Home Office Questions 21/05/2012
Nick takes Oral Questions in the House of Commons as Minister of State for Policing
Oral Answers to Questions
9. Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effect of change in police numbers on the level of crime since May 2010. 
16. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effect of change in police numbers on the level of crime since May 2010. 
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The Home Affairs Committee said last year:
"We accept that there is no simple relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime."
The Government agree.
Bill Esterson: There are 385 fewer front-line police officers in Merseyside than there were in March 2010. According to the British crime survey, there has been the biggest increase in recorded crime for a decade. People in Merseyside could be forgiven for thinking that there was a link between the two. Will the Minister now stand at the Dispatch Box and deny the existence of that link?
Nick Herbert: I have already quoted the Select Committee's view that there is no simple link. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that according to the latest official figures relating to crime in Merseyside, published earlier this year, in December last year overall crime had fallen by 2% and the number of instances of violence against the person had fallen by 7%. There are areas of specific concern, but it is not true to say that overall crime has been rising in the hon. Gentleman's police force area.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The Minister said that there was "no simple link". The Police Federation has suggested that by 2015 the number of serving police officers in Wales will have fallen by about 1,600, and according to Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary the figure is closer to 800. Even if the more cautious figure were correct, does the Minister really believe that a drop of 800 would have no effect whatsoever on crime in Wales?
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman ought to ask what police officers are doing. If they are tied up in red tape, as they were by the last Government, or if they are in back-room positions in which they do not need to be, that is not necessarily the best possible deployment of resources. The latest official figures show that in south Wales overall crime has fallen by 7%, and at the end of last year the chief constable of south Wales said:
"We are not just treading water, we are improving the service and improving the way that we deal with members of the communities we serve."
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of burglaries in Harlow has fallen by 15% in the past year, and that similar results have been produced by many other crime indicators? That is thanks to not just the excellent work of Essex police, but the work of community organisations such as Harlow Street Pastors which are doing so much to reduce crime.
Nick Herbert: I congratulate Essex police on that achievement. Up and down the country, police forces are showing that, despite having to make savings, they are continuing to reduce crime. What matters is the effective deployment of resources to ensure that we maximise the use of the sworn officer.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Overall crime is down in my constituency, with a massive drop in antisocial behaviour. However, repeat antisocial behaviour can destroy the quality of people's lives. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the police act in such circumstances?
Nick Herbert: Tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will launch the Government's proposals to combat antisocial behaviour, strengthening the powers available to the police to deal with antisocial behaviour and giving citizens greater power to tackle repeat antisocial behaviour that they feel insufficient action is being taken to address.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Home Secretary has frequently claimed that her 20% cuts to police funding will not reduce front-line policing. I am sure we all agree that 999 first responders, including traffic, CID and neighbourhood police, are, indeed, front-line officers. Will the Minister therefore confirm that recent freedom of information requests show that front-line police numbers have fallen by 5,261 since March 2010?
Nick Herbert: Why does the Labour party never admit that its proposed spending reductions of over £1 billion would also result in a reduction in the police work force, and why does it also never admit that it supports the two-year pay freeze, and that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), the shadow policing Minister, supports further savings to the police budget, which means it is committed to a greater saving than we are? That is a fact, and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) should attend to the real issue, which is that there have been 25,000 police officers in backroom positions rather than on the front line. We are seeking to redress that.
T7.  Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): A 20% cut will see 1,200 police officers go in the west midlands. A further 20% cut in the next comprehensive spending review would mean, in the view of the police service, the end of community policing. Has the Home Secretary told the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, and can she rule it out?
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are not going to speculate about a future spending review. He might have pointed out that the latest figures show that recorded crime in the west midlands has fallen by 7% overall, and he might have congratulated the chief constable on that achievement, despite the fact that, like every other chief constable, he is having to make savings.
T6.  Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I, like many other MPs, was horrified and disappointed to receive an e-mail today from the Police Federation implying that Tom Winsor was effectively discriminating against black and minority ethnic applicants to the police. Instead of trying to smear Tom Winsor as a racist, would it not be better for the Police Federation to look at how to increase the number of successful BME applicants?
Nick Herbert: I share my hon. Friend's view about the e-mail that the Police Federation sent this morning, which included the absurd claim that British policing will be transformed into some kind of paramilitary model, which is palpable nonsense. Tom Winsor's independent report included an equality statement and the Home Secretary specifically asked the negotiating bodies to consider the impact of his proposals on equality and diversity.
T8.  Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating Staffordshire police and, in particular, Chief Constable Mike Cunningham on meeting the requirements of the budget reductions in the spending review while maintaining visible front-line policing?
Nick Herbert: I will happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating Staffordshire police on that achievement. They, like many other forces, have seen an overall fall in crime-in their case, of 7%-despite having to make savings, and the chief constable has made a particular commitment to protect neighbourhood policing.
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): In recent times there have been a number of controversial applications to extradite British citizens to the United States, including that of Mr Christopher Tappin. Some appear to have been based on American police sting operations on British soil. How are they approved, and how many have been approved in recent times?
Nick Herbert: I appreciate my right hon. Friend's concern about the matter. Operational activities such as covert investigative action would have to be approved in this country by the relevant law enforcement agency. As to the types of investigation, the approval processes and the numbers, I am about to write to my right hon. Friend, and I will set them out in detail for him.
Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Does the Minister share my concern that the former chief constable of North Yorkshire, having been deemed guilty of serious misconduct, was nevertheless paid £250,000 in compensation when the police authority decided not to extend his contract? Will the Minister take some action to stop the use of public money in this way? How many police officers would £250,000 pay if the money had been used for that instead?
Mr Speaker: I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman still had two thirds of his important question to go. I apologise for almost stopping him in his tracks, but I should know that nothing can stop the hon. Gentleman in his tracks.
Nick Herbert: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about that matter. Such a payment is permissible under the current law. Tom Winsor has made recommendations in his independent review relating to the matter, which we are looking at carefully. I can understand that the people of north Yorkshire, and indeed more widely, would be concerned about this payment.