HC Deb 18 March 1999 vol 327 cc1275-322
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

1.15 pm
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, That this House pays tribute to the high standards of policing in this country; endorses the priority of the last Conservative Government in increasing the strength of the police by over 15,000; but deplores the policies of the present Government, which are leading to reductions in police strength, cuts in services and the introduction of non-police patrols at a time when it is essential to build the best possible relations between police and public. The debate is set against the background of a much bigger national debate about the role and position of the police in Britain. That is, in my view, a debate of fundamental importance, in relation to which the Government risk adopting exactly the wrong policies for the challenge that we face. That debate has been given added force by the publication of the Macpherson report, and it is with that report that I start.

The Macpherson report is undoubtedly important—not only because of the tragedy of Stephen Lawrence's murder, but because of the changes and reforms that the report points to, which we shall debate shortly. However, let me say first what the Macpherson report does not say and does not justify. It does not justify a generalised attack on the police service. It does not justify a generalised attack on the thousands of policemen and policewomen who do their job conscientiously and well, sometimes despite enormous difficulty and danger. It does not justify a generalised attack on the standards of the police in this country, which in my view remain high—probably higher than those of any comparable European country.

Of course, errors must be put right and mistakes corrected, but we should be clear in our minds that we do not have a racist police service; the Macpherson report does not say that we have. Enemies of the police should not pervert the message of the report to that end.

What we do have is a police service that, in one respect, leads Europe and, arguably, the world. It is not that the British police are better equipped, and goodness knows it is not because we have the strongest police service numerically; it is that there is greater trust between police and public in this country than anywhere else. Most people regard the police as their friends and allies. In February 1999, a Gallup poll in The Daily Telegraph found that no less than 83 per cent. of the public found the police mainly polite and helpful. Obviously, we need to extend that feeling of trust even more, but I very much doubt that such trust exists in France and Germany.

The police service is not one of our worst, but one of our best services in Britain, and it has been consistently successful in its public order task since the second world war. Any Government who were to put that relationship at risk would deserve censure.

None of what I have said is an argument against change; change is part of any organisation. When the police service was established, the police had to fight for acceptance, so there is nothing new in their fighting for acceptance, or improving their efficiency and effectiveness—but all that must be for a purpose. As the chief inspector of constabulary suggested a few days ago, the most important performance indicator is the local community satisfaction rate—how satisfied the public are with the local police.

What do the public want of the police? They want an efficient police service, but they want more than that. They do not want a police service that simply reacts and responds to emergencies and emergency calls. According to the Gallup poll that I mentioned earlier, their greatest complaint is as follows. No less than 79 per cent. of the public agree with the statement that the police are invisible and that there are too few bobbies on the beat. In other words, what the public want is an extension of community policing. My concern, and the concern of virtually everyone whom I respect on the matter, is that Government policy is taking us in exactly the opposite direction. Rather than more police, we shall have fewer. Rather than better services, we shall have worse. Rather than trained police, we are being offered non-police patrols.

I debated some of those issues with the Minister of State, Home Office on the "Today" programme this morning. It is always interesting when the Minister of State, rather than the Secretary of State, does an interview. I stress that I am not critical of that decision; I know how sensitive the Secretary of State can be.

When I was Secretary of State for Social Services, I told my then Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), that it was time that he raised his profile and did interviews on cold weather payments.

Mr. Conn Pickthall (West Lancashire)

It did not do the right hon. Gentleman any harm.

Sir Norman Fowler

I do not know what happened to my right hon. Friend. I also remember telling my other Minister of State, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), that he could tap his cigar over John Humphrys, rather than in my office. I think that it was in that spirit that the Minister of State was deputed to the "Today" studio to discuss the police.

The Minister of State's account of Government policy on the police provided an entirely new perspective on the police service under this Government. The police service may think that it is under pressure but, according to the Minister of State, real-terms spending on the police is up, police forces are rolling in cash, and policemen are falling over one another as they patrol the streets of our towns and cities. As for non-police patrols, he has not even heard of them, or of the prospect of introducing them. That is the wonderful world of Walt Boateng.

If that is the case, it is strange that those who must implement the Government's policy do not seem to see it in quite the same way. The response of the Association of Chief Police Officers to the 1999–2000 Budget settlement could have been written in reply to the Minister of State's injunction, "Let's be real". ACPO's response stated: This settlement leaves the police service well short of what it needs. Let's be realistic. Government cannot expect any public service, least of all the police with their wide responsibilities, to meet all the public's expectations with such a shortfall. The Association of Police Authorities, which has a Labour chairman, said of the same settlement: The overall increase in spending provision for police authorities in England and Wales is 2.7 per cent. Even when augmented by locally generated efficiency gains, this will be inadequate to meet the current demands facing police authorities, let alone provide for growth and investment. The Police Federation commented: One of this Government's main manifesto pledges was to support law and order. But Treasury officials have swung the axe on police budgets. This will result in fewer police officers, the closure of local stations and a reduction in front line services. Who is right—Home Office Ministers or the police service, which has to manage as best it can with the budget that it has been given?

I have figures calculated by the statistical section of the House of Commons Library. Between 1979–80 and 1996–97, there was a 354 per cent. cash increase for the police. In real terms—that is, above inflation—there was a 74 per cent. increase in those years.

On the basis of this Government's spending plans, between 1997–1998 and 2001–02, there will be an 11.2 per cent. cash increase for the police, which amounts to a real-terms increase of 0.7 per cent. That is the difference in priority between the Conservative Government's policy on the police, and that of the present Government.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)


Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)


Sir Norman Fowler

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, and then to the hon. Lady.

Mr. Heald

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour Members are obviously so embarrassed by Home Office Ministers' explanations that only three of them are present?

Sir Norman Fowler

It is probably 0.7 per cent.

Ms Blears

If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, expenditure on the police rose under the Conservative Government's stewardship, how does he explain that the 2.5 million recorded crimes in 1979 rose to 4.5 million when the Conservatives left office?

Sir Norman Fowler

As the hon. Lady knows, crime came down steeply in the last four or five years of the Conservative Government. If she does not know that, she knows nothing about the crime position. However, I rather agree with the Home Secretary on that point. I do not think that there is a direct correlation between police numbers and crime. My point concerns not only crime. For the Home Secretary to make a speech only about crime figures would miss the whole point of the debate and, with respect, the hon. Lady is in danger of doing so.

This debate is about not just crime rates, but public order and having the trust of the public. To achieve that, the police service needs credible strength, and nowhere and never has that challenge been greater than it is today in the aftermath of the Macpherson report.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work of the police in the community extends beyond crime? One of the problems in Derbyshire in the past has been the investigation of fatal road accidents, which takes a heck of a lot of police time, a matter which I have pursued with Ministers. That matter is not crime related, but it is important to the public.

Sir Norman Fowler

I agree, and it is a point that I shall try to develop. Crime and its prevention are obviously vastly important, but a range of other issues are fundamental to relations between police and public.

To put the figures another way, the statistical section of the Library confirms that under the previous Government, there was an average annual increase in spending in real terms on the police of 3.3 per cent. a year. If that was converted to cash, this Government would be spending an additional £1.3 billion during the next three years. That is the difference.

That is one reason why the previous Conservative Government were able to increase the strength of the police by 15,300. As far as I know, no one, not even the Minister of State, seriously believes that that is what the Government are about. Police numbers are not going up, but coming down. In the first 18 months of this Government, they have come down by about 800, and the fear of many chief constables is that, during the next two or three years, they will drop further.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

In what month was the budget for 1997–98 set?

Sir Norman Fowler

The budget for 1997–98, the budget that takes us forward—no, I do not know the answer. The right hon. Gentleman obviously knows the answer, so I shall let him give it.

I am beginning to see a glimmer of the right hon. Gentleman's point. He is saying that the budget was set in the previous year. That is correct. But there was nothing to prevent the Government from increasing the budget. The right hon. Gentleman has used exactly the same arguments about inheriting spending commitments for the years after that. The Government must take responsibility for their spending in that period.

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

No, let me finish. Even the Home Secretary concedes that the past three years—[Interruption.] If the Home Secretary wants to take part in the debate, will he listen?

Mr. Straw

I will.

Sir Norman Fowler

The past three years were undoubtedly and unquestionably the Government's responsibility. Is the Home Secretary challenging the fact—let me ask him directly—that, on average during our period in government, we spent 3.3 per cent. in real terms above inflation? Is he challenging the fact that, under his Government, that amount will be drastically reduced, to the extent that he will be lucky if he spends more than 1 per cent. in real terms above inflation over that whole three-year period?

Mr. Straw

I will develop this point considerably in my remarks: the trend that we are following is similar to that which was followed from 1994–95. For example, in 1995–96, expenditure on the police increased by 0.22 per cent. I am glad that—after the right hon. Gentleman gagged so much at a simple question about the date on which that budget was set—he has, at long last, admitted that his Government set the budget for the police service for 1997–98. Was he saying that, having set that budget before the election, they would have increased it after the election, had they won? Was that the point that he was trying to make?

Sir Norman Fowler

That was constantly done in respect of the second year, but—[Interruption.] Yes, of course it was. If the right hon. Gentleman does not know that, he does not know anything about how public spending was handled. His point is fascinating because he always goes for one or two years, but he refuses point blank to face the fact that, over the whole period of the Conservative Government, spending in real terms went up by more than 70 per cent. Does he—[Interruption.] If I may intervene in the Home Secretary's conversation, does he dispute that that is the case? The answer is that he does not dispute it; the fact is that he cannot.

The Government do not have the same financial priority for the police. Why cannot the Home Secretary come clean on this issue instead of wriggling, which is typical of him? He is not giving financial priority to the police and he knows it. The inevitable consequence is that expenditure on the police is being cut and the man responsible is this Home Secretary.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that cut is causing deep concern in the counties? In Bedfordshire, not only the police authority, but the chief constable has been moved to speak up because of the practical reductions faced by the police, which the Government disguise as 2 per cent. efficiency cuts.

Sir Norman Fowler

What I find despicable about this whole debate is the Government's inability to come clean about what they are doing. They are wriggling and wriggling and wriggling because, in reality, they are cutting and cutting and cutting, but cannot admit it. That explains why there are only two and a half people on the Labour Benches.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

On the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), is my right hon. Friend surprised that the average settlement is 2.7 per cent., yet all that Bedfordshire has been given is 0.8 per cent? Although the Minister of State has listened to us courteously, all that we have had is a Mona Lisa smile and no action.

Sir Norman Fowler

I correct myself; there are four Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber. My hon. Friend is entirely right; Bedfordshire is one of the areas that have been affected greatly.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not let the Home Secretary off the hook on the point about the 1997–98 budget. The Home Secretary said that that budget was the responsibility of the previous Conservative Government, which is entirely true. Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the bases on which the Labour party secured its mandate to govern from the British people was unquestioning acceptance of the spending priorities and targets set by the Conservative Government? It obtained office, in large measure, on the basis of that undertaking. Does he agree that it was open to the Labour Government—if they really believed in their support for law and order—to increase that budget when they came into office in 1997?

Sir Norman Fowler

Yes, that is exactly what I said. What I think is wrong, false and phoney about the Home Secretary's argument is that he uses figures and years selectively. He takes figures for one or two years and then tries to build up the Government's whole record on that period. If he uses the crime figures for that period to establish the Government's record, then surely to goodness he should use the police figures for the same period. I repeat that there was an average real—terms increase in spending of 3.3 per cent. a year under the previous Conservative Government. There is not the slightest prospect of this Government matching that, and they are not even attempting to do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he should be addressing the Chair.

Sir Norman Fowler

I was about to turn round to do just that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

May I continue?

There have been reductions in manpower in the Metropolitan police in London, in Sussex, West Yorkshire, Kent, Essex, Nottinghamshire and Hertfordshire, as well as other forces. The strength of the City of London force is now below its 1979 level. No one can seriously doubt where policy is pointing, and many forces are not even attempting to add to their strength. The most that they can do is to try to retain the strength that they have and, for many of them, that is proving unsuccessful.

It is not just police manpower that is affected: it is also the services provided. Police stations are being closed: not just those that are unused, but stations in busy areas such as Chislehurst and Biggin Hill. The Essex force is being forced to make economies and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South—West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) said, there is a similar story in Bedfordshire, and the same applies to Cleveland.

The position is so bad that even the Liberal Democrats have woken up to what is happening. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Both the Liberal Democrats."] I am glad that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) has woken up; he is 0.5 per cent. of his party present. Their spokesmen tour the country, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats—at least I think that he is still their leader—recently visited south Lakeland to express concern over the closures of Cumbrian police stations, as did the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) last month. The problem is that they have their photo opportunity and then forget to make any representations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) has pointed out, he is the only person to have expressed any written concern to the Government about police station closures in Cumbria.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

My constituents are angry to find that petitions organised by Liberal Democrat councillors and the constant visits by Liberal Democrat MPs have not resulted in a single letter from a Liberal Democrat to the Home Office on this matter. Perhaps that is why only two of them are present in the Chamber at the moment.

