House of Commons
Wednesday 10 February 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I hope the House will join me in welcoming to the Serjeant’s Chair the new Serjeant at Arms on the occasion of his first Prime Minister’s questions, which is an exceptional day—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—and an exceptional response. Secondly, the House might wish to join me in warmly congratulating Kim Sears and Andy Murray on the birth of their baby daughter.
Business Before Questions
Committee of Selection
That Heidi Alexander be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Jessica Morden be added.—(Anne Milton, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
Spoliation Advisory Panel
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report from Sir Donnell Deeny, Chairman of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, dated 10 February 2016, in respect of a gothic relief in ivory now in the possession of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.—(Stephen Barclay.)
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
We do not take points of order now. Points of order come after questions and statements.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What assessment he has made of the value to the economy in Scotland of UK membership of the single market. 
Mr Speaker, I am sure that everyone, particularly in Scotland, will share your warm wishes to Andy Murray and Kim Sears on the birth of their daughter.
Latest official statistics published last month show that in 2014 around 42% of all Scottish international exports were destined for countries within the European Union. The value of these exports is estimated at around £11.6 billion.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the package that the Prime Minister will discuss in greater detail with his colleagues on the European Council will bring about much needed reform and be a catalyst for further reform in the future, thus making it quite clear that the single market is good for the United Kingdom and, of course, good for Scotland?
In a reformed EU, we could have the best of both worlds—access to the single market while not being a member of the euro or Schengen. I believe that would be good for Scotland and good for the rest of the United Kingdom.
The single European market and the ability to affect the legislation that governs it is hugely important to the Scottish economy, especially the exporting sectors such as whisky. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, regardless of the ongoing negotiations, he will personally campaign for Scotland and the UK to remain within the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman will know and will, I am sure, be pleased to have heard that the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, Ruth Davidson, has expressed exactly that position.
The good news is that I get a second bite of the cherry, so perhaps at the end of this question the Secretary of State will answer my question about whether he will support Scotland and the UK remaining within the European Union. Making a positive case for remaining in the EU will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead, so will the Secretary of State give a commitment not to repeat the grinding negativity of project fear and condemn ridiculous scare stories such as those from the Prime Minister on immigration and the refugee camp in Calais?
I will make my position known when the negotiations have been concluded, but I make this offer to the right hon. Gentleman: if the reform package goes ahead and if I am campaigning to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom I would be delighted to join him, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and the First Minister on a platform to make that case.
Last night I had the pleasure of meeting the Scotch Whisky Association, which introduced me to some of the finer products from across the border. Simpsons Malt in my constituency produces an enormous amount of the malted barley sold across the border in Scotland to produce this whisky. Does my right hon. Friend agree that expansion into new markets that have nothing to do with the EU is the growth area for the whisky industry?
There are tremendous opportunities for development of the Scotch whisky industry. I think that the Scottish Government, the United Kingdom Government and all parties in the House are united on that. When the President of China was in the United Kingdom recently, we had the opportunity to present his wife with a bottle of her favourite malt whisky from Scotland, and both he and his good lady were able to make clear how important the product is to developing markets in China.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish businesses about the possibility of a UK exit from the European Union, and what concerns have those businesses expressed about the impact it would have on their ability to gain access to, and export to, the single market?
The clearest message that I receive from businesses in Scotland is that they want a short EU referendum campaign so that we can have the minimum amount of uncertainty.
Revised Fiscal Framework
2. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Ministers of the Scottish Government on negotiation of a revised fiscal framework for Scotland. 
I have regular discussions with the Deputy First Minister to discuss the fiscal framework. The Joint Exchequer Committee met on Monday, and negotiations are ongoing.
Yesterday the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister listing the issues on which agreement still needed to be reached. They were the method for
“block grant adjustment…set-up and administration costs, capital and revenue borrowing, fiscal oversight and dispute resolution.”
Can the Secretary of State confirm that those are all the outstanding issues on which agreement still needs to be reached?
It was established at the start of the discussions that until everything was agreed, nothing was agreed, but considerable progress has been made on all those issues. I was very pleased to learn from the First Minister’s letter that the Finance Secretary would be presenting revised proposals from the Scottish Government. That is what a negotiation involves: it involves both parties presenting revised proposals as the negotiation progresses, and that is exactly what the UK Government are committed to doing.
The starting point of the fiscal framework discussions is the Barnett formula, which means that Scotland’s public spending per capita is 15% higher than the United Kingdom average. Does the Secretary of State believe that that differential will be maintained in perpetuity?
My hon. Friend’s views on the Barnett formula are well known. I do not agree with them, and nor do the Government. The Government’s position is that the formula will remain, even in the post-fiscal framework environment.
The negotiations on the fiscal framework are in a very sensitive and fragile state, and we must be very careful about the language that is used. However, the Secretary of State has used language like “ludicrous” and “chancing his arm” when it comes to one party to the negotiations, which is profoundly unhelpful. If the Secretary of State and the Scotland Office have nothing to offer the negotiations, will the Secretary of State vow to stay right out of it, and leave those who want to find a solution to try to get those negotiations fixed?
I find it a little odd to take a lecture from that particular hon. Gentleman on moderate language.
I do not think anyone can doubt my commitment to ensuring that we have a negotiated fiscal framework, and I am delighted that, in her letter to the Prime Minister, the First Minister set out her strong commitment to achieving such an agreement, because that is the Prime Minister’s position. As I said at the weekend, both sides have done the dance; now let us do the deal.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to have the successful devolution that we all want, we need a firm and sensible framework for fiscal discipline that will last, and will stand the tests of all the unknown economic vicissitudes that may hit the country? Will he assure us that we will not repeat the mistakes that have been made in Spain, where devolved provinces frequently run up unsustainable debts which they then blame on Madrid, causing great difficulties to Spanish Governments who are seeking recovery?
As my right hon. and learned Friend will recognise, the settlement in Spain is entirely different. I agree with him about the need for a sustainable fiscal framework, but, as the Government have made clear in the negotiations, we are willing to accept a review of the arrangements in a few years to ensure that they stand up to scrutiny, and are seen to be fair to both Scotland and to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr Speaker, I join you in congratulating Andy Murray and Kim Sears on the birth of their baby daughter. However, their baby daughter might be winning Wimbledon by the time we get a deal on the fiscal framework. The UK and Scottish Governments have now been negotiating it for more than six months, which is longer than it took to negotiate the Scotland Bill itself, longer than it took to strike the historic international climate change agreement and longer than it took the G20 leaders to negotiate $1.1 trillion of support for the global economy. It is clearly the indexation model that is contentious, so will the Secretary of State tell the House why he thinks the per capita index model is not appropriate for the indexation of the block grant?
I have made it clear in previous discussions that we are not going to have detailed negotiations on this matter on the Floor of the House. I have also said that I very much welcome the fact that the First Minister has indicated that the Scottish Government are going to bring forward a revised proposal, just as we have done through the negotiations. I believe that we are within touching distance of striking a deal and I remain optimistic that we will do so.
The Secretary of State says that he will not provide a running commentary on the fiscal framework, yet both Governments are providing exactly that. The respected economist Anton Muscatelli has said of the fiscal framework:
“I do not understand why it should be such a huge stumbling block.”
The constitutional expert Jim Gallagher has said:
“This fiscal framework is an eminently solvable problem.”
The Prime Minister has spent recent months shuttling around Europe trying to strike a deal on EU reform. Is it not time that he got involved and showed the same enthusiasm for striking a fair deal for Scotland in our own Union as he has shown for the European Union?
The Prime Minister is committed to securing a deal. He has spoken to Nicola Sturgeon about this issue and they have had productive discussions. They are now involved in an exchange of letters, but they are both quite clear that they now want a deal. I am confident, given the position set out in the letter from the First Minister that the Scottish Government are actively engaging in that negotiation process, as are we, that we will be able to get that deal.
North Sea Oil and Gas
3. What discussions he has had with representatives of the North sea oil and gas industry on Government support for that sector. 
On 28 January, the Prime Minister and I held discussions with industry representatives in Aberdeen on further support for the North sea. As a member of the joint ministerial group on oil and gas, I also engage with key stakeholders, such as the Oil and Gas Authority, on a regular basis.
Calor Gas has its largest operational UK site in my constituency in South Leicestershire. A number of residents in the Scottish highlands and other rural areas rely on Calor Gas, which receives a large part of its Scottish gas supply from the North sea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the support that the UK Government are able to provide, we are much better placed to absorb the fall in oil prices than would have been the case had Scotland been an independent country?
I acknowledge the importance of Calor Gas and all those who supply off-the-network energy to people living in rural Scotland. On my hon. Friend’s wider question, he makes an important point about the ability of the United Kingdom as a whole to absorb the change in the oil price.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor about continued funding for seismic surveys on the UK continental shelf?
I am sure that the hon. Lady welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement when he was in Aberdeen of a £20 million contribution to a second round of new seismic surveys.
The severity of the collapse in global oil prices carries with it the danger that a number of fields in the North sea will suspend production and perhaps never resume it. Given that this would represent a serious loss of national assets and national infrastructure, may I invite the Secretary of State to have further discussions with the Chancellor in advance of the Budget to try to ensure that these fields are not lost forever and that they remain an important part of our national economy?
It will not surprise my right hon. Friend to know that that issue was part of the discussion with the Prime Minister, Fergus Ewing from the Scottish Government and representatives of the oil and gas industry at the recent meeting in Aberdeen. The Prime Minister made it very clear that he would look at any specific request or proposal in relation to supporting the industry in the forthcoming Budget.
4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effects of the Government’s welfare programme on social and economic inequalities in Scotland. 
9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effects of the Government’s welfare programme on social and economic inequalities in Scotland. 
On behalf of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I meet the Secretary of State for Scotland on a regular basis to discuss the devolution of welfare programmes to the Scottish Government; at a meeting just yesterday we discussed the ever-improving labour market in Scotland. I also have regular meetings with my counterparts from the Scottish Government and we have a joint ministerial working group. I will be speaking tomorrow to the Scottish Ministers with responsibility for fair work, and for children and young people.
The Smith agreement devolved employability funding and services to Scotland, but then the autumn statement cut funding for it by an eye-watering 87%, so that the Scottish Government now have only £7 million with which to deliver those services. Notwithstanding the general acceptance that this was a politically motivated decision, what does the Minister have to say to my constituents, who live in one of the areas of highest deprivation in the whole of the United Kingdom and are, after all, the people this will have the largest impact on?
I start by hoping that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that in her constituency the claimant count has decreased by 49% since 2010. We have record levels of employment in Scotland. There will be greater devolution for the Scottish Government in welfare, and we would be particularly happy to have discussions with them on employment programmes. Many of those will look at how we take these programmes further to support those who are out of work in Scotland but desperately want to work.
As a result of the changes from disability living allowance to the personal independence payment, thousands of Scots are losing their rights to Motability vehicles. That is particularly devastating in rural areas, where accessible public transport may be limited. Will the Minister end this iniquitous policy?
As I have said, there will be new powers under the devolution deal, which will also include top-up payments; this is still very much based on welfare payments as well. It will be down to the Scottish Government in particular to get on and start making some of these decisions. They have got the powers coming to them so they will have to start deciding how they want to use them.
It was thanks to Labour peers that the Government’s initial cack-handed and unfair cuts to tax credits were brought to an abrupt end, but we now know that the Government want to introduce new changes to income disregard which will leave 800,000 people on tax credits across the United Kingdom worse off come April. Can the Minister tell the House how many people in Scotland will be affected?
I will say, as I have previously said when the House has discussed the issues of welfare reform and welfare changes, that we have the Bill going through the other place right now and the changes we are making are to bring fairness and stability to the welfare bill in this country. We know, and we have made it clear, that despite the figures that the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party leverage constantly, people will not be affected and the right kind of transitional support will be put in place.
5. What steps the Government plan to take to increase the level of employment in Scotland. 
The employment rate in Scotland has never been higher, and it now stands at 74.9%. Our employment support offer will build on that, recognising the changing labour market environment, while delivering value for money to the taxpayer.
Erewash has many great examples of businesses whose commercial operations north of the border help to sustain jobs locally, including Rayden Engineering and West Transport. Does the Minister agree that Scotland not only supports jobs for its own population, but creates a great deal of employment across the rest of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that record levels of employment in Scotland have clearly benefited her constituency, as there is a crossover in employment opportunities between her constituency and Scotland. With our growing economy, and the strength of our economy, those levels will continue to grow and grow.
Under the SNP Scottish Government, Scotland’s youth employment is at its highest level since 2005, and is 7% higher than that in the rest of the UK. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that he will make representations to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that Scotland receives a fair share of funding from the apprenticeship levy?
I did not fully hear the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will certainly take it away. I understand that the Department is already looking at that matter.
It is a very serious situation if Ministers cannot hear the questions. It is also a considerable discourtesy to the people of Scotland if, when we are discussing these important matters, questions and answers cannot be heard. Let us please try to have a bit of order.
West Coast Main Line
6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport and Ministers of the Scottish Government on the effect on communities in Scotland of the partial closure of the west coast main line. 
I have had a number of discussions with the Department for Transport and others to ensure that the closure of the Lamington viaduct, which is in my own constituency, is addressed as quickly as possible. We remain absolutely committed to working together with all parties to reopen the west coast line in the first week of March.
I apologise for my lack of voice. The closure of the west coast main line has a huge impact not only on the economy of southern Scotland, but on Cumbria, too, as it is a strategic cross-border crossing on which many businesses in my constituency rely. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that it will be open in the first week of March, as it is so important. Will he confirm that the entirety will be open by 1 March?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments because, as she will be aware, my own constituents who use Lockerbie station are among those most affected by these changes. We are determined to get the west coast main line fully reopened in that first week in March.
The Prime Minister claims that he will get a good deal for Britain in the European Union. Would the Secretary of State like to see the United Kingdom play the same role and have the same powers in the EU that he claims Scotland currently has in the UK?
That was quite tangentially related to the west coast main line, but I hope that the dexterity of the Secretary of State will admit of an answer.
Mr Speaker, the west coast main line is one of the most important routes within the United Kingdom to Europe via London. I have set out my position in relation to the EU referendum. If the SNP genuinely wants Scotland to remain in the EU, it is important that, rather than concentrate on process issues, it gets out and campaigns for it.
Devolution and Local Government
7. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on the effect of devolution on the powers and autonomy of Scottish local government; and if he will make a statement. 
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to read my speech of 21 December, in which I set out that I fully support the devolution of power from Holyrood to local communities, as Lord Smith recommended in his commission agreement. This is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament to implement, and I encourage them to do so.
Will the Secretary of State condemn those who use devolution to centralise power in Holyrood—whether it is the centralisation of the police, the fire service, health spending, local government spending, courts, colleges and enterprise companies? Will he ensure that he stands together with those who feel that devolution does not stop at Holyrood, but goes down to the Scottish local authorities and to the Scottish people?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I can tell him the best way to achieve it, which is, under Ruth Davidson, to elect more Scottish Conservative MSPs to the Scottish Parliament.
In the interests of the record, can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the powers that are being devolved as part of the current Scotland Bill, the Scottish Government will be able to vary rates and bands of the Scottish rate of income tax—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State and the Minister could not hear the question because of a rude eruption of noise. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can ask his question again, and perhaps Members will have the common courtesy to allow him to be heard by their own Ministers.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are getting used to interruptions. In the interests of the record, can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the powers that are being devolved as part of the Scotland Bill, the Scottish Government will be able to vary rates and bands of the Scottish rate of income tax, allowing the Scottish Government to make progressive choices on these additional powers, and that the half-baked Labour plan to raise Scottish income tax for everyone before these additional powers are transferred—
Order. Members need to learn the merits of the blue pencil. If they used the blue pencil and questions were shorter, they would benefit.
The Scottish Parliament will indeed take on those very significant tax powers, which it will be able to use as it sees fit. I hope it will use them to make Scotland a more attractive place for business and commerce and to grow the Scottish economy and the Scottish population.
Last but not least, I call Fiona Bruce.
8. What discussions he has had with business organisations on economic trends in Scotland. 
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had a number of discussions with business organisations, including the Institute of Directors, the Scotch Whisky Association and Oil and Gas UK. It is because of this Government’s commitment to our long-term economic plan and economic prosperity that we have seen such growth in the Scottish economy. Thank goodness that the good people of Scotland voted to stay within a United Kingdom and reject independence.
Research by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers shows that Scottish shop workers could lose up to £1,300 annually as stores increasingly abandon their additional Sunday pay rates in the light of the proposed Sunday trading regulations. Will the Minister take up these concerns with the Business Secretary?
I did not hear all that my hon. Friend said, but I can tell her that we intend to devolve power down to local authorities, so that they make the decisions on what is in the best interests of people locally. That includes local people who may want to shop on a Sunday and the interests of businesses that may want to open more liberally on a Sunday to take full advantage. I think that is a good idea. I hope that my hon. Friend might consider supporting it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 10 February. 
I know the whole House has been deeply saddened by the death of Harry Harpham last week from cancer. After a distinguished career as a miner, an adviser to David Blunkett and a Sheffield councillor, he was returned to this place last May, succeeding David Blunkett himself. Although he was in this place only a short time, he quickly became a popular MP, recognised for his commitment to his constituents and his beliefs. It is a measure of the man that he continued to carry out his work as an MP throughout his treatment. We offer his wife Gill and his five children our profound condolences. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
First, may I associate myself, alongside colleagues, with the sentiments expressed at the sad loss of the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough? He came to this House with an excellent record in local government and will be greatly missed. I am sure the whole House sends our condolences to his family at this sad time.
