licensing and banning the sale of below-cost alcohol, short-term prison sentences, or the system of temporary bans on legal highs, which we will debate tomorrow. Those are good matters for us to discuss as a Parliament. I welcome the reforms that are set out in that paper.
Prior to the general election, for the Liberal Democrats as a party, the creation of elected police commissioners was undoubtedly the most controversial proposal that the coalition is now taking forward. I want to explain why we are supporting that proposal within the coalition. The key to this is the checks and balances that will be in place to cover the activities of elected police commissioners, and we need to focus our attention on those. I welcome the fact that there will be a strong duty on commissioners to collaborate with other commissioners to ensure that cross-border issues are addressed, because that was one of our fundamental concerns.
As regards the powers that the panel will have, I hope that we can get the coalition Government to move a little further in relation to the strategy or budget that the elected commissioner is to adopt, because those are matters that the panel could have a more decisive say over. Perhaps, similarly to what happens with the Mayor's budget, a two-thirds majority might be required to oppose the commissioner's budget or strategy and for that then to have to be reviewed. The coalition Government should consider that carefully. With better checks and balances, it is possible to ensure that elected police commissioners work and can be fully representative of communities. I hope that there is still time to consider elected commissioners as a pilot project. It is always worth rolling something out in a small way to start with and measuring its effectiveness before introducing the whole scheme, so I hope that even at this late stage that can be considered.
I am pleased to see the Minister for Equalities on the Front Bench, because I wish to raise the question of how we can ensure that the whole cohort of elected police commissioners do not look like me and most of the other male Members in the Chamber. It would be regrettable if the system ensured that the only people who could get elected were white, middle-aged males and there was no representation of any other gender or ethnicity among the commissioners. I hope that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will respond to that point in his summing-up.
Although it is a matter for debate between the Government and the Mayor of London, I should like some clarity on the future of the Metropolitan Police
Authority if the Minister is able to give it. There is some confusion about whether it will be abolished, as "Policing in the 21st century" suggests, or whether its administrative functions will simply be absorbed into city hall. Also in a London context, is the Minister entirely happy with elected commissioners being able to delegate their role to another individual? The coalition Government are rightly selling elected commissioners on the basis that there will be one strong person with whom the population can identify, and that people will know who to contact and who is responsible. If their power is delegated to someone else, I believe that link will be broken.
I wish to mention one further issue in the short time that I have left, which is the absorption of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre into the national crime agency. I am sure that the Minister is aware that CEOP has concerns, particularly about its ability to continue to work in a wide partnership with a host of organisations, such as social services. Those organisations may find it difficult to continue the partnership process if CEOP is absorbed within the NCA completely. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance that the situation will be manageable within the NCA and that the strong links and positive partnership that exist will not be damaged.
I am pleased to have had a chance to speak in today's debate. I welcome what the Government have set out in "Policing in the 21st century" on where policing will go in the next few years, but there are still some concerns about elected police commissioners. I hope that the coalition Government will address those concerns to ensure that commissioners are representative of their communities and deliver an agenda that the entire local community will support.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who for a long time was a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I congratulate him on his recent appointment as the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs.
It would be unfair to talk about the Government's record on crime and policing, as they have been in office for only 16 weeks. Quite rightly, therefore, the debate so far has been focused on their reform programme. It is an ambitious programme-I know it, and so do members of my Committee, some of whom are in their places, such as the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). At every single meeting of the Committee so far, there has been discussion about how on earth we will respond to the Government's crowded agenda on crime, policing and other Home Office issues.
I should like to begin by welcoming some very important policies that the Government have initiated, because they are all recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee of the previous Parliament. The establishment of the National Security Council, the work on alcohol- related crime, the announcement today of the extradition law review, even though we have not yet had a decision on Gary McKinnon, what the Government are suggesting on reducing bureaucracy, the decision to implement the law on wheel-clamping, which the Committee has been on about for the past five years, and the proposals on a
fast-track means of banning legal highs are all welcome moves by the Government because, of course, the Committee recommended them in the previous Parliament.
My concern is that the good intentions will be put at risk by the comprehensive spending review. The Government will have serious problems with police numbers. I accept that the law and order and policing debate should not be around numbers, although every Member of Parliament has always told their constituents that they want to see more bobbies on the beat. In exchanges with me and others, the Police Minister has said-indeed, he told the Committee this-that he does not believe that there will be a reduction in front-line policing as a result of proposals in the CSR, but I do not believe that that is possible.
