Home Office Questions

Nick takes questions as Minister of State for Policing

Police (Administrative Duties)

5. Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. [61831]

7. Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. [61834]

11. Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. [61838]

19. Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. [61846]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The police should be focusing on police work, not paperwork. That is why, last month, the Government announced a package of new measures to cut red tape, saving up to 2.5 million police hours a year.

Anne Marie Morris: I thank the Minister for that response and I am sure that my constituents will welcome measures that will cut the time that our police officers have to spend on paperwork and administration. I wonder whether the Minister would kindly update the House on what steps are being taken to improve the accountability of the police.

Nick Herbert: We want to improve the accountability of the police and the whole criminal justice system to the public and we are proceeding with our plan to introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners to do that-those measures are currently under discussion in the Lords-and measures such as the introduction of street level crime mapping. The police.uk website has received more than 420 million hits since its launch.

Andrew Jones: How will the introduction of police and crime commissioners help further to reduce the admin burden?

Nick Herbert: I believe that elected police and crime commissioners will have a very strong focus on reducing the burden of bureaucracy and administration in their forces precisely because they will feel pressure from their electorate to ensure that resources are directed to the front line. We are also placing police and crime commissioners under a duty to collaborate and I am sure that they will work together to drive out unnecessary costs from their forces.

Nadhim Zahawi: Warwickshire police in my constituency are pushing forward with innovative changes to its policing model to allow more police to be out on the streets doing what they are supposed to be doing. It is also implementing new technology to allow officers to file paperwork without having to return to their desks. Could the Home Secretary or the Minister tell us what progress has been made in implementing similar changes in other-

Mr Speaker: Order. We are grateful. We have got it.

Nick Herbert: I welcome the steps being taken by Warwickshire police in this area and I would happily visit the force to look at what it is doing. We want to make sure that new technology is used in that way by police forces. We have inherited the problem that there is still multiple keying of data into different systems by police officers, as I heard this morning for myself, which is wasting their time. We still have 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 forces, which we have to converge and we have a programme to achieve that.

Alec Shelbrooke: What action has my right hon. Friend taken to reduce the bureaucracy that has historically inhibited the neighbourhood policing team in my constituency town of Garforth from moving on illegal Traveller encampments?

Nick Herbert: I would like to have a further discussion with my hon. Friend about what obstacles there are to that. We certainly want to ensure that the police are able to exercise their existing powers to move on Travellers who are in illegal occupation of sites, which is totally unacceptable and antisocial. We believe that the powers are there; if there are impediments or if the force is encountering some difficulty, I would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend about that.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Why are the Government increasing the administrative burden on the police by making them apply to a magistrates court to retain the DNA of those suspected of serious criminal offences? Surely, the retention of that DNA should be automatic. Is the Minister going to rethink this in time for the Bill's Report stage?

Nick Herbert: We have to strike the right balance between civil liberties and the effectiveness of these crime-fighting tools, but it would simply be wrong to characterise the Government's approach as increasing the burden on police. We are returning charging decisions to the police and our aim is that 70% of all decisions will now be made by police without having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service, so we are giving more discretion and control to the police and we are reducing bureaucracy.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister accept that some of the reporting requirements placed on police are about accounting for the very serious powers that we give them to act on our behalf? In the past, a lack of such requirements led to deaths in custody, stop-and-search practices and other things that brought the police into disrepute. How is the Minister going to make sure that he achieves the balance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and not allowing the police to go back to old ways?

Nick Herbert: I accept the force of what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we have proper processes and accountability, but we must trust officers as trained professionals to exercise their discretion and we need a proportionate approach to risk-taking. The stop-and-search form is a good example, because we have reduced the amount of data required, not scrapped it entirely. That will save hundreds of thousands of hours of officer time, but it will still keep in place important safeguards to ensure community confidence in policing.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): On the question of that balance, I understand that Greater Manchester police are talking of removing face-to-face access for the public at police stations. On top of the 620 support posts that have had to be removed, does the Minister not see that the 20% cuts are now leading to a degradation in service that will cause a loss of confidence in the police?

