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Police Numbers

Volume 532: debated on Monday 12 September 2011

1. What estimate she has made of the change in the number of police officers during the comprehensive spending review period. (70925)

With permission, may I briefly update the House in relation to the appointment of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner? The Mayor of London and I conducted interviews with the candidates this morning, and I expect to make a recommendation to the palace later today.

We have set a challenging but manageable funding settlement for the police service. It is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers that are deployed within the available resource.

May I thank the Secretary of State for her response? Will she congratulate Gwent police authority, which was recently assessed by inspectors as performing well? Can she explain why more than £100 million will be spent on elected police commissioners, given that there is no guarantee that such performance will be sustained, let alone improved, with them? Would not the money be better spent on keeping more police on our streets?

If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask questions like that, he really should get his figures right, because of course, the figure to be spent on police and crime commissioners is not £100 million. I am happy to join him in congratulating Gwent police. I had a very good meeting the other day with the chief constable of Gwent police, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on matters relating to domestic violence. He talked about some of the excellent work that Gwent police had done on that.

With savage cuts to West Yorkshire police, including 750 fewer police officers and up to 1,500 fewer support staff, how does the Home Secretary think that tackling burglary in Leeds will be improved over the next few years?

In relation to policing, we are ensuring not only that police have the tools and powers that they need to deal with issues out on the street, but that they are freed up from a lot of the bureaucracy that was introduced by the previous Government, which kept too many police officers behind desks and not out on the streets.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will not be seduced by the argument that, inevitably, more police officers means more visibility? The fact remains that there are more police on patrol on Monday morning than on Friday night, and that only 12% of officers are available at any one time to be visible to the British public. Will she tell the House what she will do to ensure that we get visibility from existing police numbers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is absolutely right. He has put particular focus on this issue over the years and has looked into it in some detail. It is not just a question of numbers, as it is often portrayed by Opposition Members; it is about how police officers are deployed. It is about getting them out on the streets at the time that they are most needed. As my hon. Friend has seen in the past, a lot of that is about reducing the bureaucracy that police officers deal with, reducing the targets, and letting them get out there on the streets.

Is the Home Secretary aware that, in Northamptonshire, the chief constable is transferring police officers from the back office to the front line, that the visibility of police on patrol will go up, and that crime is falling?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, I had a very good visit to Northampton recently and saw some of the excellent work being done by the police there. I heard directly from the chief constable what he is doing to ensure, as my hon. Friend says, that he cuts back-office work for police officers and gets them out on the streets, which results in the impact that the public want—they want to see people out on their streets.

May I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London have agreed on their choices for the name of the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner?

When the CSR was agreed, there were no disorders in London, but the acting commissioner has said that the thin blue line was very thin during the recent disorders. If a case is made for additional resources as a result of the various inquiries that are being conducted, will the Home Secretary revisit those figures?

If I may say to the right hon. Gentleman, I expect to be having a further conversation with the Mayor after Home Office questions, but I hope to be sending a recommendation to the palace, and I firmly expect to do so, later today.

In relation to the funding figures for the Metropolitan police, the right hon. Gentleman will know full well that we are providing support to it, and indeed to other forces, as a result of the riots that took place recently. However, I am pleased to say that the previous Metropolitan Police Commissioner was able to increase visibility with police on the streets within the resources he had, by the simple and effective method of moving from police patrolling in pairs to single-patrol policing.

It is intriguing to discover that the Home Secretary and the Mayor have not yet agreed on the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The previous question was about the comprehensive spending review. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary estimated that 16,000 officers would be cut as a result of the CSR. Since then, the police have faced substantial additional costs of £125 million from policing the August riots. The Home Secretary has said that she is supporting the Met police and other forces, but the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said in his letter that this will be only

“where forces are not in a position to cover the costs of recent events themselves”.

That leaves the police with no clarity at a time when their budgets are already being cut. Will she therefore now guarantee that no police force will have to cut any officers or services to pay for policing the riots, and will she stand by the Prime Minister’s commitment to pay this extra money to the police?

It is absolutely clear—and has been made clear to police forces affected by the riots—that police forces should put in claims to the Home Office and that we will look at them. We will be looking at claims for operational costs and riot damage costs. On the right hon. Lady’s first statement, however, I do not think that she should try to transpose on to this Government the sort of disputes that took place within the previous Government. As I understand, from reading the recent book by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), she even disputed the extent of the deficit—as she and other Labour Members appear still to do.

I am afraid that the Home Secretary did not answer the question. She said that the Home Office is “looking” at the claims. That provides no certainty for the police or clarity for police budgets. Police officers are having to make decisions right now about making people redundant. The truth is that she is happy to find extra resources for elected police chiefs, but she will not find the extra money for the police. She is spending more than £100 million on elected police chiefs that no one wants when she could spend the same money on the costs of policing the riots or on 3,000 extra constables in Olympics year. Does she think that the public would prefer the money to be spent on elected police chiefs or on constables who will cut crime?

I think that the public want a Government who actually look after taxpayers’ money, which is exactly what we will do. The police forces know that there is a process by which they can put in claims to the Home Office. Those claims will be properly considered, and as we have made clear, the Home Office will be making funds available in relation to the matters that the right hon. Lady has raised.