On Monday, at the invitation of another member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), I went to Medway, where I spoke to the chief constable about his statement last Friday, in which he said that if the Government's proposals to cut expenditure by 20% go through, he will see a reduction of £35 million in his budget, which would mean the loss of 1,500 police officers. That is a huge number for a county such as Kent. Therefore, although the Minister feels that he cannot be specific on numbers and the effect that the CSR will have on local police forces, the fact is that it will impact on each and every Member of the House. Will he seek at the earliest opportunity to give an indication to local police forces of how much the cuts will be, because at the moment, an enormous amount of senior police officers' time is spent trying to guess what the percentage will be? The earlier they get a response from the Government, the better. Even a broad indication of the proposals would be extremely helpful to them.
I listened to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, who is absolutely right that the reduction of bureaucracy and the saving of money is a crucial part of our view of policing, but the previous Government started us along that route. Perhaps they did so later than anticipated, but as the Minister may find out, Ministers cannot do everything immediately-things take time. The previous Government initiated the Flanagan review, and Jan Berry was appointed by Jacqui Smith, the previous Home Secretary, and she has done some valuable work on the reduction of bureaucracy. We all have an interest in ensuring that police officers are back on the beat and that they provide front-line services rather than waste their time on unnecessary bureaucracy. That is why the Government should give a commitment to keep Jan Berry in post after she delivers her final report in July. It is important that someone who knows about policing acts as an external force, because such a person can deal with the vested interests that try to prevent real change.
However, the Government should also give special attention to good practice. When I was in Kent on Monday, I saw that the local police were doing some excellent work on the reduction of street prostitution and on offender management. When I went to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), I saw effective engagement by the police with local people-the essence of community policing is the ability to engage with local people. It is important that such good practice is shared as quickly as possible.
I remember a visit to Burton I made a year ago with the then MP for the area. Staffordshire police had done good work in reducing paperwork from 24 sheets of paper to one, but that good practice has still not been rolled out by the Home Office to other areas of the country, and that would save a great deal of time.
I shall not go into the issue of procurement now, but I am sure that the Minister knows what I mean. Kent police have bought Skodas, but the next-door forces in Sussex and Surrey have bought different makes of car. We cannot have 43 police authorities all buying different vehicles. Procurement is vital. Indeed, it is a no-brainer and I do not know why it has not been done in the last 20 years, let alone the last 13. Successive Governments have failed to get the procurement policies right, but it is time to break down the vested interests and give some clear direction.
The big change will be in the landscape of policing, including in effect the abolition of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency, and the creation of the national crime agency. This is a great opportunity to change the landscape of policing. For the first time, one can achieve policing on a national level with specialist interests. This is an opportunity for the Government to pause and hear the advice of stakeholders before they rush in and create a new organisation. The danger in abolishing existing organisations-which have budgets of £470 million and £430 million, almost £900 million-without thinking carefully is ending up with the problem that the NHS has of almost constant reorganisation. I ask the Minister to pause and ensure that he thinks very carefully before coming to his final conclusions.
Because the Government's agenda is so large, the Select Committee has decided to put together the proposals in a major stakeholder meeting to be held in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase. I hope that the Minister will accept the invitation to attend that meeting, because we seek to bring together the 43 chief constables and other stakeholders to discuss all the issues that are before Parliament and the public. So everybody will have the opportunity to have their say and consult the stakeholders carefully before the Select Committee embarks on the four policing reports that we will undertake. We have decided not to have one big policing report, because that would take too long and we want to keep up with the Government's suggestions.
We need to engage with local communities and stakeholders, and actually ask local people what they want. Politicians can discuss structures until the cows come home, but the issue comes down to the ability of the public to pick up a telephone and call a police officer if a crime has been committed or to see a police officer on the beat. That is what policing is all about, and if the Government engage with Parliament and we do this- as far as possible-on the basis of consensus, we can make a lasting change to our policing structure.
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) who spoke with his customary expertise and erudition.
This afternoon I feel as if I have stumbled upon the Alan Johnson shadow Cabinet hustings speech. It is a shame that the shadow Home Secretary is no longer in his place, but he was performing for a very small audience-the parliamentary Labour party-which will vote in the forthcoming shadow Cabinet elections. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said, the right hon. Gentleman demonstrated a degree of selective amnesia. On this side of the House, we will continue to make the point that the reason we have to make any fiscal reductions is the calamitous fiscal situation bequeathed to us by the Labour Government-£157,000 million of public sector debt.
