I beg to move,
That this House notes that since 2010 police officer numbers have been reduced by almost 21,000; further notes that some violent crime, including knife crime, has risen to record levels; notes that youth services, including early intervention, have been decimated by a decade of austerity; notes that prosecution rates have fallen sharply; notes that on current plans many police forces will still be left with fewer officers than in 2010; and therefore calls on the Government to recruit 2,000 more frontline police officers than they plan and re-establish neighbourhood policing.
There is no more emotive issue than crime and punishment. We have asked for this debate today because these issues matter so much to all our constituents, and because the first duty of every Government is to defend the safety and security of their citizens. Of course, that does not mean there will be no crime. What it means is that every Government should use their best endeavours to ensure that safety and security. That does not mean dog-whistle rhetoric on law and order; it means genuinely making people safer. Ministers like to trumpet their enthusiasm for stop-and-search. Labour supports evidence-based stop-and-search, but random stop-and-search can poison police-community relations, rather than necessarily making anybody safer.
Instead of fulfilling their duty, the Government have tried to ensure safety and security on the cheap. Labour Members have repeatedly warned that cuts have consequences.
On that point, does my right hon. Friend agree that the public value safer neighbourhood policing above almost everything else? They like to see the police out and about, building good community relations. Does she share my regret that a five-ward cluster in my constituency, which had 30 police on duty a few years back, recently had as few as seven? No wonder the public no longer feel that the police are present on our streets.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that violent crime, particularly knife crime, is now at a record high—in my constituency we have recently had two fatalities—and that this is a direct result of the huge cuts, including more than £1 billion to our youth centres and more than £1 billion to our police force? It is about time that the Government stop their austerity, which is decimating our communities.
I have to make some progress.
The Government decided in the last election that their policing pledge was crucial. Their manifesto uses the word “police” a couple of dozen times—not as many times as “Brexit”, but enough to suggest that this was a major plank of their platform. We will see whether they can actually get Brexit done before the end of the year, but there must be doubt about whether they will be able to get the central pledge to recruit 20,000 extra police done, given the poor start on police funding. In the light of their overall policies, I am even less convinced that we will see a fall in serious violent crime.
I have to make some progress.
During the debate, we will undoubtedly hear Government Members boast about how many police officers they are going to recruit. In their recent announcement about police funding, Home Office Ministers claimed that this is the biggest funding settlement for a decade. They would know, because they have been cutting police funding for a decade—the Conservatives have been responsible for funding over the past decade. The truth is that the Tory party and Tory Ministers damaged our police when they took an axe to the numbers. It is widely known that they cut more than 20,000 police officers, so to boast that they are putting the numbers up now when they cut them in the first place will not sit well with our constituents.
Along with the cuts to police numbers—this is important, so I ask the House to listen—the Government also cut thousands of police community support officers and police civilian support staff, and the effect was devastating. Having fewer PCSOs is a terrible thing because communities rely on them to maintain community links and help with low-level policing.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a stark contrast with the policy of the Welsh Labour Government in the Senedd, who have kept and funded PCSOs in Wales? That has made a huge difference in my community, despite the cuts we have seen. Our Welsh Labour police commissioners in Gwent and South Wales have made such a difference with an evidence-based policing policy.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of the progress that the Labour Government in Wales has made on this issue.
Fewer support staff means that police are doing more of their clerical and admin work. That is not pen pushing, but vital work—for example, preparing a case for court. I am not aware of any plans by this Government to restore the numbers of either PCSOs or admin staff, but I am very happy to give way to the Minister if he wishes to tell me about that. Police officers will still be burdened with non-police and non-crime-fighting work. This Government have also created a huge shortfall in funding for the police pension fund. The police deserve decent pensions—as do all public sector workers, who have seen their pensions frozen under this Government.
Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?
I have to make some progress. The Government need to provide funding for police recruitment and police pensions; otherwise, the funds for one will come out of the other.
I remind Government Members that what they actually inherited in 2010 was police officer strength at a record high and a long-term downward trend in total crime, which began in the early 1990s and continued through Labour’s years in office. Labour in office was tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but this Government squandered that legacy. In its most recent publication on crime, the Office for National Statistics states:
“Following a long-term reduction, levels of crime have remained broadly stable in recent years”.
Under the Tories, the downward trend in crime halted and total crime has stopped falling. In the past 12 months, well over 10 million crimes were committed. There was a 7% rise in offences involving knives—all of us in this House know the fear and concern in our communities about knife crime. That level of knife crime is 46% higher than when comparable recording began. This Government have presided over the highest level of knife crime on record. Of course, all of that increase occurred under Tory or Tory-led Governments. [Interruption.] As for Mayors, their resources come from Government.
The crime survey of England and Wales states:
“Over the past five years there has been a rise in the prevalence of sexual assault…with the latest estimate returning to levels similar to those over a decade ago.”
I hope the Minister takes that point seriously. Sexual assault is a concern for all people and all communities. Ministers should be ashamed that sexual assault is returning to levels seen over a decade ago. Each of those stats, whether for knife crime, violent crime or sexual assault, is terrible, and the House should pause and think of the individual victims behind those statistics.
Taken together, those stats are a damning indictment of this Government’s failures, but their record is even worse when it comes to actually apprehending criminals. Of course, how could it be otherwise when they have decimated the police and trashed the funding of our criminal justice system? The Home Office’s own data shows that just one in 14—I repeat: one in 14—crimes leads to charge or summons. While crime has risen, the charge rate for crime has fallen. The charge rate for rape is just 1.4%. I invite all Members to stop and think how appalling that statistic is. It is shameful. Government Members may claim that some of this is because police are recording crime better. It is true that recording is improving, but the police are not just there to record and report crime; they are there to prevent it, detect it and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I have to make progress.
The response of the Government, which no doubt we shall hear from Ministers today, is to talk tough on crime—to talk about draconian measures—and to criminalise law-abiding citizens who are upholding their rights. This Government threaten to criminalise trade unionists who are engaged in legitimate strike action, and they have been forced to admit an “error” in listing campaign organisations such as CND and Greenpeace as extremist. Their discredited Prevent programme has been politicised because this Government and these Ministers confuse extremism and disagreement with them.
Research funded by the Home Office says that the Home Secretary’s approach to young people in danger of radicalisation is “madness”—the opposite of what is required to prevent radicalisation. I have to tell Government Members that they will not tackle crime by criminalising lawful activity by campaigners such as CND, they will not tackle crime by imposing ever longer sentences whereby inexperienced, first-time offenders become hard cases or drug addicts in prison, and they will not tackle crime by cutting the police so much that they cannot catch the criminals in the first place.
As everyone knows—[Interruption.] The behaviour of Government Members suggests a contempt for the issues I am talking about, whether violent crime or rape. Labour’s promise in the 2017 election and its pledge to increase policing after years of Government cuts resonated with the public. I take the current Government’s pledge as something of a tribute to our work and the Leader of the Opposition’s leadership of the Labour party. We always understood, however, that increased policing would not be enough. As many senior police officers have told me, we cannot arrest our way out of a crime problem. We have to take an integrated approach—more and better policing, treating crime as a public health issue, drawing in all the public services and funding them properly. The Government have paid lip service to the idea of a public health approach, but many of the services that have to come together to make that work—schools, youth services, housing—are funded by local authorities, and the Government have no intention of funding those properly.
I am really pleased that my right hon. Friend is drawing attention to the role that local government can play. I hope she will join me in recognising the work that Labour police and crime commissioner Keith Hunter and Hull City Council are doing to tackle the problems of city centre crime by creating a crime hub and working with city centre businesses. This is due to the huge increase in crime we have seen at the same time as police officer numbers have been cut.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention.
The Government have said they will establish violence reduction units, which is another Labour policy, but in their repeated announcements of the same money they have demonstrated that they are not committed to long-term funding for these units. We will hold them to account on this and on all their pledges—to recruit 20,000 additional police officers, to tackle violent crime, to make our streets safer.
I am coming to a close.
Crime, particularly violent crime, is a tragedy for the victims of crime but it is also traumatic for the mothers and families of the perpetrators of crime. [Interruption.] If Government Members, like me, had had to visit the families of young people who have been the victims of crime, they would not be making a joke of this. The Opposition, knowing how seriously our constituents take this issue, are pledged to hold the Government to account on all their pledges. They must live up to what they have promised. The public deserve no less.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the Government’s commitment to the people’s priorities to drive down crime in all its forms including serious and violent crime; further welcomes the Government’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers and increase police funding to its highest level in over a decade, including over £100m to tackle serious violence; and welcomes the Government’s intention to bring forward the necessary legislation which will provide police officers with the powers and tools they need to bring criminals to justice and give victims a greater voice.”
For me, fighting crime has never been a theoretical or statistical issue, as it is for many. Happily, the Office for National Statistics tells us that the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime has fallen significantly in the long term. In 1995, around four in 10 adults were estimated to have been a victim of crime, not including fraud or computer misuse. Last year, the comparable figure was just two in 10.
As you may recall, Mr Speaker, I was Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London between 2008 and 2012, at a time when we were wrestling with a terrible rise in serious violence across the capital. I can still remember the devastation on the face of the father of Amro Elbadawi, the 14-year-old who was stabbed to death in Queen’s Park in March 2008. I was campaigning for a London Assembly seat at the time, and when I met them Amro’s family brought home the devastation, destruction and terror that knife crime had brought to London. The then Mayor, now the Prime Minister, and I made it a personal mission to turn that awful tide. In our first year, 29 young people were killed. By the time I left policing, it had fallen to eight—eight too many, but on the previous trend it could easily have been 50.
It is worth remembering that all those terrible events took place when police officer numbers were at a high and the then Labour Government were spending borrowed money like water. I learned then what every sensible person knows: quantity is no substitute for quality in crime fighting. Successful crime fighting requires a sustained and committed focus by highly motivated leaders in policing and politics. That is what a Conservative Mayor brought to City Hall and what this new Conservative Government will redouble and bring to the United Kingdom.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. On the point about knife crime—and, related to that, drugs—he and the Mayor may have been successful in London, but the problem has now been exported to the towns around our cities through county drug lines. We are seeing that in towns such as Warwick and Leamington, where there was a death just two weeks ago in a multiple stabbing. Does he agree that we will tackle this only through intelligence on the street, including from police community support officers and community workers?
The hon. Member is quite right to raise county lines as an issue, and I will say more about that later in my speech. I, too, suffer from the county lines phenomenon in my constituency, but there is no silver bullet to this problem. It requires a 360-degree assault upon these gangs, but I will say more about that in a moment.
The Minister talks about a 360-degree approach. Does he therefore share my deep concern that when I discovered, along with BBC Wales, videos glamorising knife violence involving convicted criminals operating in my own constituency, YouTube refused to take them down, calling it legitimate artistic expression? These videos glamorised the carrying of knives and the disposal of evidence. Does he agree that YouTube should take such videos down?
At a time when we all owe a duty to our young people to stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against the violence that disproportionately affects them, I find it hard to imagine being a director of such a company sitting in a room and declining to remove such material from their product. I hope that over time they will reflect on their duty not just to their shareholders but to wider society.
After a decade of sustained and significant falls in crime, we cannot hide from the fact that the landscape is changing and some of the most troubling and violent crimes, including knife offences, are on the rise once again. They are also, as we have just referred to, more visible than ever before. Given my personal commitment to this issue, I would like to thank Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition for tabling this important debate and giving us the opportunity to outline some of the urgent actions we are taking to prevent, detect and fight crime in all its forms. First, there is commitment from the top. Members will be aware that the Prime Minister will personally chair a new Cabinet Committee on criminal justice, leading a drive to bring all Departments of State to bear in the struggle against criminality.
Secondly, we know there must be focused and sustained action on the ground. Attention has rightly been drawn to the need to ensure that our police are well funded and that there are more officers on our streets to keep the public safe. On this point at least we are in total agreement, but police funding is about more than just material resources; it is about sending a clear message to our police forces that the Government support them in their difficult task, that we know their capabilities and understand the risks they take, and that they can rely on us. That said, merely putting more officers on the street will not in itself reduce crime. Rather, tackling crime requires a judicious combination of focused interventions, such as our serious violence fund legislation and preventive measures, alongside that all-important motivated leadership.
Last year, Parliament approved a funding settlement that gave police and crime commissioners the opportunity to increase additional public investment in policing by up to £970 million. That included an increase to government grant funding of £161 million, £59 million for counter-terrorism policing, more than £150 million to cover additional pension costs, and £500 million for more local forces from the local council tax precept. That was already the largest yearly increase in police funding for more than five years, even before the provision of an additional £100 million to tackle serious violence was announced in the spring statement.
Does the Minister share my concern about the fact that while the capital cities of Northern Ireland, Scotland and England receive extra funding because they are capital cities, Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, does not receive any extra funding for this very purpose?
I am always happy to speak to police forces about their requirements. As the hon. Lady will know, we have a special fund that can help financially when one-off events occur in cities such as Cardiff, but I should be more than happy to meet her to discuss that. I am aware that Cardiff does shoulder some of the burdens of a capital city, so let us see what we can talk about. There is, however, a wider objective. Beyond the general discussion about funding and process, we must concentrate on fighting crime, and while resources do matter in that regard, it is also important that we focus on product.
I welcome the debate, because the Home Affairs Committee did a great deal of work on these issues in the last Parliament. I am sorry not to be able to speak in it, but it is my daughter’s parents evening later. I know that Front Benchers on both sides will understand.
I want to ask the Minister about the drop in the number and proportion of cases that are reaching charge and summons. Is he as concerned as I am about the drop in justice, and the drop in the number of crimes being solved?
Yes. I think we should all be concerned about that statistic. As the right hon. Lady will know, the Prime Minister has ordered a royal commission to review the criminal justice system, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), will lead a review of rape to see what more we can do to improve criminal justice. We must bear in mind, however, that the best sort of victim is someone who is not a victim at all, and I want to concentrate our efforts on the prevention of crime alongside its prosecution.
I have mentioned the increase in police funding. Last week, I announced that we would go even further. In 2020-21 we are giving forces £700 million for the recruitment of the first 6,000 of the 20,000 additional police officers promised in our manifesto, which represents an increase of nearly 10% of the core grant funding provided last year. Those first 6,000 officers will be shared among the 43 territorial forces in England and Wales, and will be dedicated to territorial functions.
The scale of this recruitment campaign is unprecedented: no previous Government have ever attempted such an ambitious police recruitment drive. The new officers will be a visible and reassuring presence on our streets and in our communities. If we assume full take-up of precept flexibility, total police funding will increase by £1.1 billion next year. That—as we heard from the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)—is the largest increase in funding for the police system for more than a decade, and it means that every single force in England and Wales will see a substantial increase in its funding.