Sir Norman Fowler

It would be unfair of me to knock the Liberal Democrats, but if provoked I will.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the Home Secretary's own county of Lancashire, police officers in Preston told me last week that not only are they under complement this year, but they are envisaging cuts in police numbers next year? Does he agree that the situation will go from bad to worse?

Sir Norman Fowler

My right hon. Friend typically puts his finger on a crucial point. We should be concerned about not just this financial year, but next year and the year after. Many chief constables say that they will do their best to struggle through this year, but if that continues to be the case next year and the year after, the consequences will be very serious.

Angela Smith


Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)


Sir Norman Fowler

I shall give way for the last time to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Hayes

Will my right hon. Friend add Lincolnshire to his list of areas where there are crises of policing? We have similar problems there.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reason why so few Labour Members are present today—indeed, there are more civil servants here than Labour Back Benchers—is that they are acutely embarrassed, because they know that this problem applies to their constituencies and their counties? Only a couple of Liberal Democrats are here into the bargain.

Sir Norman Fowler

The same thing happened when we last debated the police grant. I think that half the Labour speeches actually opposed Government policy—although there was not much time, because the Minister of State spoke for 45 minutes. Had there been more time, we would have been able to hear more opposition.

My fear is the fear expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire. I am afraid that the situation will get worse. Chief constables tell me that they may struggle through this year—although they are in difficulties—but that there will be worse problems in the next two years.

What are the Government offering to replace what they are reducing? Well—as the Home Secretary will doubtless announce and reannounce in a moment—they are offering a number of schemes to "target" policing. The idea of hotspot policing comes from the United States, where it has been successful; but in the United States, schemes such as that and zero tolerance policing have been introduced at times when police strength has been radically increased. In New York, it has been increased by 7,000 in the last few years, and in the United States generally, there is a programme aimed at increasing it by 100,000. In that context, targeting makes a great deal of sense, because it is in addition to what is already being done. What our Government cannot do is introduce schemes of this kind as a substitute policy. They cannot introduce targeting and, at the same time, reduce the general strength of the police force.

The Government have another plan. They are encouraging the idea of a non-police patrol. Let me explain what that is, for the benefit of the Minister of State. The concept was explained last summer by the chief constable of Surrey, Mr. Blair.

Mr. Straw

No relation.

Sir Norman Fowler

I take the Home Secretary's word for that. Nevertheless, although there may be no family relationship, the extent to which the Prime Minister has embraced the concept prompts a number of questions.

According to Mr. Blair, two local authority patrols in bright red uniforms marked "Surrey police compliant", drawn from the welfare-to-work programme, will move around the high street, in radio contact with the police officer with direct responsibility for the area. I would have been inclined to laugh off the prospect, but next morning, The Guardian quoted the Home Secretary as saying that the chief constable's plans were "a real possibility". Since then, the Metropolitan police have been consulting on pilot schemes in London.

I believe that patrolling the streets of our towns and cities is essentially police work. I speak first and foremost from the public's point of view. The public want not only the reassurance conveyed by a police presence, but the knowledge that they are dealing with trained men and women who meet high standards, who know their own patch, who will act with common sense and sensitivity and who believe that authority does not result automatically from the uniform that they wear, but must be earned. That is what policing is all about, and that is why I say that community policing should be our priority—a priority that is underlined repeatedly by the Macpherson report.

The Home Secretary has replied by saying: If you talk to the public they understand that you cannot have a police officer walking up and down their street all day and every day. You never had that. That was a myth about what happened in some golden age. The right hon. Gentleman is right, but that is because he gave an example that he knew to be self-evidently absurd. There never was an age in which every street was constantly patrolled. There was, however, a time when there were more police patrols than there are today, and there was a time when chief constables did not have to envisage council-employed redcoats patrolling town centres.

Indeed, there was a time when the Home Secretary himself believed that all this was important. He says now that he cannot even express a view about police numbers, but back in 1995, he voted against a police grant order. He said then: police services say they will have to cut police numbers."— [Official Report, 31 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 962.] Indeed, the Labour manifesto talked about getting more officers back on the beat.

I believe that the issues raised in this debate are of fundamental importance. The importance of trained police on the beat goes beyond even the reassurance that they give. The generally good relations between police and public in Britain depend on the regular meeting, day by day, of policemen and policewomen with members of the public. It would be an act of supreme folly if police were to become a service remote from the public they serve.

We cannot take that relationship for granted. We have to work at it constantly. Police patrolling may not hit the headlines in the same way in which crime hits the headlines, but it is vital in retaining public confidence.

I am genuinely concerned that the Government's policies are taking us in exactly the wrong direction. I am concerned that they have reduced their financial commitment. I am concerned that police numbers are falling and services are being reduced. I am concerned about their policy on non-police patrols. I am concerned—particularly after this debate—about the Government's complacency about what has happened. If, as I fear, the Government's policies undermine the strength of the police service, the public will not forgive them.

1.46 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, To leave out from "country;" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: notes that the previous administration's promises in 1992 and 1995 of an additional 6,000 police officers were never carried through and that police numbers instead fell; welcomes the additional £1.24 billion for the police service and the extra £400 million for the crime reduction programme which are to be provided over the next three years; supports the police in their crucial role in tackling crime and creating safer communities; and recognises the need for the police, as with other public services, to continue to improve efficiency and effectiveness and deliver best value in the interests of the whole country. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) started his speech with a tribute to Britain's police service, and I fully associate myself and my Government with that tribute. However, I crave his indulgence in not following him on the issues raised in the Lawrence report. He was not necessarily to know it when preparing his notes, but—as he and other hon. Members will now know from the business statement by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—there will be a full day's debate on the Lawrence report on Monday 29 March. As I told the House when making my statement on 24 February, I shall publish, next week, a full statement providing our full response, recommendation by recommendation, so that hon. Members are better informed of our response well in advance of that debate.

Central to the claims made today by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was the claim that police numbers started to decline only after the previous general election, and that that has been the responsibility only of the current Government. I should like to put the record straight. During both the 1970s and the 1980s, police numbers overall rose by 25,000. Although I should be happy to trade statistics—I should enjoy it—if the right hon. Gentleman wants to do so on the 1980s and very early 1990s, he should bear it in mind that the annual increase in the police service was just over 1,000, whereas the annual increase during the Labour Government of 1974–79 was 2,000.

The overall 25,000 increase stopped at the beginning of the 1990s. It did so because the then Conservative Government made a calculated decision to end the increase in police numbers. As in many similar decisions, however, the only thing that the previous Government did not do was to announce their decision. That is confirmed by the then Home Secretary, now Lord Baker, at page 450 of his memoirs. He said: I found, however, that while several of my ministerial colleagues and Tory MPs supported the police in public, they were highly critical of them in private. There was impatience, if not anger, that although we had spent 87 per cent. more in real terms since 1979, and had increased police numbers … there had still been a substantial rise in crime. 'Where is the value for money?' asked my colleagues. I had even heard Margaret Thatcher criticize the management and the leadership of the police. Lord Baker went on to describe the negotiations that he was having with the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Mellor, who said that his time as a Minister at the Home Office had not

turned him into a friend of the police. He said that Mr. Mellor had said of police—words that I should never use: They are overpaid, we've thrown money at them, and we have the highest level of crime in our history. That marked a clear decision by the previous Government in the early 1990s to stabilise expenditure on the police and to preside over a decline in numbers. In 1993, there were 128,300 police officers. By March 1997—only weeks before the general election—that number had fallen by 1,132. By March 1998, it had fallen to 126,856 and, by September 1998—the latest date for which figures are available—the overall figure had fallen to 126,500.

What makes this debate such a spectacular own goal for the Conservatives is that all that decline took place during the period of budgets that they set. In 1998–99, I have presided over a higher rate of increase in spending than that was originally earmarked by the Conservative Government.

Sir Norman Fowler

The right hon. Gentleman said that spending, as well as manpower, was stabilised in the 1990s. Will he now take the opportunity to correct that reply and to agree that in 1991–92 there was a 6.3 per cent. real-terms increase in spending, in 1992–93 there was a 3.6 per cent. increase, in 1993–94 there was a 2.1 per cent. increase, in 1994–95 spending was stable, in 1995–96 there was an increase of 2.6 per cent. and in 1996–97 there was an increase of 2.5 per cent? In five out of six years there were substantial real increases in spending. If the right hon. Gentleman is puzzled, he should consult the House of Commons Library statistics department.


I was looking puzzled because the right hon. Gentleman's run of figures does not square with mine. We can exchange figures later. I am interested in arguing from the figures. I accept that, as Kenneth Baker said, real-terms expenditure on the police rose by 87 per cent. until the early 1990s, and police numbers reached their peak in 1993. However, the issue is whether the increase in spending had fed into police numbers.

Extraordinarily, some hon. Members whose areas are receiving large increases in police budgets for next year, such as the 6.1 per cent. increase for Derbyshire, are complaining about forward spending under the plans for which we are responsible. I do not remember hearing Conservative Members complaining about the huge decrease in Metropolitan police numbers over which they presided. It was a decrease not of 200 or 300 or 1.000; 2,000 Metropolitan officers were cut between 1992 and the time of the most recent figures—all under budgets that were set or earmarked by previous Home Secretaries. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis expects numbers next year to be within 75 of the numbers this year.

Those are the facts. The previous Government made a covert decision not to increase police numbers, but they then made a public promise to increase police numbers—a promise that they comprehensively broke. Sometimes I weep for the Conservatives, because, if only they had consulted us, we could have told them that the least that they should do is make promises on which they will not be completely exposed within a few months.

In their 1992 manifesto, the Conservatives promised to increase police numbers by 1,000 officers. Did they? Of course, they did not. They were 400 short. Having broken that promise, the then Prime Minister—never one to break the habit of a lifetime—decided to utter another promise in 1995, which he then went on to break. At the Conservative party conference in 1995, he said: we have found the resources over the next three years to put, not 500 but an extra 5,000 police officers on the beat. What happened? Was the increase 5,000? Was it 500? No, it was zero. Numbers went down. In the period when the Conservatives promised 5,000 extra officers, numbers went down by 470—and Conservative Members wonder why they lost the last election, and why they completely lost the plot on law and order.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I was genuinely intrigued that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) did not mention police pensions in his speech. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the significant problems with the budgetary situation is the pensions overhang?

Mr. Straw

I agree, and a large number of unexploded time bombs—well past their set date—were left in the drawer of the desk that I inherited from my predecessor. The Conservatives deliberately decided not to publish a review of police pensions, even though they knew that action had to be taken.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made a serious point when he said that there had been some increase in real spending in the 1990s, and he implied that that should have fed its way into an increase in police numbers. However, he omitted to say that, in the Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994—for which he voted—the powers of the then Home Secretary to set police numbers were removed. My predecessor as Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), said: In future the number of constables will be a matter for local decision … It is not a matter for me."—[Official Report, 26 April 1994; Vol. 242, c. 113.] The previous Government said that they had no power to determine police numbers—and then, only months later, they were promising to do just that.

That is what is so incredible about the Conservatives' promises. They promised 5,000 officers—a promise which, by law, they prevented themselves from ever meeting. Rarely has there been such a reckless set of promises made by any party—even one as intent on defeat as the Conservative party.

Sir Norman Fowler

I am interested to explore what the Home Secretary is saying. On 31 January 1995, he led his party to vote against a police grant which was substantially greater than any provided by the Labour Government, including the last one. One of his reasons for that was that he was getting complaints from chief police officers that numbers were going down around the country. Is he saying now that that was the wrong decision, or that he should not have used that argument to justify the Labour party's voting against the police grant?

Mr. Straw

We were justified at that time because, as my figures show, there was virtually no increase at all in 1995–96—only 0.2 per cent. Also, we were not facing both ways on public spending. There were careful discussions within the shadow Cabinet about our pledges, and their public spending implications, before any of us were allowed to speak on them.

The right hon. Gentleman has implied at the Dispatch Box that there will be significant increases in spending on the police. I wish to refer to the four letters that I wrote to him in October and November, asking about his party's pledges on police spending, and on public spending overall. One of many compliments that I am happy to pay the right hon. Gentleman is that he is an assiduous replier to letters. Indeed, I can think of some occasions when he has replied by return to letters even from me.