What marks out the contributions from Opposition Members is an opportunistic and, frankly, intellectually dishonest approach. I specifically challenged the right hon. Gentleman about his comments on 20 April, during the election, when-as Home Secretary-he committed to a 20% reduction in the policing budget and refused to specifically rule out reductions in front-line police numbers. It ill behoves him to attack the Home Secretary for having to do what he himself would already have done.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Jackson: I will give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, not Birmingham, Hall Green.
Steve McCabe: The hon. Gentleman is very kind about my constituency. It is true that Labour set out cuts, but since then the coalition has decided to make a further £30 billion of cuts. Those cuts are not economically necessary, but ideologically driven. That is why we have a problem today.
Mr Jackson: The key point that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, must concede is this: if we are to de facto ring-fence the police budget, it is incumbent on the Labour party to say where the cuts would occur in other areas of Government activity. Would it be social services, transport, health, education or defence? We are not receiving those answers from Her Majesty's Opposition.
The Opposition's collective amnesia, articulated by the shadow Home Secretary, is interesting. He had a bit of a mea culpa moment over the Licensing Act 2003, of which I shall say more later, and which was also a catastrophe. It has created a calamitous situation, and now huge amounts of public resources have to be spent on the consequences of an ill-thought-out piece of legislation that demonstrably increased antisocial behaviour and impacted across public services, as the shadow Home Secretary would concede.
We heard nothing about the botched mergers forced on police authorities in 2006, which led indirectly to the demise of Charles Clarke, the former right hon. Member for Norwich South. We heard no apology for that policy, which took up a lot of time and destabilised local police authorities and forces without any-let us remember this-proper, meaningful consultation with local people, elected councillors or others. So the shadow Home Secretary is gilding the lily by attacking the Government for having the temerity to put forward proposals, with checks and balances, for directly elected officials, who will be responsible for policing and crime in their local areas.
There is also selective amnesia in quoting the Audit Commission. Its most recent publication, "Sustaining Value for Money in the Police Service", stated that
"the scrutiny and challenge of spending has so far been poor. Public debate and political interest has focused more on increasing police officer numbers, with a simple equation that more is better".
On that subject, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) on his wise words on the balance between inputs and outputs in policing and crime reduction. The Audit Commission also made a damning indictment of the previous Government's paradigm of always spending more of taxpayers' money without looking at the results:
"there is no evidence that high spending is delivering improved productivity".
It would be unkind and churlish to say that everything that the previous Labour Government did was wrong. There was consensus on many areas-my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary touched on that. Of course, we support the proposal enunciated in the December 2009 White Paper, "Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed", on minimum service standards, gang injunctions, protecting witnesses and communities from intimidation and focusing much more on the victims of antisocial behaviour. Who could disagree with that? But that was after 13 years of judicial activism, legislative activism, more quangos, more reports and a failure to free up police so that they can deliver what they need to deliver.
Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman kindly accept that between 1997 and 2010, crime fell by 43%? The coalition Government's measures put that at risk and buck that trend. The chief constable in my area is concerned about the measures about to be taken by this coalition Government-is the hon. Gentleman?
Mr Jackson: There is not a scrap of empirical or academic evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's views at the moment, although there might be in 18 months. If one asks chief constables, "Are you desperate to spend less money in your police force?", surprise, surprise, they will probably say no. It is a matter of regret that some chief constables are engaging in a political debate, when they should be thinking in more innovative ways about delivering more for the people whom they serve and not debating issues and speculating about hypotheses that are unproven.
If Labour Members were as fair-minded as I have been today-I see the wry smile on the face of the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson); we seem to cross swords in police debates fairly regularly-they would admit that they had supported many aspects in our radical reform of policing. There will probably be mergers of small police forces based on local agreement, which the Labour party has supported, although it went about it the wrong way. However, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier, we cannot continue with a situation where it takes 11 and a half hours to process an arrest, and where 11 to 14% of the police are on the beat, as compared with the 22% who are processing paperwork in the police station. We have to think about the overhaul of health and safety and its impact on the working conditions and operations of police forces, and
about the terms and conditions of police officer enforcement. We have to be more transparent in the way that we involve people.