Housing is the No. 1 issue in my constituency—a workable local plan that looks after our green spaces while offering that pure Conservative value, the right to buy. Does the Prime Minister agree that our Help to Buy ISAs, one of which is currently being taken out every 30 seconds, is the right way to promote savings and encourage home ownership?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the most difficult things for young people is to get that deposit together for their first flat or their first house. That is where Help to Buy ISAs, where we match some of the money they put in, can make such a difference. Some 250,000 first-time buyers have opened a Help to Buy ISA, so under this Government we have seen 40,000 people exercise the right to buy their council house. Now we are extending that to all housing association tenants, and we have seen 130,000 people with Help to Buy getting their first flat or house. There is more to do—mostly, building houses—but helping people with their deposits is vital for our country.
I join the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) in paying tribute to Harry Harpham, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, a former miner, who passed away last week. Just a short time ago, Harry used his last question here to ask the Prime Minister about Sheffield Forgemasters and the steel industry. I hope the Prime Minister will reflect on his diligence in representing that industry and his constituency.
Yesterday, I had a chance to have a very nice conversation with Harry’s widow, Gill, and his family. I asked them to say how they would like to remember Harry. She gave me this message, which I will read out:
“We have admired the bravery and courage he showed in his life which was formed during the miners’ strike, and carried him forward for the rest of his life”.
I am sure the whole House and many in the much wider community will remember Harry as a decent, honourable man absolutely dedicated to his community and his constituents. We are very sad at his passing.
Also following the hon. Member for Eastleigh, I have a question on housing. I have an email from Rosie. She is in her 20s—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, the Rosie who has written to me does not have the same good housing that the Chief Whip of our party does, but aspiration springs eternal. The Rosie who has written to me is in her 20s, and she says:
“I work incredibly hard at my job, yet I am still living at home with my parents”.
The lack of housing options is forcing her to consider moving—even leaving the country. She asks the Prime Minister what action he is going to take to help young people and families suffering from unrealistic house prices and uncapped rents to get somewhere safe and secure to live.
First, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that when you get a letter from the Chief Whip, that normally spells trouble. What I would say to Rosie—the Rosie who wrote to him—is we want to do everything we can to help young people get on the housing ladder. That is why we have got these help-to-save ISAs, and I hope she is looking at that. We are cutting Rosie’s taxes, so this year she will be able to earn £11,000 before she starts paying any taxes. If Rosie is a tenant in a housing association home, she will be able to buy that home, because we are introducing and extending the right to buy. And, of course, she will have the opportunity to register for Help to Buy, which gives people the chance to have a smaller deposit on owning their own home. If Rosie is not earning that much money, but wants to be a homeowner, shared ownership can make a real difference. In some parts of the country, you will only need a deposit of some £1,000 or £2,000 to begin the process of becoming a homeowner. But I recognise, in this Parliament, building more houses, following those schemes, we have got to deliver for Rosie.
I am very pleased that the Prime Minister wants to help deliver decent housing for Rosie. She lives and works in London, and as the Prime Minister knows, London is very, very expensive. He talks about people getting on the housing ladder, but the reality is that home ownership has fallen under his Government by 200,000—it actually rose by 1 million under the last Labour Government. His record is one, actually, of some years of failure on housing. He said that council homes sold under the right to buy would be replaced like for like. Can the Prime Minister tell us how that policy is panning out?
First, let me start with what happened under Labour with right-to-buy sales. What happened was one council home was built for every 170 council homes they sold. That is the record. We have said that we will make sure that two homes are built for every council home in London that is sold. That is because my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) insisted on that in an amendment to the housing Bill. Now, these take some years to build, but they will be built, or the money comes back to the Treasury.
The Prime Minister ought to be aware that just one home has been built for every eight that have been sold under his Government. People are increasingly finding it very difficult to find anywhere to live. The Chancellor’s crude cuts in housing benefits for those in supported housing are putting at risk hundreds of thousands of elderly people, people with mental health conditions, war veterans, and women fleeing domestic violence who need support. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what estimate housing providers have made of the impact of this policy on supported housing?
First, we are going to increase housing supply in the social sector through an £8 billion housing budget during this Parliament that is going to build 400,000 affordable homes. When it comes to our reforms of housing benefit, yes, we have cut housing benefit because it was completely out of control when we came into government. There were families in London who were getting £100,000 of housing benefit per family. Think how many people—think how many Rosies—were going to work, working hard every day, just to provide that housing benefit for one family. We support supported housing schemes, and we will look very carefully to make sure they can work well in the future, but I make no apology for the fact that in this Parliament we are cutting social rents, so that the Rosies who are living in social houses and going out to work will have lower rents under this Government.
I am pleased the Prime Minister finally got on to the question of supported housing. Housing providers estimate that nearly half of all supported housing schemes will close. One in four providers is set to close all their provision. This is a very serious crisis. I assume the Prime Minister is not content to see the elderly, people with mental health conditions and others with nowhere to live, so can he assure the House now that the warm words he has just given on supported housing will be matched by action, and that he will stop this cut, which will destroy the supported housing sector?
We will continue to support the supported housing sector. The report that the right hon. Gentleman quotes from was an opinion poll with an extremely leading question, if he actually looks at what he was looking at. The changes that we are making are reducing social rents by 1% every year for four years. That is good news for people who go out to work, who work hard and who would like to pay less rent. That goes with the lower taxes that they will be paying and the more childcare they will be getting. The other change that we are making, which does not actually come into force until 2018, is to make sure that we are not paying housing benefit to social tenants way above what we would pay to private sector tenants. The simple point is this, and this is where I think Labour has got to focus: every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses. So let us take this right back to Rosie, in the beginning. She wants a country where we build homes. She wants a country where you can buy a home. She wants a country with a strong economy, so you can afford to buy a home. All those things we are delivering, and you will not deliver them if you go on spending more and more money on subsidised housing and housing benefit. One day Labour has got to realise that welfare bills have to be brought under control.
Shelter estimates that the measures in the housing Bill will lose 180,000 affordable homes over the next four years. The Prime Minister is actually overseeing a very damaging housing crisis. It is pricing out people from buying and it is not providing enough social housing. Therefore, many people are forced to rely on the private rented sector. Those on the Benches behind him recently voted against an amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for homes to be fit for human habitation. Labour invested £22 billion in government in bringing social homes up to the decent homes standard. There are now 11 million people in this country who are private renters. Does the Prime Minister know how many of those homes do not meet the decent homes standard?
In the last five years, we built more council houses than the previous Labour Government built in 13 years. Where was the right hon. Gentleman when that was going on? Thirteen years, and an absolutely hopeless record on housing. What we are doing is this: an £8 billion housing budget that will provide 400,000 new affordable homes, a target to build a million homes during this Parliament, getting housing benefit down so we can spend money on housing, and having a strong economy that can support the housing we need.
I was asking the Prime Minister how many of the 11 million renters are living in homes that do not meet the decent homes standard and are, therefore, substandard. I will help him. One third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet the decent homes standard. Shelter has found that six out of 10 renters have to deal with issues such as damp, mould and leaking rooves and windows. It is simply not good enough.
Millions are struggling to get the home that they deserve. More families are slipping into temporary accommodation. The elderly are threatened with eviction. Homelessness is rising. Too few homes are being built. Social housing is under pressure. Families are being forced into low-standard, overpriced private rented accommodation. Young people are unable to move out of the family home and start their own lives. When is the Prime Minister going to realise there is a housing crisis in Britain? His Government need to address it now so that this dreadful situation does not continue.
Let me just take one of the figures that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. Homelessness today is less than half what it was at its peak under the last Labour Government. There is a simple point here. You can only invest in new houses, you can only restore existing houses, you can only build new houses and you can only support people into those houses if you have got a strong economy. We inherited mass unemployment, an economy that had completely collapsed and a banking crisis. Now we have got zero inflation, wages growing, unemployment at 5%, an economy growing and people able, for the first time, to look to their future and see that they can buy and own a house in our country.
Q2. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman, was 19 years old when Daesh came to her village. They killed most of her family, they tortured her, they raped her and they made her their slave. Nadia’s story is the same as those of thousands of Yazidi women, except that thousands of Yazidi women are still held in captivity and Nadia managed to escape. In fact, she is in the Public Gallery today. Will the Prime Minister join me in acknowledging Nadia’s resilience and her bravery—the essential qualities that have allowed her to triumph over Daesh—and will he do everything in his power to redouble his efforts to support Yazidi women and to eradicate Daesh? 
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue in such a way. Let me welcome Nadia Murad, who is here with us today. She and the Yazidi community have suffered appallingly at the hands of this murderous, brutal, fascist organisation in Syria and in Iraq. We must do everything we can to defeat Daesh and its violent ideology. We are playing a leading role in this global coalition. In Iraq, where so many Yazidis have suffered, Daesh has lost over 40% of the territory that it once controlled. We are making progress, but, as I said at the time of the debate about Syria, this is going to take a long time. Building up Iraqi security forces, working with Syrian opposition forces, building the capacity of Governments in both countries to drive this evil organisation out of the middle east—however long it takes, we must stick at it.
We on the SNP Benches join in the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in relation to Harry Harpham, and we pass on our best wishes to his family at this sad and difficult time.
The Prime Minister made a vow, and his party signed an agreement, that there would be no detriment to Scotland with new devolution arrangements. Why is the UK Treasury proposing plans that may be detrimental to Scotland to the tune of £3 billion?
We accept the Smith principles of “no detriment”. There are two principles: first, no detriment to Scotland, quite rightly, at the time when the transfer is made in terms of Scotland having these new tax-raising powers; and then, no detriment to Scottish taxpayers, but also to the rest of the United Kingdom taxpayers, whom we have to bear in mind as we take into account this very important negotiation.
I have had good conversations with the First Minister, and negotiations are under way. I want us successfully to complete this very important piece of devolution in a fair and reasonable way, and these negotiations should continue. But let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that if we had had full fiscal devolution—with oil revenues having collapsed by 94%—the right hon. Gentleman and his party would be just weeks away from a financial calamity for Scotland.
In the context of the referendums, whether in Scotland or across the UK on EU membership, do not voters have a right to know that what is promised by the UK Government can be trusted and will be delivered in full? Will the Prime Minister tell the Treasury that time is running out on delivering a fair fiscal framework, and that it must agree a deal that is both fair to the people of Scotland and fair to the rest of the United Kingdom?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman everything that has been committed to by this Government will be delivered. We committed to this huge act of devolution to Scotland, and we have delivered it—we committed to the Scotland Bill, and we are well on the way to delivering it—with all the things we said we would, including those vital Smith principles.
There is an ongoing negotiation to reach a fair settlement, and I would say to the Scottish First Minister and the Scottish Finance Minister that they have to recognise there must be fairness across the rest of the United Kingdom too. But with good will, I can tell you that no one is keener on agreement than me. I want the Scottish National party, here and in Holyrood, to have to start making decisions—which taxes are you going to raise, what are you going to do with benefits? I want to get rid of, frankly, this grievance agenda and let you get on with a governing agenda, and then we can see what you are made of.
Q3. The skills shortage in engineering in Wiltshire is a particular problem. It is threatening and undermining all the work we have done in job creation and also in supporting businesses. It is, quite simply, a ticking time bomb. May I ask the Prime Minister what more he can do to remove the stigma, misunderstanding and problems associated with STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects and STEM careers? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. There are special circumstances in Wiltshire, because it has the enormous success of Dyson, which is hiring engineers and skilled mathematicians and scientists from every university in the country, and long may that continue. What we will do is help by training 3 million apprentices in this Parliament, and we are giving special help to teachers of STEM subjects and encouraging them into teaching. I think there is a lot that business and industry can do to help us in this by going into schools and talking about what these modern engineering careers are all about—how much fulfilment people can get from these careers—to encourage people to change the culture when it comes to pursuing these careers.
Q4. Young people afraid of losing their homes, women denied the pensions that they were expecting and, increasingly, the needy left exposed without the social care they need to live a decent life: when will the Prime Minister address these scandals? 
What we are doing for pensioners is putting in place the triple lock so that every pensioner knows there can never be another shameful 75p increase in the pension that we saw under Labour. They know that, every year, it will increase either by wages, prices or 2.5%, and that is why the pension is so much higher than when I became Prime Minister. Of course we need to make sure there is a fair settlement for local government, too—we will be hearing more about that later today—but the ability of local councils to raise special council tax for social care will help an area where there is great pressure.
Q5. The Spitfire was a crucial element in our winning the battle of Britain 75 years ago and keeping our country free from tyranny. However, there are some who fear that our independent nuclear deterrent could be as obsolete as the Spitfire. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assure the House and the country that that is not the case? 
It takes quite a talent for a shadow Defence Secretary to insult Spitfire pilots and our brave submariners all in one go. Another week, another completely ludicrous Labour position on defence. The last word should go to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon)—thank you Twitter for this one—who, as she came out of the parliamentary Labour party meeting, tweeted:
“Oh dear oh dear omg oh dear oh dear need to go rest in a darkened room”.
I expect that she will find the rest of her party there with her.
Q7. At the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee today, the Business Secretary confirmed that the Government will not support the European Commission in raising tariffs on dumped steel from countries such as China. Why will the UK Government not stand up for UK steel? 
We have repeatedly stood up for UK steel, including by supporting anti-dumping measures in the EU, but that is not enough. We need to get behind public procurement for steel, and that is what we are doing. We need to get behind reducing energy bills for steel, and that is what we are doing. We need to support communities, like the hon. Gentleman’s, that have seen job losses, and that is exactly what we are doing. We recognise what a vital part of Britain’s industrial base the steel industry is, and that is why we are backing it.
Q6. Julian Assange is accused of rape and is on the run. Despite that, a United Nations panel that nobody has ever heard of declared last week that he has been “arbitrarily detained” and is somehow deserving of compensation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that was a nonsensical decision, that Mr Assange should hand himself over to the Swedish prosecutors and that if anyone is deserving of compensation, it is the British taxpayer, who has had to pay £12 million to police his Ecuadorian hideout? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was a ridiculous decision. This is a man with an outstanding allegation of rape against him. He barricaded himself in the Ecuadorian embassy, yet claims that he was arbitrarily detained. The only person who detained him was himself. What he should do is come out of the embassy and face the arrest warrant against him. He is being asked to stand trial in Sweden—a country with a fair reputation for justice. He should bring to an end this whole sorry saga.
Q8. Women’s aid groups, including my own in Angus, have raised the serious concern that changes in housing benefit may force the closure of many refuges. Will the Prime Minister undertake to specifically exclude refuges from the changes and to protect this vital service for vulnerable women and children? 
As I said in my answers to the Leader of the Opposition, we want to support the supported housing projects that work in many of our constituencies. We have all seen how important they are. The changes to housing benefit that we are talking about will not come into place until 2018, so there is plenty of time to make sure that we support supported housing projects.
Q10. Next month, Milton Keynes will host the first ever national apprenticeship fair. We have a strong record in expanding apprenticeships, but is there not still a need for a cultural shift in careers advice to show that high-level apprenticeships and university places are equally valid? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The careers advice that we need to give young people is that every school leaver has the choice of either a university place, because we have uncapped university places, or an apprenticeship, because we are funding 3 million of them in this Parliament. We need to go on to explain that if someone becomes an apprentice, that does not rule out doing a degree or degree-level qualification later on during their apprenticeship. The option of earning and learning is stronger in Britain today than it has ever been.
Q9. Does the Prime Minister agree that how we protect human rights in the legal systems of the United Kingdom deserves full and careful consideration? Will he give an assurance that his consultation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act will not conflict with the pre-election purdah periods in Scotland and the other devolved Administrations? 
We will look very carefully at all those issues, but I say to the hon. and learned Lady and Opposition Members that the idea that there were no human rights in Britain before the Human Rights Act is ludicrous. This House has been a great bastion and defender of human rights, but we will look carefully at the timing of any announcement that we make.
Q15. I have spent most of my working life in children’s hospices, which rely heavily on donations from organisations such as Children in Need, which has a long and proud association with the town of Pudsey. Last week, Children in Need’s most famous celebrity sadly passed away. Will my right hon. Friend join me and the people of Pudsey in paying tribute to Sir Terry Wogan, who did so much to inspire millions of pounds to be donated to these causes? 
I am very happy to do that. My hon. Friend, who represents a constituency—Pudsey—which has such a connection with Children in Need, is absolutely right to raise this. Terry Wogan was one of this country’s great icons. Like many people in the House, I felt almost as if I had grown up with him, listening to him on the radio in the car, watching him present “Blankety Blank” or all the many other things he did. Perhaps many people’s favourite was the “Eurovision Song Contest”, to which he brought such great humour every year. You did not have to be a “TOG” to be an enormous fan. I think that we were all fans, and he will be hugely missed. His work with Children in Need was particularly special.
Q11. On Monday, I attended the Work and Pensions tribunal appeal hearing for my constituent, Mrs Jackie Millan, a brave, inspiring woman who has dwarfism. Despite being unable to climb staircases except on all fours, she was awarded zero disability points by her assessor. Has the Prime Minister, as a constituency MP, attended any tribunal hearings? If so, did he find the process fair, dignified and compassionate? 