Sir Norman Fowler


Mr. Straw

No, on other occasions. Whatever else may be said about him, the charge that he sits on letters is not one that can be made against him. In an article in the Police Review, the right hon. Gentleman was reported as saying that the Government lost out on the opportunity it had to make savings on its welfare budget … which could have been transferred to the police". On 7 October, I wrote to him, asking which bits of the welfare budget he was proposing to cut to transfer the money to the police. Nothing happened. He broke his usual habit of politeness and refused to send me a reply.

On 2 November, I wrote the right hon. Gentleman another letter, to the effect of, "Norman,"—I call him Norman—"could I have a reply?" The next week—the week of the public spending plans—the shadow Chancellor dismissed our public spending plans for the next three years, including our police spending plans, as "reckless". He used that word, which made for some difficulties for the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.

To clarify the matter, I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman and said: As this increase"— of £1.24 billion— is part of that 'reckless' package of public expenditure, I should be grateful if you would let me know if you are now opposing it. Silence followed that letter, too. On 25 November—I thought that, although we are an efficient Government, something might have happened with the post—I wrote to him and personally delivered the letter. I did not want there to be any doubt that he had received it. What has happened between 25 November and 18 March? Absolute silence.

Sir Norman

Fowler rose

Mr. Straw

Ah, we have a reply.

Sir Norman Fowler

The pressure is obviously getting to the right hon. Gentleman. He is forgetting replies. I replied to Straw—as I call him—on the Floor of the House, during Question Time. I drew to his attention my record on social security. Is that beginning to twitch a little memory bud? I happen to believe in the importance of the House of Commons. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a lovely National Union of Students man and loves shoving letters and challenges everywhere. Why does not he listen to what is said in the House of Commons?

Mr. Straw

I have not had a reply. I was anticipating that the right hon. Gentleman would tell me how his plans to increase spending on the police squared with the shadow Chancellor's very clear statement that our overall spending plans, including spending on the police of £1.24 billion, were reckless, but he cannot do it because he knows that he has been silenced. He suggests that we have lost the reply, but that is not remotely the case. Never has the right hon. Gentleman replied to the point on the Floor of the House. If he has, let him produce the Hansard report to that effect.

The right hon. Gentleman well knows that one of the ways in which each of us is rightly put on the spot, whether in opposition or in government—he has experience of both—is by the exchange of letters. He also knows that it is wholly discourteous not to reply to letters, especially in four times of asking. Which benefits would he cut in order to transfer the money to the police? How does he square his promise to increase police spending with the shadow Chancellor's clear dismissal of our increases as reckless?

Sir Norman Fowler

I have given my reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I gave the Home Secretary my reply weeks ago.

The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 20 minutes and has not said a word about the Government's policy on the police. It will be noted by police forces throughout the country that he is not addressing the problems of the police service, but is back to his old NUS debating days.

Mr. Straw

What I have done—it is for others to judge how effectively—is to point out that what the Conservatives are implying about police numbers bears no relationship to the facts. Police numbers went down in each of their last seven years in government. No one in the country believes what the Opposition are saying about police numbers because they know that the promises—if they are promises—that the right hon. Gentleman is making from the Dispatch Box to increase public spending are wholly undermined by the shadow Chancellor. That is the simple truth.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Telford)

May I suggest that we could get around the apparent problems with the postal service to everyone's satisfaction if, during my right hon. Friend's speech, one of his colleagues on the Front Bench would write a letter to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and physically pass it across? By the end of the debate, we could expect a written reply.

Mr: Straw

We look forward to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield letting us have the Hansard reference for his reply so that my hon. Friend the Minister of State can deal with it in his winding-up speech. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that that is done, because it is extraordinary that, after all the questions, he has still not been able to say where the money will come from.

Mr. Jack

Before we move on from the subject of correspondence, will the Home Secretary help me with an item of correspondence that I have received from the chief constable of Lancashire? She tells me that she got a 1.9 per cent. settlement, but she needs 3.9 per cent. to carry on. She has used her efficiency saving of 2 per cent. to bridge the gap, but, because of requirements under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for reasons of new communications and information technology, she needs another £2 million. What do I say in my reply to the chief constable—in the interests of the safety of the Home Secretary, of course—to enable her police force to do its job?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman was a Minister at the Home Office at the time the policy was changed, so he knows all about it. I have a high regard for the chief constable of Lancashire, but the overall increase in police spending is 2.4 per cent. That is what has been agreed by the police authority, not the 1.9 per cent. to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. The police service in Lancashire accepts that it will have to make efficiency savings, and I believe they can be made alongside an improvement in output. That is the challenge for the police service. We are increasing resources significantly, including £1.24 billion over the next three years. That is 2.7 per cent. next year, 2.8 per cent. the following year and 4 per cent. the year after that. Those increases in central Government funding will be supplemented by money from council tax payers, and, overall, budgets are set to rise by 3 per cent. for the majority of police authorities and by 3.6 per cent. for those in the shire county areas, from which most Conservative Members come.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Are those figures in real or cash terms?

Mr. Straw

They are in cash terms. One of the reforms of the previous Government was to talk in cash terms and not in the funny money of real terms.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred to his time at the Department of Social Security. I was one of the few people who bought a copy of the right hon. Gentleman's memoirs. I was able to do so, being an impecunious member of the Cabinet, because it was remaindered.

Sir Norman Fowler

That is an old joke.

Mr. Straw

It is a good joke. They were down to 50p. One of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made—it is a fair point—was about the need to obtain efficiencies from the health and social services. He said: You can argue about the amount of resources devoted to health but what you cannot sensibly argue about is that the resources devoted to health care should be used to maximum effect. We were behind the Conservative party on the issue of efficiency in local government and public services, and I am willing to say that.

Sir Norman Fowler

Labour did not say that at the time.

Mr. Straw

No, but we should have done. What I find remarkable about Conservative Members is that they do not apply the clear lessons about efficiency in every other public service to the police. Conservative Members seem to imply that the police services have reached some level of perfection in efficiency, when everybody in the police services, as well as outside, knows that not to be the case. Lincolnshire has been mentioned; its chief constable is restructuring top tier management and merging some divisions to enhance community policing. In the Metropolitan police area, which I know best, they have a target of reducing sickness per officer by 11 per cent. in 1998–99 and a further 10 per cent. in 1999–2000.

Across the country, reducing police sickness levels to the level of the median—not even below it—will save £35 million, which would be equivalent to the cost of 1,100 police officers on operational duties. The simple truth is that all the evidence—from the Audit Commission, Her Majesty's chief inspectorate of constabulary and local police authorities—shows that there is no direct relationship between the inputs and the outputs of the police service. Under the Conservative Government, a number of police forces received a reduction in funding, but achieved an increase in output, and the reverse is always the case.

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—a Conservative—was correct when he said that there is an enormous variation in the performance of police forces. We are trying to ensure that the level of each is raised to the level of the best. There is a clear challenge on efficiency savings, and I do not resile from it.

Quite a proportion of police spending relates to non-pay matters. People who know the police service will know that a number of police officers are not engaged in front-line duties. We must release those officers for such duties. In our manifesto, we said that we sought to put more officers back on the beat, and we are doing that by, for example, reforming the Crown Prosecution Service and dealing with delays in the courts.

The debate about police numbers has become rather abstract. One reason for that is that the boundary is shifting constantly between staff who are available to fight crime as uniformed or warranted officers or as civilians. It shifted under the previous Government, and it has shifted under this Government. It is crucial that we judge the effectiveness of the police service—just as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield judged all other public services when he was in government—not by scoring debating points on inputs, but by looking at outputs, setting clear performance benchmarks and judging those services.

Mr. Hayes

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of benchmarks, but will he concede that they should not be just reactive or crime related? At present, police funding is largely to do with the level and nature of crime. If he gets the benchmarks wrong, he will exacerbate the problems to which he referred.

Mr. Straw

I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman says. We seek to make the police service and the partnerships involved in dealing with crime more proactive. That is why we are putting £400 million into crime reduction, for example. The police are heavily involved in those partnerships, and it is possible to move from being reactive to being proactive.

Sir David Madel


Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

Let me give an example: if an area has a high incidence of crime and disorder, the police can firefight it day by day with response vehicles, but the way to solve it is to find out who is committing those crimes and to jail them.

Mr. Hayes


Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)


Mr. Straw

I promised to give way to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel), and I shall later give way to, as they say in pantomime, the one behind me.

Sir David Madel

The benchmarks that the Home Secretary wants the police to achieve are met in Bedfordshire, and partnership is improving. However, the population of the county is increasing all the time. Why is Bedfordshire's settlement so incredibly low? Even at this late hour, can the Home Secretary help us?

Mr. Straw

It is a timeless verity that, under the police spending formula, some forces gain and some do less well. No one should accuse me of favouritism, because Lancashire has also done less well than other forces, and so has Bedfordshire. We have considered Bedfordshire's case carefully and spending per head of population is broadly in line, to within 50p, with the shire county average, even taking into account the fact that the increase in spend in the past year has not been as much as the chief constable or the police authority would have wished.

Mr. Coaker

My right hon. Friend remarked earlier that police numbers are not the only important thing. They are important, of course, but, if we are to reduce crime, the partnerships created by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will be important. Local people will work with the police to reduce crime so that everyone is involved. If we simply reduce the debate to a question of how many police are on the streets, we shall not tackle the causes of crime. We might feel good, and we might have a good debating point, but we would do nothing to make our communities safer.

Mr. Straw

Chief constables, among others, have sought the freedom to decide how police money should be spent. We are all grown-ups here, and we all know that people will argue for more in the run-up to any Budget settlement. In opposition, I quickly learned when I drew the short straw—[HON. MEMBERS: "Short straw!"] Some might prefer to call the position of Labour local government spokesman a poisoned chalice. I remember that, when I was local government spokesman in the halcyon days of 1983 to 1985—when we dealt much more with the enemy behind us than with the Government in front of us—local authorities, and mainly Labour ones, used to scream and shout every year at Budget time about how services would collapse if the Budget went ahead, but, hey presto, it never happened.

The police want flexibility. They have used the flexibility that the previous Government granted with our support in 1994 to make sensible, rational decisions about whether to put more money into, for example, having more uniformed, warranted police officers or civilian staff, or into more information technology and better equipment. It is far better that they have that flexibility.

The final point made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield related to non-police patrol. I looked perplexed as he spoke because I remembered a debate in February 1996 on non-police patrol. In those days, we did not call it non-police patrol; it was the private security industry. Even under the Conservative Government, there were twice as many people in the so-called non-police patrol—the private security industry—as in the police service. The number increased substantially under the Conservatives, but I make no complaint about that.

A large number of people who were not police officers were involved in patrolling and public safety duties, as there are today. A report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs said that the private security industry had to be regulated. During an Opposition day debate, we moved a motion to that effect, but it was voted down by the right hon. Gentleman and his party. As ever, however, the right hon. Gentleman faced both ways: he went through the Lobby to oppose what we said, but stood up in the House to support it.

The right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten what he said, but, for the benefit of the wider public, I have it here. He first criticised me for saying that we could not have a police officer on every street corner. He said: The implication for the public is that there will never be, under any Government in any circumstances, enough regular police to investigate every burglary and house break-in that happens in our great cities, such as London or Birmingham. That has not happened in the past"— there was no praying in aid of a golden age from the right hon. Gentleman then— and there is no reason to believe that it will happen in the future. He went on to say: We may regret that, but we should learn a lesson from it …we must all learn to take crime prevention seriously". We have accepted his advice, and we are taking crime prevention seriously. Today, he is saying that non-police patrol is some sort of left-wing plot or a figment of the imagination of the Liberal Democrats. He certainly says that it is nothing to do with him. But in 1996, he said: Too often in the past 20 years, policy makers have not recognised what the private security industry can and should do in a modern society. It can help the citizen and the company to prevent crime by guarding premises, by supplying alarms and by handling cash in transit. But the private security industry's role goes beyond that and it is equally sensible to consider the duties carried out by the police and prison officers and ask whether those roles can be performed by the private security industry."—[Official Report, 13 February 1996; Vol. 271, c. 887–88.] What Mr. Ian Blair is saying now is no different from what the right hon. Gentleman said then.

Sir Norman Fowler

The Home Secretary is being absurd. What I was saying was utterly different. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to give any quotation of mine in which I advocated using the private security industry to patrol the streets. I simply have not said that. In the quotation that he gave, I was referring to the movement of remand prisoners and other such matters. Whatever he says, I do not support the private security industry patrolling the streets as a replacement for the police. I have never supported that, and I have made several speeches on the subject. We are not even talking about the private security industry; we are talking about local authorities. Mr. Blair is talking about local authorities.

