Home Office Questions

Nick takes questions as Minister of State for Policing

5. Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): What recent steps she has taken to make police forces more accountable to local residents. [13086]

8. Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble) (Con): What recent steps she has taken to make police forces more accountable to local people. [13089]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The introduction of elected police and crime commissioners to hold their chief constable and force to account through a strong public mandate will restore the connection between the police and the people, ensuring that the police are held to account democratically, not bureaucratically by Whitehall.


Mark Lancaster: Government attempts to make police forces more accountable to local people are welcome. Thames Valley police has decided to scrap the basic command unit. In the light of that, how does the Minister intend to ensure that central resources previously held by the basic command unit will still be allocated fairly across Thames Valley police? 


Nick Herbert: Decisions on whether to continue with the basic command unit structure within forces are a matter for chief constables to decide, and not one on which the Government have taken a view. I appreciate my hon. Friend's concerns about resources and am happy to discuss them with him and to find out from the chief constable when I next see her, which will be this week, what she plans to do to allay them.

Lorraine Fullbrook: Does my right hon. Friend agree that a partnership between the police force and the local community is the best way to tackle crime?

Hon. Members: Thanks for that!

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I know that Opposition Members will also strongly agree. The police, important though they are, cannot fight alone. It is essential that they work in partnership with the public and local authorities to prevent and drive down crime.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I thank the Home Secretary for banning the English Defence League march in Bradford. She listened to the calls of local residents and the police and was right to support the banning order. However, that was for a march, and a static demonstration happened. Can we look at the legislation again to see whether we can stop even the static demonstrations, which cost taxpayers a huge amount of money?

Nick Herbert: As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are considering peaceful protest and ensuring that rights of peaceful protest in this country are protected. However, extremist activity, or activity that can inflame and damage communities, is not acceptable. We will ensure that we achieve the right balance in relation to peaceful protest.

Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab): If the Conservative party believes so fervently in direct accountability, why is the unelected deputy Mayor chairing the London Metropolitan Police Authority?

Nick Herbert: It is entirely a matter for the Mayor whether he wishes to delegate those functions. That is permissible in London, but ultimately the buck stops with the Mayor and Londoners know that.

Alan Johnson: Yes, well, it is not very reassuring that the most prominent, high-profile Conservative Mayor-the Minister and I agree that the Mayor should take responsibility for the police-steps down and allows his unelected deputy to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority. That person, Kit Malthouse, says that chief constables are "mini-governors" who "control a standing army". Does the Minister agree with that? Does he think it right that the deputy Mayor of London should chair the Metropolitan Police Authority when he says that elected commissioners would be able to "wield the rod" over chief constables? Is that the purpose of the reforms?

Nick Herbert: First, I should say that the Labour Government's legislation introduced the arrangements that allow for the transfer of functions to the deputy Mayor. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have changed his mind about that. On our proposals, he knows that we want to enhance the accountability of local policing. Police will remain operationally independent.

"Strong, transparent accountability is vital for community confidence"-

they are not my words but those of the previous Government's Green Paper when they proposed direct accountability and then reneged on that pledge.


6. Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): What recent representations she has received on the proportion of police officers' time spent on administrative tasks. [13087]

16. Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What recent representations she has received on the proportion of police officers' time spent on administrative tasks. [13098]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I have spoken to many officers about the time that they have to spend filling out forms. The Government are committed to reducing bureaucracy so that the police can get back on to the streets and deal with crime.

Nadhim Zahawi: In Warwickshire, our police force has to deal with 1.5 million phone calls over and above the emergency calls every year, and rightly so. Does my right hon. Friend know that, under the previous Government, the police spent more time on paperwork than on patrolling the streets? That is wrong.

Nick Herbert: I appreciate the burden that non-emergency calls place on police forces. The Government are investigating how we can take forward a plan for a national non-emergency number, which I think will improve the service to the public. We are committed to reducing bureaucracy. We have already scrapped the policing pledge and the previous Government's targets. We want to ensure that police officers can be out on the streets where the public want to see them.

