Home Office Questions 12/12/2011

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

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

Target Sports Clubs

2. Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): What her policy is on the designation of (a) target sports clubs where historical pistols are studied and shot and (b) other target sports clubs. [85717]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Clubs that wish to keep and use historical pistols and weapons must have Home Office authorisation. There are strict criteria governing the designation of sites under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which are set out in the guidance issued by the Home Office.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Northampton target sports club is based in my constituency. A number of members wish to study and shoot historic pistols of some worth but are struggling with the licensing regime because they are within 30 miles of another licensed club. Will the Minister help us with that query and help to sort this out?

Nick Herbert: I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I am aware that the Northampton target sports club was refused designated-site status last month because there were other suitable sites within a reachable distance. I also understand that circumstances may have changed because another site is full. Therefore, a new application will be looked at properly.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Minister give as much support as possible to the wonderful Olympic sport of pistol shooting, which suffers terribly from some of the rather knee-jerk legislation that went through this place some time ago? Will he ensure that pistol shooters are given every support possible to train in this country so that they do not have to go abroad to Switzerland to train for the Olympics?

Nick Herbert: I know of the hon. Lady's long-standing concern. The Government seek to draw the distinction between the unlawful use of weapons, which we aim to deal with as robustly as possible, and the lawful possession of such weapons. We have the tightest set of firearms controls in the world, but sporting shooting, particularly in relation to the Olympics, is of course important.

Police Efficiency

6. Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): What steps she is taking to improve efficiency within police forces. [85721]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We are supporting police forces in their drive to improve efficiency, including through reducing bureaucracy, more effective procurement, collaboration and sharing services.

Simon Hart: Is the Minister satisfied that local forces are doing enough to share the costs of facilities such as human resources and IT with other public bodies and other emergency services?

Nick Herbert: It is important that police forces do more to take up such opportunities. We have already seen an increase in the collaboration between police forces over operational matters, but there are valuable opportunities to collaborate and share services for the back-office functions such IT and human resources, which would result in significant savings. That is what we are encouraging forces to look at.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I welcome the idea of police forces sharing services, especially in areas such as forensic science. Given the Government's strategy, is that not likely to result in the reforming of the Forensic Science Service?

Nick Herbert: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would reflect on the mismanagement under the previous Administration that left the Forensic Science Service on an unsustainable footing.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The innovative use of information technology can make a huge difference to police efficiency. Will the Minister have a look at companies, such as Sepura and RealVNC in my constituency, that are working already with police forces in the UK and the US to make it easier for the police to do their job?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of good police IT, which we seek to improve. It is for forces to commission these services, but we have announced that we intend to set up a new vehicle-a force-owned IT body-to commission IT and seek improvements, because it is so important that police officers have good IT in order to fight crime effectively and not waste time on bureaucratic processes.

Riot (Damages) Act 1886

13. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): What plans she has to review the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. [85728]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): A review of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 is under way, and will consider all options for reform. It will include all learning from the August disturbances, and will involve consultation with people affected by them who made claims under the Act as well as organisations involved in the recovery. We expect it to be completed before the end of the current financial year.

Paul Goggins: I commend the Minister for the positive way in which he is engaging with Greater Manchester police authority, which, as he knows, carries a liability of more than £9 million as a result of the disorder in August. As he conducts his review, will he ensure that there is more clarity about responsibilities and the financial support given to police authorities by the Home Office, and that more pressure is put on the insurance industry to deal with claims promptly?

Nick Herbert: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have been concerned about the rate at which payments have been made, and last week I convened a meeting with representatives of the insurance industry to discuss the matter. They assured me that, according to their latest assessment, some two thirds of businesses have received a partial or full payment. However, there ought to be processes to ensure that people are paid more swiftly, and such processes need to be sorted out by police authorities and the industry.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): Many of the people who have made claims under the 1886 Act have done so because of damage to their motor vehicles, but in 1886 the car had only been invented for a year. Can the Minister assure me that his review takes into account all the possible forms of damage so that no one will be excluded?