Mr. Straw

I can only answer by reading one sentence: But the private security industry's role goes beyond that and it is equally sensible to consider the duties carried out by the police and prison officers and ask whether those roles can be performed by the private security industry."—[Official Report, 13 February 1996; Vol. 271, c. 887.] As for local authorities, which are in the vanguard of so-called non-police patrol—

Sir Norman Fowler


Mr. Straw

No, I shall not give way; I am answering the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Those local authorities that are in the vanguard of non-police patrol are not new Labour but old Tory local authorities, namely Westminster and Wandsworth, and I commend them. Those authorities sensibly realise that there are complementary roles for so-called non-police patrol—whether undertaken by local authorities or by private security industries under contract—and the police service. That has always been the case. What the right hon. Gentleman said three years ago was wise and I hope that he will support our White Paper on the private security industry, when my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office publishes it.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

The past is the past. May we now deal with the present and the future? The shadow Home Secretary said that he is opposed to the privatisation of the bobby on the beat. Will the Home Secretary assure us that he, too, is opposed to the privatisation of the bobby on the beat and that Group 4 will not be patrolling our streets?

Mr. Straw

Of course I am opposed to the privatisation of the bobby on the beat, and I want to make that absolutely clear. The police service must be directly delivered. However, I must also make it clear that, as we speak, throughout the country in Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat areas, members of Group 4, Securicor and many other private security firms are, for example, patrolling so-called private shopping areas, and quite rightly too. That complements the work of the police; it does not detract from that work, but assists the police in preventing and detecting crime. Instead of suggesting that that practice does not exist, has not existed and should never exist, it is crucial to accept that it is a reality and to work out ways in which we can improve it, not least by the regulation of the service.

Sir Norman Fowler

I intervene again only to say that the right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House if he is suggesting that I advocate, or have advocated, the use of private security firms or local authorities to replace the police in patrolling duties. I have not done that during the 30 years in which I have taken an interest in police matters. I deeply resent the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is, as usual, trying to play the person, rather than make the argument.

Mr. Straw

If that is the right hon. Gentleman's position, I accept his assurance. I was not misleading anyone; I was merely reading the words from the record and giving them their ordinary and natural meaning.

The Labour Government came to power determined to reduce crime and the fear of crime. The police are the first to say that they cannot tackle crime on their own; local communities have a crucial role to play. The Crime and Disorder Act will strengthen those local partnerships. The Government made no promises on police numbers; at the election, we promised to relieve the police of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to get more officers back on the beat, and we are doing just that, as I have already explained, by streamlining criminal justice procedures, reforming the Crown Prosecution Service and improving police efficiency.

Our aim is to make people feel safer and to ensure that the chance of their becoming victims of crime is reduced. Efficient, well-targeted use of police resources is the best way to achieve that. The public know that that is now our aim; they also know that we are intent on delivering it. That is why they so comprehensively supported our law and order agenda at the election and rejected the Conservatives.

2.24 pm
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for being unable to stay until the end of the debate; I have to attend the Special Standing Committee on the Immigration and Asylum Bill at 3 pm. That Committee is a procedural innovation that is proving popular, perhaps more so than Opposition day debates.

I should like to associate the Liberal Democrats with the comments praising the work of our police forces all over the country. As community-based politicians, we are immensely proud of the essential, important and successful work carried out by our community-based police service. In large part, that service commands the respect of the community through a tradition of policing by consent, which we want to continue. It is in that light that we want to talk about police numbers.

We regret that we cannot support the Conservative motion and have tabled an amendment giving our view on police numbers. Although we agree with some of the sentiments in the latter part of the Conservative motion, it contains no apology for their period in government and we believe that a little humility around the kitchen table would be in order when discussing police numbers. At the same time, we are critical of the Government's view on the matter and are unable to support their amendment.

Much of the argument seems to be about two key judgments. The first is whether size matters in the police service and the second is whether the Home Secretary is responsible for that. There is an analogy to be drawn with class sizes: not every class of 30 pupils is automatically better taught or more successful than a class of 40. However, the Government seem to have accepted that, in general, size does matter in respect of class sizes and that more teachers produce a better output. We argue strongly that similar considerations must apply to the police. Although a direct correlation cannot be proved in every force between an increase in the number of police officers and the success of that force, common sense suggests that a larger police force will generally lead to better results and a smaller police force will generally lead to less good results.

In respect of whether the Home Secretary is responsible for police numbers, he has correctly referred to the technical legal position. It is interesting to hear Conservative Members, who were responsible for the legislation devolving responsibility to chief police officers, complain that the Home Secretary has not mandated police numbers. However, just as on class sizes the Government did not hide behind local education authorities' responsibility, but accepted that there is a direct correlation between the funds given to LEAs and the class sizes in individual boroughs, so the Home Secretary could give strong indications, and the funds to back them up, on police numbers, which could result in an increase in police numbers. On the other hand, if he gives no indication that that is his priority and there are no corresponding resources, there will be a fall in police numbers.

As the Home Secretary points out, the Conservatives made some specific commitments. He left us to guess whether those commitments had been met, but Liberal Democrat and Labour Members know exactly what happened because, when the Conservatives were in power, we spent much time attacking them for the faults to which he referred. It is interesting to hear different arguments from Labour Members now that they sit on the Government Benches, which suggest that they no longer have the same interest in police numbers as they had when they were in opposition. When the Conservatives were in power, Labour's view clearly was that size did matter.

While they were in opposition, Labour Members were clever in not committing themselves to increasing the numbers of police officers, but we believe that they gave the clear impression that they would do so. They strongly criticised the Tories for falling police numbers and their carefully worded manifesto stated that they would relieve the police of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to get more officers back on the beat. That allows them the get-out clause that there was no absolute commitment. However, the public expected the slogan, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", to mean more police officers, not fewer.

Angela Smith

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) resisted my attempts to intervene. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Labour's criticism of the Conservative Government was of hypocrisy, because the Conservatives constantly argued that they were providing more police officers, but failed to do so?

Mr. Allan

I am content to accept that Labour's argument was about the hypocrisy of the Conservatives. Liberal Democrats also made the same criticism, which was levelled at an open goal created by the former Prime Minister, who set up that huge target but stepped aside and watched police numbers fall. However, at that time, when the public heard Labour's spokespeople calling for greater numbers of police or criticising the Conservative Government for allowing the numbers to fall, they understood that a Labour Government would not allow the same thing to happen. During the 18 months from 31 March 1997 until the production of the latest figures, there has been a fall of 781 officers in England and Wales. Since the election, 25 out of 43 police forces have faced cuts in the number of officers. The Government could have made that a priority if they had wanted to.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

While the hon. Gentleman is giving the House and the country a history lesson, would he care to go a little further back to when the Conservative Government first came to power in 1979? Police morale was at an all-time low and the police were threatening national strikes. Police morale was improved only by the Conservatives' commitment to provide, from 1979 throughout their period in government, a proper payment structure and proper support for the police. Prior to 1979—I know that the hon. Gentleman was very young then—the Liberal party was as bad as the Labour party for attacking the police.

Mr. Allan

I am interested to hear history lessons, but I am not sure whether I wish to explore the boom and bust in police morale from the Callaghan Government in the 1970s onwards. That may not be germane to this debate.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. It is only fair, having taken interventions from the Government and Opposition sides, that he should now take one from his own Benches. Unlike the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)—he used to represent Blackpool, but I cannot remember where else he went on his chicken run—I was a Member of Parliament in 1974. I recall how the Liberal party strongly supported efforts to improve police morale by ensuring that the police were paid properly. However, it is time for the Government to recognise that two wrongs do not make a right. The previous Government's failure in this area—they failed disastrously, as I know only too well because I was a member of a police authority for many years during the period of Conservative rule—is immaterial. We are trying this afternoon to identify what this Government will do about the situation that they inherited.

Mr. Allan

My hon. Friend makes a valid point: we need to look across the spectrum of policing and other related areas.

The introduction of non-police officers is an important consideration. Civilianisation programmes have been mentioned in discussing how far events have moved and the relevance of police officers. Police forces are recruiting more civilian officers to free front-line police officers from bureaucracy and time-consuming paperwork. We support that approach, which I hope is welcomed on both sides of the House. However, that does not explain why 10 forces have seen a reduction in their civilian staff since the general election. Seven forces have seen a fall in the number of both civilian and police officers, and that combined reduction must affect the impact of those police forces.

We accept that there is more to tackling crime than police numbers, but our communities will not feel secure unless we get those numbers right. The Metropolitan police have been mentioned as a case in point. There is no doubt that they have faced the brunt of recent cuts. Since the general election, the Metropolitan police have lost 571 officers and 1,460 civilian staff—a 10.8 per cent. reduction. It is widely expected that that trend will continue, with recruitments not matching retirement levels. The Home Secretary said that Metropolitan police numbers will be within 75 of their current total. However, we must ask: 75 in which direction? The Home Secretary's careful wording suggests that the force will be 75 officers down—there would have been a bigger hurrah if he had announced an increase of 75.

It is a crucial time for the Metropolitan police: they must recruit more officers, particularly from the ethnic communities in response to the Macpherson report. The downward trend in recruitment makes it harder for the force to achieve the targets that the Home Secretary will set. Figures published last week by the Home Office in response to a parliamentary question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) show that the number of officers in local divisions of the Met is falling even faster than the headline total.

The total figures show that, in an 18-month period, the number of officers fell by 571. However, the total for local divisions is 1,208 for the past two years. While the Met has lost 31 officers on average every month, the local divisions of the Met have lost 50 officers a month. That suggests that front-line policing is suffering as a result of the cuts.

The Library has produced some useful analysis of police funding over the lifetime of this Parliament. I would like to examine the Government's record in this Parliament rather than their inheritance from the Conservatives. We criticised at the time of the election—and have continued to criticise ever since—the Government's decision to maintain Conservative spending plans. The Government repeat headline figures, and they have a wonderful knack of rolling three years' spending into one. The comprehensive spending review cited some very large numbers which become significantly smaller when we divide them by three and take account of the fact that they are announced several times for added impact.

According to our analysis of the comprehensive spending review, total police funding will increase by 2 per cent. in real terms—that must be a good thing. However, over the lifetime of this Parliament, funding for police will increase by only 0.01 per cent. in real terms. In 1998–99, the police suffered real-terms cuts for only the second time in 20 years. The previous Government can take credit for their average real-terms increase of 6 per cent. in police funding. Potential police numbers under this Government are causing great concern, as is the increasing cost of police pensions, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). We still see no ultimate resolution to that problem, which will continue to drain resources from front-line policing.

As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir Norman Fowler) mentioned, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities have been critical of the Government. The Association of Police Authorities went further in describing the kind of struggle that police authorities are facing. It said: all authorities will be walking a tightrope in balancing front line police numbers with the need to invest in the very latest technology. That is an area of critical concern. I recently visited the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and there is no doubt that a force such as that needs the latest technology as much as do the shire and the metropolitan forces on the ground. Police forces need sophisticated technology of a kind never seen before, which adds to the pressure. We do not want our forces having to choose between purchasing essential new technology and fulfilling their role of patrolling our streets. The police must have sufficient resources to carry out both of those essential functions, as well as the new functions—the partnership arrangements—under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which Liberal Democrats welcome.

The Government offer efficiency gains as the solution. We think that some efficiency gains can be made. We do not seek to protect the police by saying that no efficiency gains can be made. However, we do not believe that such gains will overcome the need for increased front-line policing. The role of the police is significant in that equation. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred to the increased number of police officers required to support the community policing programme in New York. The chief police officer in New York, William Bratton, has made it clear that partnership community policing is the way forward. I point to the fact that New York now has twice as many officers per head as London, and that the London figure is continuing to fall. [Interruption.]

We believe that the future lies with community policing and with providing sufficient funding to enable police forces to recruit an extra 6,000 officers. We believe that, in an era of resource accounting, it is very clear that the kind of money required—perhaps £120 million—to fund 6,000 additional police officers would reap rewards such as a lower crime rate and less damage to people in the community—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there is far too much noise coming from the other Benches.

Mr. Allan

We believe that, with that sort of investment—which would pay for 6,000 new officers—there would be significant rewards. That is not a waste of expenditure and it is not spending in a revenue sense, but an investment that would be returned through savings made elsewhere. That is the kind of spending that the Government, if they had the will, could have made this year, and which they should make in future years. We will continue to press for them to fund community policing. Every community needs an officer who is well known and with whom everyone can interact.

Mr. Tyler

I am a great admirer of my hon. Friend. Does he recall that, in the previous Parliament, it was calculated that just £1 extra per year from each adult citizen would be required to increase manpower to the level that the chief constables felt was necessary in order to police this country properly? The Conservative Government failed to do that, but such is the nature of the task.