Karen Lumley: I understand that in my constituency of Redditch, much progress has been made on reducing the time that police spend on administrative tasks, and I appreciate that paperwork is necessary. However, the number of robberies and other theft offences has risen in Redditch since 2007. Does the Minister agree that such crime could be significantly reduced if the police were given more time on the beat and spent less time filling in forms?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend and understand her concern about those crimes. A recent report of the inspectorate of constabulary found that the police were visible and available to the community for an average of only about 10% of the time because they are too tied up in bureaucracy. We must tackle that.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister start to collect statistics on how long the police have to wait in court to give evidence? If his Government start slashing the Crown Prosecution Service budget, closing courts and reducing civilian officers, will that waiting time not grow longer?

Nick Herbert: The fact is that we have one of the most expensive criminal justice systems in the world. The test of its effectiveness is not the amount of money that we spend on it, but how efficient it is. Tomorrow I shall discuss with the inspectorate of constabulary the administrative and bureaucratic obstacles that impact on the police in inefficient court processes, which we must tackle.


9. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): How much central funding for police forces she plans to provide in 2011-12. [13090]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Future funding for the police service will be announced in the spending review, which reports on 20 October. I cannot speculate on the outcome of this review, but the Government's priority is to cut the deficit, and the police must play their part in achieving this.

Mary Creagh: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. He has already cut the police budget in year by £125 million, the equivalent of approximately 4,000 police jobs. If he is to make a 25% cut as the comprehensive spending review requires, it will be a cut of some £1.1 billion, the equivalent of some 40,000 police jobs. Can he confirm that that is the order of magnitude of the cuts that he is looking at? A simple yes or no will do.


Nick Herbert: The hon. Lady is just speculating. In relation to the in-year cut to which she objects, it is important to understand that it represents less than 1% of what the police will spend this year, and our view is that the police can find those efficiencies and make the savings. In relation to further cuts, there will have to be savings, but the independent inspectorate of constabulary said a few weeks ago that police forces could save more than £1 billion a year-equivalent to 12% of spending-without having an impact on the front line.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): This morning, at the invitation of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), I visited Medway and was shown two innovative, award-winning schemes pioneered by the police there to combat prostitution and to ensure effective offender management. The chief constable of Kent told me that if the envisaged cuts of 20% are put in place, 1,500 jobs will be lost in Kent and £35 million will come off his budget. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the schemes that I saw today, and others all over the country, will be protected? Could he at the very least give police authorities an early idea of the budget constraints they will have to deal with, as 25 October is quite a long way away?


Nick Herbert: The right hon. Gentleman invites me to speculate ahead of the spending review outcome, and he knows that I cannot do that. We will know fairly shortly what sums of money will be available to police forces, but it will be necessary for them to make savings, and it will be up to chief constables to achieve greater efficiencies and more collaboration between forces. The inspectorate is clear that those efficiencies can be made.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what bid he has made to the Treasury for police funding for future years? How many fewer police officers does he expect to see on the streets in two years' time if the proposed settlement is achieved? Ultimately, is he battling for the police or implementing the axe for the Treasury?

Nick Herbert: What is clear is that the Opposition still have not faced up to their responsibility for bequeathing us the fiscal deficit. They left us with £44 billion of unspecified spending cuts. The shadow Home Secretary told "The Daily Politics" show on 20 July, in debate with me:

"We would have cut by £1 billion; yes, we would have cut by 12%."

But Labour voted against a spending cut of 0.5%. It demonstrates that it-

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the Minister. "The Daily Politics" is a fascinating programme, but I do not want to hear about the dilations of Opposition spokesmen on it, because the purpose of Question Time is to hear about the policies of the Government.


12. Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): What the recorded crime rate was in (a) 1997 and (b) 2010. [13094]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): In 1997, the police in England and Wales recorded a rate of 88 crimes per 1,000 head of the population. For the year ending March 2010, the rate was 79 crimes per 1,000 head of the population.


