Home Office Questions 06/02/2012
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked-
11. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the level of police morale. 
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The police do one of the most important jobs in this country with great courage and commitment. As the service faces challenges, we will do all we can to reduce bureaucracy, promote professionalism and make it easier for officers to do their job.
"Put more police on the streets and they'll catch more criminals. It's not rocket science is it?"
So said the Minister's party's 2005 manifesto. We have morale at rock bottom, police numbers are to be cut by 16,000 and personal crime is up 11%. When exactly did his party become so weak on law and order?
Nick Herbert: What hon. Members still do not seem to understand is the importance of deployment and what officers are doing. According to the latest figures from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, the proportion of the policing work force who are on the front line is increasing.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): May I read the House a quote from the chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Federation? He said:
"I can never recall a time when officers were so angry. We have been betrayed by a morally redundant Government."
Given that that quote comes from 2008, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Police Federation has long been worried about police morale and that the best way of improving police morale is to cut the paperwork and bureaucracy and get them out on the streets doing something that they actually joined the police force to do?
Nick Herbert: I strongly agree. Those of us who have experienced Police Federation conferences over the years know that they are always lively and robust events. The Labour party knows that too. I note that the chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, said last year:
"Reading some of their press materials one would be forgiven for thinking that if Labour were in power they would in fact be increasing the police budget",
whereas we know that Labour is committed to cutting it.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): As we are listening to our chief constables, let us hear what they have been saying this year about the cuts. The chief constable of Dyfed Powys says that cuts to police budgets mean they will no longer be able to conduct cold case reviews such as the one that caught serial killer John William Cooper, and Gloucestershire's chief constable says his force is on a cliff edge. What effect does the Minister think that will have on police morale?
Nick Herbert: The Opposition need to be plain with police officers and staff about the importance of dealing with the deficit and the fact that they too are committed to reducing police spending. They have admitted that they wish to reduce spending by more than £1 billion, and now we know that they wish to freeze pay as well. They cannot complain about these cuts and remain committed to the cuts themselves.
Police Funding Settlement
12. Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): Whether she plans to reassess the police funding settlement for 2012-13. 
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): No; the allocations of police funding were set out last week and will be debated in the House on Wednesday.
Owen Smith: I thank the Minister for that concise and to-the-point answer. He will know that the net effect of the spending cuts in Wales is a reduction of 750 in the number of officers on the front line. What guarantees can he offer the people of Wales that that reduction will not be attended by a corresponding increase in crime in Wales?
Nick Herbert: I know from talking with chief constables in Wales that they are absolutely committed to continuing to reduce crime. The important point is that, according to the latest figures, recorded crime in Wales continued to fall. It is very important that police forces focus on ensuring that the available resource is deployed effectively and that they prioritise the front line and drive out cost in those back-office functions. Forces up and down the country are showing that that can be done.
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Does the Minister not think that it is time to review the damping mechanism in the settlement, which deprives forces such as the Derbyshire constabulary of large amounts of funding each year?
Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to raise that issue in the police funding debate on Wednesday. I know that that is a constant concern of forces that lose out from damping and that they want to move towards the formula. We are committed to doing that and will look at these issues carefully for the next years of the spending settlement. However, an equal number of forces feel that they would lose out as a result, so it is a very difficult issue.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Government have now admitted that they got police funding for London wrong with their U-turn on Metropolitan police funding and a £90 million bung for Boris's re-election campaign, yet the Met is not the only force facing pressures from the Olympics and other issues. Will the Minister now reverse the cuts to other forces, such as West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Humberside and Merseyside police, all of which are cutting the number of officers? Cut crime, not the police.
Nick Herbert: It is hardly likely that the coalition Government would be acting in the way the hon. Lady suggests. Of course, in London we have recognised the special position of the Olympics and the royal jubilee through a one-off additional payment, which we can discuss further on Wednesday. I note that once again Opposition Front Benchers are pretending that they want to increase spending on police forces, but they have in fact admitted that they would cut police spending by over £1 billion a year and introduce additional cuts that would match our own.
Administrative Burdens (Police)
14. Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): What plans she has to reduce administrative burdens on police forces. 
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We have already announced a package of policies to reduce bureaucracy, saving up to 3.3 million hours of police time.
Mr Baron: Published reports confirm that under the previous Government only 11% of police officers were visible and/or available to the public at any one time. May I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to continue hacking away at the swathes of bureaucratic paperwork and release more officers for the front line?
Nick Herbert: We will do so, and I agree with my hon. Friend. We know from the inspectorate's report that the level of availability and visibility of officers in the poorest performing forces was half that of the best. So there is room for improvement, even as resources decline, if the front line is prioritised, and the reductions in bureaucracy that we have announced will save 1,500 hours of officer time, showing how important the agenda is.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The Minister would get support for proper cutbacks in unnecessary bureaucracy, but does he accept that some things that are described as bureaucracy are necessary protections for the public and, importantly, for serving police officers?
Nick Herbert: In relation to my previous answer, I should have said 1,500 police jobs and 3.3 million hours of officer time.
We cannot defend the existing system on the basis that bureaucracy is important. Over recent years, there has been a huge growth in unnecessary red tape and box ticking as a consequence of the top-down direction of policing under the previous Government. We need accountable policing, but we need also to ensure that police officers are free to do the job and are trusted as professionals to exercise their judgment. That is the agenda we are pursuing.
Non-emergency Telephone Number
16. Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the 101 non-emergency police telephone number. 
17. Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the 101 non-emergency police telephone number. 
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The 101 non-emergency police number is now available in every force area in England and Wales, making it far easier for the public to contact their local police.
Karl McCartney: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and of course we all welcome this reform and the opportunity for front-line officers to prioritise and concentrate on emergencies, rather than on less important incidents. Does he agree that other reforms, such as the democratisation of our police forces with police and crime commissioners, may need to go further to limit the policy-driven Association of Chief Police Officers, which is unelected, undemocratic and, in some cases, does not provide the leadership needed by officers on the front line?
Nick Herbert: We are committed to setting up a professional body for policing and to ensuring proper accountability in policing. The non-emergency number is just part of our reforms to ensure that the public have better access to the police and can hold them to account, and the link between the police and the public will be strengthened.
Mark Menzies: Last year Lancashire police announced the closure of Lytham police station in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that the 101 number will not only make it easier for my constituents to get hold of the police, but free up police resources in order to get them on the front line serving my constituents?
Nick Herbert: Yes, I agree. It is important that we make available through new technology and better systems different ways of getting hold of the police. Another example is our street-level crime mapping service, to which the Home Secretary referred. It has received more than 450 million hits, or about 45 million visits, since it was launched, and it gives the public information about their local policing teams and how to contact them.
T7.  Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): What advice did the Government receive regarding the police arbitration tribunal's recommendation on police pay?
Nick Herbert: I can tell my hon. Friend that the Police Federation urged us to accept the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal, and we did so. The official Opposition also urged us to do so. Once again, it is clear that although the Labour party campaigns against cuts, it supported another reduction in police spending without admitting it to police officers.
T3.  Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What powers will police commissioners have?
Nick Herbert: That is set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Police and crime commissioners will replace police authorities. They will be there to hold chief constables to account. Control and direction will remain with chief constables. It is notable that a number of Labour party figures, including some who remain Members of the House, have expressed interest in standing as police and crime commissioners despite the principled opposition to them by the Labour party.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Last year, the Police Federation surveyed all four police authorities in Wales on the state of morale and found that 99% of its members were suffering from low morale. Is the Minister or the Secretary of State as shocked as I am that 1% were not suffering low morale under this Government's policies?
Nick Herbert: We have already established that the Police Federation has expressed concern about policy and morale in previous years. It often does so. Police officers and staff know that difficult decisions must be taken to reduce the deficit. They are also increasingly aware that the Labour party would take exactly the same position on pay and funding.
Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Last week, North Yorkshire police announced a future Harrogate town centre co-location with Harrogate borough council to save costs. Is the Minister pleased to see such partnership initiatives and such cross-party support for saving money?
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that example. It is a good one that shows that police forces can collaborate not just with each other, as they are doing increasingly, but also with other services to provide a better service and to save money.