Mr. Allan

There was publicity about that at that time. The public are willing to provide funds for safer communities and we, as a party, are not scared to tell people up front that if they want decent public services, they will be required to pay for them. We are prepared to stand on our platform and go before the electorate to tell them that if they want community policing, it will cost them. We believe that they would choose to support that proposal in overwhelming numbers. They will not support the cuts in the police services which will come about as a result of the total settlements from this Parliament and the financial situation inherited from the previous Government.

Our final concern is that even if chief police officers had extra resources, it is questionable that they would be able to make the necessary recruitments to their force. We are extremely concerned to note that the number of applicants to the Metropolitan police dropped from more than 7,000 in 1995–96 to fewer than 5,000 in 1997–98. Parliamentary answers from the Home Office reveal that the number is still falling. I hope that the Minister, when responding in his usual informative way, will state whether the police service will be able to recruit extra officers if they can make the efficiency gains that he hopes for. I assume that he believes that those gains will lead to increased police numbers.

2.41 pm
Angela Smith (Basildon)

Having listened to the debate so far, I believe that hon. Members have become obsessed with numbers. I often have a great deal of sympathy with comments made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), but listening to his contribution today, I wondered how the 1p increase in income tax will pay for all the Liberal Democrats' commitments, including extra spending on the police.

We have missed the point of this debate on the strength of the police force, which is how the police relate to the community and how safe the community feels. The issue is not numbers, but the perception of crime in the community.

When I intervened on the hon. Member for Hallam, I made the point that the Conservatives have, once again, misunderstood us. Our criticism of them, which we shall continue to make, is that when they were in government, they harped on about increasing police numbers. At the Conservative party conference, the former Prime Minister made the hasty statement that the Government would increase police numbers by 5,000. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, they had already taken away the power that would have allowed them to do so, but they made a promise that they could not keep. That was hypocritical and misled people, particularly because the promise was made at a time of rising crime.

Crime has continued to rise. The way to deal with that is to involve the police in community policing. I am pleased that in Basildon we have had a crime prevention strategy and a partnership since 1990.

Mr. Bob Russell

Is the hon. Lady saying that her constituents, who live in the same county as my constituents, welcome next month's cut of 135 police officers and the disposal of a entire motorcycle fleet?

Angela Smith

I understand why the hon. Gentleman won the recent golden anorak award from Tribune newspaper, but I urge him to be patient regarding my comments and the delivery of the anorak.

I want to emphasise the importance of community safety partnerships, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker). We are all grown-ups, so I can hazard the comment that it is not the size of the police force that matters, but how we use that police force in the community. The previous Government refused to deal with that problem and to make community safety partnerships statutory. As I said, we have had such a partnership in Basildon since 1990. It deals not only with crime, but with the fear of crime.

I have spent much time in my constituency talking to youth groups, women's groups and pensioners. The fear of crime is the one issue that they all mention on every occasion. That has nothing to do with crime statistics. It relates to how they perceive their place in the community and how they think crime could affect them. There has been a distinct change in Government policy to deal with the fear of crime, which is leading to greater community safety.

I pay tribute to the Basildon community safety partnership, which has won numerous prizes for its work. The previous high sheriff of Essex, which includes the constituency of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), said that Basildon was one of the best areas in the county and gave it several awards. Basildon residents do not normally take kindly to men who dress up in tights and frilly shirts and have silver buckles on their shoes, but on that occasion, we took the high sheriff to our hearts and appreciated the work that he did with us on community safety.

The booklet produced by the partnership deals with four aspects of community safety and involved the police and the local council. It considers personal safety, property safety, business safety and community safety. John Robb, the chief executive of the district council, referred in the booklet to initiatives aimed at reducing crime and increasing the quality of our lives. He made the point that the quality of our lives is directly affected by how we perceive crime in our community.

Superintendent Dennis Sheppard, divisional commander for Basildon, said that crime affects us all. The previous Government would have been wise to take on board his following firm point: If we are to further reduce crime and 'Build a Better Basildon' then each and every one of us has a part to play. Only by working together will we impact upon crime and thereby improve peoples' quality of life. The success of our Community Safety Partnership demonstrates what can be achieved when people work together towards a common goal. Later in my remarks, I shall give examples of how effective that work has been.

I have been impressed with the personal dedication of the officers, from the council and the police, involved in the partnership. Ken Venables of Basildon council and Ray Williams of Basildon police have a unique working relationship. I commend it to other authorities, who could use it as a model of how to reduce crime and the fear of crime in their community.

The strength of that relationship lies in the way in which the police have developed the role of community safety officers. Brett Mercer, who covers my area, is highly regarded in the community and has become a friend to its people. Officers such as Di Capon and Darren Griffiths, who work in another part of my constituency, have made the effort to get to know the community and individuals know that they can contact them.

I was recently contacted by petition by the residents of a local estate who are concerned about what is often called petty crime, although that is the wrong name for it. It includes vandalism and breaking into and damaging cars. We should never underestimate the impact of such crime on the lives of individuals. My response was to write to the police and ask what they could do about it. I asked if I could examine the policing records for that area and discuss the matter. They responded not only by discussing the problems with me, but by asking for the names and addresses of residents who would like to talk to them. They are prepared to meet residents, deal with their complaints and discuss how they can help. That is a significant step forward in community relations and demonstrates the strength of the police in the local community.

I should like the Minister to take note of and comment on earlier remarks about the private security industry. During the day, the Iaindon shopping centre in my constituency is bustling, lively and friendly, but in the evenings, a gang of youths, some as young as nine or 10, run around the centre vandalising the place. The police can take few measures to deal with that because the owners of the shopping centre will not co-operate. Henley's Management Ltd., which manages the centre for the owners, refuses to co-operate or to talk to me, the police or the local council.

It is all very well giving local councils and the police the statutory authority to work together, but unless the owners of properties such as shopping centres play their part, the role of the police, community and council will be limited. I have approached the company to suggest a meeting. There is an argument for installing CCTV in the area, or perhaps for making greater use of local private security, but unless the owners of such shopping centres co-operate, the role of the police is limited. The police are playing their part, so will the Minister consider whether there is a way to involve owners of shopping centres and private areas, lock them into community partnerships and impose on them a statutory duty to co-operate with the police and the council?

I want to emphasise the effectiveness of policing. We all recognise that resources are under pressure, but there are ways effectively and intelligently to use the police force, working in the community, to reduce crime. What matters is not police numbers but crime reduction and how communities feel.

Car crime is a problem in Basildon. We have what were seen in the 1960s and 1970s as wonderfully designed housing estates, where children can play and through which cars cannot go. All cars must be parked outside the estates, so people cannot see them from their front doors. As a result, theft of and from cars in Basildon was the highest in Essex. It was a serious problem. As I said, one cannot underestimate the impact of such crime. Auto crime amounted to 33 per cent. of total crime in my constituency—phenomenally high.

The council and the police have targeted resources in the shorter term, which has led to massive reductions in car crime. Theft of cars reduced from 240 a month to 115—it halved. How was that achieved? Operations such as "Biteback"—a significant title—raised the profile of the police, and the local force was restructured. There has been a major shift of emphasis from reactive policing to problem solving. In addition, much stronger links between the police and the community were built, giving the police intelligence of who was responsible for crime.

Many of us are aware that very many relatively minor—I use that word cautiously—crimes are committed by very few people. A disproportionate amount of car crime was being committed by a small group of people. The police were able to deal with that because they could address the people responsible. The police identified the community safety partnership as being responsible for such an achievement.

The police have looked not only to the past, but to the future. The Basildon festival leisure park—the major leisure park for the entire south-east—has recently been built. It has 1,500 car parking spaces, and 20,000 people visit the centre each weekend. There are marvellous leisure facilities, such as night clubs, discos, bowling, cinemas and eating places. One might think that car crime would increase in such circumstances. However, the police and the council have used their resources intelligently. They worked with architects for two years prior to the opening of the development, which resulted in the provision of a special building for monitoring 24-hour closed circuit television. Security guards are also on duty 24 hours a day. In the first six months of the park's operation, there were six reported cases of auto crime. Few facilities of that size could boast such a record. The strength of the police must lie in the community safety partnerships that they are establishing.

Police in my area have also been involved in tackling crime at its root. They deal not just with crime, but its causes and how it ballooned to such an extent under the Tories. Under the Basildon bonus scheme, in partnership with schools, pupils who are least likely to be able to find jobs on leaving school have been identified. Although there is not a direct link between people who are unemployed and crime, there is no doubt that unemployment, which rocketed under the previous Government, fuels an atmosphere in which crime flourishes. Projects involving schools and mentors from the police and local authority have been aimed at supporting such kids and giving them confidence and self esteem in order to divert them from offending. Such efforts have a long-term impact on crime figures.

We must tackle crime holistically. We cannot just say that the number of police officers has a direct impact on crime. We must also consider how those police officers are employed and how they are used in the community. The Government have given the police extra strength under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The statutory duty to work with the community has empowered the police.

The Tories have got the issue very badly wrong. By concentrating just on numbers, they have failed to understand the community problems that crime causes. People want to know not just how many police officers there are in Essex or how much money is being spent, but what measures will affect them and prevent them from becoming victims of crime. That is what effective community policing achieves. Crime cannot be seen in a vacuum; it must be seen as part of our community. The sooner that we understand that we need such an holistic approach, which this Government have taken with community safety projects and the Crime and Disorder Act, ensuring that all of us feel part of the community effort to address the problems, the sooner we will tackle the problem that the Tories failed to tackle.

2.55 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

About half an hour ago, the Home Secretary was speaking about police performance, to which the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) referred. Neither would dispute the proposition that no single measure can accurately reflect police performance. If, as the Audit Commission says, the public has a right to expect that increased spending will lead to improved performance", it is fair to say that there is no direct link between the number of police officers and the effectiveness of the police force in preventing and detecting crime. Nevertheless, as I understand it, the essence of Opposition Members' arguments is that the Government's spending plans for the police for the next three years threaten both the quality of the service that our police forces can provide, and the maintenance of manpower levels. That is exemplified in reports that suggest that, for the financial year 1999–2000, 1,000 officers could be lost from the Metropolitan force.

My speech comes from a Hampshire perspective. My constituency is admirably served by the Hampshire constabulary and a competent police authority. I shall make just three points. The first is somewhat technical. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply later in the debate or, if not, through correspondence in due course. The Government announced a three-year freeze in the standard spending assessment methodology, but it is unclear precisely how that affects the police SSA. In each year since 1995–96, the percentage of police SSA distributed on 1994 officer establishment has been decreasing by 10 per cent.—50 per cent. in 1995–96, 20 per cent. in the financial year that ends shortly and 10 per cent. next year.

Some police authorities are confused about whether that annual 10 per cent. drop constitutes a change in methodology, and will therefore be frozen, or whether it is an inherent part of the methodology, and will therefore continue. According to one's interpretation, Hampshire is looking at the loss of a not insignificant £1.8 million.

Secondly, even if we disregard the methodology issue, the Government's pronouncements on future funding give rise to very great concerns about both the quality of policing and establishment levels. During the 17 years of Conservative government, spending on the police, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged, increased each year by an average of 3.4 per cent. over and above inflation. As a result of the comprehensive spending review, however, we are considering increases for the next three years that are only marginally above the rate of inflation. That must be compared with the 6.1 per cent. increase which the Association of Chief Police Officers estimates is required to maintain the existing quality of services and to take on new pressures.

Under Conservative—and, to be fair, for a period, under Liberal—control, Hampshire county council and Hampshire police authority made the maintenance of its combined establishment of civilian and officer manpower a priority. Modest progress was made in just four years; a little under 200 new posts were created. The question now facing us is how sustainable is that increase. Given increases that barely match inflation, some would say that we face a doomsday scenario. The present establishment and quality of service cannot be maintained without the most serious implications for council tax. The so-called 2 per cent. efficiency drive is likely to compound the problem instead of curing it because, as the Audit Commission found, little more than a quarter of 1 per cent. of efficiency savings is to be found.

Therefore the reality behind the Government's rhetoric appears to be lower service, poorer-quality, fewer officers and higher council tax.

In the next few years, identifiable budget pressures will make it even harder to maintain today's establishments. I shall not go into details because the Minister of State is aware of the arguments. There is worry about the funding on public safety of the radiocommunications project, once it is up and running—worry about whether there are adequate funds for it within the financial settlement envisaged for 2000–01. There are capital implications as well as current spending implications. There are similar worries about funding of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. If there are to be increased overheads as a result of expansion and for other reasons, those must be met by increased levies on local police authorities.

The Labour election manifesto made much of a pledge to promote law and order. In reality, the Treasury must work on the budgets. In the words of the Police Federation press release of 2 December, This will result in fewer police officers, the closure of local stations and a reduction in front line services. So much for being tough on crime.

