Opposition Day Debate on Policing and Crime

Nick closes the debate as Minister for Policing on behalf of the Government

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We have had a typical debate on policing this evening, in which Government Members have spoken with knowledge about policing in their local areas and offered constructive suggestions on how policing could be improved and, as usual, Labour Members have simply sought to play politics, as they have in every debate that they have called.

I begin by mentioning what I believe all of us should agree about-the value of the police in our country, the contribution that they make and the need for us to support them. I note in particular the tribute that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) paid to PC Nigel Albuery, who was stabbed on duty last week serving the Metropolitan police. His service, and what he went through, reminds us of the importance of the job that the police do, which we must recognise is frequently difficult and dangerous. Police officers, of course, cannot strike. It is therefore important-I say this in response to hon. Members on both sides of the House-that we treat police officers properly and value their service. However, none of that means that the Government do not have to take the difficult decisions that it is necessary to confront at the moment.

I agreed strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) on criticism of the police, which was levelled, for instance, in relation to the disorder in London in past weeks. He made the point that the police are so often damned if they do and damned if they do not. This Government have sought not to join in with that criticism, but instead, we have offered support for both the leadership of the police and the officers who did their job on the ground in difficult and trying circumstances. Many of those officers were injured, and we believe that criticism should be levelled at, and reserved for, the people who perpetrated that violence. It is simply wrong-headed to criticise the police for the action that they took.

I am afraid that Opposition Members continue not to accept the fact that we must deal with the deficit, which means that we must take tough decisions. It is quite clear that Opposition would be simply unwilling to take those decisions-meaning decisions on the public sector. Do the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Policing and Criminal Justice Minister really think that it helps to criticise chief constables as they seek to take the inevitable and difficult decisions to protect front-line services and restructure their forces? That does not help those chief constables at all.

The Opposition pretend, both to the police and to the public, that their policy would be completely different from ours, but as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, their policy is to cut, this year, £7 of every £8 that we would cut. As the shadow Home Secretary has been forced to admit, the Opposition would cut £1 billion a year from police budgets. She must be the only person in this country who thinks it possible to cut £1 billion from police budgets without any reduction in the work force. How on earth does she think such savings can be realised?

Of course, there will be savings from reducing the work force. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary was quite clear that cuts would be made across legal and investigation services, and in estates, criminal justice, custody, training, intelligence, business support and community policing. That is where HMIC said savings must be realised. Why do the Opposition believe it possible to reduce spending on the police by £1 billion a year-their policy-and yet pretend to police officers and staff that not a single job would be lost? Frankly, in taking that position, they are not being straight to police officers and their staff about what would happen.

That is very different to the position taken by the former shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). When he was Home Secretary, he at least had the honesty to admit that Labour could not maintain numbers. He admitted that, but the current shadow Home Secretary will not admit it. The truth is that she has absolutely no idea how that £1 billion of savings would be achieved. Let me give her an example from the HMIC report. The inspector talks about the importance of making savings from collaboration. He says:

"Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces anticipate savings of"

£1.5 million

"from joint work on scientific support, major crime, firearms, a single dog unit and a single professional standards department."

Yvette Cooper rose-

Nick Herbert: I am not going to give way. [Hon. Members: "Give way!"] No. I gave way to the right hon. Lady last time, and she abused that privilege. I am not going to give way to her again. How does the right hon. Lady think that Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire could make these savings other than by reducing the number of people?

Yvette Cooper rose-

Nick Herbert: Those forces talk about a single dog unit. Does the right hon. Lady think they are just cutting the number-[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Members must not try to drown out the Minister of State. He must be heard. If he wants to give way, he will, but if not, he must continue.

Nick Herbert: With only a few minutes to go, I will not give way.

The Labour party does not wish to admit to police officers and the public that it, too, would be cutting budgets, staff and police pay. In her speech, the right hon. Lady criticised a police force that was having to cut its overtime bill. What does she think a cut in overtime is if not a cut in police pay? Frankly, the Opposition's position is one of nothing more than shameless opportunism. Government Members know exactly what we have to do.

Incredibly, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), the right hon. Lady said, "We have had this debate before". Yes we have, and she has called it before, and several times she has come to the Dispatch Box and repeated her constant claim about police cuts, but in all her speeches what has she actually said about policing policy? What has she said on any of these issues?

Yvette Cooper rose -

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady has had her opportunity already because she has called three debates, but what has she said about policing policy? She has said nothing about serious organised crime. She has said nothing about procurement and IT, on which we argue that savings can be found. We say that nearly £400 million of savings can be made through better procurement and IT. What is the Opposition's policy on that? They are silent. They have nothing to say on that.

Yvette Cooper rose -

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady has never mentioned it in her speeches. She opposes the two-year pay freeze that we are asking the whole public sector to apply, and which will save a considerable sum in policing. Why is she opposing the two-year pay freeze and then arguing that we have not identified how to make the savings? Of course we have.

Yvette Cooper: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In your experience, is it parliamentary procedure and parliamentary protocol for a Member to make so many comments about the shadow Home Secretary and not allow them to intervene to respond?

Mr Speaker: It is the responsibility of the Member on his or her feet to decide whether, and if so when, to allow an intervention.

Nick Herbert: That time-wasting intervention has just shown exactly why it is not necessary or proper to give way to the right hon. Lady.

The Labour party, particularly the shadow Home Secretary, have absolutely no credibility on policing policy, because it has nothing to say about it. What is her position on the Winsor reform proposal that police officers should be paid more for working antisocial hours? Is she in favour of or against that? She will not say. What is her policy on the Winsor proposal that police officers should be rewarded for the skills they show? She does not know, she has not said, and she will not say, because the Opposition have no credible policy on policing issues. What has she said about bureaucracy? Absolutely nothing at all. We know that Labour created it, and we are determined to sweep it away.

The Government are determined to fight crime, and we are determined to support the police. We are determined to give the police and others new powers to fight antisocial behaviour. We will create a new national crime agency to strengthen the fight against serious crime. We will cut targets and trust professionals by giving them the freedom to do their job. We will sweep away the bureaucracy that Labour imposed.

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23 May 2011

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