I am very happy to look into the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. As a constituency MP, of course I have people coming to my surgery with inquiries about either employment and support allowance or indeed, disability living allowance. I also have the experience, having had a disabled son, of filling out all the forms myself. I am looking forward to the new system, which I think, with a proper medical check, will work out better. I have listened to the arguments, but we have to have an adjudication system that is independent of politicians.
When I was growing up, I always knew I was nearly home when I saw the iconic cooling towers of the Rugeley power stations on the horizon. On Monday, the owners of the remaining power station announced its likely closure this summer. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to meet me to discuss further the Government support that can be given to the 150 workers, and the provision that can be made to ensure that the site is redeveloped as quickly as possible?
I will certainly arrange for that meeting to take place. We should thank everyone who has worked at power stations that come to the end of their lives for the work that they have done to give us electricity to keep the lights on and our economy moving. My hon. Friend is right: as coal-fired power stations come to the end of their lives, we must ensure that proper redevelopment takes place so that we provide jobs for constituents like hers.
Q12. The Football Supporters Federation is considering calling on fans to hold mass walk-outs to get their voices heard about ticket prices. Will the Prime Minister act to give fans a place at the table in club boardrooms so that their voices can be heard when issues such as ticket prices are discussed? 
I will look very carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion because there is a problem whereby some clubs put up prices very rapidly every year, even though so much of the money for football comes through sponsorship, equipment and other sources. I will look carefully at what he says.
The vital debate and vote on the Trident successor submarine should have been held in the last Parliament, but was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Given the fun that the Prime Minister had a few moments ago at the Labour party’s expense over Trident’s successor, it must be tempting for him to put off the vote until Labour’s conference in October. However, may I urge him to do the statesmanlike thing and hold that vote as soon as possible because everyone is ready for it and everyone is expecting it?
We should have the vote when we need to have the vote, and that is exactly what we will do. No one should be in any doubt that the Government are going to press ahead with all the decisions that are necessary to replace in full our Trident submarines. I think the Labour party should listen to Lord Hutton, who was Defence Secretary for many years. He says:
“If Labour wants to retain any credibility on defence whatsoever, it had better recognise the abject futility of what it’s leadership is currently proposing”.
I hope that when that vote comes, we will have support from right across the House of Commons.
Q13. In the light of today’s damning National Audit Office report on teacher shortages, will the Prime Minister take urgent steps to help excellent schools such as those in my constituency to recruit and—crucially—to retain the best teachers, including by extending the so-called inner-London weighting to all Harrow schools and other suburban schools in London? 
Obviously we will look carefully at the report. There are 13,100 more teachers in our schools than when I became Prime Minister, and our teachers are better qualified than ever before—[Interruption.] People are shouting about increased pupil numbers, but they might be interested to know that we have 47,500 fewer pupils in overcrowded schools than in 2010, because we put the investment in where it was needed. Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that we need schemes such as Teach First and our national leadership programme, which are getting some of the best teachers into the schools where they are most needed.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deserves great credit for the results of the Syria replenishment conference that was held under his co-sponsorship in London. He will be aware, however, that that can only address the symptoms, and not the causes, of the catastrophe that is Syria today. Will he tell the House what more he thinks the British Government can do to try to promote the political track and ensure that it reaches the most speedy possible success?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he says about the Syria conference, and that gives me the opportunity to thank my co-hosts, the Norwegians, the Germans, the Kuwaitis, and the United Nations Secretary-General. In one day we raised more money than has ever been raised at one of these conferences—more than $10 billion—and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development who did a lot of the very hard work. That money helps because it will keep people in the region, feed and clothe them, and make sure that they get the medicine they need. But we do need a political solution and we will go on working with all our partners to deliver that. That requires all countries, including Russia, to recognise the need for a moderate Sunni opposition to be at the table to create a transitional authority in Syria. Without that, I fear that we will end up with a situation with Assad in one corner, and Daesh in the other corner—the worst possible outcome in terms of terrorism, and for refugees and the future of Syria.
Q14. I am sure that the Prime Minister is looking forward to visiting Hull next year, and as the UK city of culture, we are already backed by many prestigious organisations such as the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, we could do much more to make this a real national celebration of culture. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging the many London-based national arts organisations to do their bit and contribute to the success of Hull 2017? 
The hon. Lady makes an important point, which is that our national cultural institutions have an immense amount of work and prestige that they can bring out to regional galleries and centres when there is a city of culture event, or indeed more broadly, and I talk to them about that. I am looking forward to visiting Hull, and as it is the city of Wilberforce, I am sure my hon. Friends will want to join me. Hull is a city of poets, including Andrew Marvell, and it was home to Philip Larkin for many years, and, of course, Stevie Smith—sometimes one might want to contemplate what it looks like “not waving but drowning.”
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before large numbers of hon. Members file out of the Chamber, I remind them that the election for the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is now taking place in Committee Room 16. Voting will continue until 1.30 pm. Voting on a deferred Division is taking place in the No Lobby, and that will continue until 2 pm.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that is of marginal interest at best to the outside world, but which would risk a number of jobs and further undermine the traditions and standards of this House. That is, of course, the matter of the change from vellum to paper for the recording of Acts of Parliament.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that on 9 October last year you indicated to me, in answer to a point of order, that there would be a substantive vote in this House before any such matter occurred. In answer to a point of order from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on 9 February 2016, you indicated that you had changed your view on the matter: it would no longer be necessary for a substantive vote in this House, and that, if she wished to register her opposition, an early-day motion would be a way of doing so. That, of course, would have no effect whatever on the other place. However, if I were to call a debate under the aegis of the Backbench Business Committee, with a substantive motion which required that this retrograde decision should be reversed, can you advise me what effect that would have, both on our decision in this place and whether the other place would have any reason to listen to that decision?
Let me say the following to the hon. Gentleman, to whom I am grateful for his point of order. First, I have not actually changed my view on the desirability of a vote in this Chamber on the matter. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying, as I readily acknowledged yesterday when a point of order was raised, that I had expected a vote would take place on that matter in this House. However, the matter does fall within the aegis—and, it appears, in terms of decision-making competence, the exclusive aegis—of the other place. For that reason, and on account of their desire to proceed, there is no entitlement for this House to supersede the will of the other place.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman quite correctly judges that it would be open to him and to other Members to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate on this matter. I wish the hon. Gentleman all success, presumably in a cross-party effort, to secure such a debate. It is not for me to seek to comment on how the other place judges matters. I would not have sought to do so anyway and I have been reminded by sound professional advice that it is not for me to do so. I therefore do not think I should get into the business of speculating as to what might happen. I have known the hon. Gentleman for well over 20 years and he is, at his best, a formidable and energetic campaigner. If he feels strongly, my advice to him, together with the hon. Lady from the Labour Benches who raised the matter yesterday, is to go ahead and seek a debate, marshal his forces and to plan for victory, rather than to spend time sitting around predicting it. Perhaps we can leave it there.
You can do it when you get to the other place.
I think it would be tactful to ignore the undoubtedly purposeful interjection, from a sedentary position, by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but I heard what he said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a query about how we select ministerial questions in the post-English votes for English laws situation. Earlier today, we had Scottish questions. Some 45 Scottish Members submitted a question; three were chosen, which makes a success rate of 6%. Some 48 non-Scottish Members submitted a question; 12 were chosen, which makes a success rate of 25%. I appreciate that the randomness of the selection process can create these situations, but it is a matter of concern that Scottish Members had only a one-in-four chance of questioning the Scottish Secretary, as compared with other Members of the House. I ask you ever so gently, as part of the review into EVEL, to consider whether it might be appropriate, for those Departments with a specific territorial responsibility, to put in place some mechanism to allow the Members representing those areas a better chance of holding Ministers to account.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to the thrust of his question is that the selection is done by electronic ballot. It is done that way for questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland and for every other Question Time. I am happy to consider his request for consideration of an alternative method, but I hope he will bear in mind the likelihood that there will exist opinions other than and different from his own.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your help. Yesterday, in response to a written question, the Immigration Minister had to correct an inaccurate answer previously given to the question of how many young adults who had previously been refugees but unaccompanied minors had been forcibly removed from this country. The original answer was 1,600; the corrected answer was 3,750. Will you open an investigation into how that might have happened and press for information about the cost to the UK Exchequer, in forgone revenue, of deporting 3,750 young people in whom we had invested over many years and who were just at the prime of their lives and about to be able to contribute to our country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is that he can seek a debate on the matter, he can table written parliamentary questions pursuant to the information he has already extracted, and he can raise the matter, with all the authority of his leadership office, on the Floor of the House at business questions tomorrow. I keenly expect to see him in his place and leaping to his feet with alacrity tomorrow morning.
Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Theresa Villiers, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Philip Hammond, the Attorney General, Greg Hands and Mr Ben Wallace, presented a Bill to make provision about the Independent Reporting Commission, extend the period for the appointment of Northern Ireland Ministers, modify the pledge made by Northern Ireland Ministers on taking office, provide for persons becoming Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to give an undertaking, and make provision about the draft budget of the Northern Ireland Executive, in pursuance of the agreement made on 17 November 2015 called A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 133) with explanatory notes (Bill 133-EN).
Policing and Crime Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Secretary Greg Clark, the Attorney General and Mike Penning, presented a Bill to make provision for collaboration between the emergency services; to make provision about the handling of police complaints and other matters relating to police conduct and to make further provision about the Independent Police Complaints Commission; to make provision for super-complaints about policing; to make provision for the investigation of concerns about policing raised by whistle-blowers; to make provision about police discipline; to make provision about police inspection; to make provision about the powers of police civilian staff and police volunteers; to remove the powers of the police to appoint traffic wardens; to enable provision to be made to alter police ranks; to make provision about the Police Federation; to make provision in connection with the replacement of the Association of Chief Police Officers with the National Police Chiefs’ Council; to make provision about the system for bail after arrest but before charge; to make provision to enable greater use of modern technology at police stations; to make other amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; to amend the powers of the police under the Mental Health Act 1983; to extend the powers of the police in relation to maritime enforcement; to make provision about deputy police and crime commissioners; to make provision to enable changes to the names of police areas; to make provision about the regulation of firearms; to make provision about the licensing of alcohol; to make provision about the implementation and enforcement of financial sanctions; to amend the Police Act 1996 to make further provision about police collaboration; to make provision about the powers of the National Crime Agency; to make provision for requiring arrested persons to provide details of nationality; to make provision for requiring defendants in criminal proceedings to provide details of nationality and other information; to make provision to combat the sexual exploitation of children; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 134) with explanatory notes (Bill 134-EN).
Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses.
We have heard mention of Andy Murray’s new baby. In the last few days, we have had a new delivery ourselves, and it would be remiss of me not to apologise to my wife for taking a pause in our paternity arrangements to present the Bill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I am grateful for the opportunity to bring in the Bill, and I would like to pay tribute to those Members, particularly the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who worked hard on this matter in the last Parliament and pressed for a prohibition on the use of wild animals in circuses.
The Conservative manifesto, on which I was proud to stand at the 2015 general election, clearly stated:
“We will ban wild animals in circuses”.
It is a commitment mirrored on all sides of the House. The Labour party manifesto committed to
“ban wild animals in circuses”.
The Democratic Unionist party’s policy is now to support a ban on wild animals in circuses. The SNP’s Westminster manifesto promised to consult on the issue of wild animals in travelling circuses, with many SNP MPs and MSPs now calling for a complete ban. This is one of those rare moments where there appears be a degree of consensus among all parties.
In 2011, the House agreed a Backbench Business motion calling on the then Government to ban all wild animals in circuses. I believe that many Members consider this to be a piece of unfinished business from the last Parliament, and I appreciate the chance to promote this Bill to press for that vital reform.
Ahead of a ban being introduced, the coalition Government introduced, as an interim welfare measure, legislation to license those circuses that use wild animals. I believe it is time to introduce a ban to supersede those regulations.
According to the latest responses to written parliamentary questions, last year there were still 18 wild animals being used by travelling circuses in England. That is a small number of animals, but it is a practice that I, the majority of MPs and the vast majority of the public think should be brought to an end.
Why are wild animals in circuses no longer appropriate? First, there is the practical element. In the past two centuries, wild animals were an essential part of the circus experience. The definition of a wild animal is a member of a species that is not normally domesticated in Great Britain. For many people, particularly those who could not afford foreign holidays, circuses were the only opportunity they had to see wild and exotic animals. That is no longer the case. We are very fortunate in this country to have many world-class zoos, such as Colchester zoo, which has elephants, tigers, penguins, lions, bears and chimpanzees, among other animals. I should probably declare an interest, because I am a gold card member of the zoo and go there with my daughter on many occasions throughout the year. The zoo does fantastic work caring for the animals and providing them with different types of enrichment in order to occupy their time and promote natural behaviours. Crucially, it aims to ensure that the conditions in which wild animals are kept are as close as possible to their natural habitats, thus educating people about a species’ natural environment as well as better enabling them to promote important issues such as conservation.
Moreover, thanks to the huge growth in the opportunity for foreign travel, many more people can travel across the world to see these animals in their natural habitats. The extraordinary wildlife documentaries on television now mean that we can see these wild animals in high definition from the comfort of our homes, should we so wish.
The second objection is to do with our basic respect for wild animals. Wild animals that have been used and kept in travelling circuses have the same genetic make-up as their counterparts in zoos or in the wild. Their instinctive behaviours remain. Using such animals to perform tricks and stunts hardly encourages people to respect the animals’ innate wild nature and value. Neither is there any educational, conservational nor research benefit from using the animals solely or primarily for such entertainment and spectacle.
I understand that, in many cases, circus keepers do the best they can to care for the wild animals in question, and those circuses licensed under the interim licensing scheme of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must adhere to welfare standards. However, the very nature of the circus business model means that attempting to recreate the natural habitat of a wild species or to aid in its conservation can never be achieved.
Respected animal health and welfare groups, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association, have long supported and campaigned for a complete ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Their views are based on the strongly held belief that travelling circuses cannot meet the welfare needs of wild animals. I have some sympathy with those views.
The 2007 Radford report concluded that there appeared to be
“little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments”.
It is, therefore, clear that there are very strong views on both sides, but when seeking to introduce a ban it is vital to take an evidence-based approach and to recognise the grounds on which it would be sensible to introduce that prohibition.
First and foremost, I want to get this ban through and carry the support of Members on both sides of the House. I am aware that there are some, including in this House, who argue that these animals were born and bred in circuses and that it would be cruel to drag them away from the keepers and environments they know well. I understand that argument, but I am afraid that I respectfully disagree with it. We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good. Opposing a ban on the basis that wild animals already in circuses might be disrupted from their regular patterns of life would prevent a ban from being implemented in perpetuity, which is not acceptable.
Of course, it is vital that there is provision to ensure that those wild animals in circuses in England are well cared for in retirement. DEFRA’s circus licensing scheme already requires that all licensed animals must have retirement plans in place. It is also important that we give those circuses affected appropriate time to prepare and adapt to any ban. However, like so many throughout the House, I really believe that this is a reform whose time has come and that we should follow countries such as Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands in prohibiting the use of wild animals in circuses.
Wild animals were once an integral part of the circus experience. That is no longer the case. The use of wild animals in travelling circuses can no longer be justified. The majority of MPs want a ban. The public supports a ban. I urge colleagues to support the Bill.
I had not intended to speak, but, having heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) has said, I think it is important to put on the record that, if his proposal is indeed supported by the Government, it is they, rather than a private Member through a Bill, who should legislate on it. The reason I say that is that this is a controversial issue—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend conceded that it is a controversial issue. It is not surprising that, as a Conservative, I should regard it as controversial that this House should be considering a total prohibition on what is currently a perfectly lawful activity. If we are going to legislate, let the Government introduce a Bill of their own and let us have a proper debate about the detail.
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester will listen to this response. He spoke of tricks being done by wild animals in circuses. If we look at a similar Bill promoted in the previous Parliament, we will see that it sought to impose a ban even on displaying wild animals.
The definition of a wild animal is also an issue. For example, does my hon. Friend think that a camel, which in most countries of the world is regarded as a domestic animal, should be banned from being able to participate in a circus?
Order. May I just explain that in these circumstances we do not take interventions? That does not happen. Mr Chope’s remarks must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester did not refer to the outcome of the licensing regime, which has, perfectly rightly, been brought into effect. The regime requires up to seven inspections a year of animals in travelling circuses. My hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that zoos, including Colchester zoo, are inspected only once a year. We are now about to embark on the fourth year of that licensing regime and nobody has criticised the welfare of the animals subject to it. On the basis that good Conservatives should argue for as little regulation and prohibition as is possible and reasonable, I think we have reached a compromise whereby we have a proper and tight welfare licensing regime without the need for a total ban or prohibition. That is why I say to my hon. Friend that it would be wrong of him to raise people’s expectations—I accept that many support the views he has expressed today—by suggesting that this legislation could be passed under the Private Member’s Bill procedure. I hope that his response will be that the Government should bring forward legislation, if indeed the Government have the will to implement this particular aspect of our manifesto.
It would be out of order, Mr Speaker, for me to talk about other aspects of the Conservative manifesto that have not yet been implemented and might not even be implemented at all. The onus for putting this matter right, if it needs to be put right, must be on the Government. This will be controversial and technical legislation, which is why I do not think it appropriate to be dealt with under the Private Member’s Bill procedure.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Will Quince, Jim Dowd, Sir Roger Gale, Bob Blackman, Mark Pritchard, Mr Philip Hollobone, Nusrat Ghani, Mr Virendra Sharma, Simon Hoare and Louise Haigh present the Bill.