3.1 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

This debate on policing matters is especially opportune. Although Labour Members would criticise the Opposition motion, many useful points will be raised in the debate which I hope will inform, not only ourselves, but the police force and those who look on the police as their protectors.

I shall speak briefly on the three obvious issues. The first is the operational changes that police forces are being asked to undertake. The second is funding—I would not disagree with some of what the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) said about funding problems. The third issue is the welfare and payment conditions of serving police officers.

The debate comes at a useful time because I shall spend tomorrow night with the local police in my town of Stonehouse. I try to get out with them every three months or so; I believe that it is useful for all hon. Members to see how the police function. I whisper this very softly, but every time that I have been out with the local police they seem to have a quiet night, so I am regarded as a good-luck charm; other Friday nights are not so wonderful. I have yet to see that much action, but I hope to enrich my perspective.

Our police authorities have undergone enormous change since their somewhat controversial establishment. Their true impact is as yet unclear. Some of us would argue that policing still has a resonance within the local government framework, and that there have been dangers in isolating it from other service provision, but those police authorities are extant and we must face up to all the implications.

Many other changes have taken place, not least the one that I am constantly made aware of when I go out and listen to constituents. In the past 10 to 20 years, policing has changed. It is now much more about targeting resources and fighting crime directly, which is not necessarily commensurate with the high-visibility presence of police on the beat. That poses a dilemma. In a rural or semi-rural area, such as the one that I represent, constituents will not see so much of the police. I assure them that there is a lot of policing going on—there is plenty of action behind the scenes. However, they cannot have it both ways. The time that the police spend walking the beat cannot be spent chasing criminals—and most of us would presume that the latter is the most effective way for the police to use their time.

That links with the ministerial statement, made yesterday, I believe, that the Government were prepared to consider changing the location of police stations, different ways in which the police could be tasked to perform their duties and so on. I welcome that because, although there should be a debate on the subject and although we should be very much affected by what constituents tell us, we cannot believe that the police service is static. It must evolve and move with the times. Criminals are mobile, so we must make the police as mobile as possible.

The need for change has been acknowledged and acted on in my local police force, in Gloucestershire. A year ago, we restructured the police force into three new divisions, and beneath those are inspector areas, under the command and control of inspectors. The three in my area are Inspector Cheryl Thomas in Stonehouse—with whom I shall spend some time tomorrow night—Inspector Dave MacFarlane in Stroud and Inspector Mike Barton in Dursley. I have spoken to each in turn. Interestingly, they all welcome that additional responsibility, and the police on the ground thoroughly understand it.

The re-organisation has freed some people for specialist work in different teams. It is not without criticism—Chief Constable Tony Butler has had to go out and spell out to his force what he is doing and why he is doing it—but, in the main, it seems to have been welcomed and to work well.

Interestingly, we have just got rid of beats in Gloucestershire; we now have a system of parishing, which seems more sensible and which we can all understand. We were never sure what a beat was, who patrolled it and where they would be at any moment.

I shall now discuss the budgetary situation. In Gloucestershire we have an historical problem that pre-dates May 1997. Ours is a relatively small police force. The area is neither urban nor rural and, although it has a population of more than 500,000, that population is well spread, causing locational and funding difficulties.

Like the hon. Member for Basingstoke, I believe that we would have welcomed some re-jigging of the standard spending assessment. We would always argue in Gloucestershire that, because we never fit any of the criteria exactly, we do quite badly out of funding mechanisms. That is true, not only of policing, but of local government and of our health authority.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to keep that subject on the agenda. I urge him to ensure that the funding mechanism is as fair and transparent as possible. Might it be at all possible for him to find some more money for Gloucestershire? He knows that I have been in correspondence with him and he knows that we are about to meet—I hope sooner rather than later—to discuss some of the funding difficulties. We had a relatively low increase of 1.4 per cent., which is causing the police force some pain, especially as it is a small force. It is more difficult for a force of that size to accept the notion of 2 per cent. efficiency savings. Having suffered under the previous Government, the force has been asked to take even more difficult decisions on how to eke out the budget this time.

Therefore I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take back to the Home Office the message that the Gloucestershire police are trying very hard. They have introduced many of the changes that are needed, but the budget is not as good as it could and should be, and we may need to address that, if not this year, in future years.

Before I conclude I shall mention two points, one of which I raised with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), and which I was surprised, if not staggered, that he did not mention—the pension overhang. It is a major problem. I have re-read the police pension review that was published last March. None of us can hide from its findings. The previous Government may have had a good reason for not undertaking such a review earlier, but we have published it and gone out to consultation. The pension issue cannot be avoided for much longer. In a couple of years, we in Gloucestershire will be spending more than 20 per cent. of our budget to keep up with pension payments.

In no way am I attacking the police or saying that we should not pay a good pension. However, the way in which we are currently funding pension payments, including the police provision from their own pocket, is not sustainable in the long run. We all know that. If we claim otherwise, we are fooling ourselves. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us when policy decisions are to be taken following consultation, and how we will move matters forward.

One of the reasons why police pension payments are so high is that so many police leave the force early. That may be partly a result of attacks on the police. Also, the fact that policing is such a physical job means that they must be at peak fitness. We know about the difficulties, which must be taken into account in long-term plans to improve the welfare of the police. We must ensure that we provide adequate funding and organise policing in the most effective way.

In conclusion, I shall deal with some of the dilemmas confronting the police. It is a pity that the Liberal Democrat Benches are so empty today. It is good to see that the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) is present. I assume that his hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) is elsewhere, as today is the last day of the festival.

The race course in my area has decided to hold a three-day meeting over the millennium, which will require extra policing and the participation of all the emergency services. I have been told, and I am sure that I will be told again tomorrow night when I go out with the police, that the race course will be paying its bar staff about £70 an hour during the night of the millennium. It is quite within its rights to do so, but try to persuade the emergency services, including the police, that it is all well and good for them to work on their normal pay or perhaps a little extra over the same period. They will simply be fulfilling their normal responsibilities, although they will get time off in lieu.

I know that the festival will go ahead over the millennium and bring considerable revenue to Gloucestershire, but we need to think through our attitudes to the police. We take their work for granted. That is why it is so important that we get their pay, conditions and welfare right. We must deal with the pensions issue and ensure that our police operate as efficiently as possible. That can be achieved only if we give them the wherewithal to do their job as well as they can.

3.13 pm
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

The police services in Britain are struggling, by their own account. The chief constables said that the latest settlement is well short of what is required. The Association of Chief Police Officers stated that even allowing for efficiency gains, the settlement is inadequate to meet current demands, still less new challenges.

I shall deal with five aspects of policing that all relate to the number of police in our police authorities. First, the increase in police numbers that took place during the 1980s and early 1990s has not been matched since. I take the Home Secretary's point that that process began in the early 1990s. It is interesting to note that if the figures are analysed closely, shire areas were disproportionately affected by that tailing off. I shall deal with the reasons for that later.

During the past two or three years, most police authorities have been hit by declining numbers. One of the problems is the relationship between crime rates and police numbers. We heard earlier of the assumption that if crime rates fall, a related fall in the number of policemen is justifiable. That is a fundamental error, reflecting a misunderstanding of the role and purpose of policing. It links policing to crime in too direct a way. The correlation is not so simple.

My second point relates to policing style. I shall not—nor, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you allow me to—deal with the hyperbole and overreaction in the Macpherson report, although it might be appropriate to say that it is time that hon. Members stood up for our public servants against the ludicrous charge of institutionalised racism. I understand that we shall have the opportunity to do that in a future debate.

Police style is related to numbers. If we believe that the style of policing appropriate for the modern age mainly involves crime-solving, and that it is essentially reactive—like the ambulance service, perhaps—we denigrate the role of prevention, the importance of public morale, and the importance of police morale and complements. Policing should be about civil order and social service. The choice is between the fire brigade or ambulance service model, and the "Dixon of Dock Green" or "Heartbeat" type of policing.

We have heard that there was never any golden age in policing, but I reject the idea that the public do not want more bobbies on the beat—more friendly policemen whom they get to know, who are part of the community, who have particular responsibilities to a locality and who are seen in a positive light by the public. I am sure that is what people want. We must ensure that the policing style reflects that legitimate public demand.

Such a style of policing involves patrolling. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) spoke of the importance of policemen being seen to patrol—bobbies on the beat, patrolling on foot and by car. Such non-adversarial policing is good for maintaining links between law enforcement officers and the public. The Minister will remember that one of the conclusions of the Scarman report was that there was a danger of the police becoming a remote elite, who were not just hostile to a particular part of society, but anti-people and distant. Part of non-adversarial policing—of the bobbies on the beat culture—is to forge a closer bond between public and police.

My third point entails crime and the fear of crime. All public surveys suggest that the fear of crime is profound. Dealing with that fear should be part of the policing agenda. That will not be accomplished by a style of policing largely based on crime reporting, crime detection and effective emergency reaction.

That brings me to my fourth point, which is about funding. In Lincolnshire, for example, we do not have enough crime or enough of the right type of crime to attract additional resource. [Laughter.] The fact that Labour Members laugh shows that they have not taken notice of what I said earlier. If policing is linked solely to the nature and level of crime, it ignores the role of the police as preventers of crime, the creators of social order and the custodians of a bond between people and the law.

That role is fundamental. If the police are seen as involved solely in clearing up serious crime, that removes aspects of their role such as visiting schools to forge links with young people. That role has largely disappeared in many constabularies because the police simply do not have the manpower for it. That approach, which, from their reaction, is clearly supported by some Labour Members who do not approve of such policing, has done much damage in divorcing the public from the police.

If the grant settlement is tied to a reactive style of policing—a crime-led style of policing—it inevitably reinforces that style of policing, because the police will have only sufficient funds to deal with emergencies. They will not have the latitude to develop innovative policies in non-adversarial policing.

Mr. Drew

Is not the hon. Gentleman missing the point that crime and disorder strategies and partnerships allow the police to work with other elements within their communities to ensure a full coverage of all the issues about which he speaks?

Mr. Hayes

The problem with crime and disorder strategies is that they may become solutions looking for problems. The crime and disorder strategy must be geared up to the preventive non-adversarial policing that I described, and resourced accordingly—I will deal with the standard spending assessment later.

The Minister of State nods, but there is little evidence to suggest that there is a satisfactory solution to the issue of the extra cost of policing rural communities. A research project is under way and I shall be looking for an assurance when the Minister replies that that will be published in the early part of this year so that we can study it. I hope that future settlements will take account of its findings.

At the moment, there is only patchy evidence of any serious commitment to considering the different policing needs of different parts of the country, and, worse still, how different parts of the country need to be funded in a way that is sensitive to their local needs. If policing is funded according to national criteria which are insensitive to particular demands—for example, those of sparsely populated areas—it will be inappropriate for such areas.

The staff in my chief constable's office made that very point to me this morning. To be honest, they did not complain about this year's settlement, although they were disappointed with the Government when the settlement was aggregated over two years. The Home Secretary said that that was because the Government had inherited the previous Government's spending plans—as though a Government coming into office with a massive majority and a mandate would not set their own agenda and say that, having looked at the situation closely, the figures would have to be changed; as though that would not have been part of a legitimate democratic decision. What nonsense. In Lincolnshire, as in so many other shire counties, aggregated over two years the settlement is disappointing.

My fifth concern is that a problem also arises from the way in which the governance of police is likely to be changed by making police authorities best value authorities. The danger is that the targets that will be set by which the police will be judged are likely to reinforce the style of policing which I described earlier. The targets and measurables will be based on detection rates and measures of efficiency. It is hard to measure the intangible benefits from local community policing, such as school visits, in a way that can be related directly to crime and clear up rates, detection and efficiency. The problem with making police authorities best value authorities is that we shall set in stone targets and measurables—tangibles—which will reinforce an undesirable type of policing which is far removed from that which the public want.

The inclusion of police as best value authorities, inappropriately shoehorned into a structure that is essentially designed for local government, will reinforce many of the problems. It will also challenge the tripartite governance of the police, which is so valued by the police and the public. It will lead to a nationalisation of the police by setting uniform national targets by which the police will be judged, and by decreasing the role of local police authorities, possibly even impinging on chief constables' ability to make their own decisions on operational matters.

Some of those problems are long-term issues, and some are strategic issues, and it would not be fair to blame everything on the Government. [Interruption.] The Minister of State will know that I am renowned for my generosity and I do not want to tarnish that reputation today.

High expectations were raised when the Government took office, and they have no one but themselves to blame for that. Every interest group possible was told that the Government would deliver for them. That was certainly true with regard to police and law and order matters. The fact that there are fewer policemen on the beat in Spalding in my constituency now than there were five years ago is a cause of real concern to my constituents. They do not understand why the Government have not delivered on their pledges, have broken their promises and disappointed the people of Lincolnshire and elsewhere in Britain.