Nick Herbert: I do not accept that there will be degradation of service in Greater Manchester, and I do not believe that the chief constable would either. He has talked about the fact that the headquarters' staff in his force got too big and about the savings that can be achieved. As we have said, there are many innovative ways for the police to make contact with their communities that do not necessarily involve an attachment to old buildings. Forces around the country are sharing community centres and shop premises, increasing the contact time that they have with the public as a result. The number of visits to police stations can be very low.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Home Secretary says that she is saving 1,200 police officer posts by cutting red tape, but we know that 12,000 police officers are being axed across the country. Of the six measures to cut bureaucracy, one has not been taken up by the national statistician and four are pilots. Is not the real truth that the scale and pace of the cuts is slashing front-line policing, not red tape, as we know in Warwickshire? What will be the administrative saving in this financial year as we see the deepest front-loaded front-line cuts?

Nick Herbert: I have said that the package of measures that we announced recently would save another 2.5 million hours of officer time, equivalent to 1,200 police officer posts, and we will go further with, for instance, more efficiencies in the criminal justice system. We will take no lectures from the Opposition about bureaucracy. It was they who tied up the police in this red tape with their targets, directions, policing pledge and constant interference, and it has fallen on this Government to reduce that bureaucracy and ensure that police officers can be crime fighters, not form writers.

Police Numbers

6. Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely number of police officers in 2012. [61833]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): It is for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers who are deployed within the available resource.

Jack Dromey: Crime is once again rising in the west midlands as police numbers fall, with hundreds of Birmingham's and Britain's best police officers being forced to retire under regulation A19, some as young as 48 years of age. Does the Home Secretary accept any responsibility, including for the latest casualty of Government cuts, the head of the west midlands counter-terrorism unit?

Nick Herbert: The detective chief superintendent to whom the hon. Gentleman referred has said:

"I have always fully appreciated the reasons why West Midlands Police is implementing A19".

That was a procedure that the last Labour Government chose to retain. Police officers are not being made redundant under this procedure, they are retiring with a full pension having completed 30 years of service. It is for chief constables to take the decisions about how best to deploy their resources, and unlike the hon. Gentleman I will not second-guess the chief constable on that.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Does the Minister of State agree that I am lucky to represent a London constituency where we can see the reality of Conservativism in power? In 2012, after four years of Mayor Johnson, there will be more police officers in London than there were after eight years of Mayor Livingstone.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend makes a good point, on which the Opposition should perhaps reflect. A directly elected individual who has responsibility for policing is working hard to ensure that resources get to the front line. He has sought to maintain police numbers, and is protecting neighbourhood policing for the benefit of Londoners. It is a very good example of direct democracy in action.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that the police are only as effective as the teams that support them? If he has been in the intelligence room of a police station, as I have in the Huddersfield station, he will know that it is not a back-office function that can be wiped away. Those intelligence teams are under threat, and the police cannot work without them.

Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that the idea of one police force, which Tom Winsor, who is leading the independent review of police pay and conditions, has talked about, is a good one. Police staff play an important role in modern police forces, which we should understand. Nevertheless, there has been a very big growth in the number of police staff in recent years, which has proved unsustainable. Around 25,000 police officers are working not on the front line, but in back and middle offices. That is something to which chief constables need to pay attention.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, despite a challenging settlement this year, Thames Valley police are not cutting the number of front-line police officers, despite misleading information being put out locally by the Labour party after it was briefed to the contrary by the chief constable. Does he agree that it is possible to cut back-office functions, rather than front-line policing?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree. Thames Valley police are taking decisions about how to make savings and work more efficiently in many areas so that they can protect the front line, and that is what forces up and down the country are doing. A good example is the collaboration between Thames Valley police and Hampshire police on a range of functions. That is the sort of thing we want to see extended across the country.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Notwithstanding the Minister's answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) on police cuts in London, can he explain why the Mayor, Boris Johnson, is cutting 1,800 officers in the next two years from London's police force, including 300 sergeants, which will result in cuts to local safer neighbourhood teams? The Mayor is also proposing to reduce the minimum number of officers in each safer neighbourhood team from the current level of six, and I have seen a letter from one commander stating that police community support officers will not be replaced as they become fully-fledged police officers. Does the Minister accept that safer neighbourhood teams in London face being cut by stealth? Should he not get to the Dispatch Box and apologise to the people of London, on behalf of the Government and the Mayor, for cutting the number of front-line police officers?