Will Quince accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March, and to be printed (Bill 135).
Police Grant Report (England and Wales)
I remind the House that this motion is subject to double majority voting. If a Division is called on this motion, all Members of the House are able to vote. Under Standing Order No. 83R, the motion will be agreed only if, of those voting, both a majority of all Members and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and Wales vote in support of the motion. At the end, the Tellers will report the results—first for all Members and secondly for those representing constituencies in England and Wales.
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2016–17 (HC 753), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, because I noticed that the new Serjeant at Arms was in his place earlier and I was hoping that he would still be there now, although I mean no disrespect to his deputy. I know the new Serjeant at Arms well. He comes from a great regiment, and we will miss him at the Ministry of Justice where he looked after our security. I am sure he will do a fantastic job here.
I was enormously proud when I was appointed the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice. Early on, I encountered a great deal of lobbying about the grant from colleagues here, as well from police constables and police and crime commissioners around the country. The lobbying was about whether the grant was fair, whether it should be changed and whether police forces would be able to survive further cuts. We inherited a really difficult economic situation and the Treasury quite rightly asked the Home Office to investigate whether further cuts could be made. A very good job was done in the last Parliament of taking really difficult financial decisions to address the funding issues we inherited. What was really good was that in most cases—I say in most cases—discussions were sensible and pragmatic, and we can see from the fact that crime has fallen since 2010 and has continued to fall under this Government, that it is possible to do more with less.
If the Minister and his ministerial colleagues decide to extend the term of the Metropolitan Police Chief Constable, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, will they make it a condition that Sir Bernard is not allowed to merge Harrow police with any other borough command? If that were to happen, Harrow police would inevitably be diverted to police other parts of London.
Unlike the previous Labour Administration, we believe in police officers making the decisions they need to make for their communities, and we do not believe in a top-down approach. We have devolved operational policing to make sure that chief constables and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner can make operational decisions and other decisions such as how local community funding is run, whether that is though the Mayor’s office or through PCCs. I know that the Labour party opposed PCCs extensively, but it has sensibly changed its mind, not least on account of much lobbying from Labour PCCs. I shall not in any way instruct the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how he should police in London and the Mayor will not instruct him on operational issues; those are matters for him.
What I will say is that there will be more money for policing in London than there would have been if a Labour Minister were standing at this Dispatch Box. Labour wanted to cut 10% of its funding budget—and perhaps I will come back to that later.
As the Minister knows, I have opposed cuts to the policing budget every year but he has always had a good argument to put back to me by saying that crime is going down, thereby justifying the Government’s position. My local paper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus pointed out last week that crime had gone up by 15% across the Bradford district over the course of the last year. If falling crime was a justification for a falling police grant, now that we face significant rising crime in the Bradford district, including in my constituency, does that mean by the same logic that we will get a substantial increase in the police grant?
My hon. Friend is nothing less than determined to press his case every time, but crime has fallen, although some types of crime have increased. Reported crime, particularly sexual assaults and domestic violence, can be seen to have gone up. I am very pleased that people have the confidence to come forward now when they might not have done so in the past.
We need to look carefully at where certain types of crime are increasing. Only the other day, I met car manufacturers and asked them why we have seen such an increase in car thefts, particularly of high-value vehicles, when we had previously seen a decrease for some considerable time. We are seeing some increases in crime that were not previously included in the statistics—on fraud, for example. Under the previous Labour Administration, fraud was not reported, but it is now part of the statistics we use because it is, sadly, a crime that we face today.
It is interesting to reflect on what happened after the Chancellor announced from this Dispatch Box that we would not cut the police budget by 25%, or by 10% as the shadow Home Secretary suggested, or even in a way that some forces had said could be managed. We said that we would not cut it at all between now and 2020 in order to give the police the confidence they needed about the funding that would be available. What is particularly interesting is that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and other chief constables did not suddenly say, “Okay then, we are not going to carry out any more reforms; we are not going ahead with them now that we have the money we need”. Rather, they said that very night that they needed to go ahead with many of the reforms that were designed to make our police forces better at detecting and convicting criminals.
The Minister must accept that there are 18,000 fewer police officers than when I stood at that Dispatch Box on the last day of the Labour Government six years ago. He must accept that there have been cuts in real-terms grants and he should explain honestly to us why local authorities and police and crime commissioners such as mine in north Wales are raising the precept to compensate for the cut in the central Government grant.
Let me make a couple of points about that. The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience in the Home Office, was absolutely right when he said that there used to be more warranted police officers than there are today. However, actually in percentage terms there are more warranted police officers on the streets of this country today doing the work we need them to do than when he was the Minister.
It worries me that more than 10% of some forces’ warranted officers are still not out on the streets doing the job that we would expect them to do. That is one of the reforms with which we must persevere. We must ensure that officers with the skills and the equipment that they need are out on the streets.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Not for the moment. I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary when I have given way to colleagues who have already tried to intervene.
As for the point raised by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), he should have asked those on his own Front Bench why they had said publicly, “Let us cut the police grant by another 10%”—something that we have not done.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I feel almost as though I have been promoted, given that he has allowed me to intervene ahead of the shadow Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend has referred to the response of police and crime commissioners to increases in police budgets. In Lancashire, our directly funded police grant is going up. The police and crime commissioner and chief constable had previously presented doomsday scenarios, saying that the Lancashire constabulary was no longer fit for purpose. Given that the Government have listened to not only Members of Parliament but to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that they have not come out and welcomed the increased budget?
I met a delegation of Lancashire Members from all parts of the House, and indeed I met everyone who had asked to see me, including the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables. What really shocks me now is that not only has the Lancashire police and crime commissioner failed to welcome the budget, but he has been out there whingeing that he will be short of money again. What I would say to him is that he needs to take a very close look at his reserves. He has been moaning about a sum of £1 million, but if he looks at his reserves, he will find that it is minuscule compared with them.
Will the Minister give way?
Before I give way to the shadow Home Secretary, let me make a point about precepts. All Governments look at precepts. Some PCCs have said that they will not increase theirs, some are increasing theirs by the 2% limit, and others will take the £5 option. That is the arrangement to which we agreed. However, I was lobbied extensively by PCCs throughout the country who wanted the precept to go up by much, much more than 2%. Now I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary.
I am grateful to the Minister, but let us get something straight. When I became shadow Home Secretary, he and his Government colleagues were proposing to cut police funding by between 25% and 40%. It was pressure from Labour Members, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) in a full Opposition day debate, that forced them into a humiliating U-turn. Let us just get our facts right.
Anyway, is this promise what it seems to be? The Minister seems to be suggesting that there will be no cuts, but can he guarantee that there will be no real-terms cut for any police force in the next few years?
I am so pleased that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman. I should have given way earlier—I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry).
I find this absolutely fascinating. Any other Opposition would have considered modelling to establish what a force could or could not do, which is exactly what the Government did. We asked the forces whether or not they could absorb—in modelling terms—cuts of 25% or 40%. What we did not do, after that modelling process, was say, completely arbitrarily, “Well, we will make it 10%, then. You will be able to swallow 10% between now and 2020.” Some forces would have really struggled to do that under the present funding formula.
Answer the question.
I am always straight. The right hon. Gentleman can sit there and waffle away from a sedentary position, but actually the 10% was waffle as well. There was no fact behind it, and most of the forces came out against it. Given the precept limits, none of the 43 forces was subjected to a real-terms cash cut.
The Minister should be commended for being the first Policing Minister in a generation to tackle the issue of police funding by initiating a review of the funding formula, but, as the House knows, that review ended with a long pause. On 1 February, I wrote to the Minister asking when the consultation would begin. The Home Affairs Committee is keen for it to begin as soon as possible. Is he now in a position to answer my question ?
I thank the Chairman of the Committee for his letter, and also for the kind comments that he often makes about me when I am at the Dispatch Box and when I appear before his Committee. I wrote to him yesterday; I am sorry if he has not received my letter. I have not given a definitive date, and I do not think that he would expect me to do so at this stage, given that we are still considering how the settlement should be laid out. We need to ensure that I do not have to stand at the Dispatch Box and eat as much humble pie as I did last time, when we got it wrong. I admitted that we had got it wrong, and we will not make the same mistake again.
May I question the Minister on a point of fact? I know that he will have the facts in front of him. My police force, South Wales police, has had about 240 fewer officers on the beat since 2010. We can talk about whether that is a good or a bad thing, but it is a fact. According to my rough calculations, based on the data release, South Wales police will be subject to a real-terms cut of nearly £3.5 million in the next two years. Am I wrong?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Not only have I met South Wales MPs in the last couple of days, but the very vocal PCC—whom I know very well, as, I am sure the hon. Gentleman does—has not raised those figures with me. I suggest that, before South Wales police asks for any more money—which I do not think that it will need to do—they should look very closely at the size of its reserves, which are astronomical.
We need to take account of what the police have already been able to achieve, and the collaboration that has taken place with the help of extra funding from the Department, in order to find ways of providing better day-to-day policing out there. We should not sit in our silos, as we have for many years, allowing money to be spent in a building that is being only half used while another building up the road is just sitting there and could be put to full use.
Hampshire MPs are rightly proud of their emergency services. I am sure that we are all proud of ours as well, but the innovation that has taken place in Hampshire is quite astounding. Money has been saved that can be used in other front-line work, and that has been absolutely brilliant. Winchester has a brand-new fire station. On the first floor are the fire officers and on the next floor are the police, because it is a police station as well as a fire station. More than half the fire stations in England and Wales are within 1 kilometre of an ambulance station or a police station. We are starting to see the same sort of innovation elsewhere in the country, and we should ensure that it continues.
The Minister is right to commend the hard work of the police in very difficult circumstances, but he has asked for comparisons. In Greater Manchester, violent crime is up by 36%, sexual offences are up by 46%, and overall crime is up by 14%. We have had 20% fewer police officers and 4% fewer police community support officers, and we are looking at an £8.5 million cut in real-terms funding in the next financial year. Those figures do not add up, do they?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that crime has fallen in Manchester since 2010, as it has in the rest of the country. There is real concern about certain elements of crime, which the hon. Gentleman’s chief constable and PCC will be addressing, as we are at the Home Office. However, I ask him to look closely at the figures that he has given. We must be careful not to scare people away. We want people to report sexual assaults, but historically they have not done so. We want them to report domestic violence, but historically they have not done so.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), but I will give way to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) again later, if he still wants to intervene.
The Minister says that it is important for people to have the confidence to report crime. In London we have seen a 21% increase in sexual offences and a 22% increase in violent crime, including knife crime, but in Southwark last year, worryingly, only 16% of reported crimes resulted in convictions. When will the Minister stop insulting the hard-working officers and constituents in Southwark, and ensure that we have the resources to tackle crime properly, keep people safe, and secure prosecutions?
I have never insulted an officer, or anyone’s constituent, in my entire life, and I never will. I am proud to be Policing Minister, and glad to be in the House representing my constituents and the country as a whole, so I resent the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made. What would have happened in London if there had been a 10% cut? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, from a sedentary position, that that would not have happened, but it is exactly what was proposed by Labour Front Benchers.
I agree with the point that the Minister was trying to make about the emergency services working together more closely. In the town of Barnoldswick, we have seen the removal of an ambulance station but now our paramedics work out of the local police station. Such collaboration between the emergency services could deliver real savings across the country and ensure that this very generous financial settlement delivers even greater reductions in crime and even more police officers on the frontline.
We are seeing that sort of collaborative work across the country and some of it is being paid for by the innovation fund, for which the different forces, emergency services and local authorities are putting in bids. But this goes much further than just working in the same station; it is also about training together. As you might know, Mr Speaker, I used to be a fireman years ago. I may have mentioned that before and I may have to mention it a few more times. There are only two of us in the House, but we are very proud of what we did.
In those days, it was very rare to train or work with the other emergency services unless you were physically on the same job. If hon. Members go round their constituencies and ask people in the emergency services when they last did a forward exercise with the fire service, the ambulance service or, in some parts of the country, the coastguard service, they will find that it happens very rarely. That is often due to logistical pressures, but those pressures do not exist if two or more services are in the same building and can share the same yard and do the same training.
Going back to Winchester, not only is the fire station in the same building as the police station but the yard is jointly used and at the back of the yard is the armed response unit, along with the armoury and the ranges. All this has been built on what was going to be just a fire station. When we talk to those brilliant professionals who look after us every day and ask them about the training they are doing, we find that firefighters are being trained as paramedics, as is the case in Hampshire. Sadly, in the case of a road traffic collision, the ambulances might not always get their first, even though the incident has been reported and people are trapped. I know how difficult it was when we were at incidents such as those. It is not just a question of how many ambulances there are. When you have a really bad smash on the motorway, it is really difficult to get the emergency services through. You would think that everybody would get out of the way, but I can tell you, Mr Speaker, they do not.
What is happening now is that fire personnel are being trained to keep people alive. I am not just talking about first aid certificates or the use of defibrillators, although that is a really good innovation. By the way, the cashiers at my local Tesco’s know how to use defibrillators, and that is a great asset, which also saves people’s lives. However, when dealing with a major trauma, it is vital to have the skills that I saw the firemen and women in Hampshire using. I was crying out for those skills when I was in the fire service.
I want to take the Minister back to the answer he gave me some moments ago. Of course it is not my intention to scare people, but the statistics show that crime numbers are going up in Greater Manchester. Of course this might be due in part to people now reporting crimes that they would previously not have reported, but does the Minister accept that people also need to have confidence that there are adequate numbers of police officers to investigate those crimes? Surely the 20% reduction in the number of police officers in Greater Manchester will not help to create public confidence.
That really depends on where those officers were in the first place. Were they working in the communities and on the beat, or were they doing desk jobs? The truth of the matter is that, while we have had a decrease in the number of officers around the country, there are more in front-line duties now than there were in 2010. The other thing the hon. Gentleman might want to ask his local police and crime commissioner, if he is really worried about the funding—even though there would have been a 10% cut under a Labour Government—is why his police force is holding £71 million in reserves.
May I plead with the Minister to look urgently at the rise in gun crime in the west midlands? Will he consider providing resources to try to fill the gap? We have had more than 20 shootings over the past six months, including six over the bank holiday period. There have been 41 arrests and 24 recoveries of weapons and ammunition. Great work has been done by the West Midlands police force, but this work can be continued only if we have additional resources, on a project-by-project basis if need be. This has become a really serious issue over the past 12 years and we have worked hard to bring the crime figures down, but please could the Minister look into the possibility of providing additional support?
I saw reports of those shootings on the news and I got reports across my desk as well. Our thoughts must be with the families of those affected. We must praise the fantastic work of the local police in making those arrests, and let us hope that they get prosecutions as well. That is crucial, because public confidence is created when the police get prosecutions and the criminal justice system becomes involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) mentioned the shootings in his constituency. There was a terrible drive-by shooting in Wood Green last summer, involving mistaken identity. A baker who was coming out of his bakery to take a break was shot, and the perpetrator drove off. The case is still unsolved. Can the Minister rule out the possibility of that being connected to the cut in police numbers?
Why anybody would get in a car, drive off, open the window and shoot someone is beyond me, and probably beyond the comprehension of anybody in this House. What we do know, however, is that the police forces around the country are doing a fantastic job. We have just heard of the arrests that have taken place. So, simply to say, “That is happening just because you cut the money” is a really, frankly, silly, silly comment.
There are orphans who are suffering as a result of that—
Order. I think we need to be clear whose intervention is being taken. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) will have to express herself on another occasion or elsewhere in the debate. I think the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) is intervening.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have another tale of woe. There have been approximately 12 burglaries in the past 10 days in the Saddleworth villages of Greenfield and Uppermill, and I have some very worried constituents. I totally agree with my hon. Friends: we cannot possibly say that there is no link between such events and the front-line cuts to staff in the Greater Manchester police, which were also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). What can the Minister say to my many constituents who have contacted me to say that they are very concerned about their safety? Surely this must be a priority for him.
The fact that it is a priority is exactly why the Chancellor stood at this Dispatch Box and said that he would make a very generous settlement. No one dreamed we would get that settlement, but that money will come through. There are no cuts going forward, even though that is exactly what you would have had if a Labour Minister had been standing here.
The Minister is making a strong case. Is it not important to trust the professionals in the police service? We do not rely on the Labour party’s mooted 10% cut; we trust the professionals. He will know that the terrible Joanna Dennehy murders around Peterborough could not have been solved by the Cambridgeshire constabulary alone, and that it had to work with other constabularies such as Norfolk in order to attain the critical mass in forensics and other back-up services necessary to solve the crimes. We trust our local professional police officers.
My hon. Friend has just touched on a point that I was going to make about collaboration. None of the 43 police forces around the country—not even London’s, with all its size and capabilities—can police alone. They need help across the board. The East Midlands regional organised crime unit is doing fantastic work, for example. And in my own region—the Eastern region—capabilities that were always exercised, with difficulty, in separate local forces are now being spread across the region. [Interruption.]
I have been called many things since I have been in this House, and before I came here, but “frit” is not one of them. I give way to the shadow Home Secretary.
