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Neighbourhood Policing

Volume 462: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2007

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on neighbourhood policing levels in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (146375)

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. There are 22 community safety partnerships in place in Wales. Does he agree that those partnerships are having a real impact on our local communities by tackling crime and antisocial behaviour? Can he give an assurance that the funding for those partnerships will be safeguarded?

I agree that the multi-agency approach has a big impact on local crime. Record amounts of funding are going in, as they have done throughout our period of government—unlike the Conservative record in government. The figures speak for themselves. Recorded crime in Wales is down 3 per cent., total violent crime is down 1 per cent., burglary is down 10 per cent., theft and the handling of stolen goods is down 5 per cent., and theft of and from vehicles is down 3 per cent. The only thing that is up is detection rates.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency and across Wales? They are not only making our streets safer through high-profile policing, but are working together with agencies such as the county council and Communities First to tackle the causes of crime and are developing things such as the multiball centres in Llwynhendy and the Morfa. Will he make sure that we have adequate talks with Home Office Ministers to ensure funding for our neighbourhood policing teams across Dyfed-Powys?

I will certainly do all that I can and I hope that my hon. Friend will support that. I am pleased to inform her that the Dyfed-Powys police force is on track to have a dedicated neighbourhood policing team embedded in every area by April 2008. I congratulate her on her work to support such initiatives.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that as the funding settlement for the police in Wales is 3.6 per cent. this year, yet police inflation is 5.1 per cent., there is an obvious funding gap? As is typified by the situation in north Wales, that will lead to a recruitment embargo, or stop, for at least three years. Neighbourhood policing partnerships have been very successful, but will he please ensure that they can continue to be so and that the funding gap is addressed?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that unlike under the Conservatives, there will be total funding of more than £450 million this year, which is up 17.3 per cent. in real term terms since 1997. Owing to that funding, we have 677 police community support officers, including in north Wales, and 1,000 police officers, including more in north Wales. That is why crime is falling and people feel safer in their communities.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his reappointment and look forward to working with him and his Minister on the new powers that have been devolved to the Assembly. Does he still support the amalgamation of the four Welsh police forces?

Before I answer that question, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment? I also pay tribute to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who is sitting behind him, who carried out his long stint in the job very well. May I also pay tribute to my former deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger)? He did an outstanding job and is one of the most popular Members in the House on a cross-party basis.

The amalgamation of all four police forces in Wales is not on the Home Secretary’s agenda, and I am quite happy with that.

Eighteen months ago, four of my constituents—Maurice Broadbent, Dave Horrocks, Wayne Wilkes and 14-year-old Tom Harland—were killed in the worst cycling accident in UK history. My right hon. Friend visited the site of the accident and met parents and the North Wales police to discuss the inquiry. Coroner John Hughes concluded his inquiry last week and was highly critical of North Wales police and Conwy county borough council’s gritting department. Will my right hon. Friend ask to meet Conwy council and North Wales police to discuss the results of John Hughes’s coroner’s inquiry?

I will certainly be happy to explore the matter with my hon. Friend and to work jointly with him to address the situation. He is right that I visited the site of the accident with him. The accident was one of the most appalling and tragic that I have ever had the misfortune to experience afterwards. The Rhyl cycling club is a fine club involving youngsters and many others. It has high standards and traditions, and it is devastating that it has been affected in such a way.

May I associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), since the accident happened in my constituency?

The Secretary of State will appreciate that additional demands are likely to be made of the police in the light of the security situation. On Monday, his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave a commitment to the House that she would work with police forces throughout the country to ensure that adequate funding was made available for dedicated security posts. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he will make representations to the Home Secretary with a view to ensuring that any diversion of resources to security policing will not impinge adversely on the community policing budgets of Welsh police forces?

There is no intention that that will happen; both functions are equally important. At this sensitive and critical time, especially, we must ensure that all necessary resources are diverted towards dealing with the security threat. However, of course, community and neighbourhood policing, which is especially strong in north Wales, must be protected at all costs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key to the success of neighbourhood policing is likely to be the work of police community support officers? The key reason why their introduction has been a tremendous success is that they, unlike fully-trained police officers, are not continually pulled off for other duties. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Home Secretary to ensure that police community support officers and their work are not diluted by giving them other tasks, or taking them out of the local communities to which they have been allocated?

I will certainly write to my right hon. Friend about that, and I pay tribute to the work that he did in the Home Office right at the beginning of our time in government in getting police community support officers on track. It was an innovative Labour policy that has proved hugely successful and popular across the country.

Is the Secretary of State not a little bit concerned that evidence is already emerging that police officers who are part of the very worthwhile neighbourhood policing initiative are being diverted to other urgent, important police tasks? Is there not a risk that the enthusiasm shown at the launch of the neighbourhood policing initiative will dissipate quickly, as policemen are diverted elsewhere? Is that really sustainable?

I do think that it is sustainable, because the officers’ primary purpose is to assist in neighbourhoods, and to be a visible presence on the streets. They are meeting that purpose very effectively and are giving reassurance and support to local communities, as was the original objective. Obviously, if there is an emergency or a crisis, it is all hands to the pump, as the hon. Gentleman would expect.