Well, Mr Deputy Speaker—sorry, Mr Speaker! Forgive me. It was a slip of the tongue, and a memory, happily, of old times.
We will recruit 20,000 police officers over the next three years, and Southwark—or, rather, the Met—will receive its share of those officers, alongside whatever the Mayor of London chooses to do in augmenting the Met’s finances. We would be very pleased if the Mayor, whoever that may be after May, stepped in to shoulder much more of the responsibility for fighting crime in the capital in a way that, to be honest, we have not seen in the last few years.
I am not saying this just because it is time. Two years ago almost to the day, I wrote an article in the Evening Standard—an op-ed from the Back Benches—saying exactly the same: that it was about time City Hall stepped forward and fulfilled its responsibilities for fighting crime.
I am sorry to make what seems to be an obvious point, but does my hon. Friend not think that it is the job of police and crime commissioners to focus on police and crime? Unfortunately, our police and crime commissioner in the west midlands has spent most of the year so far talking about train delays. His time could be much better spent in talking about and advertising police recruitment in the region, which will benefit from an extra 366 police officers this year.
As would be expected, I completely agree with my hon. Friend. He has identified a trend that I have detected, which is returning to policing after an absence of some six years. The policing family in its widest sense has drifted towards an obsession with process rather than product. For example, in the six months for which I have been the policing Minister I have been invited to conferences on computers and human resources, but I have yet to be invited to a conference on crime and how we fight it. We will therefore be holding such a conference in March. We will invite police and crime commissioners to come and talk about crime-fighting policy, and I hope that many of the best of them will do so.
Does the Minister agree that it is important for the Mayor of London in particular to trust local authorities to be able to fight crime and the causes of crime in their own areas? What concerns me is that the money that comes from violence reduction units comes with too many conditions. Local authorities such as mine, Westminster City Council, know their young people. They know their estates and their streets. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Mayor of London, and police and crime commissioners, trust their local authorities an awful lot more with their funding.
There speaks the voice of experience. It is great to see a former leader of Westminster City Council, and a successor in my council ward, in this place. She is quite right: that was something that we recognised, certainly when I was at City Hall, in our joint engagement meetings, when we put every single local authority in London alongside every single borough commander and anyone else in the borough who wanted to fight crime, and talked about our common problems and our shared solutions, bearing in mind that no one organisation or geography has a monopoly on wisdom and that very often local authorities are closer to the problem than the police can be.
I must make some progress.
The police uplift is, of course, an important part of our strategy to tackle crime, but it is not our only measure. Those extra officers will be immediately supported by a raft of new schemes and legislation designed to make their job easier and safer. The police protection and powers Bill will enshrine in law a new police covenant recognising the extraordinary challenges that our police face and pledging to recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of serving and former officers. We also plan to consult on doubling the sentence for assaults on police officers and other emergency service workers to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
The Opposition have rightly drawn attention to the rise in knife crime. In our manifesto, we set out ideas for a new court order that will give the police new stop-and- search powers in respect of anyone serving all or part of their sentence for a knife possession offence in the community. That will increase the likelihood of such offenders being stopped, and will send the strong message that if they persist in carrying a knife they will be punished and will face a custodial sentence. The police will also be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, which will make it easier for officers to stop and search.
In October, we announced the beginning of a strategy to confront county lines drugs gangs. The package of measures is already having a significant impact, which is why we have now committed an additional £5 million, on top of the £20 million that was announced in October. That means that we will be investing £25 million in the next year to further increase activity against these ruthless gangs, who target and exploit so many children and vulnerable people.
Since 2010, youth offender services and teams in local authorities have experienced year-on-year cuts. That affects the work that can be done to prevent young people from reoffending, because social workers and other ongoing resources are vital to it. Does the Minister agree that the cuts should be reversed so that that preventive work can actually take place?
I definitely agree that, broadly, three ingredients will be required. First, we need significant and assertive enforcement; secondly, we need to intervene with young people as early as we possibly can; and, thirdly, we need to focus on offender management. We are having conversations across Government about what more we can do to improve it, particularly at the younger end of the cohort.
We have heard a lot about police cuts from the Opposition over the last half hour or so. I wonder whether my hon. Friend can help me to fathom what they are saying. If I remember rightly, just a few years ago the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench talking about his plans to cut our police funding by 10%. The right hon. Lady said in her speech that she had always appreciated the need for funding and recruitment. I wonder what my hon. Friend makes of that, and what he thinks the Labour party was planning to cut.
My hon. Friend is quite right. I well remember the former Member for Leigh, who is now the Mayor of Manchester, proudly boasting of the further cuts he would make to the police service over and above those that were being made.
As I said earlier, we have to recognise that there is no direct link between the level of crime and the number of police officers. It can help, and it is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Motivation, leadership, targeting and focus—all these things matter. Throughout our history, we have seen police numbers at a lower level and crime higher, and police numbers at a higher level and crime also high. There is no direct correlation. The years between 2008 and 2012 were a particularly difficult time, yet police officer numbers were extremely high.
The Minister will know that one particular area of crime that is on the rise is crime against retail workers. They face increasing threats of violence, many involving a knife and many, sadly, involving guns, particularly where age-restricted products are involved. Is he yet convinced of the need, as we are on the Opposition Benches, for specific offences to make it easier to take action against those offenders?
On the very last day of the last Parliament there was a Westminster Hall debate on precisely this subject. As I explained in that debate, we hope shortly to publish the results of the call for evidence that we put out early last year on this particular crime type. I am aware that shop workers and others who are in the frontline at the shop counter see a significant amount of crime, not least against them physically, and once we have digested the results of that call for evidence I am hopeful that we will be able to work with the industry to bring solutions to comfort those who put up with that crime.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is being exceedingly generous in promoting a debate, in stark contrast to what we heard from the Opposition Benches. He is right to say that police numbers are welcome but not the be all and end all. It is appropriate that the police have the right kit and the right powers to pursue criminals. Does he agree that one of the most worrying things has been the huge increase in fraud crimes, which account for about half of all crimes, but for which traditional policing is completely inappropriate? What more can we do to ensure that the Action Fraud record of fewer than 1.5% of reported frauds resulting in a prosecution can be improved? That would get all the crime figures down.
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the rise in fraud over the past few years has been significant, and the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and I are not necessarily convinced that we are in the best shape organisationally to deal with it. A review has recently been done by Sir Craig Mackey of the way we address fraud, and I know that my right hon. Friend, whose part of the business this is, will be digesting that report and coming forward with proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) may remember, however, that in the manifesto on which he and I both stood there was a pledge to create a cyber force. Given that we are seeing an exponential growth in the amount of online fraud, it strikes me that there is some strength in that proposal, and we will be bringing something forward in the near future.
It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the surest way to tackle crime is to prevent it from happening in the first place. We have announced an extensive series of preventive measures to remove opportunities for crime and to tackle its root causes. I recently announced the launch of a £25 million safer streets fund to support areas that are disproportionately affected by acquisitive crime and to invest in well- evidenced preventive interventions such as home security and street lighting. We are investing millions in early intervention through the £22 million early intervention youth fund and the long-term £200 million youth endowment fund to ensure that those most at risk are given the opportunity to turn away from violence and lead positive lives. The Serious Violence Bill will introduce a legal duty for schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together to prevent serious violence, along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) suggested. They will be required to collaborate on an effective local response and to safeguard those most at risk, thereby protecting young people, their families and communities.
I cannot agree with the Opposition’s diagnosis of why certain types of crime are on the rise. I believe that colleagues on both sides of the House can see just how seriously the Government take the protection of our citizens. Our measures are extensive, well funded and based on firm evidence, and as long as crime continues to blight the lives of the most vulnerable, its eradication remains one of the people’s priorities and therefore our priority. Nothing can atone for the damage that crime inflicts on our communities each and every day, but we hope that in the years to come, fewer families will have to suffer the trauma of victimhood or the pain of bereavement that I saw on the face of Amro Elbadawi’s father.
I should like to start by congratulating Her Majesty’s Opposition on securing this Opposition day debate on such an important topic. I am particularly pleased about it, as it gives me an opportunity to talk about the good news story for policing and tackling crime in Scotland. We often hear the allegation from the Government Benches that there are major problems with domestic policy in Scotland, but when we examine the evidence, we see that that is not the case. I am happy to say that, on policing and fighting violent crime, Scotland under a Scottish National party Government has a good news story to tell. The glib and misleading comments that we hear from the new Prime Minister about failures in domestic policy cannot be brought home in relation to issues of policing and violent crime. I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to talk about how we have increased police numbers in Scotland under an SNP Government and successfully tackled the terrible scourge of knife crime, which I know from my previous role as a prosecutor in Scotland’s highest courts was a terrible scourge in Scottish society. While it has not by any means gone from the streets of Glasgow and the rest of Scotland, knife crime is being successfully tackled there in a way that could never previously have been imagined.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will join me in welcoming the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, which was commissioned by the Welsh Labour Government. It draws attention to the fact that there is a jagged edge in relation to devolution in Wales, where criminal justice is reserved despite the fact that many of the services that underpin it are devolved. We do not get policing funded per head of population as we would under the Barnett formula. I tried to intervene on the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) earlier, because I was sure that she would agree with the Welsh Labour Government on this. Does my hon. and learned Friend believe that criminal justice and policing per se need to be devolved to Wales as a matter of urgency, just as they have been so effectively in Scotland?
I wholly agree with that. Matters such as criminal justice, policing and tackling violent crime are best fought as close to home as possible by people who understand the communities in which these issues occur. As I have said, Scotland has a good news story to tell about fighting violent crime and about policing numbers, and I am sure that if the wishes of Plaid Cymru and the Labour party, who I believe considerably outnumber Conservative MPs in Wales, were listened to, Wales could benefit in a similar way.
I stress that there is no room for complacency in Scotland, and my colleagues at Holyrood continually strive to improve matters, but I think that Scotland’s successes are something from which the UK Government could learn. I therefore hope that Ministers will listen to this carefully, because what I am going to say is based on evidence, rather than flung-about allegations about policy failures. In Scotland, crime is down to historically low levels. Recorded crime has fallen by 41% since 2006-07 and non-sexual violent crime is down by 43% since 2006-07. Cases of homicide have fallen by 25% in the past 10 years, and the Scottish crime and justice survey shows a 46% fall between 2008-09 and 2017-18 in violent incidents experienced by adults in Scotland.
It is well known that Scotland moved in recent years from having eight regional police forces to a single police force, and it is worth bearing in mind that that was a bit of a no-brainer. Scotland’s population is only 5.5 million, which seems a sensible number to be policed by one force. In the days when I was prosecuting, having multiple different practices across the regions of Scotland caused problems. The benefit of a unified police force in Scotland is that we have been able to improve best practice across the force, but do not just take my word for that. Let us hear what Rape Crisis Scotland has to say about the single police force in Scotland:
“The move to a single police force has transformed the way rape and other sexual crimes are investigated in Scotland. It has allowed far greater consistency of approach, including to the training of police officers and to the use of specialist officers.”
I acknowledge what the hon. and learned Member says in relation to Rape Crisis and serious crime and in relation to Police Scotland, but does she acknowledge that moving to a single police force in Scotland has taken away the third leg of the stool in terms of local accountability, meaning that the police force is now a much more politicised institution than it was prior to unification?
With all due respect to the hon. Lady, whom I congratulate on her recent election victory, I cannot agree with that. It is a political point that the Liberal Democrats repeatedly try to make in the Scottish Parliament, but it is not borne out by experience.
Police officer numbers are up by 1,000 in Scotland despite significant cuts to Scotland’s budget from Westminster. As of 30 September 2019, total police officer numbers were up 1,022 on 2007. Scotland has more officers per head of population than England and Wales. The ratio in Scotland is 32 officers per 10,000 members of the population versus 21 officers per 10,000 members of the population in England and Wales. I suggest that the sort of ratio we have in Scotland is something that England and Wales should be aiming for. The present Government’s proposal to increase police numbers simply reverses a position that they enforced at an earlier stage, so it is a bit rich for them to expect to be congratulated on reversing their own policy failures.
The hon. and learned Lady would not want to mislead the House—I will not put it as strongly as that—but while she refers to the 2007 figures, the numbers that I have suggest that the number at quarter 4 in 2019 was actually below that in 2009, so she is neatly avoiding the high point in her maths, illustrating the fact that police officer numbers in Scotland have been broadly flat for a decade.
I do not accept that, and I return to the statistic I quoted: police officer numbers stood at 17,256 in Scotland at 30 September 2019, which is up by 1,022 on the total inherited by the SNP Government when Alex Salmond first brought the SNP to power in Scotland in 2007. That is a fact. Of course, there have been fluctuations in the meantime, but there is a significant—[Hon. Members: “Aha!”] No, that is a fact. If the Minister thinks that I am misleading the House on the stats, I challenge him to make a point of order and to bring stats that contradict mine. I can tell the Minister that this is not just about the Scottish National party, because people across Scotland working in the health service, the police and in other areas of Scottish public services are sick to death of glib comments from this misinformed Conservative Government —misinformed by the six Tory MPs that they are left with in Scotland.
I will not give way. The Minister has had time, and I saw Mr Speaker urging him to bring his speech to a close, so I will use my time to look at the facts. As we say in Scotland, facts are chiels that winna ding which, translated into English, basically means that evidence-based policy making is best.
Despite successive Tory Governments reducing the Scottish Government’s resource budget by £1.5 billion— 5% in real terms—since 2010, police budgets in Scotland are protected, and police officers in Scotland are getting the biggest pay rise in the United Kingdom. The police budget in Scotland is up by more than £80 million since 2016-17, and that includes a £42.3 million increase in funding for this year alone. Police officers in Scotland are receiving a pay rise of 6.5% over 31 months, compared with just 2% for 2018-19 for officers in England and Wales. As a result—[Interruption.] I am going to continue my speech despite the heckling from those on the Government Front Bench. I know it is deeply uncomfortable for the Tories to hear the facts as opposed to— [Interruption.] These are the facts.
One of the main issues facing Scotland was that, unlike other police forces in the United Kingdom, Police Scotland was being charged VAT. As a result of increased pressure from me and my learned friends, we won back VAT worth around £25 million a year. However, the United Kingdom has yet to refund the £125 million of VAT paid by Police Scotland between 2013 and 2018. I hope that the Government will look at that carefully—[Interruption.] If I may make some progress over the heckling, I point out—[Interruption.] Well, I realise that it is deeply uncomfortable to hear the facts as opposed to the misinformation that this Government like to put forth.
