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Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

2. If he will make a statement on the relationships between community wardens, police community beat managers and police support officers in helping to combat crime and antisocial behaviour. (95419)

Police community support officers, community beat managers and neighbourhood wardens all have complementary roles in combating crime and tackling antisocial behaviour. In partnership and in isolation, each role is crucial to delivering the Government’s commitment to provide local, visible and responsive neighbourhood policing in all our communities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He obviously recognises the importance of not transferring the work of neighbourhood wardens across to the police support officers. Does he agree that we would be better off increasing the visible support in all areas, rather than reducing it? That is the best way to fight antisocial behaviour and crime. Does he agree that it is better to have a greater volume of visible support?

Yes, indeed. Neighbourhood wardens—sometimes referred to as community wardens—are an important resource in the fight against crime. They are part of a neighbourhood policing team that includes beat managers, police constables and police community support officers as well as neighbourhood wardens, all of whom complement each other and provide a visible presence on the ground, which reassures people that this is helping to bring down crime and that the crime statistics—which show that crime is falling overall—are being borne out on the ground.

Does the Home Secretary agree that we need the active support and co-operation of the community, and all the individuals within it, to make the neighbourhood policing teams work more effectively? Has he seen today’s report that individuals in this country are much less likely to get involved in tackling antisocial behaviour than people in other countries across Europe? Why does he think that that is the case, and what is he going to do to tackle the political correctness that is causing it?

The hon. Gentleman’s points about the requirements for successful policing on the ground in our communities are partly correct. It is not only about the involvement of the local community, necessary thought that is, but about the support of central Government, who provide the resources. We have made about £220 million available, outside the normal police funding, to ensure that we could have neighbourhood policing teams. Quite how that kind of money—or the necessary resources on the ground—would be provided by a Government committed to cutting £21 billion from public expenditure is not obvious to me. It is obvious, however, that such cuts would deeply affect the presence of policing on the ground.

Last Thursday, an unholy alliance of Lib Dems and Tories on Wrexham council voted to scrap the neighbourhood warden scheme in Wrexham. Will my right hon. Friend advise me of whether he will consider the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, to determine whether it is possible for him to intervene to ensure that neighbourhood wardens are not removed from the policing family in boroughs across the country, and that their complementary role is reinforced? There is an increasing tendency for neighbourhood wardens to be left out by local government, even though they play a vital part in policing and are a true sign of the success of the Crime and Disorder Act.

As I have already said, I regard neighbourhood wardens as a complementary element to police community support officers and the police themselves in the fight against crime. If what my hon. Friend says is true, it is deeply regrettable that an alliance of Conservatives and Liberals in his constituency has reduced the number of neighbourhood wardens, because they are important. That is what we have come to expect, however, from the Opposition parties, who talk tough but vote soft, and who back down on every major decision on fighting crime.

Will the Home Secretary give the House an absolute undertaking that the rumour that the Government are set to abandon their target of recruiting 24,000 police community support officers by March 2008 is without foundation? Will he explain how he proposes to recruit that number, given that he is only half way to meeting his target of 16,000 by next March?

We fully accept that those targets are challenging; we have never said otherwise. However, we are committed to attaining those targets, including the very challenging one of recruiting 16,000 police community support officers by next April. To that end, we have made available an extra £220 million. I can give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance that he will never attain anything like those targets if his party cuts public expenditure by £21 billion.

The latest crime statistics for Cheshire show that neighbourhood policing is really working. There has been a 6 per cent. reduction in the crime level. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the city centre police and particular Chester Pubwatch? Working together in partnership, they have done a fantastic job to ensure the successful implementation of the new licensing laws.

I agree with my hon. Friend on the first point and I join with her on the second point in congratulating the police. I know that there is a particularly successful scheme in that area to counter antisocial behaviour, and particularly drink-related behaviour, by ensuring that the clubs, as well as the pubs, in the local area join the police in taking action against those who are involved in antisocial behaviour after consuming alcohol. That is a good example of the way in which local communities, the police and local proprietors can work together.

The 2006 police officer pay award is now subject to arbitration. The police arbitration tribunal is considering the matter following the hearing that it held on 18 October.

If the official side wants to move away from the Edmund-Davies formula, why did it not announce that in September last year and seek to renegotiate a new formula? How was it that its members were unable to articulate their position at the meeting in July of the police negotiating board? They had a year’s notice of that meeting.

I simply repeat that the matter is now subject to arbitration. There was a hearing on 18 October and the outcome will be considered in due course.

During the past two years, one in four police officers has been personally threatened by someone with a knife and one in 20 by someone with a gun. Does the Minister think that policing has become easier over the past 28 years; and will he consider whether this is the right time to move away from a clear, fair and transparent pay formula for the police?

On the latter point, even the Police Federation agrees that greater simplicity and transparency may well be put into the whole negotiating system, to the benefit of all sides. On the first point on gun and knife crime, I simply say: “Look to the mote in your own eye and how you voted on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.” The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to correct that opinion as and when the Bill comes back to the House.

Does the Minister recall that, the last time that there was a significant disagreement between the Government and the Police Federation about pay, as a consequence there was a serious shortage of police officers in areas on the boundaries of the Metropolitan police, such as mine? What can he do in the present circumstances to make sure that we do not repeat the migration from the relatively low pay of the Thames Valley police to the higher pay of the Met?

I take my hon. Friend’s point that there is some migration from the home counties to the Met, but equally, each home county has a record level of police officers, so the effect has clearly not been that great. However, perhaps that should be considered within the wider parameters of the pay board.

The current police magazine suggests that the problems arise from the Treasury-imposed efficiency savings and that chief constables face a stark choice between reducing the number of police officers and reducing the level of police pay. Will the Minister comment on that and reassure the House that any arbitration settlement will be backdated to 1 September?

On my hon. Friend’s latter point, without pre-empting the outcome of the arbitration panel, there are set parameters in terms of time for the pay deal and any subsequent agreement will be suitably backdated. He will forgive me if I do not comment on his wider points because they relate, at least in part, to the matters before the arbitration panel at the moment. It is simply not my job to wax lyrical while the arbitration panel is still meeting and determining its outcome—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] Once the panel has done so, I may.

Does the Minister agree that it is more difficult to argue for pay restraints in the police when 80 per cent. of senior officials in his Department, which has been declared unfit for purpose, have recently been given generous bonuses on top of their pay?

I would have thought that, on a matter as serious as police pay and the future of policing, the hon. Gentleman would resist making such a fatuous statement, but I was wrong.