The Minister may legitimately say that some of these issues are strategic, but we will reply with equal legitimacy that the Government have made a slow start in addressing these strategic matters and have disappointed not only the people of Lincolnshire, but the people of Britain.

3.26 pm
Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

I appreciate that one of the great strengths of the House is the diverse perspective that hon. Members bring to our discussions. But listening to some contributions this afternoon, I genuinely wonder whether Conservative Members have any idea what it is like living in an inner city, trying to cope with the explosion of crime that has taken place in recent years, and whether they have any understanding or appreciation of what my constituents face daily as they live with crime, burglary, robbery, violence and massively escalating theft.

It is right to set today's debate in a context. Conservative Members do not like to be reminded of uncomfortable figures; they prefer those that support their arguments. But we must examine the massive explosion in crime during the 18 years of Conservative Government. I shall confine my remarks to Greater Manchester, the area that I represent and know. In those 18 years, recorded crime rose by 130,000. That is a massive figure. Crimes against the person tripled in those years. Burglary increased two and a half times to a massive figure of 75,000 burglaries a year. Unbelievably, incidents of robbery increased 12 times, from 494 in 1979 to 6,296 in 1997. It may well be that resources have been put into the police, but the results of those resources have been pathetic. They did not deliver what the people wanted.

My constituents want crime to be reduced and burglars and robbers to be caught, convicted and sentenced. They also want the good, effective community policing. I say to the hon. Member for South Holland and—

Mr. Hayes


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Lady giving way, or just hesitating?

Ms Blears

I was simply hesitating because I could not remember the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

I say to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) that my police force regularly goes into primary and secondary schools, investing a huge amount of time and resources in trying to ensure that young people can grow up with a sense of moral values, knowing the difference between right and wrong and trusting the police. We recognise that it is in working with young people that we shall begin to reduce the menace of crime that threatens those whom I represent. That is the context in which we should be talking about police numbers this afternoon. I am particularly worried about the increase in violent crimes—which threaten people's sense of safety and security—in many inner-city areas. Not only crimes that have been committed, but fear of crime limits people's willingness and ability to take part in normal community activities. Even the police now recognise that the links between unemployment, poverty, deprivation and crime are incontrovertible. Therefore we have to rebuild our communities if we are to tackle their long-term problems of crime.

The Opposition have a short and selective memory. They have concentrated on certain figures this afternoon, but I, for one, will never let them forget that their policies led to the massive explosion in crime, certainly in my city. Over 18 years of Tory Government there was excessive consumption for a few and a life of real hardship for the many.

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Blears


The Government have had to pick up the pieces after the community breakdown and disintegration that took place over those years, which is a huge task. Labour Members readily acknowledge that progress will not be achieved overnight and that our communities will not become safe and secure within a short time, but if we are to be successful we will have to be much more imaginative and creative about the way in which we run all our public services. That includes the police.

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Blears

Time is short, so I do not intend to give way.

We need to examine the figures closely. The Audit Commission has said that there is no direct correlation between police numbers and the detection of recorded crime, but it has also said that there are significant variations in performance between police forces. The clear-up rate on burglaries in the best-performing metropolitan force is almost twice that of the worst. In particular, the Welsh police forces seem to do very well; they clear up 43 per cent. of burglaries, but only 11 per cent. of burglaries are cleared up in Greater Manchester.

To me, those figures say that questions need to be asked about how the police are working, how they are conducting their business, what they do in different areas and how we can learn from best practice. For example, why can Cumbria police detect 33 per cent. of recorded crime and Derbyshire police only 20 per cent? Those numbers are more complicated for the Opposition to deal with because they require thought and analysis, and they need to be worked through. Perhaps that is why the Opposition choose to rely on the crude numbers relating to simple police strength. The figures relating to performance raise difficult issues for us to tackle, but, if we are to achieve sustainable long-term improvements, we must be prepared to analyse them.

The Audit Commission report says that there is little direct correlation between the number of police officers employed, the work that they do and the targets that they achieve. The police have now recognised that they cannot simply tackle crime on their own and that they have to work in partnership with others. That would add value to the money that we spend on the police.

The police are not some separate force, but integral to our communities. They work with the housing, education and social services, business and voluntary sectors as well as with the community. Bringing that expenditure together and making sure that we get added value from it is that task that faces us.

Local people do not particularly want more crime to be detected, although that would help. They want crime to be reduced, or not to be committed in the first place. We must shift the emphasis of the conduct of policing from simply trying to detect crime once it has happened—because, by then, there is already a victim and communities are being destroyed—to addressing the start of the process, to make sure that we concentrate on reducing and preventing crime.

To achieve that objective the police must work with other partners, such as local councils, to design better street lighting and work on housing estates, and with the business community to set up closed circuit television systems, for example. In the development at Salford Quays, which is a prime industrial development, local businesses are helping to fund extra police services and the installation of closed circuit television. Those businesses recognise that it is in their best interests to make sure that the police force perform properly and competently.

The police also have to work with the public. I will welcome the anti-burglary initiatives that will be announced in the next few days. They will mean that many of my constituents will be physically safer in their own homes, but the overriding objective must be to strengthen our local communities. That means that the police must use ways of working that are very different from those that they used in the past.

If we want to make our towns and cities places in which people want to live, work and bring up their families, we have to make sure that people have pride in their areas. They also need the confidence and the strength to combat the criminals themselves, but that ability has been lost from many of our communities. People live in fear and are often unwilling to give evidence when they witness crime. They do not feel that they have a stake in the community and do not feel safe and confident enough to intervene.

I am pleased that imaginative, innovative and creative work is being done in many police forces up and down the country, and we should recognise and applaud that. Resources are being put into diverting young people from crime, not only through school visits, but through involvement in practical projects on the ground. I shall give two examples from my constituency. The Gears project is funded by the police, the probation service and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, and those bodies bring together youngsters with a particular interest in motor bikes.

Those youngsters might have stolen motor bikes—[Interruption.] As a keen motor cyclist, I have a great interest in that. Those bodies bring young people together to build their own racing motor bikes. They are acquiring skills and receiving training in welding and engineering, which is diverting them into much more positive activity, and there is also an element of excitement for them.

If we are genuinely to divert young people from crime, we cannot simply invite them along to a youth club for a game of football, ping-pong or whatever. Young people want to be involved in exciting activities that give them a buzz and make life worth living, and our motor cycle project has been extremely successful in diverting young people from crime.

The second constituency example is a project run by my local rugby league team, Salford Reds. The club has an incredibly successful youth development programme and works with other organisations. The police are very supportive of the project and people visit primary schools—not only to get the youngsters playing rugby league, but to get them along to matches and involved in the club so that they feel that they have a stake in their city. That is so important in making sure that we build the self-confidence of those communities. Projects that divert our young people from crime are very important.

The police are working in new ways. We are putting an awful lot of resources into video surveillance. In areas with a lot of crime and disorder, parents often deny that their youngsters are responsible for causing trouble, but they react swiftly and effectively if they are confronted with video evidence of their children committing crimes and making other people's lives a misery.

Targeted policing means that our police meet every week to consider the causes of incidents and target their resources on the hotspots of crime. The police draw in officers from the housing department and the local authority and make sure that they consider the full spectrum of reasons for crime taking place in our community. They do not simply patrol the beat; they direct their activities to where maximum effect will be achieved and crime will be reduced.

In Salford we have a wonderful witness support scheme, which has been acknowledged in the Home Office document "Speaking up for Justice". It supports witnesses from the day that they witness a crime all the way through the process until they are able to give evidence in court. We must have more than a court-based scheme. We must say to people who are brave enough and strong enough to stand up and give evidence in difficult circumstances, "We are with you, we will support you, we will help you and we will take you through the whole process." I commend Salford's witness support scheme as an example of good practice.

All those are new ways of working. The police service should not remain static. The world is changing and the police service, and all our public services, have to change, too. We believe in public service, but we also believe in getting value for money from the investment that we make. Up and down the country, innovation is taking place and the old numbers game is over. It is not enough for Governments simply to allocate the resources, wash their hands, step back and not take any responsibility for results.

The huge variations in detection rates show us that some factors make some forces more successful than others. Those are difficult issues, but tackling them is the only way to achieve sustainable, long-term success. We are not about short-term thinking; this Government will be in office for a long time to come. The people in Salford whom I represent are delighted that, at long last, they have a Government who take their views seriously. The Government are getting involved in a partnership and in setting local priorities and targets. They will have the levers to drive up those standards. They have a Government who are listening, and I believe that it is because the Conservative Government did not listen and were out of touch that they are now out of office. Long may that remain so. I urge hon. Members to dismiss this motion.

3.40 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

It is disappointing that some colleagues were unable to speak in this debate, but doubtless they will find other ways of voicing their concerns about the state of the police service in their constituencies.

The Home Secretary failed to deal with the central point in the Opposition motion that police numbers are falling as a direct consequence of the policies of the Government. When he was not making personal attacks on my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), he seemed to be saying that the budget that the Government have allocated to the police is challenging but adequate. The Opposition say that the police funding settlement under Labour for the next three years is insufficient to maintain an effective police service. The direct consequence will be fewer police officers—not hundreds fewer, but potentially thousands fewer—which will undermine the fight against crime and the Government's law and order strategy.

Angela Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

No, I shall not give way.

From Essex to Cumbria, Bedfordshire to Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire to North Yorkshire, police numbers are going down, and we have heard much about that this afternoon. We believe that there is room for improvements in efficiency, but the Government insist on a 2 per cent. across the board efficiency gain in each of the next three years, and the effect of that will be inconsistent across the country. It penalises the very forces—many of them are the smaller, rural forces—that have already taken action to improve efficiency within their force. There was no better example of that than the one given by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) about Gloucestershire.

Sensible changes in the police estate will take years—not months—to implement. I refer particularly to yesterday's welcome report from the Audit Commission, "Action Stations". I am quite frankly astonished that the Home Secretary did not find time to refer to it in his 40-minute tirade.

Ministers have still not said how the 2 per cent. annual efficiency savings will be judged, but their impact cannot be in question: there will be fewer officers and a reduced service to the public just at a time—and this is central to our motion—when it is most essential to build the best possible relations between the police and the public.

The Home Secretary criticised the record of the previous Conservative Government. I shall briefly highlight four points. First, crime rates fell by 15 per cent. between 1994–95 and 1997–98: the source of the figures is the Audit Commission's 1997–98 report. Secondly, the number of constables increased in England and Wales by 2,322 between April 1992 and March 1997. The source for that is a written answer by the Secretary of State for Wales when he was a Minister in the Home Office. The average time that police constables spent in public increased by 4 per cent. between 1994–95 and 1996–97: again the source is the Audit Commission in its 1996–97 report. That report also stated: Most forces had increases in their funding in real terms between 1993/94 and 1996/97. The Home Secretary seemed to forget what he said in his press statement a year ago announcing Labour's first police grant report settlement for 1998–99. He said: The police are the only local authority service to have had an increase greater than inflation in each of the last four years. That is, four years in which the budgets were set by a Conservative Government. He has the audacity to come here today with a weak defence against the motion and to criticise that record.

Mr. Collins

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Greenway

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall not give way.

The Home Secretary clearly thought that such increases were a good thing. What has now persuaded him to change his mind, or did he not fight hard enough in the comprehensive spending review? Concerns about resources in the first Labour police settlement were brushed aside with the excuse that all the Government were doing was sticking to Tory spending plans. We heard the same point made again today, and we heard it on Tuesday when the Home Secretary had the audacity to use that as an excuse not to find money for closed circuit television cameras.

What do we find when the Government escape the shackles of budget constraints set by the mean old Tories and new Labour is free to do its own thing and put its money where its mouth is? The public and the nation should know what "tough on crime" really means under new Labour. What we got was a 1 per cent. cut in last year's settlement. We have got what the Police Superintendents Association has described as the worst spending round in a generation. The tragedy is that there are two more years of the same still to come. What a complete lack of political commitment to the police from a Government who seem intent on running down the police service! That lack of commitment risks a demoralised police force, from which the only gainers are the criminals. The losers will be our constituents: the general public.

The debate has shown that the demands we make on the police are greater than ever before. The police service throughout the country is overstretched. More and more police officers suffer from stress-related illnesses and violence through assaults. Our constituents want more visible policing. Much is made of zero tolerance—the in phrase is hotspot policing. Whatever name we choose, for the policy to be successful, it must be manpower intensive.

We need more officers, not fewer. They will have to implement the provisions of the new Crime and Disorder Act 1998, establish community partnerships, be responsible for policing millennium events, tackle vehicle crime, make our city centres safe late at night, build on the success of Operation Bumblebee to reduce burglary and Operation Eagle Eye to reduce street robberies, and respond every hour of every day to major road traffic accidents.

Those intractable problems cannot be solved by soundbites, by local authority or private patrols, or by a sudden conversion to CCTV cameras as a cheap way out—as we heard on Tuesday. Those initiatives should support the police, not be seen as a substitute for the police. Anyone who talks to police officers regularly will know that the police service wants to do an even better job and make our communities safer. Increasingly, the police feel betrayed by a lack of support from the Government.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield drew attention to what the Police Federation rightly said—that Treasury officials had swung the axe on police budgets. Like the Police Federation, several hon. Members have predicted fewer police officers, the closure of local stations and a reduction in front-line services in their areas, and those predictions are now coming true. That is not what the people of this country voted for in May 1997, and it will weigh heavily against new Labour when it chooses to face the country in two or three years' time.

What we heard from the Home Secretary was the same old display of complacency and commitment bordering on contempt. We ask no more than that the Government should match the Conservative commitment towards the police. They should match the pledge made by the Leader of the Opposition in Reading at the weekend to halt this decline in police numbers.

Hon. Members from both sides of the House must know that chief constables, police authorities, serving police officers and their constituents are deeply concerned about falling police numbers. This afternoon they can show how much they share that concern by supporting our motion.

3.49 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)

This morning, I went straight from the BBC studios—where I engaged in a debate with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—to the streets of Peckham, where I joined two dedicated serving police officers on their patrol of a local estate. That was a necessary and salutary corrective, following my experience of debating the issue with the right hon. Gentleman. His rantings and ravings on police numbers—[Interruption.] Yes, that is what they are. The right hon. Gentleman's rantings and ravings bear no relation to what is actually happening.

While the right hon. Gentleman goes on and on about police numbers, police officers working on the ground with the public are responding to the challenge that they have been set by a Government who are determined to bring about the partnership between police and public that is the real answer to the problem of reducing and preventing crime. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 creates the necessary context—a context within which we are devoting new resources to tackling the challenges of policing as we move into the next millennium. To pretend otherwise is to live in a fantasy land—the sort of fantasy land in which the right hon. Gentleman dwells all too often for the purpose of making political points about police numbers, and which the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) sought to perpetuate.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

As my hon. Friend will know, we in Cornwall will have a particular policing problem in August, when there will be a total eclipse of the sun. Can he or our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary help in any way?

Mr. Boateng

My right hon. Friend has visited Cornwall to meet the chief constable, members of the police authority and members of the public. We shall respond in due course to the anxieties that my hon. Friend has expressed so eloquently in recent months.

Sir Norman Fowler

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng

No, not at this point.

The lesson from Devon and Cornwall is being repeated throughout the country. It suggests that police and community should come together to deliver safe and secure communities. To get hung up on the issue of police numbers, as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield does, is to miss the point. This Government are applying an unprecedented level of resources to the task of policing our country.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) demonstrated real concern about Lincolnshire, and the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) was equally concerned about Hampshire; but when we compare what Conservative Members say with what has actually happened, we see a stark contrast between the two. Under a Labour Government, Lincolnshire's budget has been increased by 4.4 per cent. That is a larger increase than it had under the Tories at any time during the last three years of their Administration. The hon. Gentleman ought to be saying thank you, rather than pointing the finger of blame at the Government. The hon. Member for Basingstoke also whinged about resources, but, under this Labour Government, his local force received a 3.3 per cent. Increase—above the national average—in its budget.

I visited Hampshire recently, and I commend the excellent work of the Hampshire police. In fact, the number of police increased by 38 in the six months between March and September 1998. That simply does not bear out the suggestion by Opposition Front Benchers that we are letting the police down. The reverse is the case.

Sir Norman Fowler

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng


What we are doing is putting the emphasis on police efficiency and effectiveness, which is where it belongs. We are pursuing an agenda that has been endorsed by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, by the Audit Commission and by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. All those bodies recognise that to see the issue in terms of numbers alone is to miss the point.

The Tories really have lost the plot in regard to the policing of our country. We are determined to pursue this debate in ways that bring communities and police closer together, and recognise the importance of the targeting initiatives that we launched in Peckham this morning. We are devoting new resources—some £5 million out of a total of £250 million—to underpinning our crime reduction strategy, in addition to the £1.24 billion settlement.

The hon. Member for Ryedale was disparaging about closed circuit television, but it is cementing a partnership not just between police and public but, importantly, between the police and the private sector. That partnership is delivering in shopping malls and public spaces up and down the country: delivering, under a Labour Government, something that a Conservative Government consistently failed to deliver. Why are we delivering that? We are delivering it because we have learned the lessons of modern policing, which are about spreading good practice and building on the excellent work that the police are doing throughout the country.

Let me give an example. We have learned from auto crime, including thefts from vehicles, that it is not enough to be reactive: it is not enough to be in the business of spouting the simple rhetoric that we hear from Conservative Members. The police must be supported in their job of gathering criminal intelligence. It is necessary to support their proactive approach, which is about disrupting the market in the supply of stolen goods and which is intelligence led and problem orientated, and about backing that up with resources that deliver. Those resources must deliver in terms of promoting a sense of well-being and security among the public, and also in terms of meeting the demand that chief constables and the men and women on the ground properly make of their Government.

What is that demand? It cannot be seen simply in terms of numbers; it also provides a context for the sort of partnership that was described by my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Basildon (Angela Smith). We are talking about people working on the ground in order to cut the ground under the criminal: people working on the ground to ensure that local authorities, through the youth service, are working not against, but alongside the police and diverting young people from crime and offending. We are talking about those who do the business of policing. That is not about rhetoric—the sort of rhetoric that we hear from Conservative Members—but about delivering a reality based on partnership between the police and the public and, importantly, on the significant resources that this Government alone have managed to deliver to the police in recent times.

Those resources mean that we are able, together, to reduce crime. They mean that we are able to prevent crime. They enable us to proceed on the basis that together we can beat crime, and undermine criminal activity. That is what we intend to do. We intend not to engage in empty rhetoric about numbers, but to engage in the serious business of delivering a strategy on the ground that reduces and prevents crime. Nothing will stop us from doing that—working with the police and the public to promote a safe and secure society.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 121, Noes 315.

Division No. 118] [4 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Fallon, Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bercow, John Fraser, Christopher
Beresford, Sir Paul Garnier, Edward
Body, Sir Richard Gibb, Nick
Boswell, Tim Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gray, James
Browning, Mrs Angela Green, Damian
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Greenway, John
Burns, Simon Grieve, Dominic
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Chapman, Sir Sydney(Chipping Barnet) Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Chope, Christopher Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Clappison, James Horam, John
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Howard, Fit Hon Michael
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Colvin, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Cormack, Sir Patrick Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Jenkin, Bernard
Curry, Rt Hon David Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden) Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Day, Stephen Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Duncan, Alan Lansley, Andrew
Faber, David Leigh, Edward
Fabricant, Michael Lidington, David
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Soames, Nicholas
Loughton, Tim Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Luff, Peter Spicer, Sir Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spring, Richard
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McIntosh, Miss Anne Streeter, Gary
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Syms, Robert
Maclean, Rt Hon David Tapsell, Sir Peter
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Malins, Humfrey Thompson, William
Maples, John Townend, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Tredinnick, David
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Trend, Michael
May, Mrs Theresa Tyrie, Andrew
Moss, Malcolm Wardle, Charles
Nicholls, Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Norman, Archie Wells, Bowen
Ottaway, Richard Whitney, Sir Raymond
Paice, James Whittingdale, John
Paterson, Owen Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Pickles, Eric Wilkinson, John
Prior, David Willetts, David
Randall, John Wilshire, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Robathan, Andrew Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Woodward, Shaun
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick Tellers for the Ayes:
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Mr. Tim Collins and
Shepherd, Richard Mr. Oliver Heald.
Abbott, Ms Diane Butler, Mrs Christine
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Allan, Richard Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies(NE Fife)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Canavan, Dennis
Atherton, Ms Candy Caplin, Ivor
Atkins, Charlotte Casale, Roger
Austin, John Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Baker, Norman Chaytor, David
Ballard, Jackie Chidgey, David
Banks, Tony Chisholm, Malcolm
Barnes, Harry Clapham, Michael
Barron, Kevin Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Battle, John Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bayley, Hugh Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Beard, Nigel Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clwyd, Ann
Begg, Miss Anne Coaker, Vernon
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Coleman, Iain
Bennett, Andrew F Connarty, Michael
Benton, Joe Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bermingham, Gerald Cooper, Yvette
Berry, Roger Corbett, Robin
Best, Harold Corbyn, Jeremy
Betts, Clive Corston, Ms Jean
Blackman, Liz Cotter, Brian
Blears, Ms Hazel Cousins, Jim
Boateng, Paul Cox, Tom
Borrow, David Cranston, Ross
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Crausby, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Brake, Tom Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Browne, Desmond Dalyell, Tam
Buck, Ms Karen Darvill, Keith
Burden, Richard Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Burgon, Colin Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Burstow, Paul Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Dean, Mrs Janet Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Denham, John Khabra, Piara S
Dismore, Andrew King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dobbin, Jim King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Doran, Frank Kingham, Ms Tess
Dowd, Jim Kumar, Dr Ashok
Drew, David Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Laxton, Bob
Edwards, Huw Leslie, Christopher
Efford, Clive Levitt, Tom
Ellman, Mrs Louise Linton, Martin
Etherington, Bill Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Fatchett, Rt Hon Derek Love, Andrew
Fearn, Ronnie McAllion, John
Field, Rt Hon Frank McAvoy, Thomas
Fisher, Mark McCafferty, Ms Chris
Fitzpatrick, Jim McDonagh, Siobhain
Fitzsimons, Loma Macdonald, Calum
Flint, Caroline McGuire, Mrs Anne
Flynn, Paul McIsaac, Shona
Follett, Barbara McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath) McLeish, Henry
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Mactaggart, Fiona
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McWalter, Tony
Foulkes, George Mallaber, Judy
Fyfe, Maria Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Galloway, George Marek, Dr John
Gapes, Mike Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gerrard, Neil Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Gibson, Dr Ian Martlew, Eric
Godman, Dr Norman A Maxton, John
Gorrie, Donald Merron, Gillian
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Grocott, Bruce Mitchell, Austin
Grogan, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Moore, Michael
Hancock, Mike Moran, Ms Margaret
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Morley, Elliot
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mountford, Kali
Hepburn, Stephen Mudie, George
Heppell, John Mullin, Chris
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hill, Keith Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hoey, Kate Naysmith, Dr Doug
Home Robertson, John Oaten, Mark
Hoon, Geoffrey O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hope, Phil O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hopkins, Kelvin O'Hara, Eddie
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Olner, Bill
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Öpik, Lembit
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Organ, Mrs Diana
Humble, Mrs Joan Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hurst, Alan Palmer, Dr Nick
Iddon, Dr Brian Pearson, Ian
Illsley, Eric Perham, Ms Linda
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pickthall, Colin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pike, Peter L
Jamieson, David Plaskitt, James
Jenkins, Brian Pollard, Kerry
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pond, Chris
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pope, Greg
Jones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW) Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Keeble, Ms Sally Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prosser, Gwyn
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Purchase, Ken
Kelly, Ms Ruth Rammell, Bill
Kemp, Fraser Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick Stinchcombe, Paul
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Stoate, Dr Howard
Rendel, David Stott, Roger
Roche, Mrs Barbara Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Rooker, Jeff Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Rooney, Terry Stringer, Graham
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Rowlands, Ted Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Ruddock, Joan Temple-Morris, Peter
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ryan, Ms Joan Timms, Stephen
Salter, Martin Tipping, Paddy
Sanders, Adrian Todd, Mark
Savidge, Malcolm Tonge, Dr Jenny
Sawford, Phil Touhig, Don
Sedgemore, Brian Trickett, Jon
Shaw, Jonathan Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Sheerman, Barry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Shipley, Ms Debra Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Singh, Marsha Tyler, Paul
Skinner, Dennis Vis, Dr Rudi
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Miss Geraldine(Morecambe & Lunesdale) Watts, David
White, Brian
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Snape, Peter Wills, Michael
Soley, Clive Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Southworth, Ms Helen Wood, Mike
Spellar, John Worthington, Tony
Squire, Ms Rachel Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George Tellers for the Noes:
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Mr. David Hanson and
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Mr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House pays tribute to the high standards of policing in this country; notes that the previous administration's promises in 1992 and 1995 of an additional 6,000 police officers were never carried through and that police numbers instead fell; welcomes the additional £1.24 billion for the police service and the extra £400 million for the crime reduction programme which are to be provided over the next three years; supports the police in their crucial role in tackling crime and creating safer communities; and recognises the need for the police, as with other public services, to continue to improve efficiency and effectiveness and deliver best value in the interests of the whole country.

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