The Prime Minister was asked a series of questions at PMQs about the reality on the ground in Scotland as a result of the impending withdrawal of freedom of movement, but it was interesting that he was unable to deal with them in any meaningful way because he is not across the detail. I assure the Government that I and my colleagues up the road in Edinburgh are across the detail, and they do not have to take just my word for it.
As I said earlier, Scotland had a woeful problem with knife crime. To our shame, Glasgow was for a while the murder capital of the world, but that is no longer the case. We introduced a public health approach to tackling knife crime—an approach advocated by the World Health Organisation—and it has worked well in Scotland to reduce the incidence of knife crime. I am absolutely delighted that so many representatives from this great city of London—the Metropolitan Police, the Mayor and, indeed, members of the Government—have visited Scotland to look at the public health approach to tackling violence. It really has brought amazing results in Scotland, and it is clearly effective when we see that violent crime in Scotland has decreased by 49% over the past decade, and that crimes of handling an offensive weapon have decreased by 64% over the past 10 years.
There is still a long way to go in fighting violent crime in Scotland, but the importance of the public health approach has been that it has recognised that the issue is complex. Were there to be any doubt about Scotland’s success in fighting crime, let me quote what the Conservative and Unionist party’s crime spokesperson said in Holyrood recently:
“It is important to acknowledge that Scotland has turned its record on violence around.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 20 September 2018; c. 61.]
That turning around of Scotland’s record on violence has happened under the much-maligned SNP Government, who have a great success story to tell in this area.
Let us have credit where credit is due—not for the sake of it, but because facts matter. In the area of policing and knife crime, we must take an evidence-based approach. The success of the Scottish National party’s Government offers lessons from which this Government could learn, and that could benefit the people of England and Wales if the Government were big enough to acknowledge Scotland’s success story and follow our example.
I rise for the first time in this place as the hon. Member for Devizes and as the successor to my friend the great Claire Perry O’Neill. Claire was a brilliant Minister in several Departments, and she brought huge zest and zeal to her work in government. Most of all, however, she was a great campaigner for our constituency. We owe her for the faster, better trains through Pewsey and Bedwyn and for the superfast broadband that is now enjoyed by some of our smallest communities. Thanks to her, we have the promise of a new health centre in Devizes, which is badly needed and, I am afraid to say, quite long overdue. I have inherited from Claire the tradition of posing with the Health Secretary in an empty field outside Devizes, pointing to the spot where the health centre will appear at any moment. I pledge to Claire that I will see the project through as soon as possible.
Claire is now focusing on the presidency of COP26, the UN climate conference that the UK is hosting in Glasgow in November. This vital role is crucial for the future of our country and the world. I wish her all the very best in this, and I thank her for her work locally and for her friendship to me.
I represent a corner of the country that is not only the most beautiful in the land but, in a sense, the oldest. It is the ancient heart of England. My constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), can boast all he likes about Stonehenge, but we have Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric structure in Europe— a great mound of earth the size of a small Egyptian pyramid built, for reasons we will never know, on a bend of the A4 just outside Marlborough.
We have Avebury, the largest stone circle in the world. It is not only much bigger but much older than Stonehenge, which is a vulgar upstart by comparison. We have the ancient burial grounds of our forgotten forebears in tombs and barrows 4,000 years old. We have white horses on the chalk hillsides.
We have big skies and tough people, and we have the British Army. A quarter of our Army is based in Wiltshire, including the regiments recently returned from Germany and now stationed in Tidworth, Larkhill, Bulford and villages round about. I am deeply honoured to represent our soldiers, and I pledge to serve them and their families as faithfully as they have served us.
My constituency is in a beautiful part of the country, but we face deep social challenges and many of the problems that are familiar to rural communities everywhere. We need better funding for our health service, for education, for police and for rural transport, and we need a new deal for our farmers. In the brave new world we are entering, in which rural businesses will face global competition and new environmental responsibilities, we need to remember our own responsibilities to the stewards of our countryside. I will be their champion.
I voted leave in 2016, and I am glad that we are leaving the EU on Friday. The 21st century will reward countries that are nimble, agile and free, but Brexit is about more than global Britain; it is a response to the call of home. It reflects people’s attachment to the places that are theirs. Patriotism is rooted in places. Our love of our country begins with love of our neighbourhoods. Our first loyalties are to the people we live among, and we have a preference to be governed by people we know. That impulse is not wrong; it is right.
As we finally get Brexit done this week, it is right that we are considering how to strengthen local places, especially places far from London. I wholeheartedly support the plans to invest in infrastructure to connect our cities and towns—the broadband and the transport links that will drive economic growth in all parts of the UK.
Just as important as economic infrastructure is what we might call social infrastructure: the institutions of all kinds where people gather to work together, to play together and to help each other. I make my maiden speech in this debate because I spent 10 years as the chief executive of a project I founded with my wife Emma that works in prisons and with young people at risk. It was the hardest job I have ever done, and I worked in some very tough places. We often failed, but we were always close to the people we tried to help. Never bureaucratic, and never treating people as statistics or—a phrase I do not like—service users, we saw them as people whose lives had gone wrong and whose lives, but for the grace of God, could have been ours.
We are now trustees of that charity. If I might make a plea to Ministers, it is for them to recognise the role of independent civil society organisations—charities and social enterprises—in the fight against crime and, indeed, against all the social evils we debate in this place.
Social problems demand social solutions, not just a state response. Of course we need the police, the prison system and the probation service—we need them very badly, and we need them to be better—but, just as important, we need the social infrastructure that prevents crime, supports victims and rehabilitates criminals.
The Government have a great mission as we leave the EU and try to fashion a UK that is fit for the future. This mission represents a challenge to some of the traditional views of both left and right. The main actor in our story is not the solitary individual seeking to maximise personal advantage, nor is it the central state enforcing uniformity from a Department in Whitehall; the main actor in our story is the local community.
We need reform of the public sector to create services that are genuinely owned and cared for by local people. We need reform of business so that directors are incentivised to think of people and the planet, as well as their quarterly profits. And we need reform of politics itself to give power back to the people and to make communities responsible for the decisions that affect them.
I finish on a more abstract issue, but it is one that we will find ourselves debating in many different forms in this Parliament. It is the issue of identity, of who we are both as individuals and in relation to each other. We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed, capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.
Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences.
I state this as neutrally as I can, because I know that good people are trying hard to make a better world and that Christianity and the western past are badly stained by violence and injustice, but I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture. There is so much to be positive about. I share the Prime Minister’s exuberant optimism about the future, but we need a set of values and beliefs to guide us.
As we advance at speed into a bewildering world in which we are forced to ask the most profound questions about the limits of autonomy and what it means to be human, we may have reason to look about for the old ways and to seek wisdom in the old ideas that are, in my view, entirely timeless.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), and I welcome him to the House. It was an articulate and beautiful speech, and I am sure he will be a very good advocate for his constituents. Many of us in this House support prisoner rehabilitation and the ability of most offenders to turn their lives around, so it is good to have another person join us in that cause.
This is a timely debate, because yesterday evening I and other Members representing constituencies across south Wales met the chief constable of South Wales police. I pay tribute to South Wales police, who epitomise the best of public service. Since being elected in 2015, I have learned a lot about the nature of the challenges South Wales police face every day in Cardiff Central and across our city. I have had the privilege of spending time with officers and control staff at their headquarters in Bridgend and with officers who patrol Cardiff city centre, seeing and hearing all about policing.
Schemes such as “Give a Day to Policing” are excellent, and the continuing dialogue and co-operation of police in Cardiff Central helps me and my constituents a great deal. I thank the police community support officers in my neighbourhood policing team who have provided a lot of support to me and my staff in difficult circumstances, particularly over the past couple of years, to ensure our safety. I really appreciate it.
All of this has broadened my knowledge and understanding of policing, which had previously centred on trying to get my clients out of police custody as quickly as possible when I was a practising criminal defence solicitor. I now know so much more about what it is like on the other side.
South Wales police are underfunded, under-resourced and overwhelmed with work. Conservative Members will point to the recently announced money to recruit officers—136 of them for the whole of south Wales—but there is no escaping the fact that this does not get near matching the officer numbers we had in 2010 before the decade of austerity and cuts.
Of course I welcome the money for recruitment this year but, in the context of Cardiff growing faster than any other major UK city outside London, it is not enough. It is not enough for the whole of south Wales, and it is certainly not enough for Cardiff.
As one of our four UK capital cities, Cardiff hosts more than 400 major civic, political and royal events every year and, on top of a decade of police funding cuts, my constituents are having to find money to contribute to the extra £4 million for the annual cost of policing these events—that is the equivalent of more than 60 police officers. I have repeatedly raised the anomaly of capital city funding with successive Home Office Ministers, Policing Ministers and Wales Office Ministers over the past few years. There is no valid explanation of why Cardiff is discriminated against in this way when it comes to capital city funding, so will the Minister please confirm that he will meet me and my Cardiff constituency neighbours to discuss how this unfair and unequitable situation can be resolved? During each of those 400 events, police officers have to be drawn from around the South Wales area into Cardiff and the city centre, which has a knock-on effect on the ability of the police to do their jobs, and protect people and property across the whole of South Wales.
That pressure comes on top of the daily pressure of rising crime, particularly violent crime, drug offences and domestic abuse. South Wales police have 30,000 reports of domestic abuse a year, never mind the reports of all the other crimes. In July last year, they had their highest total number of calls in a month in their history. As the chief constable was telling us yesterday, in the past year the force has seen an increase of 140% in reports of sexual violence; drug offences, both dealing and possession, have rocketed; and serious violence and knife crime has doubled. Drugs are at the heart of much of the crime in my constituency, as they are across the country.
The police cannot possibly deal with this challenge without much greater funding, and I now believe, having taken time to come to a firm view on this, that we need to look much more urgently at the issue of the drugs epidemic and at how it is driving the rise in crime. We need to think about options and solutions that have previously been unthinkable. This is a major public health issue, a major policing issue and a major criminal justice issue, but none of those policy areas can tackle this alone. I worry that even in combination they cannot tackle the crisis that we face, and the decade of cuts is making that crisis worse. We now need to look at safe drug consumption rooms.
My constituents are deeply concerned about rising crime and decreasing community safety, and many of them gave me their views in a survey I ran just before the general election last year. Overall, there were three broad themes to what they were concerned about: violent crime and knife crime; drugs, both dealing and their use in front of people, including children, and the associated antisocial behaviour; and theft and burglaries. Many constituents made it clear to me that the Government’s cuts to police funding and to our Welsh Government’s budget were having an impact on local services, and that that in itself was playing a major part in all these crimes and the increasing number of them. My constituents overwhelmingly want to see more police on our streets. Neighbourhood policing is vital to them, as I know it is to many Members from across the country. My constituents want more funding for Wales, to provide services and resources to help people who are homeless or who have a drug addiction—or face both those problems. They want to see the police in their neighbourhoods and their communities, both to prevent crime and to protect citizens and property. So my message to the Government is: 136 new officers across South Wales is not enough—we really need many more.
I want to be the first Conservative Member to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) on a superlative speech, made in the best traditions of this House. I am so delighted to see a friend take his seat in this Chamber, and express such values and a worldview with which I so wholeheartedly agree. I wish him all the best in his time and service here in this House.
We have spent many months talking about policing, crime and security since the general election, and having more police in Fareham is definitely a priority for my constituents. It is almost as though the Prime Minister parachuted himself into one of the many watering holes and pubs in Fareham, sat down with a group of decent, fair-minded constituents and asked them, “What is the most important thing you want to see here in Fareham?” Had he done that, he would have been met with the response, “More police on our streets.” I congratulate Ministers and the Prime Minister on making more policing a central pledge to the British people during the general election.
I want to set out a few of the local issues relating to crime and policing that have been in my postbag in the past few months. These issues worry some of my local residents in Fareham, on the south coast. We have seen a spate of burglaries in the Locks Heath and Fareham area, and local people have been worried about the sometimes slow response from the Fareham police team. In Titchfield village, a beautiful and historic part of my constituency, where many elderly people live by themselves, there have been several incidents where properties have been vandalised late in the evening by antisocial youths. St Peter’s church had flags and flowerpots stolen by vandals a few months ago, which is a sad and depressing state of affairs in such a beautiful part of the constituency, where there is such strong community pride and commitment to our local area. In my surgery last week, I met a family who have been the victims of burglary. Their house was ransacked when they went to the cinema one evening, and thousands of pounds-worth of jewellery was stolen. They felt that their home had been demolished when they returned; they found this a traumatising and violating experience.
Those incidents have to be set against the big picture and the context, which is that, thankfully, the overall crime rate in Fareham and throughout the country fell last year, compared with the year before, thanks to the diligence and vigilance of our police. There have been other success stories locally. For example, 150 police officers were involved in five dawn raids in Fareham, Portsmouth and Southampton following a spate of ATM “explosions”—this is where an explosive gas is used to break into an ATM—with incidents having happened in Park Gate and the wider Hampshire and Surrey area. Several individuals were arrested. Fareham police are also stepping up their patrols after the increasing number of antisocial behaviour incidents, such as vandalism and use of drugs in the Fareham and Locks Heath shopping centre area, particularly in the summer months. I am pleased to hear that they are responding appropriately.
I am interested in what the hon. Member is saying about the rise in crime. We have seen a rise in crime, particularly in knife crime, across specific parts of the country. Does she accept that the proposals put forward by the Government would still leave police forces short of where they were in 2010, that more officers are needed and that what is needed to deal with knife crime, in particular, is a more holistic approach? This is about health, education and investment, to prevent people from getting involved in and turning to crime.
I disagree with the hon. Lady’s premise that there has been a rise. In Fareham, overall and taking a long view, we are definitely seeing a fall in the number of incidents and the level of violent crime. We see that a huge investment from the Government is going to help to reassure local people, with visible policing and many more resources. I am going to deal with the particular effect of the police funding settlement on Hampshire in a moment.
Another success story from Fareham is that the local police have succeeded in arresting thieves who had been involved in several car thefts and break-ins in the Highlands Road area. There has also been a successful drugs bust in the high street, where large quantities of class A and class B drugs were seized, with a man and woman arrested on suspicion of intent to supply. I want to take this opportunity to thank and applaud the efforts of Hampshire police and the Fareham policing team.
I must also mention a game changer for policing in our local area. I had the pleasure of visiting the new eastern police investigation centre last year in Portsmouth, which represents a step change in local policing. At a cost of £31 million, a huge investment from national Government, there will be 430 officers, investigators and staff on site, with 36 custody cells. This centre will bring the constabulary forces together to enable a more efficient delivery of police services locally. It will serve Fareham, Gosport, Havant and parts of east Hampshire, providing a modern and fit-for-purpose facility. I applaud all the efforts that went into making that possible.