Nick Herbert: It is true that uninsured vehicles are not covered by the Act, as no one envisaged the need for them to be. They would be covered if they were on private property, but not if they were in a public place. Of course, if vehicles are insured, a claim can be made against the insurers. This is one of the issues that we shall have to consider in the review.

Police Funding

14. Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): What discussions she has had with police authorities on the police funding settlement for 2012-13. [85731]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Last Thursday I laid the provisional police grant report for 2012-13 before the House. It set out provisional allocations of the Home Office core settlement for police authorities for 2012-13, and is now the subject of a consultation. I will consider all responses carefully.

Lilian Greenwood: The Deputy Prime Minister says that the funding settlement for Nottinghamshire police is "manageable", but the police themselves say:

"The Government's inequitable cuts will impact on frontline policing in Nottinghamshire".

Who does the Minister think my constituents should believe?

Nick Herbert: Of course dealing with budget reductions is challenging for police forces, but we are convinced that they can do it. I recently met members of the Nottinghamshire force, including the chief constable, and we discussed the issues. The chief constable has acknowledged the difficulty of the decisions involved, but has also said that she is

"doing all we can to protect frontline services and target resources to areas where the public are most commonly affected".

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): The police settlement, which, as the Minister acknowledged, was published last week, takes a further £700 million out of the police budget at a time when we are seeing worrying increases in crime, with violent crime, burglary and theft all going up in last month's figures. Senior police officers have already expressed their concern that the settlement means they will have to do far more than can be achieved through efficiency savings. If the police, in responding to this consultation, feel that it is inadequate to meet policing challenges next year, will the Minister think again? Will he ensure that the 3,000 extra police officers that the Liberal Democrats called for are put in place?

Nick Herbert: I note what the right hon. Gentleman says about these issues. He is trying to give the impression that a further reduction in funding has been announced, but he knows that that is not the case; these reductions were announced beforehand, as part of the review, and they have not changed in relation to the proposed allocation for forces. I also note that he is coming forward with his familiar solution-Labour's only policy on the police-which is to call for more public spending. It is that attitude that got this country into the mess that we inherited from the previous Government. Perhaps he might have something more constructive to say about policing in future.

Topical Questions

T2. [85742] Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): My constituent Altaf Sadique had his car registration plate cloned earlier this year. He reported that to the police, who accepted the report and are aware that his car remains in west Yorkshire, but he continues to get fines from all around the country and the police say it is nothing to do with them. Will the Minister look seriously at having a national strategy to ensure that police forces co-operate to deal with this serious problem?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I will certainly look into the matter that my hon. Friend raises and I am happy to discuss it further with him. Police co-operation in all matters is, of course, desirable.

T6. [85746] Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Tomorrow, the Howard League for Penal Reform will publish a report showing that about 50,000 children, including about 10,000 girls, spent the night in police custody in both 2009 and 2010. Will the Home Secretary look urgently at the inappropriate and overuse of the detention of children overnight? What can she do to improve processes between local authorities and the police?

Nick Herbert: I note the hon. Lady's point and we will study the report when it is produced by the Howard League tomorrow.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I wrote to the Secretary of State two weeks ago asking her to review the Independent Police Complaints Commission's handling of the Mark Duggan case. Given the catastrophe that was this morning's pre-hearing inquest and the family's declaring no public confidence in the IPCC, will she now look at its handling of the case and the thoroughness of this investigation?

Nick Herbert: I have just replied to the right hon. Gentleman. I have spoken to the acting chairman of the IPCC about the matter and the investigation, and he has assured me about the investigation's integrity. We therefore see no reason at the moment to order any review. It is important that the investigation takes its course properly.

T9. [85750] David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I welcome plans to set up a professional body for policing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a body would be an ideal opportunity to promote the importance of high-quality training, which is very much in the interests of our police officers?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend. We have an important opportunity now to set up a professional body for policing to focus on the need to provide high-quality training for police officers and to set standards. I am grateful to the senior police leadership for engaging in our work to discuss the issue. We will be bringing proposals before the House.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Can the Minister give me the precise total number of prisons in Britain that are free from the use of illegal drugs?

Nick Herbert: I will write to the hon. Gentleman with that information.

Nick Herbert