I pay tribute to the sincerity of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who is obviously greatly involved in her local community. However, closing the circle or completing the equation, as it were, will also mean having transparency and openness in crime data, and particularly crime figures in local areas, because whether we like it or not, people often do not believe Government crime figures. In answer to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the British crime survey can be criticised. It is not perfect and, in particular, it overlooks the impact of crime on young people.
We will make a commitment with our directly elected police commissioners, and there will be checks and balances in place, which is important-these are not going to "Rambo" figures. Incidentally, as the right hon. Member for Delyn knows, in my maiden speech, on 6 June 2005-he can read it in Hansard if he wishes and if he has nothing better to do-I called for an elected police commissioner in Peterborough and for commissioners throughout the country. I have always consistently believed in having them, not because I want "Rambo" or "RoboCop" figures, but because policing is such an important area of our national life that we must involve people. People from abroad look at us and think, "Why are they not doing it in the UK?"-direct democracy, because it matters to local people.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary touched on the impact of the Licensing Act 2003-1 million alcohol-related crimes in 2009-10; 47% of all violent crimes fuelled by alcohol; 6.6 million alcohol-related attendances at hospital accident and emergency; 1.2 million ambulance call-outs as a direct result of alcohol, costing £372 million; and an entire indicative cost of £8 billion to £30 billion. We all see the problem every day in our constituencies. Just this week, a senior judge in Peterborough referred to the carnage in Peterborough city centre caused by alcohol-related violence as the reason why decent, law-abiding people and families did not want to come into the city centre. The problem is not wholly the fault of the previous Government, but they did not tackle the issue as effectively and robustly as they could have done.
Let me finish by supporting the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase and others on resources. We can deliver a better service by sharing resources, leasing premises, and using specialist support services such as management, payroll and human resources services. There is consensus on that. We also have to tackle overtime, but not with the platitudinous undertakings that the previous Government gave. As in so many other areas, we need to take tough decisions as a result of the previous Government's legacy.
Unless the Labour party moves on from the paradigm in which more tax, more spending, more quangos and fleecing the taxpayer can provide a better service, it will not deserve to be re-elected to government or to serve the people of this country. We have a responsibility now, and it falls to the coalition Government to tackle the endemic issues in the police service, so that our constituents can be protected at a cost that they can afford.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I want to concentrate on those constituencies that have suffered from high crime rates over different periods of time. Those high crime rates not only affect the constituents in those areas but have big implications for the rest of the country. Without doubt, my constituency has been one such area. It is good to see in her place the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who also represents the borough of Haringey. She will be familiar with these issues.
Tottenham has a history of riots, and there has been deep concern recently about knife and gun crime. We have recently had some big debates about security, and many hon. Members will be familiar with the significant problems at the Finsbury Park mosque, which is on the edge of my constituency, four or five years ago. Because of the nature of multi-cultural Tottenham, the most significant criminal justice issue in the lead-up to the election of the Labour Government in 1997 was the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
I have come to the conclusion that crime largely comes from one thing and one thing alone: poverty. I am talking about poverty of ambition and aspiration; poverty relating to education; poverty of employment; poverty where communities break down; and, sometimes, poverty relating to parenting. The nature of today's debate is hugely significant for people outside this place, and the resources allocated to deal with the problems, not just within the Home Office but across government, will be hugely significant over the next few years.
I am very proud that, when we look back over the past 10 years, we can see the huge progress that has been made, despite the challenges, in my constituency and in similar constituencies across the country. Many people in constituencies such as Tottenham were acutely concerned-even suspicious, frankly-of the Metropolitan police in previous decades, but they now say that, although their experience of policing is not perfect, they have moved from seeing a police force to seeing a police service.
At the forefront of that police service has been neighbourhood policing and the police community support officers. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) is absolutely right to say that neighbourhood policing has made a huge difference to people's confidence in reporting crime and their ability to relate to police officers, and to our attempts to get officers on to the beat.
Alongside that sense of having a police service must be the presence of the police in the community, and that is why we have all welcomed the extra police numbers. They have been particularly manifest in the London borough of Haringey. The borough had suffered historically because it was an outer-London borough, and inner-London boroughs always had more police officers than we did. Under successive Mayors and Labour Home Secretaries, however, the outer-London boroughs benefited from more police officers. We should be very concerned indeed-and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green should also be very concerned-that the Mayor proposes to cut police numbers in London by 455 over the forthcoming period. What effect will that have on the significant issues that exist in a constituency such as mine?