Finally, I cannot stand up and speak without mentioning the historic police funding settlement for Hampshire for 2020-21, under which Hampshire will receive a monumental cash injection of £366.5 million, which represents a colossal increase of 26% in cash terms on the previous year. In the first round of police recruitment, Hampshire will see 156 primed and ready police officers, and I know from speaking to many local people that they are excited and enthusiastic about the arrival of those police officers. It will be my task to make sure that a good portion of them serve Fareham. Such investment is unprecedented for Fareham and for Hampshire. The new injection of capital will undoubtedly contribute to the continuation of an overall reduction in crime.
Not only are the Government serious about maintaining security and stability, as any good Government should be, but they have outdone expectations and surpassed requirements by making this country a more protected, peaceful and prosperous place, through their huge commitment to policing.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am honoured and privileged to have been elected to represent the constituents of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock on the west coast of Scotland. However, I would not be here were it not for the commitment of my campaign team, who worked tirelessly to get me elected, and the people who voted for me—the 20,272 people who put their trust in me to act with honesty and integrity as their representative.
I am proud and pleased that my son Peter is in the Gallery. Peter is a civil servant; he has asked me—perhaps understandably—to campaign to increase civil service pay, which for many in the civil service has been reduced in real terms since the Tories came to power in 2010. This is something that I am sure will be supported by many of his colleagues and many of our hard-working civil servants across the country, including those who support the police.
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock is a constituency of rural and coastal communities, with rich farmland, thriving food and drink industries, a manufacturing base and, of course, outstanding tourist and leisure facilities, including some exceptional golf courses. It is a relatively large constituency, being about 50 miles from north to south and 22 miles from east to west. The largest town, Ayr, was established by a royal charter granted in 1205 by William the Lion. It was described accurately by our bard, Rabbie Burns, as:
“Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses, For honest men and bonnie lasses”.
Who am I to argue with the Bard?
To the south of the constituency is Maybole—the ancient capital of Carrick—and the picturesque seaside town of Girvan. To the east of the constituency are the proud former mining towns and villages of Cumnock, New Cumnock, Dalmellington, Patna and my home village of Dailly, among others.
Famous people associated with the constituency include King Robert the Bruce, who was born in Turnberry castle and went on to lead the fight for Scottish independence, winning the battle of Bannockburn in 1314; Keir Hardie, one of the founders of and the first leader of the Labour party, who made his home in Cumnock—a beautiful commemorative bust of him stands proudly outside Cumnock town hall; and Rabbie Burns, our national bard, whose birthday is celebrated this week. It is not by accident that I mention those three very famous individuals, as they all shared my passion for freedom and self-determination for Scotland.
By tradition, I pay tribute to my predecessor Bill Grant. I do so without difficulty as Bill and I were councillors together. We agreed at the beginning of the council that we would work together collaboratively for the benefit of our constituents and not along political lines—perhaps a model that could be followed by others. In addition to Bill’s contribution to Parliament, I can also say that he worked with integrity and did what he felt was best for the community.
In a former career, I was a police officer: I served here in London with the Metropolitan police, both as a uniformed response officer and as a detective, achieving the rank of detective inspector. With the help of the Commons Library, I have been able to establish that I am probably only the fourth person ever to have served in both the Metropolitan police and the Commons since 1829.
I could regale the Chamber with hours of stories of frontline policing, but I will not. I will, though, mention one particular incident in which I had a Stanley knife held to my throat by a seriously mentally ill man. I mention this not to make me look brave, or even lucky to still be alive, but to highlight the importance of investment in effective mental health services to support the work of the police. There is a growing realisation that for many years mental health has been seriously underfunded, and I wish to see that changed.
I want to turn briefly to the Prime Minister’s promise to increase police numbers by 20,000 in the next three years. Some 26,000 police officers are going to retire in the next three years so, realistically, he will have to recruit 46,000 police officers. I look forward to seeing how that progresses.
Let me turn briefly to something that is not covered by criminal law in this country but that will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest crimes of this century: I refer to the grand theft of the pensions of the WASPI women. There are 3.8 million women in this country, including 6,800 in my own constituency, who have had their pension stolen. They have been denied the chance to retire when they expected to. They have been robbed of the opportunity to spend time with their families, especially their grandchildren. They are suffering financial difficulties and mental health issues caused by the loss of that pension, and tragically some have died before reaching their enforced delayed retirement age. I therefore urge the Government to look again with the greatest urgency at the plight of the WASPI women and to right this cruel injustice once and for all.
In conclusion, during my acceptance speech on election night I said that I sincerely hoped that it was the last time that the people of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock needed to send an elected representative to Parliament in Westminster. I look forward with confidence to the time, in the not-too-distant future, when Scotland will be an independent country, able to choose its own future—a time when the decision as to whether Scotland should be a member of the European Union, and all other matters affecting Scotland, will be decided by the people of Scotland.
I pay tribute to the hon. Members whose great maiden speeches we have heard in the House today. I have to admit that the election of the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) was one of the great sadnesses of my election night, because his predecessor was a very good man and a good friend of mine. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will continue to work in the same vein. If he does, I know that, although I am sure we will disagree on much, we will be able to work together well. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) gave a passionate speech in which he showed his vision for his constituency and for the country, which I welcome. He will be a great asset to the House.
I welcome many things that the Government are doing on policing and crime, not least the new recruitment drive and the police covenant, on which I and a great number of colleagues have been campaigning for a year or more, not least as part of the Blue Collar Conservative campaign and agenda that has driven so much in respect of policing as a key priority. I welcome the £15.2 billion funding package, which is up by £1.1 billion on last year.
I thank the Minister for meeting Nottinghamshire colleagues last week. Nottinghamshire has its own gripes about police funding and everything else, but I thank him for that meeting and trust that he will take those things forward. The announcement of additional funding was incredibly welcome in the wake of that meeting, and I know that those resources will go a long way towards supporting our local police to deliver what residents want and need. Throughout the election campaign, it was incredibly clear that policing and crime was a key priority for them. In particular, they felt as though their community policing had disappeared. We are going to get 107 additional officers in the first of three rounds, and that is very welcome. I will fight locally to make sure that the right proportion comes to us in Mansfield. I pressed the Minister in that meeting, and I do it again now publicly, to ensure that as many of the additional 20,000 officers as possible are visible in frontline roles, working with our communities. So much of the intelligence that enables us to deal with the rest of the crime on our streets and in our country comes from conversations on the frontlines between neighbourhood officers and the communities they get to know.
I am not entirely convinced about the graduate requirement for police recruitment. I hope that we will open up the recruitment process beyond graduates to all the different avenues available, including degree apprenticeships and everything else that has come forward through the system.
I also welcome the crackdown on serious violence, including proper sentencing, which we talked about in the House yesterday. In recent months, we have heard complaints from local people who see reports in the media about how those involved in drug rings, paedophiles and rapists are being given early release. That seems to be more and more prevalent, but whether that is actually the case or just a media perception, it is a growing concern among my constituents. I trust that we will be able to combat this effectively by ensuring that sentencing is clear and that we are open and honest with the public about what it means to receive these sentences.
Drugs drive so much of our crime. I know that the Minister has spoken previously about the drugs that have made such a huge difference in our communities. I know that so much of that crime has been led by drugs. I spoke to the previous policing Minister about Mamba and Spice in particular, which is a blight on our community and which in summer 2018 turned my town centre in Mansfield into a scene from a zombie video game. I pressed at the time for a review of the classification of Mamba and Spice, and 18 months on, that review is still ongoing. I ask the Minister to speak, if possible, to the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs to drive that forward and make sure that we get proper change and decisions made, because the review has been dragging on for a long time with no outcome.
I welcome the police covenant, the police protection Bill and the support behind the scenes for police officers, including for their mental and physical health, and so many other things that they need and deserve. Almost every member of my extended family is or has been a police officer, so I hear about those requirements from all angles. One that I have raised with the Minister previously came up when we met police representatives at party conference. It was about internal investigations in the police and how some of them seemed to drag on for an awfully long time, leaving often innocent officers at home on full pay and not able to take part in the work that they are qualified to do and that they want to do. I ask that we make sure—perhaps within the covenant —that those investigations are dealt with swiftly, because both victims and perpetrators need justice. Police must be held to account and to the law like everybody else, but we need to make sure that we are not leaving people at home being paid to do nothing when they want to be out and working on the frontlines.
The investment in Tasers is a positive thing. Quizzing my constituents about it—we have done some local polling—showed they were incredibly positive. I recognise that there are different community sensitivities and that their use will not be right everywhere, but certainly locally it has been incredibly popular. I personally think that every police officer who wants a Taser should be able to have one. We see the risks that our officers face on an increasingly regular basis, so it is only right that they are protected and able to protect our communities as well.
The Conservative party is, and should always be, the party of law and order, and if we are not delivering on that, we are not really doing our jobs very well. I have found myself concerned about this matter over the past few years. I think that we have got a job to do.
Retford in my constituency of Bassetlaw is currently mourning the tragic death of a gentlemen following a violent crime. With regard to protecting the public, it would help the police greatly if, once we lock people up, they stay locked up. Will my hon. Friend join me in urging the Opposition to support the Government’s plans to end automatic early release of violent offenders halfway through their sentence?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is vital that the public can trust our sentencing and know that the punishment will fit the crime. That applies to all levels of crime. There is no benefit to people going into prison for two weeks and not getting any help or support while they are in there, then coming back out, having lost their housing or whatever it may be, and starting on the spiral of criminality again. In many cases, a longer sentence with more inbuilt support to help them to rehabilitate would be better. We need a proper review, and I hope that the Opposition will give that fair consideration when the Government try to deliver it
As I said, we have a job to do to rebuild trust with the police and with the public, who are rightly at the top of the agenda. To feel safe in their community is the No. 1 thing that the public wants and needs, and we should be delivering that, so I am pleased that it is absolutely at the top of this Government’s agenda. It was at the forefront of our election campaign. A lot of promises were made, and no doubt we will all hold the Government to account for delivery.
We need to ensure that residents get proper responses and proper communication, so they know what response they should be getting—that has also been raised with me regularly. We must ensure that we have a proper, fair and open sentencing system, particularly for serious offenders, and that we keep our communities safe. I know from conversation with the Minister in recent weeks that he is absolutely committed to delivering on that. He is on the right track, and I hope that legislation to deliver will be introduced as soon as possible. I absolutely welcome the Government’s commitment to policing and crime, and particularly to supporting those officers who do so much to keep us all safe.
It is an opportune moment to be having this debate. I am particularly proud to take part following two exceptional maiden speeches this afternoon.
I welcome a number of the decisions this Government have taken recently. They have listened to communities and to chief officers and delivered a significant uplift in spending on policing. However, it is not unrealistic to say that this demonstrates nothing short of a complete U-turn in their approach to policing, given the Government’s conduct between 2010 and 2019. We have lost 21,000 police officers and 600 police stations have closed across England and Wales. One of those stations is in my constituency: Sowerby Bridge police station, where “Happy Valley” was filmed. The building was sold off at a time when the West Yorkshire police force was doing all it could to generate the cash needed to keep funding boots on the ground. That station simply is not coming back.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about the closure of police stations, which we have also seen in Hounslow. Such closures contribute to the feeling of greater distance between the police and our communities. Does she agree that that is part of the reason why there has been a reduction in people’s confidence in the police, both in terms of dealing with crimes and achieving the detection rates that we need?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that very important point. She is quite right that, as those 600 police stations have closed in our communities and the number of officers has declined, people are feeling that access to justice is further away from them than ever before, and that is contributing to that lack of confidence in the ability of our police officers to secure the results that we so desperately need in our communities.
In addition to reductions in officers and police stations, there have been changes to officer recruitment and training. I do not necessarily disagree with those changes, but they do mean that the new officers promised by the Prime Minister will not be operational until 2023. We have a long way to go before we start to feel the change in approach from this Conservative Government towards policing on our streets and in our communities.
I look forward to the police powers and protections Bill which, as I understand it, will legislate for the creation of a police covenant; like the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), I am very much in favour of that. It will also allow special constables to join the Police Federation and allow another look at the legality of emergency driving, to ensure that all police officers know where they stand when tasked with driving in an emergency situations. I know that all such measures will be welcomed by both the public and the officers themselves.
I am currently taking part in the police service parliamentary scheme, which I recommend to all colleagues, particularly our new colleagues. It offers a truly insightful frontline experience of what is going on right across policing. Having had to call 999 from a police car for urgent back-up for a single-crewed officer whom I was shadowing on the front line, I decided to start the Protect the Protectors campaign, which finally resulted in law changes introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) in 2018.
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 created a new offence of “assault against an emergency worker” with the maximum penalty increased from six months to 12 months. The Act also created a statutory aggravating factor within a raft of other offences including sexual assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and manslaughter, which means that the judge must consider the fact that the offence was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor, meriting an increase in the sentence. I was reassured but somewhat taken aback to hear the Minister in his opening remarks talk about the Government’s plan to double sentences for those who assault police officers. Although the 2018 Act was very much a step in the right direction, I cannot stress enough how hard we had to fight Ministers to secure the increase from six months to 12 months; they rejected our initial proposals for 24 months. We very much welcome that step to double sentences, but it is hard to describe how hard we had to fight for it. We had our proposals rejected by the then Government just 18 months ago.
While we make the laws in here, we ask the police to uphold and enforce them out there, and we certainly agree that to assault an emergency service worker is to show complete disregard for law and order. It is a breakdown in our shared values and in democracy itself, and that must be reflected in sentencing, particularly for repeat offenders. It saddens me to say that the changes in the law are having a minimal impact. There were over 30,000 assaults on police officers in England and Wales in 2018-19, as well as a 13% increase in attacks classified as assault without injury on a constable, and a 27% increase in assault with injury on a constable, compared with the previous year. There were 1,897 recorded assaults last year in West Yorkshire alone—the highest figure in England and Wales outside the Met area. Will the Minister reopen this issue as part of the police powers and protections Bill, and look at minimum sentencing, enhanced penalties for repeat offenders and the abolition of suspended sentences for such crimes?
The other element of the “Protect the Protectors” Bill that we were not able to nail down in statute related to spitting. I have shared horror stories on several occasions in this Chamber about emergency service workers having been spat at, and the anxiety of having to wait up to six months for test results to determine whether they have contracted a potentially life-changing communicable disease, having to take antiviral treatments as a precaution, and on occasion having to adhere to restrictions about interacting with close family and friends, based on advice given by medical professionals. We initially wanted to introduce a new law to require someone who spits at a police officer or any other emergency service worker to provide a blood sample in order to determine whether they have a communicable disease. Such a measure would give the victim some clarity about whether antiviral treatments would be required. The new law would have made it a crime for the perpetrator to refuse to provide a sample.