I am glad to hear it, because I never did think that the Minister was in that category. He is saying a few things that are worrying me. He stood there a few moments ago and said that there were to be no real-terms cuts to the police. That is simply untrue and I hope that he will correct the record before this debate ends. The other thing he just said was that there were more officers in front-line positions. A workforce survey that came out last week showed that his Government cut police officers by 18,000 in the last Parliament. Is he seriously standing there today and saying that, despite that cut of 18,000, there are more police officers on our streets?
I know the Labour party are desperately trying to find a reason to vote against our very generous funding settlement, even though they would have liked to make it a really difficult settlement by cutting it by 10%. What I actually said was that there are more operational police officers on duty now on the frontline than there were in the past. That is what I have said at this Dispatch Box time and time again. Perhaps, when we hear the shadow Minister’s arguments as to why there should have been greater cuts—I should say cuts, because we are not going to cut at all—he will tell us what front-line services we would have lost. We need to ask that, because the money would have had to come from somewhere.
There has been a lot of talk about cuts, and indeed about the horrific issue of gun crime, but the issue of counter-terrorism and national security is also linked here. Will the Minister clarify that this Government, in 2015-16, will be increasing spending on counter-terrorism by more than £650 million, which shows our commitment on national security?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We fund counter-terrorism from a separate budget, and that is enormously important. We have a Minister of State who specifically deals with that task. It is really interesting that even though I have heard Opposition Members say today, “This is terrible! This is going to happen; this has happened,” actually the 43 authorities welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget, and I have had really interesting discussions with them, in some of the areas represented by Members who have complained today about the settlement. That is what this debate is supposed to be about: it is about a very generous settlement, which we would not have had if we had not won the arguments with the Chancellor.
I am slightly baffled by the Minister’s comments. Northumbria police force expects to have lost about £150 million between 2010 and 2020, and its workforce has already been cut by a quarter, split equally between police officers and police staff. Will he clarify in what way that is a generous settlement?
Let me go over the arguments. We inherited a fiscal mess left by the previous Administration. We had to make really difficult financial decisions, including on policing. The police forces did brilliantly well. They were genuinely very worried that we would extend that approach into 2015-16, but we did not do that, which is why they are saying thank you to us for not making 10% cuts to policing, which is what Labour’s Front-Bench team would have done.
I have been listening carefully to the Minister. I met my local borough commander last Friday, and although there are of course challenges, he told me that some of the reforms will actually make policing more effective. More importantly, he stressed to me that there are now as many police on the frontline in the Met as there have ever been.
My hon. Friend has brought me on to an interesting point. The Friday before last, I was at Hendon with the commissioner, taking the salute—he took the salute and I nodded my head, because I was not in uniform—of the 135 new recruits coming through. These are brand-new police officers wanting to join the Met, coming through their training and passing out on parade, and 60% of them live in London. That is because of the reforms that the commissioner has introduced, whereby he has said, “You need to live in London for five years unless you have served in the armed forces.” That figure will be boosted again; I was speaking to the officer in charge of the training there and I was told that in excess of 2,000 officers are expected to be training at Hendon in the new buildings at the Peel centre, which the investment is being put into. We should be really proud of the numbers in London.
We all know that one perennial problem of policing has been the amount of time that police officers have not been able to spend on the beat. Does the Minister agree that when good police and crime commissioners use innovative technology to help those police officers spend more time on the beat in places such as Staffordshire, it can mean as many as 100 extra police officers on the beat, at a tenth of the cost?
There are a myriad different ways we can give the required confidence to our constituents, with our uniformed officers out there and others from the community who are doing this as well. I pay tribute to our specials, who do not get mentioned as much as they should. They do a fantastic job. We have to look carefully at the situation in certain parts of the country where their numbers have rocketed into their thousands, whereas in other parts of the country we do not have as many as we would like.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way once more and then I will come to my closing remarks.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Conservative candidate in the Lincolnshire PCC elections on introducing special constables—parish constables—who will look after the very remote rural areas of Lincolnshire, giving those communities a policing figure they know they can go to for help and advice?
I have spent quite a bit of time in Lincolnshire over the years, and was lobbied extensively by the chief constable and the commissioner for a change to the funding formula. The sort of innovation we have seen in places such as Lincolnshire, with the parish specials, rural mounted specials and so on, is exactly the sort of thing we would like to see replicated.
In Lincolnshire, we are very grateful to this Minister, because he has done more than any other Minister to come up and spend days with the police force. We very much appreciate what he has done with this grant and so on. We have, however, had a letter from the chief constable saying that because of historical problems, increases in police salaries and increases in national insurance contributions, he still has a significant funding deficit. Will this wonderful Minister, with all his knowledge of Lincolnshire, just say a word about what more he can do to help us, please?
I know exactly what my hon. Friend is saying and I know exactly what is in the letter, because I have received a very similar one. Lincolnshire’s force was asking me to change the funding formula to make it fairer for Lincolnshire; a lot of constabularies and a lot of people in this House have asked for similar over the years. We are continuing to look at that and I will make sure I get it right, but this settlement is a lot better than Lincolnshire thought it was going to get and a lot better than it would have been, had there been a Labour Minister at this Dispatch Box.
On collaboration, will the Minister pay tribute to the work being done by Essex and Kent police on their joint serious crime directorate, which looks at using intelligence sharing to ensure that serious and organised crime in the port county is dealt with swiftly and effectively?
That type of collaboration is so important. For too many years forces have sat in silos, as have individual emergency services. They are coming together and one reason for that is that the austerity measures we had to bring in have made them think outside the box.
I will give way one last time and then I will sum up.
I am anxious to ensure that the Minister does not peak too soon. First, I pay tribute to Cambridgeshire constabulary for the excellent work it has done on issues relating to domestic violence and sexual offences. Does he agree that one reason for the slight spike in the reporting of those crimes is that many more victims feel comfortable about approaching the police now and feel that they will be treated fairly in the pursuit of their complaints?
My hon. Friend has touched on a really important point. I had the honour the other week of continuing the funding for the victims’ groups around the country for the next three years. One really important thing is that our constituents, no matter what has happened to them, have the confidence to come forward, and that they will be listened to with compassion. For too many years that was not the case.
I know that a lot of colleagues want to get in and I have been generous in taking interventions, but may I say that we need to make sure that our constituents are made aware of how generous this settlement is for the next four years to 2020? We are still in very difficult financial times, when we are continuing to pay for the maladministration of this country’s finances by the previous Labour Administration and previous Ministers who are now sitting on the Labour Front Bench. I am looking forward to listening to positive comments about our police force. I am enormously proud to be the Minister for Policing, Fire and Criminal Justice and Victims. It is a long title, it is a big job and I am very proud to have it.
I bow to no one in my admiration for our police service. Robert Peel uttered these immortal words:
“The police are the people and the people are the police.”
There has been a constant in our country for two centuries: the British model of policing by consent, which we built on when we were in government. When Labour left office, there were record numbers of police on the streets—16,500 more than in 1997 and, in addition, nearly 17,000 police community support officers. Neighbourhood policing, which we built, was popular with the public. It worked, and we saw a generation of progress on crime. We had local policing, local roots, local say and local partnership working. We built up neighbourhood policing and the public valued it. It was one of Labour’s greatest achievements.
On the issue of bowing to no one, will the hon. Gentleman support this settlement today, or will he bow to the shadow Home Secretary’s suggestion of a 10% cut?
We will oppose this settlement today. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice said from the Dispatch Box that police funding is being protected. That is simply not true, and I will lay out my case in due course.
We are still learning some painful lessons from the past. There are still wrongs to be righted; the police are not perfect. We need to raise standards, and we should always hold the police to the highest standards in the public interest. The first thing I wish to say to the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary is that the British model of neighbourhood policing is celebrated across the world. The model was responsible for a generation of progress on crime, but the Home Secretary’s remorselessly negative tone about the police, taken with ever fewer police officers doing ever more work, has demoralised the service, and we are now seeing soaring levels of sickness and stress.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is absolutely right to go back to the Labour success of neighbourhood policing. Is he as dismayed as I am about what is happening now? In my own constituency, neighbourhood policing is withering away, and officers are now being put on response duties. I accept that such duties are necessary, but so too is neighbourhood policing. This is undermining public confidence in the ability of the police to listen to the needs of communities.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Typically, what we see all over the country is a neighbourhood sergeant responsible for perhaps one or two teams and a number of PCSOs. Those who were previously part of the neighbourhood teams are now being put on response duties. Following a Home Office decision in 2012 there was a reclassification whereby some people on response were given local neighbourhood policing duties, even if they spent all their time on response, so the earlier assertions about our having more officers on the frontline are simply not right.
Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that Humberside police—I do not think it is the only police force in this position—has been judged inadequate by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary? We have the lowest level of police officers since the 1970s. Will the shadow Minister reflect on what that means for neighbourhood policing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Surveys show that, increasingly, the public complain about a lack of visibility of local police officers. Neighbourhood policing is absolutely essential. It is not just about detecting criminals, but about preventing crime, diverting people from crime, building good community relationships, and bringing in people to co-operate in identifying criminals. Losing the benefits of neighbourhood policing will have an effect. At the most serious end of terrorist crime, the former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, said that neighbourhood policing is “the golden thread” that runs from the local to the global. He said that the patient building of good relationships with communities means that communities co-operate in identifying wrongdoing—in this case, it is wrongdoing of the worst possible kind.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are not just talking about crime? When we have floods in our communities, public order parades, and football matches, the police are the first port of call. Policing is not just about crime.
My right hon. Friend, who served with such distinction as a police Minister, is absolutely right. This is about the wider duties of the police service. The College of Policing has done some very interesting work. By the way, the National Audit Office has called on the Home Secretary to have a better understanding of what the police actually do. It is not just about that element that is focused on crime, but about the wider responsibilities.
The police, together with the fire service, the ambulance service, the Environment Agency and others, guarded premises to prevent looting during the floods. That is just one example of what they do. I have another example from last Saturday. I was deeply impressed to see West Midlands police, with other police services from West Mercia and Warwickshire, policing the pernicious Pegida attempt to march through Birmingham, keeping apart counter-demonstrators and those who were there in support of the march. They worked with the community and did a tremendous job. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right in what he said.
My hon. Friend might have heard me ask the Minister to comment on burglaries in Saddleworth, in which there has been almost a 50% increase. Does he wish to comment on what the Minister said? Greater Manchester police have just confirmed that there has been a reduction of 2,000 front-line posts.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. If we look at the statistics overall, we see that areas of volume crime have gone down—I will come on to explain in more detail why Government claims about crime falling are simply not true. Car crime has gone down, and houses by and large are now more difficult to break into. Having said that, there are spates of burglaries all around the country. What is essential is good neighbourhood policing. Let me give an example from my own constituency. The admirable Sergeant Simon Hensley set up a canoe club on Brookvale lake. I literally launched it in a canoe—[Interruption.] It was one of my most terrifying moments as a Member of Parliament. Hundreds of young people joined the club, and very good relationships were formed. One benefit was that when there was an outbreak of burglary in Stockland Green, they came forward and said they knew who the bad lads were. Again, it is that neighbourhood policing that is so important. There is no substitute for it. It is the bedrock of policing in our country.
The hon. Gentleman is making a fair point. It would be churlish not to accept that there was progress around community policing, but that is not the whole story. Does he agree that one legacy of the previous Labour Government was an inordinate amount of bureaucracy and paperwork, which kept many front-line police officers in the station, processing data, rather than out catching criminals? This Government have tackled that, which is why we have seen a reduction in numbers and a significant reduction in recorded crime.
Let me give a straight answer. I think that we did prescribe too much and too often. It was right therefore that, by consensus across political parties, the previous Government became less prescriptive. Certain things will always need to be prescribed, but I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in relation to the very serious act of gun crime, neighbourhood policing is crucial in piecing together all the small bits of information that might secure a conviction? Will he assist me in highlighting the tragic shooting in Wood Green that I mentioned earlier? There are orphans who wish to know what happened to their father, who, in a case of mistaken identity, was shot in a drive-by shooting as he stepped out of his workplace. They would like to have that crime solved.
It is difficult to comment on the detailed circumstances of that crime other than to say that, of course, what we need is capacity to catch those people who are guilty of murder, which is one of the most heinous crimes. I ask my hon. Friend to forgive me if I repeat what I said in a previous answer, but key to that is good neighbourhood policing, as it is vital for intelligence gathering. If we run down neighbourhood policing, the inevitable consequence is that it is more difficult to detect criminals of that kind.
I agree with the shadow Minister that neighbourhood policing is key. Does he agree with the borough commander whom I met again last Friday, who made the point that although the numbers in some of the neighbourhood units are down, they are now dedicated to that unit and that neighbourhood, so although numbers are lower, they are more effective?
That depends on what we are talking about. For example, the West Midlands police service has sought to maintain dedicated numbers in high risk, high demand areas, but taken as a whole the numbers have been going down. There will be variations at any one point in time, but the evidence is clear: there has been a remorseless reduction in the number of police officers and a hollowing-out of neighbourhood policing.
Several hon. Members rose—
I have given way about nine times. Let me make a little more progress, then I will gladly give way.
I celebrate the fact that, as the police bravery awards show, we are policed by ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things, often in the most difficult circumstances. They deserve better than what happened in the run-up to the comprehensive spending review. Yesterday I was privileged to speak, together with Conservative Ministers, at the 20th anniversary of the docklands bomb. Afterwards I talked to police officers, brave men and women, with an outstanding sense of duty and a powerful sense of obligation to their community. They talked to me about the mounting pressures they face—the challenges of counter-terrorism and the impact of the past five years—and they were dismayed that their Government had contemplated cutting the police service in half. As I will come on to say, that is precisely what had been contemplated.
In my constituency, Erdington, I saw one PCSO in tears—loyal, long-serving, much loved—describing how awful the uncertainty had been in the build-up to the comprehensive spending review. It should never have happened. After cutting 25% in the last Parliament, right up until the night before the comprehensive spending review the Government were contemplating a further 22% cut in this Parliament. The Home Secretary failed to stand up for the police service. We were on the brink of catastrophe, as a police officer said to me but yesterday, which would have had very serious consequences, demonstrating a disregard for the first duty of any Government, maintaining the safety and security of its citizens.
Under pressure from the public, the police and the Labour party, the Chancellor U-turned and a promise was made. I shall read it out, as the Policing Minister has clearly forgotten it. The Chancellor said:
“I am today announcing that there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we are going to protect the police.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]
In parallel, there were big cuts elsewhere—for example, to Border Force—but let us examine that statement to the House. That promise to the public, to the police and to Parliament has been broken. The Chancellor said he would protect the police, but now we know that police budgets are still being cut.
The force covering my constituency, West Midlands police, is excellent. In the next financial year it will suffer a £10.2 million cut in real terms, contrary to what the Policing Minister said earlier. Yes, the £5 mechanism is being used, but it will raise only £3.3 million, so there will be a £7 million overall cut in real terms.
On the precept, is my hon. Friend aware that a force such as Northumbria, which, under our excellent police and crime commissioner, Vera Baird, has made every saving possible, has cut into its reserves and has had the lowest precept hitherto, has had to accept that £5 maximum with great regret, just to try to maintain services?
Indeed. I pay tribute to somebody who was a great parliamentarian and who has been a great police and crime commissioner. The work that Vera Baird has done on domestic violence and, more generally, on violence against women and girls is admirable and first class. My hon. Friend is right. As I shall say later, Northumbria, like the West Midlands force, has been hit twice as hard as leafy Tory shire police forces down south.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of our police forces are stretched just by the crime that they are currently dealing with? In Salford we have had 19 shootings in a period of 19 or 20 months. On some weekends there have been four shootings on the same day. Protection of the public is important, but should our police force be so stretched in Greater Manchester when they have that to deal with?
There has been an £8.5 million cut in real terms, contrary to what was said at the Dispatch Box. After a generation of progress, and despite the heroic efforts of the police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, and the Greater Manchester police service, we are seeing profoundly worrying signs of crime starting to rise once again.
My hon. Friend is right to point out the sleight of hand by the Government. The real unfairness to areas such as the west midlands and Greater Manchester is this: we have a relatively low council tax base, so the precept brings in relatively small amounts of funding—nothing like the amounts of funding that are being cut by the central Government grant. Added to that, those are the areas that tend to have higher crime rates, so need is not matched by resources. It is a double whammy for the urban areas and it penalises places such as Greater Manchester.
My hon. Friend sets out the case powerfully. There is no question but that need does not determine the way this Government allocate funds, whether to the police service or to local government. I will return to that point.
There was another broken promise. The Prime Minister said in 2010 that he would protect the frontline. Not true—12,000 front-line officers have since been lost. It was a broken promise and, to add insult to injury, not only are the Tories continuing to slash police funding, but they are expecting the public to pay more for it. The Tory sums rely upon local people being charged an extra £369 million in council tax. Our citizens and the communities we serve are being asked to pay more for less.
In a forward-looking county such as Hertfordshire, which has the pressures of supporting London and Luton and policing major roads, it has been possible to use more police on the frontline and more modern methods. In Hertfordshire the police precept is being cut as the funding settlement is perfectly adequate.
Every week I see innovation in the police service; of that there is no doubt. In relation to road policing, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers, there are profoundly worrying signs that the progress made over many years, particularly under the Labour Government, in reducing road deaths, for example, is starting to reverse as a consequence of the cuts in road policing and other aspects, such as CCTV cameras. I am totally in favour of innovation and greater collaboration—for example, between the police and fire service—but ultimately there is a simple, grim reality: the remorseless downward pressure on our police service. The people who are paying the price are not just our police officers, but the public we serve.
I shall refer later to old Macmillanites. On the basis that I believe the hon. and learned Gentleman to be one, I give way.
The hon. Gentleman is very generous, though I shall not comment on that. Does he agree that police force reserves around the country are substantial—Hertfordshire has £48 million, but in one case the figure is as high as £71 million.
If I can put it this way, that is a canard, as we used to say in the T and G. Of course it is right that reserves should be used. Looking at the pattern across the country, however, why are they typically built up? The reasons range from investment in bringing three or four buildings into one, as the West Midlands police service has done in Birmingham, through better technological equipping of our police service—we need a technological revolution in policing—to planning ahead to recruit more police officers so that, even if the overall numbers are falling, the service is at least bringing in some fresh blood. If we look at the various studies that have been done of police reserves, including by the National Audit Office, we see that the line of argument has never stood up that all will be well if only the police use the hundreds of millions of pounds that are somehow there.
Opposition Members are with the police when they say efficiency savings can be made. Crucially, in the run-up to the last general election, we identified £172 million that could be saved through mandated procurement alone. Other measures included full cost recovery on gun licences, ending the bizarre arrangement whereby the police have to subsidise the granting of gun licences. If the Government had embraced that plan, we would have saved 10,000 police officers in the first three years of this Parliament.
Efficiency savings are one thing, but, ultimately, decisions have to be made. We listened to the police, and in the light of the tragic attacks in Paris, they said, “We think we can make up to 5% efficiency savings”—I stress again that we ourselves identified how one could do that. However, it was clear beyond any doubt that the chilling message from the police, who are so vital in maintaining our security, was that going beyond that would compromise public safety. I will never forget the powerful letter from Mark Rowley, Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism, who said that, post-Paris, we have to look at things afresh. Ultimately, numbers matter.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, forgive me if I finish this important point.
Numbers matter. In the light of attacks such as Paris, we need surge capacity on the one hand, and neighbourhood policing for intelligence gathering on the other hand. We also need more firearms officers; we have 6,000, which is 1,000 down from 2008. We listened to the police.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way to somebody who has not already spoken.
It is all well and good bandying numbers around and saying we must have the capability to make a surge in the number of armed officers. However, if the leader of the Labour party is to be believed, what are those officers going to do? Just wave their guns at these people and say, “Oh, please stop what you’re doing.” Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to dissociate himself from his leader’s remarks about what armed policemen can and cannot do?
The Opposition—all of us—have a very simple view. Perhaps I can draw a parallel with the deeply moving statement I heard one of the Parisian officers make about when he and his colleagues went into the Bataclan club. Innocent men and women, including British citizens, were being terrified by jihadis practising the most appalling form of terrorism. That officer said, “I had to make a split-second judgment. I made it, and as a consequence I saved lives.” That is our very, very clear position.
I am slightly confused, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can help me. He says that savings can be made. Today’s report includes a real-terms increase in anti-terror funding. Why, therefore, is the Labour party opposing this very generous settlement?
After Paris, the Government made a series of announcements—there was also one that predated Paris, but that was about the Investigatory Powers Bill. We have to get the balance right, but we said, “Yes, we support the Government’s broad approach”—that we need enhanced means, for example, to combat those who use the dark net. We supported the Government in making £1.9 billion more available for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. We supported them when they said that additional resources would be made available for the British Army for counter-terrorism. Ultimately, however, it came down to this: Chris Sims, the former chief constable in the west midlands, and Bernard Hogan-Howe here in London say that the majority of the leads that result in the detection of terrorists come through good neighbourhood policing. If we have continuing downward pressure on neighbourhood policing and the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing, that will impact, in Mark Rowley’s words, on the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism effort. It is not enough, therefore, simply to equip the special services and the special forces with additional powers; neighbourhood policing is key on every front, particularly counter-terrorism.
The simple reality is that neighbourhood policing will continue to be hollowed out. Some 18,000 officers have been lost since the current Prime Minister took office in 2010. Some 1,300 have gone in the last six months alone. Today confirms that the Tories’ back-door cuts to police forces will inevitably lead to further police officer losses. It appears that the Government are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Hugh Orde, the former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, as it was called, is right when he says that a generation of progress is being reversed.
Police in the 21st century face the new challenges of terrorism, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation and abuse. Undoubtedly, the threats to British security in the 21st century demand a modernised, more responsive and better equipped police service, not a smaller one. In defence of the Government’s position, the Police Minister said crime is falling, but that is not true: it is changing. In July, when an estimated 6 million cyber and online crimes are included in the official statistics, crime will nigh on double.
Resources are diminishing, just when demand is soaring. We face not just the three challenges that I mentioned; police recorded crime is rising, and some of the most serious crimes have soared to the highest levels in years. There has been a major increase in knife crime, which is up 9%. There has been a 27% rise in violent crime, including a 14% increase in the murder rate, while sexual offences have gone up 36%. Reported rape figures are the highest since 2003. Victims are also being let down, with half of cases closed without a suspect being identified.
Increasingly, the police are left to pick up the pieces, as other public agencies are slashed. Who, for example, goes after looked-after children if council social services departments are badly depleted?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am going to conclude my remarks, because I have been—forgive me if I say so—generous with interventions, and I want hon. Members to have the maximum time to make contributions to this important debate.
The Home Secretary does not seem to understand the challenges to the modern police service or its complexity. Despite massive and growing challenges, not only are police budgets being cut, but the funding formula fiasco in which the Home Office misallocated hundreds of millions of pounds of police funding means that the doomed review of the unfair funding formula has been delayed for another year. We have a stop-gap settlement of only a year, with more uncertainty and more unfairness. My force—West Midlands—and Northumbria face cuts that are double those that Surrey will receive.
As I was saying earlier when the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) intervened, we have had the tradition of Robert Peel, but there has also been the tradition of Harold Macmillan: a tradition of noblesse oblige, of care, of meeting need, and of serving the national interest in one nation. Macmillanites are increasingly an endangered species in the Conservative party, because both in this settlement and in the local government settlement that will be debated later, there has been a grotesque unfairness of approach where need has been ignored in favour of political heartlands being looked after.
I want to ask the Minister three questions. First, on an important detail, where exactly is the funding for the international capital city grant coming from? Why, in the published information, is it not included in the core police settlement figures? Secondly, when will he finally replace the broken funding formula and give forces the long-term certainty they need to modernise and address the challenges of the 21st century? He expects to implement the new formula in the 2017-18 financial year, but we will need a new formula by the end of this year, at the very latest. Will he even begin to make progress on that in the near future? Thirdly, when will he stop this financial rollercoaster and finally be frank with the public and police about the cuts that he and the Home Secretary intend to impose?
Yes, we will vote against this police grant settlement, because for Labour Members the first duty of any Government and of any Parliament is the safety and security of their citizens. Yes, we will vote against it, because that is what is at risk if we continue down this path of remorseless reduction in the numbers of police officers. Quite simply, the time has come to put public safety first and to cut crime, not cut cops.
I would like to say a few words about police funding and, in particular, its significance for policing in Cumbria. There are two key issues: first, the police budget itself, which we are discussing; and secondly, the police funding formula, which is for the future but of equal importance. Before doing so, I would like to make one or two general observations.
It is well documented that Carlisle and Cumbria experienced serious flooding before Christmas. This was a very large local emergency. The Cumbrian constabulary rose to that challenge brilliantly. Its officers showed leadership, offered practical support and co-ordinated the emergency services. They also showed a lot of empathy. I remember meeting one PC who had himself been flooded, and instead of being at home, he was out there on duty helping everybody else. That demonstrated to me the importance that the police have over and above their normal duties. I pay tribute to the Cumbrian police and crime commissioner, Richard Rhodes. He has led Cumbria extremely well in a mature and professional way, and he has cross-party and widespread support throughout the county. This again demonstrates to me that it was right to create the PCCs. They should continue, and I will certainly support their continuation.
Of the two issues I mentioned, I first turn to police funding in general. The House will recall the debate initiated by the Opposition—it has already been mentioned—calling for a 10% cut in police funding. I welcome the Government’s decision not to follow the Opposition’s lead but to maintain and, indeed, increase funding for the police, in what we all recognise are still very difficult financial circumstances. This will be welcomed in Cumbria and has certainly been welcomed by the Cumbrian constabulary. It will also be welcomed across the country, in recognition of the fact that the police are an important part of our society. They are the lead emergency service. Given concerns about security and safety, this funding will give confidence to our communities.
On the important issue of the police funding formula, I refer back to my earlier comments. The floods brought home to me how important it is that we have a Cumbrian police force, because it offered leadership, local knowledge and an ability to respond that I am not convinced would have been there had it been part of a larger, more remote force with headquarters elsewhere. The funding formula as consulted on would have had a dramatic and negative impact on Cumbria. Indeed, my local newspaper recognised this and ran a campaign that attracted a huge amount of support. That again demonstrated to me that support for the police and for a Cumbrian police force was deep-rooted.
I was therefore delighted that the Minister was in listening mode when he took on board the potential problems and issues for places such as Cumbria and agreed to postpone, or pull back from, going ahead with his consultation on introducing a new formula. I now wait for the new consultation to come out. I take this opportunity to emphasise the key issues for my county—primarily, rurality and sparsity. There are half a million people in Cumbria, but if one took a map of Cumbria and superimposed it over London and part of the south-east, there would be 20 million. It is a huge area. We have poor infrastructure, with a large mountain range right across the middle of the county, and we are a long way from any urban centre. Manchester is two hours away; Glasgow is an hour and a half away; and even Newcastle is over an hour away. I therefore look forward to the consultation, and I will certainly participate in it.
I give full support to the Government’s financing of our police as set out in the current settlement. I am glad to see that we are still the party of the police and the party of law and order.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), who has put forward some important points for discussion. He may claim that his party is the party of the police and law and order, but let us make this an all-party issue, so that we can all praise the work of local police forces and all support the principles of the rule of law, and of law and order. I think that is something that will go across the whole House.
The Minister began by paying tribute to the appointment of the new Serjeant at Arms, who was formerly at the Ministry of Justice but has now taken his place in the House. I join the Minister in welcoming his appointment, not just because of his huge qualities, but because he is the first ethnic minority Serjeant at Arms in the history of Parliament—though of course he was appointed absolutely on merit.
As the Serjeant at Arms was not in his place when I paid tribute to him earlier, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I repeat my tribute to him? Not only did I have the honour of giving him a reference for this job, but he comes from one of the great regiments of the British Army.
Those are two wonderful recommendations.
I see that we will now have another tribute to the Serjeant at Arms from the shadow Policing Minister.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Now that the Serjeant at Arms is in his place, I would like to say that I was privileged to shake his hand the other day. He is deeply welcome to this House; it is great for us to have him here. It is a long and honourable role within this House. Like my right hon. Friend, I celebrate the fact that we have the first BME Serjeant at Arms—
Order. Mr Dromey, can I just help out? The Front Benchers took well over an hour and there has been plenty of time. Everybody has welcomed the Serjeant at Arms, and so it should be. This is a debate on policing, and I know that the Chair of the Select Committee will not want to wander too far away again, because we do want to get through it, and we only have until three minutes past 4.
Absolutely, Mr Deputy Speaker. We now move on, your having encouraged everyone to do so, to the debate on the police grant.
I am very pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) in his place, because when he was Policing Minister, additional funding was provided, and the House therefore voted in support of every one of the motions that he put before it.
May I, like others, pay tribute to my local police force? Tomorrow, the Leicestershire police force will celebrate its 180th anniversary at a ceremony in Leicester cathedral and then at the Guildhall. I pay tribute to my chief constable, Simon Cole, for the excellent work that he does, and to Sir Clive Loader, the police and crime commissioner. I want to say how sorry I am that Sir Clive will be standing down at the next election, because he has made a great contribution, on an all-party basis, to tackling crime in the local area. They have made a great team.
We need to acknowledge, as others have done, what happens at a local level. Here we are in Parliament talking about global figures, but policing is about what happens to local people and what happens on the front line. We in the Home Affairs Committee are conscious of that fact when we discuss some of the big issues. As I have said to the Minister, the police funding formula means that my area is £5.6 million a year less well off than equivalent authorities, such as Derbyshire. The police and crime commissioner has recommended an uplift of 1.99%, which is the maximum amount permissible without a local referendum. On behalf of my local area, I welcome the fact that we see no further cuts in the figures that have been provided. However, as has been said, there are 17,000 fewer police officers than there were when the Government took office, and that is a matter of concern.
As I have said to the Minister, I welcome the fact that he has decided to tackle police funding and to look at the problems with the formula. He came before the House and, in his own words—he was modest, as always—ate “humble pie”. He recognised that the whole funding formula procedure was a bit of a “shambles”, as the Select Committee stated in its report. I know that the shadow Minister would like to claim credit, on behalf of the Labour party, for stopping the Government in their tracks, but he should remember that the Home Affairs Committee conducted a thorough inquiry into the matter. One of our members, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), is here following her astonishing assault on Assange during Prime Minister’s questions. I am not saying that the shadow Minister should not take a little bit of the credit, but he is not a Liberal Democrat; he does not have to take all the credit. The Select Committee had hearings, we considered evidence and we concluded that the process was, in the words of the report, a “shambles,” that needed to be looked at again. The Minister came before the House and agreed. It took Andrew White, the chief executive to the office of the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner, to tell the country that the formula was wrong; senior, learned and intelligent people in the Minister’s Department were unable to do so.
I wrote to the Minister on 1 February to ask him for an update on the consultation on the police funding formula. He began an important process by agreeing to consult, and the Committee set out in our report the procedure that we thought he should follow. In our 10th recommendation, we even suggested a number of organisations that could be part of the process. I know that he respects the work of the Committee, because he has said so on a number of occasions.
The Minister has told me that he wrote to me yesterday, but that letter has not arrived. When we discuss changes in policing, we talk about investment in IT, and I wonder whether the Minister’s private office might invest in email, because emailing me the letter would have been a quick way to ensure that I received it before the debate. We are all watching our emails and waiting for this letter, which was supposed to have been sent yesterday. I know that several of the Minister’s officials are here today, and perhaps nobody is in the office sending out emails. I would like to receive that letter, so that I can share it with other members of the Committee. I do not know what it will tell us, but I hope that it will say that the consultation process is about to begin. We do not want to run out of time.
I believe the Minister when he says that he wants the widest possible consultation. He is right to say that he met me and every other Member who came to see him, and that is the right thing to do. However, unless we start the process and consult the chiefs, the police and crime commissioners, the National Police Chiefs Council and other interested parties, including Members of the House, we will not reach a final conclusion. Perhaps the letter will arrive before I finish speaking. We do not know, but we would like it to come as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend is making a thoughtful and effective speech. As part of the consultation, will he and the Home Affairs Committee take on board the fact, which I raised earlier with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), that some police forces are peculiarly stretched by a local crime surge? In Salford, we have suffered from 21 shootings over 18 months. The hollowing out of neighbourhood policing, which we have talked about in the debate, is serious when the police have so much more to do because of crime surges such as the one we have seen in Salford. That really ought to be addressed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have visited her constituency, and I know that the issues she talks about are important. At the end of the day, we need to give the police the resources that they need, but decisions about such things have to be handled locally. She is right to say that the problem needs to be addressed and monitored.
I hope that the Minister might cover, in his closing remarks, the extension of the contract of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It is important that we do not get into a position similar to that with water cannon, where the Mayor of London waited a whole year for a decision to be made on whether they should be used. The commissioner is due to appear before the Select Committee on 23 February to discuss that and other matters, and I hope that, by the time he appears, the Home Secretary will have written back to the Mayor to give some indication on the subject. Such stability and security at the top of the Met, which represents a fifth of our country’s policing budget and numbers, is extremely important. I remind the Minister that such decisions need to be made, in the interests of the policing service, the commissioner and Parliament.
I want to raise some final points. The first is the wider issue of what exactly we want the police to do. One of the recommendations in our report was that the Government consider the question: what are the drivers of crime and police demand? Of course, we live in tough times, and the Government will blame the Opposition for what they did in government, but the issue remains that Parliament and the Government will always look carefully at resources. The police service needs to know exactly what the Government are prepared to fund. Are they prepared to fund more work on immigration? Police officers nowadays act as though they are immigration officers, because they have to deal with many issues that they did not deal with previously. The Minister and the House know how many cases that reach the custody suite involve people who are suffering from mental illness and should not be there in the first place, which means that police officers are being used as social workers. We know that meetings with local authorities and others, and big inquiries, take up a huge amount of time.
When we begin the consultation on police funding and the new formula, the Minister needs to tell police forces exactly what the Government are prepared to fund. I know that the Government have turned their face against the idea of a royal commission, which the Committee favoured in the last Parliament. We need to look at what we want our police officers to do. They cannot do everything, but that is what they are being asked to do at the moment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have come to over-rely on our police for a lot of things? For example, there was some controversy in my constituency this year because the police were not able to police the Armistice Day march. When it came to it, however, plenty of local councillors and other volunteers were more than able to do that without using police time and resources, and it was a great success.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There are other people who can step in. As those of us who support football clubs—including Leicester City, who are currently leading the premier league—know, there are a lot of police officers on duty at football matches, but it is possible that part of their work could be done by stewards who are not warranted officers. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we do not need warranted officers to do everything.
The Minister has a real opportunity this year to set his mark on the history of policing. He was prepared to tackle the issue of the police funding formula, and received the brickbats that people get, because there are winners and losers, when they try to deal with vested interests. This is a big opportunity: let us decide on a set of principles as a model that can be used for a generation. To do that, he must consult and he must begin such a consultation immediately.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to add my comments to this important debate. Policing and local policing is a subject about which I feel very strongly and in which I take a great interest.
Policing and crime rates are a huge concern to my constituents, as they are to all our constituents. My postbag, as regularly, I am sure, as those of other hon. Members, contains letters from constituents asking what the Government are doing to bring down crime rates. I welcome the reduction in crime during recent years, but I recognise the need to make savings. I commend the Home Office on the very tough decisions it took during the last Parliament. I express huge welcome for the announcement in the autumn statement that we will certainly keep police funding on a stable basis. I particularly welcome the flexibility over the precept, especially for forces with the lowest precepts in the country, such as Essex.
Given my constituents’ natural concerns about current crime rates, I took it upon myself to enrol in the police service parliamentary scheme. I strongly recommend it to all hon. Members. It is quite a time commitment—at least 20 days are spent in different parts of the police force—but it has given me a very strong and valuable insight into the true pressures on our police, the challenges for modern policing, and the changes and innovations that the police need to bring in and are bringing in. I want to put on the record my enormous gratitude to Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh of Essex police and all those I have been out with. They have made me feel extremely welcome and have been very supportive.
I have had some extraordinary opportunities on the scheme. I have been out with the Juno teams, which are tackling domestic violence, and seen for myself the enormous efforts made by the police in their approach to domestic violence. For example, I have seen how quickly they have adopted our new stalking legislation and how closely focused they are on it. That is part of their approach to hidden harms.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the welcome police officers have given to the introduction of on-body cameras? One of the great hopes for the cameras is that they will greatly assist in prosecuting domestic violence cases.
Absolutely. I have seen officers in action with their cameras, which they can use, for example, when entering the scene of a domestic dispute to which they have been called. As they arrive, they can record evidence of their own that they can use in court. When the victim of domestic violence is, for whatever reason, nervous, reluctant or intimidated about coming forward, they can prosecute on her behalf. That is an enormous innovation. It relies on the police remembering to turn the cameras on, however, so they are doing good training on that. It is a great innovation, and the police are very pleased to have it.
I have visited a custody suite. Hon. Members will understand my reluctance to be photographed anywhere near the cells. I can well imagine the comments on webpages about the picture of any Member of Parliament in the cells. I have seen the pressures that the police face there, and the teething processes involved in trying, not without difficulty, to modernise and to move to new technology. I have been out with CID, and I have seen the forensic labs. I also went to a drugs factory, which was very interesting. A Member of Parliament does not often get the opportunity to go into a cannabis factory. I have also seen how the police are dealing with the problem of modern-day slavery, which they were not geared up to deal with in previous decades. I have seen the sensitivity with which they approach finding out about what they call the “gardener”, who is sometimes left in such factories without any real means of escape.
There are big changes in the way that our police are policing and big differences in the kind of crimes they have to police. They are spectacular in standing up to the challenge of doing all that in difficult funding circumstances. I must say that I have been overwhelming struck by the sheer commitment and dedication of our police officers. I definitely expected to find professionalism, but I must admit that I did not anticipate just how passionate they are about their work and the extent to which they really care about the communities they serve. Again, I put on the record my thanks to them and to Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh for helping with the scheme, and I say to hon. Members, “Do it.” All hon. Members should take that opportunity, because it makes a huge difference.
Essex police, whose motto is “Sworn to Serve”, has long been an efficient force. I could wax lyrical about Essex police for a long time, because when I was in publishing, we produced a book about the history of the constabulary. It is a very long, honourable and proud constabulary. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has repeatedly found that Essex police force provides better value for money than other police forces. It already has a very close programme of collaboration with Kent police, as was mentioned earlier, including significant sharing of back-office functions, and it is collaborating increasingly closely with other forces in the east of England. It also has one of the lowest reserves in the country, so it has not had the option of absorbing extra costs and pressures by reducing its reserves. That makes the fact that it has managed to be so successful in what it does all the more remarkable. It is right, however, that it should continually look for efficiencies to ensure that public money is spent on keeping the public safe.
My hon. Friend is making a very effective point about her local force. If I am called to speak, I intend to say very similar things about efficiencies in Lancashire police. Will she join me in welcoming the £55 million from the police innovation fund, which will help forces to continue to modernise and to create efficiencies in the way they operate?
I absolutely welcome the announcement of those funds. A lot of things are already going on in the police, but it does cost money just to modernise and make improvements. I wish we did not have such an enormous debt in this country, but ultimately, in a strange way, the drive to create efficiencies means that, when our economy is back on an even keel and the money is again flowing in, our police service will be enormously efficient. Old practices, which have been stuck in place for many years, will have been ironed out.
On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that such innovations and making our police forces far more efficient have been due to the introduction of police and crime commissioners?
Absolutely. I will come on to that point later, but the innovation of police and crime commissioners was an enormous achievement of the last Parliament. My police and crime commissioner has been highly visible, and much more so than the old police board that he replaced. To this day, people do not realise that such police boards even existed, but they know the name of their police and crime commissioner and are able to approach him.
Essex police force remains very keen to see a review of the funding formula that determines individual police force allocations across the country. The changes to the formula proposed by the Home Office last year would have meant an increase of more than £10 million in the funding for Essex police. We hope that a review later this year will increase the amount of central funding for Essex.
As I have said, Essex is an area with an historically low policing precept. I believe it is about £140 on average, compared with a national average of more than £180 for a band D householder. Essex police force is very proud to say that it has been a lean and efficient force for a long time. I recently surveyed my residents to ask whether they would be prepared to pay extra if that meant additional officers and greater police visibility. Unsurprisingly, the response was of course overwhelmingly positive.
Because of the difficulties of the existing rules about how PCCs can put across their case in a referendum and about how such a referendum is triggered by a rise of 2% or higher, there has been real concern in Essex, with such a low precept, that we would only ever be able to have an increase of 1.99%. That would embed, in perpetuity, a disadvantage for such a lower-cost force compared with more expensive ones. I am very grateful to the Chancellor and Home Office Ministers for listening to that point. The Government are now allowing police and crime commissioners in areas with the lowest precepts to have flexibility in raising their precept. In Essex, that has made it possible to raise the base budget for Essex police by £3.8 million to £266.3 million this year. Frankly, it is right for forces with the lowest precepts to raise their precepts on local council tax payers, rather than call on central Government and national resources to get other members of the public, who may already be paying a higher price for the police in their local area, to provide funding through a higher grant allocation. This is the right and fair way forward, and it is understood by local residents.
The current budget includes increased investment in specialist police officers and police staff to tackle child sexual exploitation, child abuse, serious sexual offences and domestic abuse. There will also be an increased investigative capacity to tackle those horrible crimes and greater support and safeguarding for victims. We now hear so much more about those hidden harms, which we did not used to talk about and recognise in the same way. As we have heard in this debate, the figures for domestic abuse, child abuse and other hidden harms have been rising, which has contributed to the appearance that violent crime is rising. I would contend, as I am sure would most police officers in my area, that these crimes are not rising. What is rising is the confidence of people to come forward and report them, knowing that they will be dealt with sympathetically. The police are taking a very different approach to such crimes and have had training in how to deal with them. They also wear cameras now, as my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) said, and other changes in legislation have been made.
Within the budget, there will be greater investment in the training that is needed to equip officers to investigate internet-enabled crime and cybercrime, which are affecting individuals and businesses across the country. That subject is very topical this week.
I welcome the autumn statement and the funding review, which will enable Essex police to keep many more PCSOs than it had planned and to make many positive innovations. Essex is lucky to have been served by such a fantastic police and crime commissioner in Nick Alston. I say unashamedly that he is the best police and crime commissioner in the country. He was recognised by his peers in an election on that basis. He has served as the inaugural police and crime commissioner at a time of real change and financial difficulty. We would not be in such good shape in Essex were it not for his sterling support for, and challenge to, the police. Far from being a faceless police board of the great and the good that no one knows about, his name is incredibly well known. I have only been able to accept his resignation because the highly able Roger Hirst is standing as the Conservative candidate in the police and crime commissioner elections.
Order. I have allowed the hon. Lady to cover a broad scope, but I do not want to get into campaigning and electioneering. This must not become an election campaign, rather than a debate on the police funding grant.
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for your indulgence.
Despite the huge debt burden this country faces, I am proud that the Conservative Government have managed to protect police spending as much as they have. I very much welcome today’s motion.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. May I join in the welcome to the Serjeant at Arms? We served at the Ministry of Justice together many years ago. I very much welcome his presence today.
This debate is about the police grant—an issue that the Policing Minister skirted around. He talked about a range of issues, including rationalisation and making the police service more efficient, but he avoided the central question of the level of police funding that the Government are committed to for the next few years.
However, I do not want to start on a negative note. On a positive note, I share with the Minister and the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) an admiration for the work of the police and the professionalism of the police service. They do a marvellous job. We must never forget that the police put their lives on the line every day. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), as a Merseyside MP, will note that, because we recently lost an officer in Merseyside. Anyone who has been to the National Police Memorial Day, as the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and I have, will know that the police do a great job and put their lives on the line every day.
This debate is about the level of financial support for the police service across England and Wales. It is clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said that the level of support is not sufficient to meet the needs of the police service over the next few years. Nobody will deny that crime has fallen in certain key areas, and that the police are trying their best to reduce crime in key areas. However, a key point has been missed in this debate: policing is not just about crime and whether crime is falling or otherwise.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) put his finger on it when he spoke about the difficult circumstances that Cumbria has faced with the recent flooding. In such circumstances, the police are the first port of call. When there are public order events, such as football matches and parades—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington spoke about the recent events in Birmingham—the police are the first port of call. When there are road accidents or deaths in our communities, whether in houses or on the streets, the police are the first port of call. Because social services and health services are not always operational at weekends, on mental health issues the police are the first port of call 24 hours a day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington spoke about the golden thread of neighbourhood policing that runs through the service. The police are about reassurance, visibility and evidence collecting, not just about solving crime. My worry is that today’s settlement will put the level of service at risk. No one can deny that the service is under pressure.
I happen to live in a relatively low-crime area in north Wales. The police force there does a great job under Mark Polin. I met Inspector Dave Jolley in my local area last week. The police are doing a great job and the level of crime is relatively low. However, the budget is putting great pressure on the level of service. It is important to examine that, rather than to duck around the issues, as the Minister did today.
This Government clearly have a small-state Conservative view of the world, as we have seen in local government, which will be changed radically by this week’s settlement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the average member of the public wants is the reassurance of having police in their communities, and that what is being proposed in the small-state Conservative world that is being put forward is not what our voters want?
The constituents of north Wales and, I am sure, of Durham want a visible police force that engages with them locally, works with them locally and provides reassurance, as well as solving and preventing crime. The Minister has missed something extremely important. He has focused on crime falling in certain areas, which I accept it has—I will come on to the areas where crime has not fallen—but policing is about much more than solving crime.
My right hon. Friend is making some very effective points. I have already raised the issue of gun crime, particularly in Greater Manchester. That will not be solved in any way other than through neighbourhood policing and working with the community. Our outgoing chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, said before leaving his post that relationship building was needed with the community, so that people were confident to come forward and give the police information, without which the police cannot solve the gun crime that we have. In Moss Side, it took a long period of building such relationships to get that information out. That is the key point.
My hon. Friend makes her point very well. As she says, we need not just high-level policing but community intelligence and reassurance, and people who know their communities and who work at a local level.
The Minister made great play of efficiency. Nobody will deny that we can make the service more efficient. He is absolutely right about the sharing of buildings and about procurement. He knows about the air contract and the vehicle contract. Those are reforms that we should be making to save money. However, the bottom line is that those efficiencies are not compensating local police forces for the long-term reduction in central Government grant. My police force in north Wales has made efficiency savings of £19.65 million over the past four years, but that has not compensated it for the loss of grant.
The central point I want to put to the Minister, as I said in an intervention on him, is that the reductions in central Government grant are being compensated for by rises in the local precept. My local force area in north Wales has had a grant reduction of 18% over the four years. At the same time, there has been a 14.5% rise in the precept. My constituents are paying more in local taxes at a time when they are losing money in central Government grant.
The point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) understands, is that the poorest areas do not have the council tax base that richer areas have to raise that amount of resource. A 1% or 2% rise in—dare I say it?—the constituency or council area where we are now, Westminster, will raise a hell of a lot more than a 1% or 2% rise in a community such as mine in north-east Wales. When the grant is cut to forces such as North Wales police, and we are expected to raise the local precept, it means that my constituents pay more locally for something that should be provided as part of a national service, whereby richer areas contribute to crime reduction in poorer areas or, indeed, in higher-crime areas. It is important that the Minister recognises that it is not simply a case of reducing the grant and hoping that we can raise that local precept, which he did not mention in any detail today, but of having a fair settlement that meets the needs of poorer communities or areas where crime is higher.
It is important to place it on the record that, under the previous Labour Government, there were 18,000 more police officers than we have now. Crime consistently fell under that Labour Government. If we could look again, in the next three to four years while the Minister holds office, at how we respond to not only the efficiency agenda but the central Government grant agenda, he could do a great deal to help reduce crime and build reassurance.
The Minister mentioned crime falling but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, violent crime has increased by 27% in the past year. On victim outcomes, for half the offences recorded in 2014-15, the case was closed without a single suspect being identified. Hate crime, disability crime, sexual offences and violence against women are starting to increase. There has been a 36% increase in sexual offences. For historical reasons, the reporting of sexual offences is also rising. I accept that car crime, shoplifting and other forms of crime are falling. Good—I am pleased about that, and we want crime to continue to be driven down. However, the Minister cannot avoid the fact that the funding settlement will mean at least a standstill for some authorities, and at worst, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned, a massive cut, particularly for those authorities that have the highest crime, the greatest challenge and the lowest council tax base from which to draw the resources.
It is a little complacent of the Minister to say that all will be well because crime has fallen and forces are managing. My plea to him is to drive efficiency forward still further and perhaps even consider mergers, looking at some of the voluntary mergers that we have encouraged in the past, but not to pass on central Government grant cuts to areas that cannot meet the need, and need to raise money locally. The police service demands more. It is trying to do its best in a professional manner, but the settlement, given the new problems of increased terrorism, cybercrime, fraud and a range of other crimes, will not meet the challenge in the next four to five years. It will certainly not do so in the next year and I therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington in asking the Minister to review it. I will cast my vote this afternoon to try to make him review it and I hope that others will join me at one minute past four.
I will now announce the result of the ballot held today for the election of a new Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. Four hundred and sixty votes were cast, with one spoilt ballot paper. The counting went to three stages, and 417 active votes were cast in that round, excluding those ballot papers whose preferences had been exhausted. The quota to be reached was therefore 209 votes. Mary Creagh was elected Chair with 258 votes. The other candidate in that round was Geraint Davies, who received 159 votes. Mary Creagh will take up her post immediately. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election. The results of the count under the alternative vote system will be made available as soon as possible in the Vote Office and published on the internet for public viewing.
Notwithstanding some of the courtesies that have developed around these matters in recent times, given that we are in the middle of a debate and people are waiting to speak, I should be most grateful if hon. Members expressed their congratulations and commiserations outside the Chamber.
Again, I warmly congratulate the hon. Lady and I thank the other candidates for taking part in that important election.
May I briefly congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) on her election as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee? None of us will miss the tsunami of paper to which we have all been subjected over the past few days, but I am sure we will all miss the poetry of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). It may not have been from Palgrave’s “Golden Treasury”, but it was certainly entertaining.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this important debate on the police grant and pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), a former Policing Minister, who is very experienced in these matters, although I do not agree with everything that he says. I am certainly not always right.
You may be surprised to learn that, Mr Deputy Speaker. However, when police and crime commissioners were first mooted, I have to admit that I was sceptical. I am a Conservative and, like all Conservatives, wary of change, so I was not sure whether we should employ this radical procedure of appointing police and crime commissioners. I always remind myself of the words of the former Prime Minister, the great Marquess of Salisbury, who, when officials and Ministers visited him at Hatfield House to encourage him to do this, say that or think about the other, would press his fingers to his chin and say after a moment’s thought, “’Twere better not.” Governments of all stripes would do well when considering officials’ ideas to say, “’Twere better not.” We might all be better off.
However, the Home Secretary was right, on police and crime commissioners, to say “’Twere better to do this” because they have transformed our police forces around the country and the way in which they spend their money, not least in my county of Staffordshire, where Matthew Ellis has done a tremendous job in introducing new technology. Hand-held tablets have reduced the amount of time that police officers have to work in their stations and has put them out on the beat. At a fraction of the cost, that has effectively created 100 new police officers in Staffordshire. As a result of Matthew Ellis’s reforms, there has not been an increase in the precept in the past four years, and he can balance the budget for the next four years without an increase in the precept.
Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), have mentioned body cameras. We call them “bobby cameras” in Staffordshire, which led the way with that innovation. They not only make it easier for the police to prosecute crime, but make it far more challenging for people to bring malicious and false accusations against the police. If the police are wearing cameras and can film their own behaviour, angry, often young people are far less likely to make untrue claims about the police.
In Staffordshire, we have also led the way in introducing a cadet force. There are now 240 cadet officers between the ages of 14 and 17 working in and with the police to build their skills and work out whether they want a career in the police service. If money is spent effectively and considerately, we can have better policing, a community that feels safer, and a police force that has the tools it needs to do the job.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but will he address the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson)? The central grant to counties such as Durham is far more important than the precept, given that even a large increase in our precept will not generate much cash because of the number of band A properties in County Durham. Does that not mean that there is no level playing field across the UK, given that the precept is not a way of generating any extra cash in places that contain large numbers of band A properties?
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I feel that he may be thinking that Staffordshire is some sort of green and leafy county. Staffordshire has Stoke in it, and areas of deprivation in Tamworth, Stafford and Burton. That county, which is led by Matthew Ellis, has managed to make a saving of £126 million, which is invested in technology and makes policing better in Staffordshire and—dare I say this?—better than in County Durham?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I will not give way because the House does not have much longer to debate this matter.
Order. The House has lots of time. If you wish to give way, Mr Pincher, you must do so, but do not use the Chair as a debating point to say that we have cut the time down. That is not the case, no matter what the Whips might tell you.
I am grateful, as ever, for your guidance Mr Deputy Speaker, but I would not wish to impose on the time of my colleagues on both sides of the House, and I am sure that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) can make his own speech in his own good time. If he cannot, I am sure he will tweet about it later on.
In conclusion, Staffordshire has an innovative police force that works collaboratively with the community and its police and crime commissioner. We have cut costs and put more police on the streets, we have introduced innovation, and our public are happy. I commend our police force and police and crime commissioner to other police forces around the country. I was wrong to say no to police and crime commissioners, and the Labour party is wrong to pour cold water on this grant settlement, which will deliver more money to the police. When it does, Staffordshire will lead the way.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) for his remarks about PC David Phillips whom we lost on Wirral last year. He died in the line of duty, doing the job that he did so well to protect the people of Wirral. He was a highly valued and dedicated officer, and I know that his loss is keenly felt.
The Chancellor’s eleventh hour U-turn on police funding in November’s comprehensive spending review was welcome. The police and crime commissioner on Merseyside had been anticipating cuts of between £62 million to £100 million by 2019-20, which would have stretched to near breaking point the capacity of the Merseyside police force to do its job of keeping us safe. Cuts on that scale would have meant the loss of all police and community support officers and the mounted police section, as well as reduced resources for tackling serious and organised crime, sexual offences and hate crime. People on Merseyside were extremely concerned about the impact that that would have had on the safety of our communities.
The relief with which the Chancellor’s announcement was greeted on Merseyside was qualified by the knowledge of the spending reductions that our police force was already being forced to make. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the force made savings of £77 million, resulting in an overall budget reduction of 20%. Over that period, the number of police officers fell by 20%, police staff by 24%, and PCSOs by 25%. PCSOs are the eyes and ears of community policing on whom we rely. On Merseyside, and particularly the Wirral, PCSOs now end their shifts at 10 pm, which is before the pubs have closed, as a result of the reduction in shift allowance in May 2013. There simply is not enough money to pay them to be on duty at one of the times when they are most needed.
The relief felt on Merseyside at the news of the Chancellor’s U-turn was therefore tempered by what followed. Since November, it has become clear that the Chancellor’s pledge to safeguard police funding was not the full 180° U-turn that we hoped for, but only partial, and the devil is very much in the detail. The Chancellor’s pledge to protect the police depends on an increase in the precept to compensate for a reduction in Government grants. Merseyside’s general grant was reduced by £1.3 million.
The Home Secretary has made it clear that she expects the grant reduction to be offset by increasing the precept to the maximum available, and the police and crime commissioner has consulted the general public and the police and crime panel on increasing the precept by 1.95%. That proposal has won strong support in both cases. However, for 2016-17, Merseyside police faces a budget deficit of £5.4 million. To address that deficit and balance the budget, the PCC is proposing to utilise £2.1 million of reserves, and request the force to make further savings of £3.3 million in 2016-17. Assuming that the PCC’s overall level of funding remains broadly at the 2016-17 level, it is anticipated that further savings of £22 million will be required by 2017-18 and 2020-21.
Although the final settlement announced in the spending review will mean that the force will have to make smaller savings than expected, it still represents a challenge. Those savings will have to be made against a background of increasing demands on the Merseyside police. The increase in some kinds of crime—including serious offences—on Merseyside has been significantly higher than the national average, and I urge the Minister to look at the detail.
The overall increase in crime on Merseyside between September 2014 and September 2015 was 6.4%—that is just in one year—which was in line with the national averages for England and Wales. However, when we look at other offences, we find that the picture is not so favourable. Vehicle theft offences on Merseyside increased by 8.9%, compared with 0.1% in England and Wales. Domestic burglary increased by 1.2% on Merseyside, but decreased by 5.1% in England and Wales. There was a 48.7% increase in offences involving violence against the person in Merseyside, compared with nearly half that—26.8%—in England and Wales. Those are worrying figures. Violent offences involving injury increased by 38.6% on Merseyside, compared with 16% in England and Wales, and the number of violent offences without injury leapt by 60.7%, compared with 37.5% for England and Wales.
Those figures for Merseyside are a matter of concern and reflect the serious need for properly funded policing. The number of sexual offences increased by 34.5% in Merseyside. It is thought that that increase may reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward, as well as improvements in recording crime.. While that willingness must be welcomed, the resources must be available to pursue cases and deal with victims in a sensitive way. If that does not happen, victims will not continue to come forward in greater numbers. People on Merseyside must have redress in law when they are subjected to violence, and the state must act as their protector and defender. The first duty of the state is to protect the public, and the Chancellor must ensure that the police have the resources to do so.
Wirral West is a lovely part of the world with some areas of real prosperity, but it also has areas of deprivation. In some areas of my constituency people are frightened to go to the shops in the middle of the day because of antisocial behaviour. That is wholly unacceptable.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case by articulating the impact that these cuts are having on communities. Despite being at opposite ends of the region, she and I are both covered by the Merseyside police force, and every day we see the impact of the cuts on the people she has spoken about. Does she agree that the people we ask to do this difficult job are the men and women who are police officers on Merseyside, and that they are also suffering as a result of these cuts? A Police Federation survey towards the end of last year showed that more than three-quarters of police officers did not feel valued in the service and were suffering from low morale, and that is a real cause for concern.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is important that we value police officers and all police staff who do such a difficult job.
All my constituents deserve to be able to go about their daily lives without fear or anxiety. All of them deserve a police service that is funded at a level that enables it to do its job safely and efficiently. I pay tribute to the work done by all Merseyside police staff, including PCSOs, police officers and so-called back-office staff. They have been rather maligned, I feel, by certain Government Members. Front-line personnel, often in perilous situations, rely on them. Without them, the force could not operate. I also pay tribute to the police and crime commissioner, who does such a good job.
The Chancellor made his U-turn on extreme cuts the night before the spending review. That suggests an extraordinary lack of planning and calls into question the quality of decision making in the Treasury. The police force on Merseyside must be funded at a level that enables it to prevent crime wherever possible and pursue effectively those who commit it. The force has to be able to meet the rising demands on it from increased levels of crime and the expectations we have of it. That is fundamental if we are to live in a civilised, stable and safe society. I urge the Minister to look carefully at policing need on Merseyside and to fight for a fair police funding settlement.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood). I will use the short time available to address some of the issues that affect London in particular, but let me start by making it very clear that I have not heard any Government Member maligning anybody in the police force—far from it. I put on record my tribute to the Metropolitan police, particularly in my borough where they have had to deal with some interesting issues over the past month. I will refer to those later on.
Last September, a number of London Members had dinner with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who went through the modelling to which my right hon. Friend the Police Minister referred earlier. So that we understood the potential of the modelling, I think that it was dinner without wine, but it was dinner none the less. After that, my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) led delegations to meet the Home Secretary. From a London point of view, I am delighted that the Minister, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary listened. It will make a huge difference. The £900 million in cash terms over the next four years, with the reforms the Minister talked about, will allow for the policing of our national city, including our local constituencies.
The key point is that there have been reforms, a number of which have rendered the police force more effective. I made an intervention on the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who was rightly talking about the effectiveness of neighbourhood policing. One problem with the previous model, however, was that people got taken off neighbourhood policing, particularly in London. There have been some real issues with that at various times. I have no doubt that it was a great innovation and he was right to say it. It works and it has worked. Even though there is a reduced number, having dedicated people there the whole time has a similar effect. We saw that recently in my constituency, with the help the police received in relation to information brought forward to solve a very unfortunate murder.
The money for London, of course, is not just there for the local; it has to be there for the national. I thank the Home Secretary and the Chancellor for listening to the issues relating to the National Crime Agency. The investment has the potential to transform it into a world-leading law enforcement agency. If we look at any number of the debates we have had in the Chamber in the past two years about cybercrime and the impact it has on our national city, we see that on one level it affects us all. The risk that criminals will be able to break into the internet of things and create problems for people on a personal level is high. London is the financial centre of Europe; nay, it is the global financial centre of the world. Alertness to cybercrime, and giving the police the resources to be able to fight cybercrime, is therefore absolutely key. Investment in the NCA will have a big impact not only in London, and on the reputation of London, but nationally.
The same applies to counter-terrorism. The money that has been invested will have a huge impact both locally and nationally. The Police Minister will be aware that there were a number of incredibly callous bomb hoaxes at four of my local schools two weeks ago. The money secured for the NCA and counter-terrorism can not only be invested in the capability to ensure there are extra police on the streets but to deal with and to build up the intelligence on callous bomb hoaxers and defeat them. The local commander kindly shared with me a lot of information that I would not want to bring out today on the work it has done, but that work can happen only if we put the money into some of those agencies as well. The police grant will protect those agencies and protect people on the streets day after day, minute after minute. All that is absolutely crucial in the great city of London. Many cities in this country and around the world face the threat of terrorism. London, however, faces a unique and very severe threat from terrorism, so there are additional pressures on London police. It is therefore particularly welcome that the Met and the City of London police will, through the Greater London Authority, receive national and international city funding worth £174 million.
We in London are pleased that the Minister has listened. The money was necessary and it was right that the adjustment was made. It is right that we are protecting the police. What we do in London has an impact not only across London constituencies, but nationally and internationally. Like the former shadow Police Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), I will be casting my vote on the basis of what I think the police need. I recognise and pay tribute to what the Government have done. I hope my colleagues and others will join us in realising what a good settlement this is for the police and will support the Government in the Lobby tonight.
I would like to speak briefly about Bedfordshire, which has been very seriously underfunded for a prolonged period. It still has serious problems. I was very pleased to visit the Policing Minister with the other five Members of Parliament for Bedfordshire—Conservative and Labour—a little time ago. He will have seen the paper prepared by the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable illustrating the desperate state of funding for policing in Bedfordshire. I made the point, in Business questions last week, suggesting that the funding formula was fundamentally flawed—broken was the term I used. I hope the funding formula will be amended rapidly, so that it can provide fair funding for Bedfordshire and other authorities across the country.
We have a particular problem with knife crime that is comparable with that in Merseyside, Greater Manchester and other areas, yet we are substantially less well funded. We also have a problem with gun crime that is comparable with that in large urban areas. Again, we cannot cope because we have serious underfunding. Our police force does a wonderful job with the resources it has, but those resources are simply not good enough. Rural Wales has, per head of population, resources and police numbers that are a multiple of those available in Bedfordshire, yet it has very little crime. There is something fundamentally wrong with a formula that can give such relatively generous police funding to rural areas with very little crime, when Bedfordshire has some fairly serious problems with crime, which we do our best to deal with but really are struggling with.
We have an excellent chief constable and an excellent police and crime commissioner in Jon Boutcher and Olly Martins. They are doing their best and have provided me with detailed arguments and statistics, which the Policing Minister will have. They make the point over and again that we need a fairer funding formula to bring Bedfordshire into line with other areas.
Our area needs extra resources for policing. As I mentioned, we have crime, but we also have political extremism on both sides of the divide, and that requires extra policing too. The police do the best job they can, with the resources available, but we do not have enough resource to do the necessary job. I urge the Policing Minister to look seriously at the funding formula. It should not just be an extra bit of cash to help out in the short term. We need to consider fundamentally how it can be revised, so that it treats Bedfordshire and every other area more equitably. Overall, we still need more funding for the police in general, but the lower funding we have across the country ought to be allocated fairly, and Bedfordshire should get its fair amount.
I will leave it there. I apologise to hon. Members and to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I have to go to the European Scrutiny Committee, where we are interviewing the Foreign Secretary. It is pressing business, so I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I leave fairly quickly after my speech.
Despite some of the scaremongering in the press, the police grant report is good news for police forces across the country and for the force that covers my constituency. I strongly welcome the significant increase in financial resources available across England and Wales and the fact that no police and crime commissioner will face a reduction in cash funding in the next financial year. Credit for that must go to the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister, whom I thank for investing in protecting my constituents from crime and disorder.
The police have had to bear a heavy burden, as the country has had to deal with the mess left behind by the Labour party. The report confirms that we are through the worst and that under a responsible Government we can once again afford to offer our police the support they need and deserve. The fact is that crime has fallen by more than a quarter under this Government. Crime has fallen across Lancashire, including in Pendle.
I counsel the hon. Gentleman against talking about crime falling across the country. He is saying things that are not true for Greater Manchester, which has seen a 14% increase in recorded crime and a 36% increase in violent crime, but which is facing an £8.5 million cut. Will he please not talk about crime falling across the country, as he is not referring to Greater Manchester?
The hon. Lady is talking about reported crime. According to the British crime survey, crime has fallen across the country, and that survey has always been accepted on a cross-party basis as a more accurate reflection of crime rates across the country.
I want to talk about rates of crime that have increased, so if the hon. Lady will allow me, I will make some progress.
My intervention will be quick, because I am keen that everyone has the chance to speak, but it is important to put the record right. In July, cybercrime and online fraud will be included in the crime survey of England and Wales. The early estimate is that it will add 6 million crimes and result in crime possibly doubling. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on what he has just said and recognise that at last the truth will be told on crime? It is not falling; it is changing.
If the shadow Minister will hold his horses, I will talk about cybercrime and other types of crime not currently reflected in the crime figures and why the police grant is a sensible investment in our ability to deal with new forms of crime.
Drug gangs are a real problem in Pendle, but Operation Regenerate has seen significant resources and a significant number of officers dedicated to tackling organised crime there. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 will help further by stopping people profiting from selling dangerous drugs to our young people. So-called legal highs have caused serious harm to young people across my area, and I am proud to have served on the Bill Committee, alongside other right. hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber today.
Although most types of crime recorded in the statistics have fallen, we have seen upwards trends in certain types of crime. Rates of violence and sexual offences have increased in recent years. Some of that is down to historical under-reporting, but there are other factors. As a country, we still face an epidemic of domestic violence—it is mostly against women, but men are affected too. Just last week, a woman was the victim of a very serious sexual assault on the streets of Colne, the town in which I live. This is a rare thing to happen in the town, and I am sure the whole House will join me in hoping for the swift arrest of those guilty of this appalling attack and in expressing our every sympathy for the victim. I hope the Minister will set out how the Home Office will support police forces such as Lancashire to work with other agencies to ensure that domestic violence and sexual offences are reported and victims protected.
Lancashire police are at the forefront of fighting the rise of modern slavery. One of the first—if not the first ever—modern slavery orders was given to a man in my constituency, using new powers given to the police by the coalition Government’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. This shows that we face new types of crime. The Government must continue to help the police to reform so that they can tackle new forms of crime and protect vulnerable people at risk of exploitation.
The commitment to transforming funding towards developing specialist capabilities to tackle cybercrime will be hugely important, if we are to protect individuals and businesses from the growing threat of online fraud, which all the statistics indicate is of real concern. A new cyber-skills institute will soon open in Nelson, in my constituency, which I hope Ministers will help to support so that we can train the next generation of cyber experts that our police forces desperately need.
There is also the challenge of identifying how the police can best help to integrate communities in east Lancashire and across the country, as we join together to fight extremism and discrimination against certain groups based on their ethnicity or religion. I recently met Andy Pratt, who served Lancashire for 28 years as a police officer. During his career, he set up the first ever community cohesion team in the county, and since his retirement, he has worked tirelessly on interfaith work, trying to build bridges, particularly between our Muslim and Christian communities. I am delighted that he has been selected as the Conservative party’s candidate—
Order. I said I did not want us campaigning for people standing for election. The debate is about police funding, not candidates, no matter how good or bad they are; that is not the idea of the debate.
I thank you for that guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It was not guidance.
In conclusion, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for how he has worked with me and other Lancashire MPs on a cross-party basis, particularly over the proposed changes to the police funding formula, which would have disadvantaged Lancashire police. I welcome the generous settlement before the House. We now have to work with our local police forces to continue to reform policing across the UK and to drive down all types of crime.
I rise to make four brief points. First, on the level of funding, before the autumn statement, the Home Office, like many other Departments, was asked to model reductions in spending, and the police were preparing for cuts of 20% to 25%. Labour said that the police could withstand cuts of 10%, but the Chancellor protected police funding, and I welcome that protection, as do many police leaders. The most impressive responses from the policing community came from people such as Chief Constable Sara Thornton, who recognised the need not only for sufficient funding, but for the police to reform and to adapt to the changing demands on their services.
My second point is about flexibility. It is important that the police are flexible to meet the demands on their services. A National Audit Office study reveals that the police do not have a sufficient understanding of those demands, so it is important that they both understand and adapt to meet them.