HC Deb 16 June 2003 vol 407 cc6-8
4. Clive Efford (Eltham)

What assessment he has made of the impact on local police forces of the extraction of police officers for security in central London. [119014]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

May I first, for myself and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, welcome the rest of our Front-Bench team? I also wish my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins)—the only other male in the team—a very happy 50th birthday

The day-to-day deployment of the service is in the hands of the commissioner. We recognise that there is a real issue concerning the deployment of staff to counter potential terrorist acts. That is why we have allocated £62 million this year, and 300 community support officers have been specifically deployed so that their work and surveillance can complement that of the police.

Clive Efford

I appreciate that it is difficult to address heightened security in central London. However, the abstraction of officers from local police forces is having a debilitating effect on their strategies to deal with antisocial behaviour and other crimes in our communities. The people of Eltham and Plumstead deserve as much security in their homes and communities as do those in central London. In approaching this issue in future, might it be possible to scrutinise the abstraction of officers to ensure that they are taken only for essential services, because their abstraction is having a damaging effect locally?

Mr. Blunkett

In spite of the additional resources that I have just mentioned, the deployment of community support officers and the additional 2,000 officers in the Metropolitan police over the 18 months to last September, there is undoubtedly a problem. I raised that problem with the Met commissioner last week, and the police are monitoring the situation and developing graphs showing the incidence of street crimes, burglary, vehicle crime and crime in other targeted areas in relation to the number of officers available.

In the boroughs, an average of eight or nine officers are being taken out each week for the present surveillance in central London. The commissioner and I believe that we need to examine the situation further and to ensure that complementary work is done by those examining the danger of terrorism and those undertaking normal day-to-day duties. I am keen to reassure my hon. Friend that we are on top of the situation and are demonstrating that more police, more visible police and more back-up from community support officers make a difference, but that we must make that difference not only in central London, where crime has dropped dramatically, but in boroughs such as my hon. Friend's.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington)

I am glad that the Secretary of State recognises that there is a problem. Is he aware that it is persistent in the London borough of Bromley and that it was made worse recently when we learned that the number of additional police officers we were expecting this year has been halved due to what is called a funding crisis in the Metropolitan police? Is he aware of that funding crisis, and what can he tell the House about it?

Mr. Blunkett

One person's crisis is another person's opportunity: the opportunity to employ 1,200 extra police this coming year and the opportunity to employ 500 additional community support officers—a large number. In the mid-1990s, in the days when the Opposition were starting the process of running down the police force, the crisis was a reality because fewer police meant a crisis on the streets. If more police, more CSOs and more visibility is a crisis, the word has taken on an entirely different meaning.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Is the Home Secretary aware that the extraction of police from other local forces seriously affects Sussex police, who continue to lose high-grade and experienced officers to the Met through its predatory approach? Will he turn his attention to the fact that, although that may be good for the Met, it is very bad for Sussex police?

Mr. Blunkett

Just three years ago, the drain away from the Metropolitan police was reaching dangerous levels. The reversal of that has of course placed strain on forces immediately outside London, which is why now, and through our continuing conversations with chief constables, we are doing everything possible to achieve a balance by appropriate measures and rewards, including housing, for the most affected authorities.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

I join in the Home Secretary's welcome to his team, and especially in his birthday greetings to the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins). If the hon. Gentleman does not yet look his age, doing that job he soon will.

Do not the figures show clearly that, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, removing police officers from one area to deal with problems in another simply creates a vacuum for crime? Extraction as routine practice rather than in dire emergency is merely a measure of the fact that not enough police officers are available; so does the Secretary of State accept, as his speech last week appeared to, our proposals and policies for dedicated neighbourhood policing, with specific career and accountability structures to ensure that the police really are where our constituents expect to see them—on the streets?

Mr. Blunkett

After 11 September 2001, it was inevitable that there would be extraction; there had to be, in order to redeploy to meet a particular problem. That was stepped up again to meet people's fears of reaction to the conflict in Iraq. I have already demonstrated that the commissioner and I are keen to take a further look at the matter and to ensure that the improvement in inner London has not been made to the detriment of those in the outer boroughs.

I can do nothing other than accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures on neighbourhood policing, because, on 5 December 2001, I published a White Paper that spelt out clearly that that was the Government's objective. We have been gratified to learn both from the commissioner and from chief constables that there is recognition that the switch away from neighbourhood and community policing a decade ago was a mistake.