Karl Turner: Does the Minister share the concerns of Tim Hollis, the chief constable of my area, when he warns that cuts of 25% to his budget would lead to cuts in officer numbers, which would mean that crime figures would be likely to increase as a result of measures taken by the coalition Government?


Nick Herbert: No, I do not agree. We believe that the police must accept their share of the savings necessary to deal with the deficit that was bequeathed to this Government by the previous Government's reckless mismanagement of the economy.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that during the last year of the previous Government, police numbers in the Humberside force-the one that serves my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner)-fell by 150? There are nevertheless still concerns about how to move forward on this issue. Can we have an assurance that when we eventually restructure police organisation, rural policing will be treated with as much importance as city centre policing has been in the past?

Nick Herbert: First, my hon. Friend is right that police numbers were falling in a number of forces under the previous Government, so their feigned outrage about it now cuts little ice. I understand my hon. Friend's concern about rural policing, as do many of us who represent rural areas, and we appreciate the need to ensure effective policing in both rural and urban areas.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The Minister will have taken advice in preparing his submissions to the Treasury on the potential impact on crime of cutting police funding. What was that advice and will he share it with the House?

Nick Herbert: We do not accept that the police cannot make savings. That seems to me to be the point of difference between the Government and the Opposition on this issue. Like other public services, the police will have to spend money more efficiently. We are committed to ensuring that resources reach the front line and to doing everything we can to reduce bureaucracy, but police forces must find new ways of working-by collaborating and so forth-to ensure that they deliver good value for the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman should understand the importance of wise spending rather than big spending.


Topical Questions

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Last week, Brooke Kinsella visited the Corner House youth project in Stockton, which has been very successful in highlighting, through talks and special activities, the dangers associated with knives. Will the Minister consider implementing similar programmes in constituencies such as mine which, tragically, have only recently once again had a serious knife crime incident?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The Government are grateful for the work of Brooke Kinsella in considering how we can deter young people from carrying knives, and she will be reporting to us later this year. We are interested in successful schemes such as that which my hon. Friend describes, and if he will send me further information on it, I will gladly study it.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Last week on ITV a programme about community payback showed offenders on community payback smoking cannabis and not being properly supervised. How can we be sure that community payback means exactly that?

Nick Herbert: I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House who saw that programme will have been angered, as I was, by the scenes depicted where offenders were, frankly, sticking two fingers up at the criminal justice system and smoking cannabis. They were not being properly supervised. That is being investigated, and we must have confidence that these community sentences are administered rigorously.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Will the Secretary of State tell us what representations have been received from police and members of the youth offending teams regarding their concerns about youth offenders who do not comply with the licence conditions, in particular, the community element, of detention and training orders?

Nick Herbert: I am not aware that we have received any representations about these orders, but the same argument as before applies: it is essential that they are administered properly, that they are completed and that the public can have confidence in sentences containing a community element. We will be publishing a sentencing review later this year, and I will also discuss these issues with the Youth Justice Board.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Police community support officers have become an essential part of local communities in Nottingham and elsewhere, so what reassurance can the Minister offer on this matter to my constituents, who are worried that the cuts in policing proposed by the Government will lead to a reduction in their number?

Nick Herbert: We share the hon. Lady's support for PCSOs, which we believe are an important part of the policing family. We are determined that police forces should make efficiencies and savings, and that the front line of policing will be protected.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The Minister will be aware of the awful case, widely reported at the weekend, of Sergeant Mark Andrews of the Wiltshire constabulary who was convicted of a serious assault on my constituent, Miss Pamela Somerville, when she was incorrectly in police custody. Will Ministers take a look at the rules, regulations and protocols covering police cells to make sure that that kind of outrageous event cannot occur again?

Nick Herbert: It is essential that offenders taken into custody are treated and supervised properly. I will happily look at the matter and ensure that we have adequate systems in place to ensure that is the case.

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6 September 2010

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