Nick Herbert: The Labour party simply cannot stand the fact that the Mayor of London has said that he will enter the next mayoral election with more police officers than he inherited. He has made that pledge and is protecting safer neighbourhood teams. Of course there are sensible arrangements whereby some sergeants are being shared, but the number of officers in safer neighbourhood teams is being protected. It is possible, as the Mayor has shown, alongside the leadership of the Met, to protect front-line policing while having to deliver significant savings. The hon. Gentleman-

Mr Speaker: Order. I think we have got the general gist.

Topical Questions

T3. [61855] Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): At the beginning of this year, Lancashire constabulary spent £200,000 refurbishing Fulwood police station in my constituency, only to earmark it for closure the following month. Does not that waste of money show that with good leadership and good management, it is possible to save money without affecting front-line services?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I agree with my hon. Friend about protecting front-line services and I note that the chief constable of Lancashire constabulary said in March that

"the public can be reassured that we are leaving no stone unturned in our non-frontline services to take money out where we can."

That is the right approach. It is possible, by making those savings in the back and middle offices, to protect the quality of front-line services for the public.

T8. [61860] Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Last week, members of the associate parliamentary group for animal welfare had a meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss dangerous dogs. Has the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice had a chance to listen to the briefing from lead police officers on that continuing problem? Will he be so kind as to meet me and members of the associate parliamentary group to discuss the matter in due course?

Nick Herbert: No, I have not had the briefing, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue. It is a very serious matter, which can result in harm to people. The police have to deal with it and, of course, we will ensure that they have the right powers to do that.

T6. [61858] Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Cheshire police have successfully made £13 million of efficiency savings while maintaining front-line services and dramatically cutting crime. Does the Home Secretary agree that that superb achievement highlights a fundamental difference between this Government and the last? While Labour judges things by how much is spent, we focus on the services delivered.

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I visited Cheshire police a few weeks ago and was impressed by what they are doing to drive savings and, in particular, by a pilot scheme that they are running in Runcorn, which returns discretion to police officers and improves the service to the public. In the pilot, when police officers are dealing with an offence, they are asked to look at the causes of that offence-

Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I think we will take that as a yes and perhaps make some progress.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): This Friday, the Metropolitan Police Authority will consider a report that, if agreed, would halve the number of safer neighbourhood team sergeants in my constituency. If the Minister is so adamant that police numbers in London will not be reduced, what will he do stop the planned reductions in Lewisham?

Nick Herbert: I repeat the point that the Mayor has said that he wishes to get to the next election with more police officers than he inherited in London-he has clearly stated that ambition. How those officers are deployed is an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his team, but he is protecting the number of police constables in the safer neighbourhood teams. It is quite right that he should seek to drive savings and efficiencies. I am sorry that Opposition Members simply do not understand the importance of that.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): May I return to the Policing Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), which was just not good enough? Many of my constituents consider a public front-desk facility at a police station or police post as part of the front line, so what can the Minister do to reassure the people of Greater Manchester that they will have face-to-face contact with their police service when they need it?

Nick Herbert: We are strongly in favour of police forces providing face-to-face contact in all sorts of innovative ways. However, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends simply will not bequeathing to the country the deficit that we now have to deal with, and which means that we have to make savings-police forces have to make those savings, too, and protect the front line at the same time.

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27 June 2011

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