Advice provided by the NHS at the time argued that the chances of contracting such diseases were so low that any such testing was not necessary, as contracting the disease from being spat at or bitten was almost impossible. The problem is that even today the advice given to frontline officers presenting at A&E having been spat at is a course of antiviral treatment and six months of testing as a precaution. Will the Minister agree to have another look at this issue with colleagues in the Department of Health, to ensure that we are removing as much stress and anxiety from the situation as possible for dedicated police officers and their colleagues across the emergency services who have been subjected to such vile behaviour in the line of duty?
I want to take this opportunity to highlight the issues of recruitment and retention in police leadership. Last summer I invited doctors from Calderdale to meet the then Health Minister to discuss how the annual lifetime allowances on their pensions were affecting them. Although the Government have found a temporary sticking plaster for this issue for clinicians, the same problem persists right across the public sector—not least in policing. In a letter to the chair of the Police Pension Scheme Advisory Board sent just this week, the Policing Minister argued that although he is open to the reform of police pensions, the case
“does not demonstrate evidence of recruitment and retention problems and a resulting impact on operational service delivery”.
Having recently taken part in the police service parliamentary scheme, I can tell the Minister that, anecdotally, this is certainly discouraging officers from seeking promotion to the higher ranks, and senior officers openly tell me that this is the case.
Research undertaken by the National Police Chiefs’ Council shows that the number of applicants for chief officer jobs is declining, as is the length of tenure in those roles. My own force, West Yorkshire police, had just one applicant on the previous two occasions it needed to fill the post of chief constable, and Northumbria police force recently had to open recruitment for a chief constable three times. Will the Minister have another look at the issue, given that, perversely, senior officers are receiving bizarre yearly tax bills that are greater than their annual salary?
I very much welcome some of the decisions taken, but there is certainly a long way to go for the Government to win back trust from communities and from within policing.
The Government know that their first priority is to protect the public, and having a well-funded and properly resourced police department is vital in delivering that duty. I warmly welcome the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers to help in that mission, and the additional £13.5 million in funding for Derbyshire police announced last week. But the fight against crime is about more than figures and pounds. It is about our culture, as the Minister set out earlier, and our approach to crime, criminals, victims, rehabilitation and sentencing, and how tolerant we are of those who choose to play by their own rules. I know that our Prime Minister gets that point; he said in his very first speech outside Downing Street that making our streets safe is a key priority. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gets it—that we are on the side of honest, decent, law-abiding individuals. But having listened to some of the remarks in the opening speeches of Opposition Front Benchers, I am not sure that they get that point.
Crime is a scourge on working-class communities up and down the country. For some, it is antisocial behaviour and the feeling of impotence people get when they live on a street with one troublesome neighbour who blights the lives of all around. This is a daily occurrence for too many people, and it must not be allowed. When the Home Secretary visited Clowne during the election, she heard from some of the residents about how they have suffered as a result of antisocial behaviour. As she said then, we cannot and should not stand by while these residents suffer in silence, and they must know that this Government are on their side.
For others, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) set out earlier, it is crimes such as burglaries. A number of people in Bolsover town and elsewhere have written to me recently to say that there has been a spate of burglaries across the constituency. I have written to the chief constable and received helpful responses, but it is so important that these crimes are investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. Victims must know that we are on their side, and those who think they can get away with such offences must know that they will be targeted with the full force of the law. There should be no doubt that these crimes—too often overlooked by those on social media who think that every word spoken by a Conservative politician is some sort of crime—blight the lives of too many working-class people in this country.
We are incredibly fortunate to have so many dedicated police officers up and down the country who work incredibly hard to protect our communities. I thank them for their service. I am sure that they will welcome the news that they will have 6,000 additional colleagues by March 2021, as well as the forthcoming police protections Bill. Our police officers must know that they have our full support in this House, and we will ensure that they have the resources they need.
I welcome the forthcoming royal commission on the criminal justice system. I hope that its terms of reference will allow it to be as holistic as possible. It is incredibly important that we understand the public’s understanding of, involvement in and support for the system as it stands, and I hope that that will form part of the review. I have three suggestions or comments that I hope can be fed into that process.
First, a number of forces have streamlined their physical presence across the areas they serve, operating from fewer stations and reducing building costs to reinvest in frontline policing. In Bolsover town itself, it is regularly mentioned that the station is no longer there. That leads to three questions. Has the closure of these stations—or, in some cases, front desks—had any effect on the support for police in these communities? Has it affected their community relationships and intelligence gathering? And has the closure of these desks been compensated for by more visible policing on the streets in the surrounding areas?
Secondly, although police and crime commissioners are a welcome addition to our policing landscape, there is scope to give them greater powers. In particular, we should look at giving them some control over sentencing rules in their respective patches. For example, if there is a particular issue with a crime in a certain area, we should allow PCCs to set tougher sentencing in that area so that we can respond to local needs.
Thirdly, there should be greater involvement from councillors and parish councillors, particularly on matters such as antisocial behaviour. Usually when an individual causes problems, they are well known by their neighbours, but there is often a sense that nothing can be done. I strongly believe that if a parish council or a councillor were given greater powers in identifying these individuals, we could get rid of them more quickly. That is what residents deserve.
This Government are committed to a properly funded police force with the physical and legislative powers they need. We are on the side of honest, hard-working people, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is determined to do all she can to help the police to protect the residents of Bolsover and elsewhere.
Let me start by saying how disappointing it is that the “Victoria Derbyshire” show is going to be taken off-air. I have been on the show several times to talk about the impact of youth violence and finding solutions to prevent it. It has engaged in looking at the root causes of and how we tackle knife crime and engage with young people, including former young mayors of Lewisham, with genuine sensitivity. I hope this decision is revisited.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
Youth violence has devastating consequences for individuals, families, communities and society as a whole, yet under the current Government knife crime is at its highest-ever levels and shows no sign of decreasing. Ten years of Tory austerity and cuts to policing have had a hugely damaging impact. In September 2019, the Prime Minister announced a target to recruit 20,000 new police officers over the next three years. This is welcome, but it is still down on the 2010-11 figures when Labour was last in power. What worries me is whether these will be frontline community police officers. Nothing shown to me suggests that they will be. We need that community policing to ensure that people feel safe in their communities, that there are these strong relationships, and that trust between the public and the police is restored. We need to see them on the frontline of community policing, building relationships with young people, schools and youth services.
But increases in police funding are only the tip of the iceberg. If we are to stand any chance of providing long-term solutions to knife crime, it is absolutely vital that we tackle the root causes of youth violence rather than simply addressing the symptoms. Those root causes are complex and deeply ingrained. I set up the Youth Violence Commission in 2016 after seeing several young people in my constituency lose their lives to youth violence in my first few months as an MP. Over the past three and a half years, our commissioners and core team have gathered evidence from a wide range of academics, practitioners and other experts in the field—including, most crucially, young people themselves. We published an interim report on our findings in May 2018, and our full report, to be launched in March this year, proposes how we should move forward.
First and foremost, the commission believes that we must develop a consistent, long-term public health approach to tackling youth violence. I was really sad not to hear the Minister talk about that during his opening remarks. As referenced by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit is widely recognised as the UK’s most successful example of this. We welcome the fact that similar violence reduction units are being set up in other parts of the country, including London. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that the term “public health model” is being used without a proper understanding of what is required to effect lasting change. As we have learned from Scotland’s success, a public health approach requires whole-system cultural and organisational change, supported by sustained political backing. Anything short of this will fail. Under the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the last Conservative Government professed to have adopted this approach, but in practice we saw little evidence of it. We now have a new Prime Minister and even less of an idea of whether this approach will be taken seriously. It has to be taken seriously.
Our findings also stress the importance of early intervention. The emotional and economic cost of failing sufficiently to address early trauma is huge. This includes costs incurred through funding statutory services such as those for children in care, meeting the most immediate impacts of educational failure, and income support for young people who are not in employment, education or training, as well as the more obvious frontline pressures such as youth crime and criminal justice.
Moving forward, our goal must be to ensure that the public health approach stays at the top of the political agenda. I hope that the Minister, in her closing remarks, is able to say that this will be the case. We must also push for long-term, sustainable funding that will not be at the mercy of every change in government. As chair of the Youth Violence Commission, I will continue to push for this in Parliament, alongside my colleagues in the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and the many individual MPs who have brought their own experiences, and those of their constituencies, here to the Commons.
Time and again I hear from constituents who are scared for young people in their families, for their friends, and, sadly, for themselves. Since 2015,1 have seen far too many young lives cut short by knife crime. These are preventable deaths, and we are seriously failing our young people if we do not succeed in finding sustainable, properly funded long-term solutions.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). I found myself agreeing with a great deal of the sentiment of what she said, not least around knife crime. I look forward to joining her in the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime. This is a challenging subject.
It is also a pleasure to follow two wonderful maiden speeches, first, from the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), who did incredibly well. He managed to get Burns and Bannockburn into his speech. Although I am not a veteran in this House, I think that is probably something of a staple of SNP Members. However, he added a bit of spice by mentioning both Keir Hardie and Richard the Lionheart, which probably makes it a unique speech in this place. I am sure he will be a welcome addition to this House. Certainly, his experience in the police will put him in good stead for his time here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) gave a thoughtful, challenging and optimistic maiden speech. He is clearly going to be an excellent champion for his constituency, for rural communities and for the Army—which he mentioned specifically—but also, judging by the thought-provoking content of his speech, for our values: the values of this House and the values of this country.
There have been four murders in 10 weeks in Milton Keynes, all of them involving knives. This is an incredibly touching and emotional subject. Four murders in 10 weeks is not normal. It should never be normal. We should not let it be normal. We should deal with this. Last week, I was fortunate enough to be briefed by the local police area commander for Milton Keynes. It was very reassuring to talk to him about what the police are doing proactively to break up some of the local gangs that operate in Milton Keynes, and about the intelligence-led approach that the local police are taking, but also about how some of the additional money—the £800,000 granted in last year’s budgets by the Conservative police and crime commissioner—is being spent on diversionary activities for young people at risk of being led astray by gangs or by other means.
We need to show our communities a lot more love, but we do need to get tough on crime. When the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) opened the debate, she noted that Conservatives like to talk tough on crime, and indeed she is right. I am proud to talk tough on crime because we should be tough on crime—and frankly, getting tough on crime works. Stop-and-search works.
Many young people would never think of carrying a firearm, yet they are tooled up with a weapon that is equally dangerous and lethal. There is not the same penalty for carrying a knife as there is for carrying an illegal firearm, and that needs to be dealt with. In Northern Ireland, firearms have been a problem. Nobody will go out carrying a firearm unless they are legally entitled to do so. The same should apply for anyone who wants to go out carrying a knife.
That is a thoughtful and helpful intervention, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for it.
Stop-and-search works in three particular ways. First and most obviously, it allows the police to not only get knives off the streets but to get those who carry them in their rightful place—behind bars. Secondly, it acts as a deterrent, to discourage people from carrying those weapons. Thirdly, and importantly, it acts as a reassurance to the wider law-abiding public. I know that personally, because after the first of these terrible murders happened in Milton Keynes, I spoke to some parents of teenagers and younger children. They all, without fail, were really pleased that section 60 powers were in place and that people were being stopped and searched. It makes communities feel safer, despite their obvious worry following such incidents. This is the nub of getting tough on crime—not only do we catch more criminals, but the public feel safer, which is really important.
It is not just about getting tough; we have to act tough as well. Of the 20,000 extra police officers, 183 will be in my local force, and 36 will be available in Milton Keynes. That will make a real difference, and it is on top of the 69 extra officers thanks to the Conservative police and crime commissioner’s additional policing precept last year.
I have mentioned previously in this place that my constituency has three parts. We have inner-city Milton Keynes, which is the area that I referred to earlier. We also have the new bit of Milton Keynes—so new that they are still building it—where the police acted quickly to address an issue of burglary in November and December last year. In the words of the Policing Minister when I raised this personally with him, “The cops are good at catching these guys.” It is an intelligence-led approach, and perhaps we need to get a bit better at informing the public about the work the police do, because they are doing good work.
The third part of my constituency is rural. Rural crime and the fear of it, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) referred to, is a unique phenomenon. Word gets round in rural communities. Last week, the village of Lathbury suffered some car and van break-ins, some shed break-ins and a perceptible rise in hare coursing. Communities need to feel safe and feel that their responses are being taken seriously. I can reassure the people of Lathbury, because I know that Thames Valley police does take those issues very seriously, but quite often classically rural crimes such as hare coursing can hide a darker side to crime. Too often, criminal gangs take advantage of the peace and tranquillity of our beautiful countryside to perpetrate horrible crimes such as human trafficking and the industrial-scale production and distribution of narcotics. That is why the intelligence-led approach that we are taking is necessary.
I am pleased to say that there are 140 additional back-office staff available to Thames Valley police this year. They are not bureaucrats or pen pushers; they are intelligence analysts who will be tasking the police, pointing them in the right direction and ensuring that these horrible crimes are dealt with proactively. I welcome these extra resources. We are on the right track. We are the party of law and order. We are the party that is tough on crime.
Despite what the Minister said in his opening remarks, the Government’s announcement on police funding provides only limited clarity for forces for the next financial year and leaves serious questions to answer about the long-term strategy for funding our forces. We need a long-term strategy for funding our forces, after years of hard cuts and the impact that they have had on our communities—communities that need to see more police on the beat, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) said so eloquently. I pay tribute to her not only for her speech but for the work that she does as chair of the excellent Youth Violence Commission.
While any new police officers are welcome—I say that having attended a number of passing out parades, often with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), to welcome new recruits in the last year to Gwent police—the Government’s Operation Uplift programme does not make amends for the 21,000 officers cut under Tory austerity since 2010. In Gwent, which saw its budget slashed by an eye-watering 40% in real terms over the last decade, the new recruitment programme will only take officer levels back to where they were in 2010, if that. That is not to mention the loss of civilian staff, whose work is often unseen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said, it was the Welsh Government who stepped in to fund 500 police community support officers in Wales when police numbers were cut. We need some answers from the Government about what funding will be made available to recruit, train, equip and locate these additional officers. As well as the loss of officers over the past decade, most forces have had to reduce their support departments, facilities and other functions that are vital to the successful training and deployment of police officers.
In Hounslow, around 10% of our officers have been cut. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important to locate the new officers not only on the streets but in institutions such as schools, given the threats that young people face, including grooming at school gates, which we have seen in my area?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are many examples of that in Gwent, and it puts an additional strain on existing officers, which is obviously a bad thing.
We still have no clarity on how these officers will be paid for after the initial three years of Government funding comes to an end. Is that because police forces will have to meet these costs from their own budgets and raise more money from local council tax payers, who have already been turned to frequently over recent years to plug the gap left by the central grant? It is time the Government addressed the issue of long-term funding. The question of pension costs is also outstanding and needs to be answered by the Government.
The Government announced funding to increase the uptake of Tasers, but the latest funding announcement only covers Taser equipment. Funding for training and other associated costs will need to be met from police forces’ own budgets. For forces such as Gwent, which has been forced to make £50 million of savings since 2008, that represents another significant financial commitment.
Welsh police forces are still being left in the dark over the apprenticeship levy. Gwent police and the other Welsh police forces have paid in excess of £2 million towards the apprenticeship levy each year since it was introduced in 2017. After pressure from our local police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, and his counter- parts, the Home Secretary advised that it would provide Welsh forces directly with their share of the levy from 2019. However, Welsh forces have yet to see any of that money. Can Ministers look into that and tell us what is going on?
I would like to pay huge tribute to Gwent police officers and staff, including Chief Constable Pam Kelly, for all they do, and to our police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, who is very active and responsive in our community. I am very aware of the impact that the Government’s cut of over 20,000 police officers has had on the wellbeing, stress levels and workload of all existing police staff—that should not be underestimated—and on our communities.
Despite that, Gwent police deserves huge credit for its ongoing work in tackling serious violence and organised crime. This includes projects funded by the office of the police and crime commissioner and the Home Office that have delivered training to more than 400 partner organisations on county lines, gangs and violence, and delivered sessions to 5,500 pupils across Newport schools. Thanks also to organisations such as Positive Futures, Barnardo’s and the St Giles Trust for what they are doing in partnership to offer diversionary activities to young people. I have seen that work for myself in my constituency, and it is hugely valuable. We could do with some of the work by the violence prevention unit in south Wales going Wales-wide to help with young people in Newport.
We want greater investment in all areas—from educational and diversionary activities to prevent people from committing crimes in the first place to investment in police control rooms and custody suites, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and victims’ services. To give a local example, Gwent police’s early action together team has transformed the way the force responds to children and vulnerable people. It has trained over 1,000 officers to deal with complex vulnerability issues and offers families help and support at the very earliest opportunity, yet the police transformation fund, which has paid for this work, is to be cut.
Our PCC has shown the benefit of this work in supporting vulnerable people away from potentially turning to a life of crime and antisocial behaviour. Our PCC has agreed to fund this work, but again, the police are in effect picking up the tab for locally based diversionary activities to keep young people out of the criminal justice system. I completely agree with Gwent police that this focused early intervention should be funded at a national level and form part of the Government’s long-term spending plan.
Finally, 2020 marks two years since the passage of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for their determined efforts to push through this much-needed legislation on to the statute book. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that we need the Government to be serious in enforcing the protecting the protectors law, as the number of assaults on officers is still far too high. Attacks on those who protect and care for us—that includes prison officers, NHS staff and firefighters—remain completely unacceptable and abhorrent, and we need to ensure that the legislation we have in place acts as the most effective deterrent possible.
Protecting our communities is absolutely vital, and I for one welcome the £14.1 million announced last week for Leicestershire police, as well as the 89 police officers that are planned to come to our force. This will benefit and support our communities.
I also welcome the raft of measures that have been brought in since 2010 to support victims of crime. Having worked in the victims team at the Ministry of Justice, I understand how important these changes have been. Having met victims of trafficking, those whose loved ones are being held by terrorists in Iraq and Syria, and victims of the Oxford grooming case, I know that these measures have made a real difference, giving victims the confidence to go forward, be heard, get the justice they deserve and see justice done.
Isolation in Rutland and Melton is a real concern—as it is for rural communities across this country—and it is made worse by rural crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) spoke passionately and from the heart about this, so I can only try to do justice to his words. The fact is that rural crime hits communities hard, and I have over 150 villages in my constituency. It is made worse by slower emergency response times due to the vast distances that responders have to travel, and it is also made worse by the enormous economic impact of these crimes. Too often for farmers, the workplace that has been struck by criminals is their home. This is a double betrayal—a double attack—that makes them feel vulnerable both at work and at home.
I stood on a commitment to tackle rural crime. When I was out knocking on doors in Great Dalby on Saturday morning, farmers came to find me on the streets to talk to me about rural crime. Over Christmas, we saw an increase in the theft of tractors, 4x4s and all sorts of equipment that matters. Some of this equipment is worth multiple hundreds of thousands of pounds, and replacing it just is not easy. Many farmers have to rely on buying second-hand kit, because first-hand kit is so expensive, so it is very difficult for them to do.
One thing I want us to do is to work on tracking and identifying the organised crime networks responsible for these thefts. It is not isolated individuals who are taking these opportunities; it is organised crime networks, and we need to crack down on them. I also want us to do more on tougher sentencing for fly-tipping, because it is the absolute abdication of personal responsibility. The fact that it is left to farmers to deal with this horrendous crime is unacceptable. I know the police are working very hard, but I want to see more commitment across Leicestershire from the Leicestershire police and crime commissioner to see rural communities benefiting from the police.
Organised crime, which I touched on, is a scourge, and I welcome the significant effort being put into dealing with it. Funding to tackle county lines is helping to protect market towns like mine that do not want to become victims of what is happening elsewhere. That also applies to investment in relation to trafficking and extremist groups, which operate like organised criminal groups.
Last week, we announced enormous investment in counter-terrorism and extremism measures, and those are enormously important. For me particularly, having worked in counter-terrorism, the minimum of 14 years for the most serious terrorist offences is important, but I want us to go beyond that. When someone commits the most serious terrorist offence, they are declaring war on every single citizen of this country. They are committing atrocities against civilians, and saying, “I reject everything that this country has given me.” Fourteen years is not sufficient for those who are traitors; and that is when that word should be deployed.
For many years, I have argued for an end to the early release of terrorists, and I am ecstatic to see that brought in because it is so important. I am also very pleased to see the investment in ongoing management of former terrorists and those who have been responsible for extremism. However, there is a question about when radicalisation ends, as it does not end the moment someone exits through a prison door. My concern is that those who have been radicalised and have radicalised others remain vulnerable for the entirety of their lives, because the things that have made them vulnerable remain in place. We must ensure that the risks continue to be managed for the lifetime of the individual.
I would like to praise the Prevent programme, which Opposition Front Benchers have been very keen to throw away. The Prevent programme does an enormous amount of work to tackle everything from the far right through to the takfiri Salafist extremism that we have seen. I would particularly like to praise the work of Will Baldet and Sean Arbuthnot, who are doing incredible work on the frontline of this in Leicestershire.
I would also like to raise forgotten crimes and the forgotten victims—prison officers. Too often crimes take place in our prisons that nobody hears about and nobody knows about, and the victims are prison officers. In HMP Stocken in my constituency, a prison officer was attacked just last week. The guidelines say that when a prisoner attacks a prison officer, the sentence should not be concurrent with the existing sentence for the crime for which they are imprisoned, but unfortunately the guidelines are not always being followed. Given the incredible work we are doing to support emergency workers and those on the frontline, we must ensure that we support prison officers. They deserve that from us because they do so much that is hidden behind those walls.
I am sure Ministers will welcome the fact that at door after door during the election, voters told me that only the Conservatives can be trusted on crime and on law and order. Across the whole of Europe, knife crime is up, so I will not accept arguments that Britain is in some way failing its people. It is an issue across the whole of Europe, and we should be looking to learn from across western Europe about how we tackle it and make the situation better.
My key message to Ministers is, please, let us not forget rural communities and the staggering impact of crime on farmers and remote communities. We have to tackle the scourge of violent extremism throughout the lifetime of individuals who have been responsible for some of the most appalling acts. Throughout my career, I have been devastated to see the impact of their actions. We must continue to invest in counter-terrorism, and we cannot forget our prison officers. I thank Ministers for the investment they have made, and I know that the police officers of Leicestershire are grateful for the investment that has been made in the services they provide.
I rise today not so much to deliver a speech, but to ask the Minister for help because I do not know what else I can do as an MP to get justice, to get prosecutions and to get accountability when it comes specifically to grooming gangs exploiting children.
I am incredibly grateful for the hard work of South Yorkshire police. The frontline officers have been exemplary in both listening to and supporting victims, survivors, parents and the broader community. However, we must also accept that there is reputational damage to South Yorkshire police from past failings. They have yet to be recognised in full, and they have yet to be resolved. I want a line drawn under this so that our police force can have both the respect and the trust that it needs, and I need the Government’s help to be able to do that.
Five years ago, almost to the day, on 4 February 2015, I had a meeting with the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. I presented him with a five-point plan for tackling this scourge, and I will read my introduction to that:
“From my experience in Rotherham I am convinced that we need a national strategy to tackle organised child abuse. Criminals do not observe local authority or police force boundaries. Locally, there are neither the resources, or expertise, to tackle organised child abuse, by which I mean gang-related child sexual exploitation, institutional abuse, paedophile rings and prolific abusers.”
Sadly, I could be reading that today—indeed, I am—because the situation has changed very little. I am incredibly glad and grateful that the Government have introduced relationship education—one of the things I am proudest to have campaigned on.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech. I pay tribute to her work in her constituency on these difficult, complex and devastating issues, and in seeking justice for those who have been groomed. Paedophile rings behave in ways that we cannot imagine, and people continue to pursue those who are victims in their rings, even once they have gone to jail. Resources must be made available to deal with that issue far more comprehensively than is currently the case.
My hon. Friend is right, but the difference between paedophile rings and grooming gangs is that for the former, the police have the research and understanding to know what the motivators are. A police force can look at patterns of behaviour or get ahead of the abuse because they see those patterns, and then they can disrupt it. Sadly, for all the promises that the Government made, we still do not have that research about grooming gangs. That is something I asked for, and something I would like the Minister to reassure me about.
I sent a letter to the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid)—I have been working on this for a while—and on 6 December I received a reply:
“Thank you for your letter of 3 September to the Home Secretary seeking an update on Home Office activity to understand the characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation…In your letter you emphasise the need for research and the importance of sharing relevant findings with agencies tasked with protecting vulnerable children and young people and disrupting offenders…I recognise that the Home Office is uniquely placed to provide some of this insight, protecting operationally sensitive information where it is appropriate and necessary. Officials will consider the most appropriate approach in sharing this work and will advise Ministers, including the Home Secretary, in due course.”
I hope that officials have now advised the Home Secretary about a matter that is pressing, up and down our country.
The Government have committed to publishing a national child sexual abuse strategy that will look at all forms of abuse, but I am talking specifically about research that is used to disrupt grooming gangs, which should be published imminently. Will the Government make a commitment on timing, and say how that information will be shared nationally? How will police forces, local authorities and the voluntary sector be resourced so that they can use that data to disrupt such behaviour?
I turn now to the historical failings of our police forces. Two weeks ago, the Mayor of Greater Manchester published a report on Operation Augusta, which was about trying to disrupt a grooming gang and seek justice. The headlines from that report are shocking. It found that police and social services failed the girls, and that police resources were insufficient to deal with the issue. The girls were seen as prostitutes and as somehow complicit in their own abuse. Greater Manchester police dropped an operation that identified up to 97 potential suspects, and at least 57 potential victims. Eight of those men went on to rape girls. As recently as 2018, the chief constable refused to reopen the dropped operation.
The following week, the Independent Office for Police Conduct released a report on one strand of its investigation into the handling of past child abuse cases by South Yorkshire police. I wrote to our chief constable, and stated:
“The report’s conclusions make profoundly disturbing reading. South Yorkshire police failed the child multiple times, and by doing so, led her to be exposed to long-term horrific abuse. It is particularly concerning that the report upholds a complaint against a senior officer and that it has not been possible for this officer to be identified.
As I am sure you would agree, I do not believe it is possible for Rotherham to have confidence in its police force whilst officers found to have failed so badly, and with such catastrophic consequences, are not held to account for their actions. I would therefore welcome your assurances that every effort will be made to identify officers involved, and that any possible misconduct will be both investigated and action taken, including where appropriate, disciplinary action.”
I have still not received a satisfactory response to that, although I hope I will receive one. This is not a witch hunt; this is about restoring confidence in our local police force. This is about victims and survivors feeling that they have had closure, and that what they went through will never happen to anybody else. I ask the Minister: please, let us look at transparency and accountability in our police forces.
I ask all hon. Members present, including the Minister, to ask their police forces for information about the caseloads of officers who are dealing with child sexual exploitation, compared with those dealing with other crimes. How many dedicated child sexual exploitation officers are qualified in the professionalising investigation programme—PIP2—and what is the ratio of uniformed police officers to detectives assigned to CSE investigations? What is the retention rate of investigating officers on CSE cases, and what is the average level of experience among officers assigned to CSE investigations? I say to all of you: if you think you do not have child exploitation on your patch, you have. Ask those questions and make sure that your force is properly resourced to protect everyone in your constituency.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) on their maiden speeches. It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), whose campaigning on child sexual exploitation I respect and admire.
There is a common misconception that the election we just had was only about getting Brexit done. That is simply not the case. The message was that we must get Brexit done in order to focus on our NHS, on education, and on crime. Those are the people’s priorities and that is exactly what the Government are doing, so it is perplexing that the Opposition have chosen to debate policing and crime today.
This Government are providing £1.1 billion extra for policing. Last week, I was pleased to see in the funding settlement that the west midlands will receive an extra £49 million. That 8% increase means that up to £620 million will be made available to West Midlands police, including for 366 new police officers in the force. Last summer, before I came to this place, I was pleased that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary came to Birmingham to kick-start the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers at the Tally Ho conference and banqueting centre. That facility is an institution in Birmingham and all Brummies should be proud that we have it.
I am pleased that recruitment is taking place in a sensible and realistic way, as a staged process. Some £700 million has been made available to recruit 6,000 new police officers in the first year, 366 of whom will go to the west midlands. In addition, there is £150 million for fighting organised crime, £190 million for fighting serious crime, and £20 million to combat county lines—an issue that affects Birmingham more than most places, so I am interested to learn more about what I can do as a Birmingham MP to help tackle that problem. The extra £90 million for counter-terrorism will take the counter-terrorism budget to just shy of £1 billion at £906 million, including £24 million for the firearms that officers need. We must ensure that we use the money invested in our police forces to provide the police with the resources they need to tackle crime.
Knife crime is an issue that unfortunately affects Birmingham and the west midlands more than most areas. I am pleased that we are putting an additional £35 million into the areas that need it most to reduce knife crime, and the £100 million to tackle violent crime.
In Derby North, we are deeply troubled by knife crime. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must do all we can to tackle knife crime, especially when it involves young people? Does he welcome the youth investment fund—about £500 million, I think—which will be used for work on this issue and help young people?
I thank my hon. Friend and dancing partner for her intervention. That investment is really important. The £500 million will provide 60 new youth centres, 100 mobile facilities and 360 refurbishments of youth centres across the country.
We need to send out two messages. First, if you carry a knife you will be arrested; within 24 hours you will be cautioned or charged, and within a week you will be in a courtroom. Secondly, we are looking at the reasons why young people feel it necessary to carry a knife, because it does not have to be that way. That is why the youth investment fund is really important to local communities across the country.
I am pleased that we are focusing on this issue. Today, I read in the regional news that the Conservative candidate to be police and crime commissioner for the west midlands, Jay Singh-Sohal, has set out his plan to tackle knife crime. I will be pleased to join him on the campaign trail to make sure we get a police and crime commissioner in the west midlands who really knows what is going on and really understands the problems we face as a region.
Unfortunately, I do not have any police stations left in my constituency, because the Labour police and crime commissioner for the west midlands decided to spend most of his resources propping up the city centre station, spending £30 million on refurbishment rather than using the network of local police stations across the region, such as in Longbridge and King’s Norton in my constituency. Those resources and the estates could have been used far better, rather than concentrating all our resources into the city centre. Two weeks ago, I was pleased to meet some members of my local neighbourhood team, who are doing so much good work across the patch to ensure that police are seen out on the street and are getting involved in community issues. They do difficult work, sometimes in a difficult environment. I take my hat off to them, because I really respect the work they do.
We have heard much today about police forces not having the resources they need, but last year in the west midlands there was a proposal to merge the role of the police and crime commissioner with that of the Mayor for the west midlands. It provided the perfect opportunity to save money and was a sensible proposal, and we should have just got on with it. Unfortunately, despite the fact that 58% of people in the west midlands agreed with the proposals, the Labour leaders of local authorities in the west midlands decided to play silly political games with the consultation and the process, so the two roles are to be kept separate. That is regrettable. I hope that in future we can look again at a merger.
Labour set out its stall in the election—an alternative thankfully rejected by the people of Birmingham Northfield and the rest of the country. It was mostly empty words. Labour voted against last year’s settlement and had uncosted plans for recruitment. It tried to say that it would recruit an additional 2,000 officers, but forgot to put the £105 million costing in its manifesto. How can people take such figures seriously when it forgets to put them in its own manifesto? Labour is against the strengthening of police powers and would allow dangerous criminals out early.
It is the Conservatives and this Government who are delivering on the people’s priorities, which are that, after Friday, when Brexit is done, we focus all our attention on the NHS, on crime and on schools. That is exactly what this party and the Government are going to do.
I pay tribute to the Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I value the experience of Members from different parties and their knowledge of their local constituencies.
Like many Members here today, my own constituency has seen a rise in knife crime and in young people becoming caught up in crime. As others have said, people are experiencing more robberies at knifepoint and more stabbings. There has been an increase in knife injuries coming into West Middlesex University Hospital’s A&E department, and last March we had the tragic death at knife point of a young man in Isleworth.
Over the past year, I have engaged in a range of work listening to people and their experiences. I conducted a survey of residents. I discuss knife crime whenever I go to schools, talking to students as well as headteachers and other adults in those schools. I brought together local people at two public events to discuss the problem and to see whether we can find solutions. On knife crime, over the past year I have heard from young people themselves and their parents, and from youth workers, social workers, headteachers, teachers, police officers, councillors, specialist staff who work with young people, and, as I said, the A&E staff at West Middlesex hospital.
What people tell me is that, first of all, they are seeing fewer police on the streets. The cuts to London’s policing resulting from the £700 million cut to the London Mayor’s police budget has meant that, in effect, our neighbourhood teams are half the size they were eight years ago. Reported crime is too often dropped, and crimes are taking longer and longer to come to a resolution. Young people themselves are scared of being victims; sadly, they are so frightened they end up carrying knives. Young people and parents tell me that drug gangs, using sophisticated mind games based on befriending and misplaced loyalty, are too easily drawing young people into dealing or carrying drugs. Young people and their parents have told me how young people are unwillingly drawn in by the offer of food to somebody who is hungry, by the offer of a place to hang out for somebody who is living in an overcrowded flat, or by the offer of cash to somebody who wants to help their mum out with the weekly shopping. These young people do not wake up one day and decide to be criminals. Those most at risk are those with the least money, the least space and the least capacity—young people with special educational needs or family issues—and they are the most likely to be caught.
The experience of recent years is that in addition to the halving of the visible police presence, we have lost a range of other public services, including the welfare and pastoral support in schools that young people, particularly those experiencing difficulties, need. Local authority funding has been cut, meaning that youth services have had to be cut. Hounslow Council has had to cut almost all mainstream youth services in our borough. Youth workers are often at the frontline, so they know who is hanging out with who, where young people are at risk, which young people are at risk, and where the drug gangs and the serious criminals are drawing them in. They are best placed to provide diversionary activities and positive support to those young people. One headteacher told me this morning about a young person she is worried about. She has tried to report the situation to both social workers and the police, but they are overstretched. They want to help, but they do not have the capacity. These are all examples of the cuts in the public services that we all depend on and need if we are to be free of crime and knife crime.
We have had some good news locally. We have some great police community support officers who really know their communities and their young people. We have had violence prevention work from the London Mayor, which is starting to make a difference. We have had Home Office funding for a peace project with the youth offending team, which is working with schools, and that is positive. As a result of my meetings, parents who are worried about their young people getting caught up in crime are starting to meet together as a support group. However, these little drips are not enough.
I pay tribute to the work of the police officers in our area. They are skilled, dedicated and committed, but they are struggling with the lack of resources and lack of support. They are only an emergency service, and too often a reactive service, and they can tackle crime and its causes only if they have the support of other agencies.
Young people tell me that they do not mind stop-and-search if it is done properly and respectfully, with the policies being carried out properly and the body-worn cameras switched on. The Government, however, must take responsibility for this crime wave after 10 years of austerity in public funding, cutting away all the services that I have outlined and which we need to support young people. We need to take account of the public health experiences in Scotland and other places and have a wraparound public health approach to knife crime, because it works. However, that needs to be adequately supported by a group of services, so that a range of qualified, experienced staff in all services are addressing the problem. Will the Government and the Minister please stop chasing headlines, focus on what works and listen to those involved? We can get tough on crime only if we get tough on the causes of crime, and then we need to invest, invest and invest in the solutions that work.
I praise the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) for his maiden speech, which gave a positive and full description of his constituency. As a committed Unionist, I look forward to some very lively debate on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) gave an incredibly thoughtful and powerful speech, which spoke to the heart. He made a point about a sense of place and identity, which we can all relate to in our constituencies and our lives, and he will be a very valued addition to the Government Benches.
This debate is about policing and crime. Our police are heroes. I have already spoken in this place of the incredible support that my family received from Karen Cocker of South Yorkshire police. I also pay tribute to Angus Hopper and Jamie Riley of Durham constabulary for their personal support over the past few months.
Across my constituency, whether it is in Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor, Barnard Castle or Shildon, local residents overwhelmingly tell me that they want us to take tough action to tackle crime, particularly on things like anti- social behaviour, which has such a sustained impact on people’s day-to-day lives. Several times in Spennymoor, a bus in transit has had its windows shattered, with air rifles the suspected weapon. In the last incident, the projectile narrowly missed hitting a passenger. That cannot be allowed to continue. For people out there, cracking down on crime is not rocket science, but a common-sense policy, and that has been championed by the Blue Collar Conservative group, which I am proud to be a part of.
We tackle crime in a variety of ways and a large part of that is through empowering our incredible police. Increasing police numbers is so important and I am delighted that County Durham will receive an additional 68 officers in the first tranche of recruitment. I will, of course, be lobbying for a group of those officers to come to crime hotspots in areas such as Spennymoor to help keep my constituency’s streets safe. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) is right to highlight the plight of rural crime. The additional officers are also welcome to help to support our incredible, award-winning local farm watch in Teesdale to help to crack down on farm theft and other rural crime.
On extra officers, Labour Members say often, “It’s not enough”. If they were cast in “The Greatest Showman”, their favourite song would inevitably be “Never Enough”, because whatever the Government propose, it is never enough. Labour always pledges more, with no transparency over how that will be funded.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that the Government that she represents as a Back Bencher have cut police since 2010 by more than 20,000? Does she not want to say that they should take some responsibility for that savage, deliberate and unnecessary cut to policing?
Labour Members seemingly forget that the reason that the purse strings had to be tightened at all was the mess in our public finances that we were left with. We have brought those public finances under control and strengthened our economy, meaning that we can now invest properly but sustainably in our public services, and that is exactly what we are doing.
There will be 68 new officers for County Durham, but let me emphasise that this is only the first tranche of recruitment and there is more to come. This is about not just the number of officers, but making sure that our existing officers feel valued. I am delighted to support the police covenant and the moves to allow special constables to access the full benefits of being members of the Police Federation. Those are all positive steps to support our incredible police.
Something that I reckon I will not say too often in this place is that I agree with the shadow Home Secretary about the need for serious policy on law and order, but I reject strongly her view that her party is the one that will deliver that serious policy. Labour’s talk on sentencing is weak and feeble, while we are planning a new sentencing Bill to review sentencing right across the board. As an early part of that, the House debated a new statutory instrument yesterday on ending the automatic halfway release point for serious offenders. I admit that I was a bit disappointed to see so few Labour Members in that debate, although I welcomed the really strong and moving contribution from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and her contribution was similiar today.
Getting sentencing right is so crucial. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton is right to speak about the importance of protecting our prison officers. Following the recent incident at HMP Deerbolt, I raised this with the Justice Secretary and met the prisons Minister—the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer)—to discuss the need to roll out additional protective equipment to keep our prison officers safe.
As someone whose father was killed through violence, as I have mentioned in this place several times, I spoke yesterday about the need for victims to be represented in the legislative process on crime and justice. On that note, how does the shadow Home Secretary dare accuse Government Members of having disdain for victims of crime? It is a shameful accusation and totally trivialises a debate of such crucial national importance, for the sake of a snappy 10-second social media clip. The victims of violent crime do not want rhetoric; they want action and results. That is why the Government are listening and taking steps to extend stop-and-search powers.
We plan to extend emergency stop-and-search powers only to help to get weapons off our streets and protect our citizens. In 2017-18, stop and search resulted in over 48,000 arrests, with almost 8,000 of those for weapons and firearms. Our proposed changes have been welcomed by many, including the National Police Chiefs Council lead for stop and search and Caroline Shearer, who founded Only Cowards Carry after her 17-year-old son, Jay Whiston, was fatally stabbed in 2012.
The victims and families of the victims who have been affected by violent crime know that it is common sense that stop and search can save injuries and save lives. After all, the job of any Government is to keep their citizens safe, which we as a party recognise and are further acting upon. With 20,000 new police officers, funding for the roll-out of protection through tasers, enhanced but targeted stop-and-search powers, tougher sentences and more, I am proud to support the Government’s amendment.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who clearly wants the best for her constituents. Unfortunately, like so many in her party, she appears to have forgotten the global financial crisis. The cuts were a choice, ditched when convenient, and they have had a consequence.
Indeed I do, because my constituents, like the constituents of Members across the House, have had to suffer 10 years of cuts.
The Minister seems to expect us to be grateful, but on behalf of the people of Bristol West, I say that we are not. We wanted investment in our police in 2011, 2012 and 2013. We have faced cuts every year. We have seen the cuts, we have felt the consequences, and the Prime Minister’s announcement of the growth in police numbers does not make up for it. In Avon and Somerset, it will mean just 403 new officers, but over three years—and we have lost 700 over the last 10.
Meanwhile, crime has not gone down, and the nature of crime has changed, partly as a consequence of other cuts—cuts to drug treatment; cuts to youth services; cuts to mental health provision; cuts across the board. All have had a cost. My constituents are smart people. They can add up, and they are not fooled by being told that we are now going to get some new officers over the next few years.
Of course I am proud that Avon and Somerset police managed to rise to the challenge of those budget cuts, but it is not what I wanted for them, and it is not what I wanted for my constituents, who deserved better. I pay tribute to our police and crime commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, and our chief constable, Andy Marsh, and to every single officer and civilian working in the constabulary of Avon and Somerset, because they have worked so hard to keep us safe; and to the PCSOs, the specials and the officers who put their lives on the line daily.
I am proud that my niece’s husband James is a serving police officer in the Dyfed-Powys police force. We are really proud of him and we are grateful to him and all our officers, but they should not have had to work in such conditions. It is the specialist services as well as the overall numbers—as the Minister said, it is not just about numbers; it is also about specialist services, and that is where a lot of the cuts have fallen. It is not fair; it is not sustainable. It is affecting our safety as civilians and our feelings of safety.
I briefly mention knife crime. Bristol had 1,237 knife crimes in the past 12 months, an 11% increase on the previous year. Like so many other constituencies, we have a knife crime problem, but when the Government first announced a response to knife crime our force was not initially among the seven allocated money; our police and crime commissioner and chief constable had to fight for it. We are grateful for the fact that we have got some now, but we should not have needed to beg for it.
We need long-term certainty. We need more attention to be paid to the other factors in responding to and preventing knife crime, particularly among young people. I hope that every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) said today, and on so many occasions as chair of the Youth Violence Commission, will be heeded.
I am angry, because 10 years of cuts to youth services, 10 years of cuts to other help and support for families, such as Sure Start, domestic violence support and mental health services, and 10 years of cuts to drug and alcohol services have all had consequences, and we are living with them. We are living with drug-related crime, for instance.
Ministers have mentioned their concerns, which I understand. Members across the House have concerns about how we respond to drug crime. Even on the Opposition Benches we are not in agreement. I respect the different points of view, but I would like everyone to understand, when we discuss drug consumption rooms, that we already have a drug consumption room: it is called the streets of Bristol, and it is dangerous for people who consume drugs and dangerous for the bystanders. I would really like the Minister to work with other Ministers to find out what the potential solutions are. I believe they are having some form of drug safety in treatment rooms. The Minister may disagree, but I would really like to know what she thinks.
As in the areas of other police forces, one in three violent crimes in Avon and Somerset area is domestic violence and one in five of homicides is domestic. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford said, there is a strong connection between childhood exposure to domestic abuse and other adverse childhood experiences, and future harm and harmful behaviour. It is good that domestic abuse reporting has increased as public tolerance has decreased, and I am really grateful to the Minister for all she has done to champion responses to domestic abuse. I urge her to redouble her efforts to get the Bill back before us, because that had cross-party support. She knows—I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—that I shall be pressing her on the responses to domestic violence perpetrators. It is not just about current victims; it is about future victims and their children.
However, our entire criminal justice system has suffered under austerity, which was not necessary and has undermined the responses to police work and prevention. I did not want us to create the posts of police and crime commissioners, but I have really appreciated the attention to violence against women, to child sexual exploitation and to knife crime that our police and crime commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, and others have shown. She has shown determined, locally focused leadership.
That is the plus side of localism, but on the downside it has many weaknesses, such as fewer economies of scale, and weaker responses to crimes of an international dimension, such as modern slavery and trafficking. It has meant passing the blame for the impact of national cuts to the local police and other services.
I want to mention the Brexit word, briefly; I am not afraid to mention it. I know that the Prime Minister would like it all to be over on Friday, but as we leave the European Union on Friday we will be hampered in the international dimension unless the negotiations for the future relationship prioritise safety and security and data sharing. At the moment, if our police make an arrest, they can share information about risk and gain information about risk with forces across the EU. They can issue a European arrest warrant, which helps to respond to the flight of criminals to other EU nations. I urge the Minister, in her closing remarks, to tell us how the Government will be prioritising, in the future relationship negotiations, those aspects which are about keeping us safe.
Finally, I ask the Minister a few questions. I hope that if she cannot address them in her final remarks, she will perhaps consent to meet me to discuss them. I ask for a focus on the preventive health approach to knife and violent crime. That covers all forms of violent crime: intervention in schools and awareness on safe relationships and the difference between safe and unsafe relationships, as well as long-term, sustainable funding structures for local authorities, youth services and police, because that is what we need to bring the number of serious violent and knife crimes down.
The Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service said in his opening remarks that it was not all about numbers of police officers and he is right, but it is also about the funding of those other services. He cannot duck the consequences indefinitely. I would like a multi-year funding settlement for our police forces, so that they can plan. I would like an acknowledgment—just once—of the damage done by 10 years of unnecessary cuts and the impact on police officers, such as my nephew-in-law and his colleagues and our police across the country, who too often have had to be on single crewing in call-outs and had to deal with the fact that they knew they could not manage all the things they wanted to do. I would like the Minister to commit to an end to the boom-and-bust approach, because our constituents and our police deserve much better than this.
I would like to thank hon. Members for such a great debate today. I would particularly like to thank the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) for raising the phrase “boom and bust”, which is the reason we have had 10 years of so many challenges. It is because, over the past 10 years, this Government have looked after the coffers that we are able to invest in our brave coppers. It is because this Government have looked after the purses of the taxpayers of this country that we are now able to invest in our doctors and nurses.
But let us be realistic: the reason why this has been done is not because of some spiteful approach to those on the frontline; it is because actually we have been forced into it, and now we are coming out and seeing the light. Let us be honest: the voters in some constituencies may have disagreed, but the rest of the voters across the country saw through the boom and bust.
Absolutely. The key point is that it is because of that that we now see conservativism coming back to the fore. We will invest in the heroes on the frontline: the police, the nurses, the doctors and teachers.
If I am honest, that was not what I was going to start my speech with, but I could not resist, given the previous speech. I wanted to say that across Watford, which is of course the best place to live, work and play in the country, we have our own challenges with crime. The issue is often not the act of crime but the fear of it and the follow-on effect. A recent spate of burglaries in Watford has caused concern across local communities. We also have briefings and updates on county lines crime, which is driven most prominently by drugs and is awful for those caught up in it and for the communities damaged by it. There is a bigger issue, however, and that is the challenges facing those caught up in crime. We need to be tough on crime, so that people see it is not the right option, but we also need to support them so they know they have an out—another option.
When I was at university, I worked in the car parks at a local airport, and one thing that stuck with me was doing night shifts. Incredibly, I used to patrol the car parks at night—not that the criminals found me particularly frightening. I remember meeting families just back from holiday—two parents, two kids, freezing cold in T-shirts, even though it might be winter here—and arriving to pick up their car, only to find it is not there, but I am there telling them, “I’m sorry, but it’s been stolen”. It ruins holidays and leaves memories that linger for a long time.
We forget sometimes that the police being there and being a deterrent is important. As I mentioned yesterday, we often also forget to put victims first, which means having the right police on the frontline. I urge the Government to make sure that the 20,000 extra police officers are community police officers out on the street. It is no good just having them in back offices, although that is important from an intelligence perspective. When the police are out there, they are not just police officers; they are people to have conversations with and role models for young people, who can look at them and aspire to be not in a criminal gang but a part of the community, helping to stop the problems around them. It also means having conversations and getting that intelligence to know what is happening on the streets and in homes.
There are all sorts of abuses of the system—personal abuses, awful abuse of individuals and abuses of the criminal justice system—and we need to tackle them all. When I speak to the police, they often tell me that one of their biggest challenges is not just that they cannot get out and do the work because they are spending hours every day doing paperwork, which is a waste of their time, but that they are getting stuck in hospital wards and other places because, having caught somebody, they then have to sit with them for hours waiting for them to be processed. That means that they are not out on the streets catching and deterring criminals. Instead, they are caught in a trap of time.
As part of this approach, we must think not just about the numbers—the 20,000 extra police officers—but about the time they put into their work, so let us multiply that figure by the eight hours a day they spend deterring and catching criminals. That would also help people on the street—our voters, our constituents, the public—to feel safe. Ultimately, is that not the goal of the Government? Is it not our role to make sure that every individual across the country feels safe and knows that their children and elderly parents are safe and will be for years to come. So I applaud the Government’s approach. It is the first brilliant move in making sure we have safer streets and a safer Britain. I applaud them for moving in the right direction for this country.
I welcome any increase in police funding, of course, but we have to look at the reality: since 2010, we have lost 20,000 police officers, as well as PCSOs and support staff, which has had a huge impact on communities across the country and in my area. My area is quite unique, certainly in Wales, in that it spans two police authorities: the Merthyr Tydfil County Borough, under South Wales police, in the upper Rhymney Valley part of my constituency, and Gwent police. We have those two perspectives, therefore, and over the past few years we have seen a negative impact on policing across the area.
Even after the first year of the new recruitment, South Wales police will still be down 161 officers and Gwent police will be down 129 officers compared with 2010. Even when we reach the full recruitment the Government are planning, they will still have fewer officers than they inherited in 2010 from the last Labour Government. It is hugely disappointing, when we look at things in the round. Funding for youth services across the country has fallen by 70% since 2010. Together with the reduction in police numbers and the cuts to other areas of community safety, this has had a negative impact on our communities.
Local authorities have been forced to make these cuts because of Tory austerity. As we have heard a number of times this afternoon, cuts have consequences. Let us be absolutely clear: austerity was always a political choice. Other factors include a reduction of almost half —from £145 million to £72 million—in the funding for youth offending teams since 2010, and a 68% increase in the number of knife offences in England and Wales. Taken together, those issues paint a depressing picture of what we have seen under this Tory Government since 2010.
It is good to hear, at last, an admission from Ministers that allowing the police grant to be cut by a third in recent years was a big mistake on the Government’s part, but they must fill that funding gap as well as providing additional officers. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) about the need for the Home Office to consider providing specific funding for Cardiff as the capital city. Although my constituency is some miles from Cardiff, the fact that South Wales police has to spend some £4 million on its responsibilities to Cardiff as the capital has a knock-on impact on it, and on other constituencies throughout the South Wales police area.
The question of the apprenticeship levy is also a cause for ongoing concern. I should be grateful if the Minister confirmed that she will provide money for police officer graduate apprenticeship training for the four Welsh forces, because the uncertainty has gone on for far too long.
Despite the big financial and other challenges, as a result of the hard work of local officers we have some positive news. We still have a commitment to neighbourhood policing in Wales, which—as was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden)—is largely due to the Labour Welsh Government’s commitment to continue to fund 500 PCSOs across Wales, although their own budget has been cut by some £4 billion a year since 2010.
South Wales police in particular has been doing excellent work in tackling domestic violence, and I hope that the Minister will join me in congratulating the South Wales police and crime commissioner on his foresight in promoting the DRIVE programme to tackle the perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse. Research published by Bristol University last week demonstrates the value of that approach in reducing violent incidents, and the team in Merthyr Tydfil is a particular success story. The commissioner, Alun Michael, has told me that he is so pleased with the work of Safer Merthyr Tydfil, and similar work in Cardiff, that he and the chief constable, Matt Jukes, are determined to roll it out to every part of the South Wales police area. Intervening with perpetrators as well as supporting victims helps to prevent misery for women and children, while also reducing demand on the NHS, courts and councils as well as the police. That positive approach is having good results for the people I represent.
I urge the Minister to consider the shortfall in the pension fund, which equates to some 5,000 police officers, and could therefore have a really positive impact in increasing the number of officers across the country.
Other Members have paid tribute to their local police authorities. I want to pay tribute to both of mine, South Wales and Gwent, and to thank them for all the work they do in communities throughout my constituency. I particularly thank them for their support for me and my staff in recent months. Most other Members have experienced similar support.
Let me now return to the issue of frontline policing, and urge the Government to recruit an additional 2,000 frontline officers to enhance the approach to community policing across the country. It is important to stress the effectiveness of community and neighbourhood policing in tackling the causes of crime and antisocial behaviour. Tackling what is sometimes perceived as low-level crime is effective in stopping the escalation of crime and disorder.
I urge the Government—and all Members—to support the motion.
This has been a fantastic debate, featuring some very experienced and well-rounded views and speeches from Members in all parts of the House. We have been blessed with two excellent maiden speeches. As a former special constable in the Metropolitan police, I am delighted to welcome another former Metropolitan police officer. I hope that, in future, the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) will regale us with some tales from his days as a detective inspector. He gave a passionate account of his constituency, and I know that he will serve his constituents well in this place—as, I have no doubt, will the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), who made an articulate, thoughtful and interesting speech. It is not often that the House sits in silence, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman.
We also heard excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), all of whom spoke about the Welsh Government’s work in securing neighbourhood policing and a commitment to PCSOs despite brutal budget cuts over the last 10 years. In particular, they put forward really thoughtful defences of the work of police staff and the important roles that they play. We heard an excellent speech, as ever, from my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who is seeking to build on her work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on the protect the protectors campaign, which, unfortunately has not borne the fruit that we would have liked it to over the past few months. My hon. Friend made some important points about pensions and the disincentives for progression within the police, which I hope the Minister will respond to when she sums up.
The hon. Members for Fareham (Suella Braverman), for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) spoke about their constituency experiences of antisocial behaviour, burglary and knife crime. It is welcome to hear Members from the Conservative Benches speaking openly about these issues in their constituencies and, in some cases, to hear their Damascene conversions to the need for additional officers on the beat in our communities. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) paid a welcome tribute to South Yorkshire police and the Durham constabulary, with which I would agree, although I am afraid I did not agree with much else in her speech. The hon. Member for Watford (Dean Russell) made an important point about the need for the criminal justice system to put victims at the heart of the system, which unfortunately has not always been done over successive Governments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) made a typically powerful speech on the need for a long-term public health approach—an issue that was, as she said, conspicuous by its absence from the Minister’s opening remarks. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), sums up, she will say something about the continued need for the Government to commit to a public health approach. I also agree with what my hon. Friend said about how important the “Victoria Derbyshire” show has been in the campaign for the Government to commit to a public health approach. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) spoke powerfully about the particular types of crime in his constituency, including violent crime and rural crime, which often mask organised criminality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) spoke typically about her experience and expertise in child sexual exploitation and her disappointment, which I share, in the Government’s failure to come forward with a national CSE strategy and in South Yorkshire police’s unwillingness to name the officer that the Independent Office for Police Conduct found had repeatedly let down CSE survivors. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) gave a barnstorming speech on the consequences of officer loss and of cuts to Sure Start, drug services and mental health services. As always, she made a passionate case for drug consumption rooms. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) also made a compelling speech about the cost of losing neighbourhood policing from our communities.
I should like to start on a positive note by welcoming the investment. We have been calling for it for some time, and it offers a generational opportunity to change the make-up and composition of our police with what has the potential to be a watershed moment for diversity in policing. At the current rate of progress, the Metropolitan police will remain disproportionately white for another 100 years. There is not a single chief constable from a black or minority ethnic community, whose representation among the senior leadership is pitifully low. During the last major recruitment under the last Labour Government, diversity increased but not fast enough. We cannot wait a century for the police force to reflect our society, so I would be keen to hear what specific plans the Policing Minister has in place to ensure that this recruitment round will allow diversity to increase far beyond where we are today. Policing can never be effective unless officers understand the communities that they police, but sadly, that understanding and that presence in our communities have been profoundly undermined by the last 10 years of austerity.
There can be no doubt that the consequences of the past decade have been severe: 21,000 officers, 16,000 police staff and 6,800 PCSOs have all gone, and the consequence of those choices—and they were choices—has been the crime that we have seen rising nationwide year on year for the last seven years. Knife crime is at record levels, and police-recorded violent crime has more than doubled. Swingeing cuts across the criminal justice system have led to the lowest-ever prosecution rates across all offences, and in the words of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, rape has been effectively decriminalised, as just 1.4% of offences are prosecuted. There can rarely have been a more challenging climate for our police or a more fundamental failure of the last three Conservative Governments to keep their citizens safe and to deliver justice. In that context, it is extremely welcome to witness the Government’s recent conversion to the necessity of recruiting additional officers. However, the know-how that experienced officers have brought to the job over the past 10 years is gone for good.
Ten years of unnecessary cuts have permanently changed the picture of crime. The former Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, whom the Minister mentioned earlier, found that fraudsters “operate with impunity” because the police are not adequately equipped to investigate cases, and millions of victims are being failed. In our towns and cities, ruthless organised criminal gangs now trade children as part of a profitable enterprise. The Children’s Commissioner estimates that 27,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 are part of a gang, and this is about not only police cuts, as we have heard time and again, but the soaring numbers of children who are in care, who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation, who are excluded from school, and who cannot rely on youth services or social services. All that has left them lacking in resilience and support and horribly vulnerable to the exploitation of gangs. It will take more than recruiting officers, as welcome as that recruitment is, to bear down on the complex picture of crime in this country.
What is more, under current plans officer numbers will not even be restored to 2010 levels. