Home Office Questions 07/11/2011

Nick takes Oral Questions in the House of Commons as Minister of State for Policing

Knife Crime

3. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the level of knife crime. [78439]

13. Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the level of knife crime. [78451]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): In the 12 months to June 2011, data collected by police forces in England and Wales indicate that 7% of relevant violent offences involved the use of a knife or a sharp instrument.

Albert Owen: Knife crime affects every community. In my constituency, following the senseless murder of Leon Jones who was just 21, a group was set up called Dump the Knife-Save a Life. That was young people working with the police and the local community. Can the Minister ensure that funding for such groups will be available in the future, following the announcement of a cut of some 60% in community budgets?

Nick Herbert: I appreciate the value of groups such as the one the hon. Gentleman describes and am happy to look at it. We have made £18 million of funding available for the next two years to support the police, local agencies and the voluntary sector in tackling knife, gun and gang-related violence, and I would be happy to talk with him about the project.

Stephen Timms: I am grateful to Ministers for supporting the "Carry a basketball not a blade" initiative in my constituency, but knife crime has risen in London every year since the current Mayor was elected. What more will the Minister do to press the Mayor to get on top of this terrible problem in London?

Nick Herbert: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that knife crime is a serious concern, which is why the Government, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just pointed out, have introduced a new offence of aggravated carrying of a knife. We need to send clear signals and there needs to be effective police action. He knows that the Mayor has been promoting that in London with his knife crime plan, Operation Blade, and we will continue to support those efforts.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Is not the key to cutting knife crime the sending of a clear social message that anyone who commits a crime with a knife or gun will go to prison, actions that this Government have taken, along with the excellent ideas that Brooke Kinsella has come up with?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is about tough enforcement and sending a clear signal that those who carry knives and use them in a threatening manner will receive a custodial sentence, which we are legislating for, and about the programmes that work with communities to deter people from using knives. That is what Brooke Kinsella's excellent report focused on.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): In the past 10 days alone victims of knife crime have included a poppy seller in Sussex, a father attending a first birthday party in Mitcham and a young man trying to stop a fight in Walthamstow on Friday night. Given the scale of cuts to policing and community safety budgets that the Government are implementing under the Home Secretary's watch, does she think that knife crime will continue to go up or go down next year?

Nick Herbert: I share the hon. Lady's concern about knife crime, which is why we are introducing the measures I have announced on strong enforcement and the important community programmes to deter people from carrying knives, but I notice that her question did not include a single positive proposal for dealing with knife crime, other than the usual Labour party proposal, which is to spend more money.

Public Disorder (Tottenham)

12. Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of policing in Tottenham on the first night of the public disorder of August 2011, following the Metropolitan Police Service statement of 24 October 2011. [78450]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned the chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Denis O'Connor, to undertake an urgent review of public order policing in the five forces most affected by the disorder, which we expect to receive shortly. We will ensure that the lessons from that review are taken forward.

Mr Lammy: I am surprised that the Minister did not comment on the statement of the Metropolitan police, which said that their policing on the first night of the riots was not good at all. He will recognise the frustration and anger in Tottenham at the scale of the damage to Tottenham High road. What will he and his Department do to encourage other Departments to ensure that my constituency is regenerated?

Nick Herbert: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that it is right for us to wait for the report by the independent inspectorate and to take careful note of what it says about the policing that took place. Clearly things did go wrong and we have to learn the lessons. The Government are committed to doing so as, I am sure, are the Metropolitan police. As the Prime Minister has made clear, this is not just about the security response, but about the social response and the preventive measures, which I know the right hon. Gentleman is keen to promote, that can deal with this situation and stop such things happening again.

Police Funding Settlement

19. Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Whether she plans to reassess the police funding settlement for 2012-13. [78457]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The spending review settlement for the police is challenging but manageable, and we will not reopen the debate on the overall level of reductions. As part of the provisional settlement process for 2012-13 we will provide provisional allocations for police authorities, which will be subject to consultation before parliamentary approval.

Ian Lavery: Some 16,000 jobs nationally and 627 in the Northumbria police force are to be slashed. Will the Minister look again at the police funding settlement to prevent those huge cuts in front-line services in the police force?

Nick Herbert: I have explained that we are not in a position to reconsider the four-year funding allocation that has been made, because we have to deal with the deficit. Opposition Members simply do not seem to understand that. The police can make savings in ways that protect front-line services, as we heard earlier, and we are committed to ensuring that that continues to be the case.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): In its White Paper, the Home Office said that from 2012-13, the police and crime panels would have the power to trigger a referendum on a policing precept recommended by the police and crime commissioner. When did the Secretary of State decide that that power would be better exercised by herself?

Nick Herbert: I do not accept the premise of my hon. Friend's question. I have committed to meeting him to discuss the issue, but we believe it important both that the panel has the power of veto over an excessive precept set by a police and crime commissioner, which has now been legislated for, and that the public have the ability to reject an excessive precept through the referendum lock. That is the subject of separate measures that are before the House in the Localism Bill.

Police Officer Numbers

20. Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the number of police officers who will be in post in 2015. [78458]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): As I have just explained to the House, we have set a challenging but manageable funding settlement for the police service. It is for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers that are deployed given the available resources.

Graeme Morrice: The public disorder of August showed us that police numbers count, along with forces throughout the United Kingdom working closely together on major issues. Does not the Minister see therefore how foolish it is to cut more than 16,000 police officers by 2015-the same number that brought order to London during the summer riots?

Nick Herbert: As I have said, police forces must make savings because we have to deal with the deficit, but they can do so in a way that protects front-line policing. There is no reason why there should be damage to the front line if they drive savings elsewhere. I have pointed out to the House before, and will do so again, that a third of human resources in police forces are not on the front line. Some 25,000 police officers are in back-room jobs. That is where police forces should begin.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): In making the police settlement and deploying the police's forces, will the Minister ensure that rural police forces have an element of funding related to rurality and sparsity?

Nick Herbert: We do ensure that, and I understand my hon. Friend's concern about the issue. I will, in fact, be speaking about rural crime at an Association of Chief Police Officers conference later this week. It is important that we tackle such matters, and they will all be taken into account when we consider the specific allocations for police forces for the third and fourth years of the spending round.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I am sure the Minister would like to join me in welcoming the 500 extra police community support officers pledged by the Welsh Assembly Government. The ones in Gwent are being recruited at the moment. Does he agree that they will be a really valuable help in tackling antisocial behaviour in Welsh communities, unlike the Government's cuts in front-line policing?

Nick Herbert: If I can ignore the last part of the hon. Lady's question, I will say that PCSOs play an important role in helping to ensure that we tackle crime and maintain confidence in communities. Last week the Home Secretary and I, and the shadow Home Secretary and her shadow Ministers, were able to attend the Jane's Police Review community policing awards, which recognised the role of PCSOs and others, and it is important that we continue to recognise that role.

Police Authority Funding

21. Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): What consideration she has given to the funding formula which allocates funding to each police authority. [78459]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The Police allocation formula is a robust and credible tool for estimating police work load in police force areas. It continues to be used to allocate the majority of central Government funding that goes to police authorities.

Alun Cairns: The South Wales police force area includes Cardiff, which, as a capital city, has additional civic responsibilities, which obviously mean that the police force incurs ongoing costs. Will the Minister agree to look at that factor and to meet me to consider it further?

Nick Herbert: I will continue to look at that factor, and am happy to agree to meet my hon. Friend-other hon. and right hon. Members have met me to discuss that issue. I should point out that forces can bid for funds through special grants for events or unforeseen circumstances. That is restricted to expenditure exceeding 1% of a force's annual budget, but South Wales police have benefited from such awards in the past.

Topical Questions

T3. [78464] Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): In welcoming the latest departmental developments regarding the police crime mapping website, which my constituents are beginning to learn to use, does the Minister agree that this marks the beginning of a real step-change improvement in police transparency and hopefully accountability to local communities?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. POLICE.uk, our street-level crime mapping website, has received more than 430 million hits since its launch at the beginning of the year, which translates to well over 40 million visits. We are adding new information on crime types and, from next year, justice outcomes. It is an important part of our transparency programme, and it demonstrates that the public want, and make use of, this information.

T6. [78467] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Please listen carefully; I will say this only once. In the future assessment of police numbers and funding formulae, have any discussions taken place with the Ministry of Defence about the huge cuts in the MOD police? In the case of the Colchester garrison, the last Labour Government managed to cut its 30 officers to three, which has affected the Essex police.

Mr Speaker: I do not think anybody has ever had any trouble hearing the hon. Member for Colchester, even some miles away.

Nick Herbert: As my hon. Friend knows, the MOD police are not the responsibility of the Home Office; they are the responsibility of the MOD. However, I am happy to discuss the matter with them.

T8. [78469] Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Is the Minister aware that the average fine in 2010 for people caught driving without motor insurance in Lincolnshire was £213, down from £233 in 2008, when the average cost of fully comprehensive motor insurance premiums for my constituents is around £650, having risen on average by 40% in the same two years? Does he agree that such fines do nothing to dissuade potential or existing offenders from driving without insurance? What plans do the Government have to address the situation?

Nick Herbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this serious issue, about which I want to talk to the Department for Transport. Uninsured driving already raises the cost of premiums for honest motorists to the tune of £30. Individual fines are a matter for magistrates, but it is important that we look at this matter.

T10. [78471] Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): My constituent Joanne Bryce, whose sister Claire Oldfield-Hampson's murder was uncovered in Cambridgeshire in December 1998, has worked tirelessly to find out why the case has been so appallingly mishandled by the local constabulary, but she and I have been frustrated at every turn. Will the Policing Minister meet me to discuss the issue with my constituent?

Nick Herbert: Yes, of course I will meet my hon. Friend. I appreciate his concern and that of his constituent about the matter; the problem is that the case was investigated by the precursor of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. That is an obstacle, but I will indeed discuss the case with him.

Nick Herbert