When we relate this problem to the poverty of aspiration and ambition and to the issue of how we lift communities up, we must also recognise the huge amount of work done by communities, particularly on knife and gun crime. I am thinking of someone like Nims Obunge, chair of the Peace Alliance, which started in the London borough of Haringey and grew to affect much of London and now has influence in different inner-city areas across the country. It is an alliance of civil society, with people coming together to stand up and say no to violent crime-and it is having an effect. I know it is having an effect because the figures are clear. Gun crime was down by 28% in my constituency last year and knife crime down by just under 20%.
That shows the sort of effect it can have when local people take ownership and work alongside the police. What will happen to the funding for projects like that and others such as the "Value Life" project, led by young people in my constituency at the Gladesmore school? They rely on funding, which will be needed for the years ahead if the level of cuts weighed up and suggested by the Home Office come about. What will happen to the statutory services that all local authorities will have to review in this period?
We know what sort of budgets will get cut. I am particularly worried about the funding available to young people beyond school. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) for the work she did when she was responsible for policing. The provision of positive activities for young people, particularly during the summer period, is important, so the money we put in to support young people and ensure that they have things to do is crucial. What will happen to those funds over the coming period?
Some really significant issues of security are at stake. We should think back to those images of the Finsbury Park mosque four or five years ago. What is going to happen to the Prevent fund and to all the work that has gone into turning a mosque like that around and to support the young people and communities within it? What will it all mean for the crime statistics and for ordinary people in this country?
The Government are taking a backward step. The decision to cut the state is ideological and it will have huge consequences. The decision-failing to ensure that Home Office front-line services are protected in difficult economic times-is the wrong one, and we will all suffer as a consequence of it.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I ask the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to think very carefully over the coming months about these issues, which are critical for constituencies like mine. Such constituencies rely on Home Office funding. They rely on supporting, not cutting, police numbers. They rely on community policing, not the diminution of such policing. They rely particularly on supporting young people who, in the absence of proper and effective community policing, are vulnerable to being seduced by various threats.
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on a subject that is so close to my heart, as I served for eight years in the Lothian and Borders police. I am happy to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who spoke with so much passion, and I agree with much of what he said. Neighbourhood policing is an aim that we share; we differ only in the way in which we seek to deliver it.
When I first expressed an interest in joining the police 25 years ago, the general reaction was, "Well, you've got the height for it", as if being tall were the defining characteristic of a good police officer. Other stereotypes also do nothing to help the debate on policing. Dixon never actually policed Dock Green, and Sam Tyler did not actually go back to 1970s Manchester. [Hon. Members: "Really?"] No, he really did not.
In fact, every day police officers not only deal with crime, but fulfil the role of part-time social workers, youth workers, marriage guidance counsellors, tourist information officers, crime prevention officers, licensing officers and, yes, dog-catchers, a role that has become tragically relevant in recent weeks. All those roles are important to the general public, as they are performed by those whom the public would describe as "beat bobbies". Survey after survey shows that many people's top priority is to see more bobbies on the beat, but where is the evidence to show that that is effective? Scotland's police numbers per capita are roughly average, but it unfortunately suffers from a higher-than-average level of crime. The simplistic argument has been that if crime numbers are to be reduced, the number of police must be increased, as if a direct proportionality existed-a point ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley).
Toby Perkins: The hon. Gentleman is presenting an interesting theory, which I do not think I have heard before. When the Liberal Democrats spoke of putting an extra 3,000 police on the beat, was that not something to do with reducing crime?
Mike Crockart: It was a policy with which I did not necessarily always agree. I have argued long and hard-Members will not find my words in Hansard, but they will find them in other places-against the use of the term "bobbies on the beat" as a catch-all silver bullet that would solve every crime-related problem, because it simply will not. The problem is far more than that, as I shall explain shortly.
That simplistic argument confuses the presence of police with what should be our real aim: the absence of crime. Labour Members have argued today that a decrease in police numbers will inevitably and necessarily mean an increase in crime, but that simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Belgium has more police officers per capita than Scotland but has a higher crime rate, while Switzerland has fewer police officers but a lower crime rate. The three European countries with the lowest number of police per capita are Sweden, Norway and Finland, which could hardly be described as crime-ridden countries. According to figures published today in The Scotsman, the detection rate has not moved by a single percentage point in the last year despite the presence of a record number of police officers. Instead of focusing on the number of officers, we should pay more attention to
how those officers are used and deployed, and how their priorities are set and monitored.
When I left the police 13 years ago, there was much talk of cutting bureaucracy, freeing up police officers' time, and using technology to enable more efficient working. Thirteen years on, however, the HMIC report that has been quoted so extensively today states that the "visibly available" police level is still, on average, only 11%-although in some forces it has fallen as low as 6%-and that as little as 13% of the time of those who are available is spent patrolling. The report also states that those police officers are still tied down by mountains of paperwork and central directives. In 2009 alone, 2,600 pages of official guidance on aspects of police work were issued, at an estimated policing cost of £2.2 billion per year. Moreover, the report states that the police are involved in dealing with any one crime on an incredible 40 occasions, from point of arrest to conviction. That does not sound like progress or efficiency to me. This then is the opportunity: not the simplistic position of some Opposition Members that if there is a problem we throw more money at it, but that we find a better, more efficient model for deploying existing resources. The involvement of local people in setting local priorities and helping to achieve them is key to this change.
I will save my views on the specific issue of police commissioners for another debate, but I believe that the direction of travel is the right one. Indeed, many police services are already moving in this direction on their own. In my home force of Lothian and Borders individual police officers are assigned to areas mirroring council wards and a divisional superintendent sits alongside council departments in partnership to set priorities. We should contrast that with the official model of priority setting: the police board for Lothian and Borders covers five council areas and the chair of that board represents only a small section of one of those authorities. How can local priority-setting come from a model like that?
West Midlands police has reorganised itself along council boundaries, and Sussex police cars are marked as "Brighton and Hove", "Eastbourne" and "Lewes", but this is still piecemeal reform and it will not deliver the savings needed or the increased localism wanted in the years to come.
We need to have proper reform to create larger, more efficient, professional police forces. That must, of course, be done by local agreement, and there must also be the ability within these forces for day-to-day operational decisions to be devolved down to a much lower level and to be made accountable through stronger and more transparent ties with local elected officials. Big police services do not have to be distant from public opinion and priorities.
In Scotland, we are already beginning to think the unthinkable: we are considering having a national police service with 32 operational divisions matching local authority boundaries, where local priorities are set in association with locally elected officials. That would be a far more efficient model that could deliver significant savings and a locally focused service as well as allow a national joined-up response to areas such as serious organised crime and national security. I hope we in Scotland will go down that route, and perhaps it is time for other Members to consider such a system for England and Wales.
Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate addressing issues that affect every one of our communities, and it is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), who gave a thoughtful analysis, particularly in respect of big organisations not necessarily having to be remote and the possibility of their being underpinned by responsive local units, which is interesting in terms of policy development.
In common with many Opposition Members, I am disappointed and frustrated by the Government's decision not to protect the funds for front-line policing. It has frequently been said today that, if Labour had won the election, we would have had to make cuts, and that is absolutely right, but the shadow Home Secretary was very clear that the cuts in the Home Office would have come from changing overtime patterns and from looking at procurement and issues such as effectiveness, productivity and efficiency, and that they certainly would not have come from neighbourhood police teams, police community support officers and all the other things every one of our constituents values. This Government need to think long and hard before cutting the number of police officers and PCSOs, who are the backbone of our police service at local level.
I want to say a few words about the Home Secretary's recent speech at Coin street, in which she declared that it is time to move beyond the antisocial behaviour order. I understand that this Government are desperate to paint everything they have inherited from Labour as unfit for purpose, but I think that in respect of ASBOs they are putting politics before people. Over the last 13 years as Member of Parliament for Salford and as Police Minister and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I have seen at first hand the damage that antisocial behaviour can cause to communities, with gangs thinking that they rule their estates and are the rule of law, and with innocent and vulnerable families being intimidated and harassed. The whole quality of life of a community can be brought down by the actions of a few.
I well remember the days when the police would turn up and officers would simply say, "I'm really sorry, but there's nothing I can do. I haven't got the powers to be able to deal with these 'low-level, petty' crimes, so there's nothing I can do to help you and your family." That is exactly why we introduced ASBOs in the first place-so that they could be part of a range of tools to tackle what were becoming intolerable pressures on communities.
The Home Secretary has talked about antisocial behaviour orders being a top-down, centralised mechanism from Whitehall, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Home Office guidance actually says:
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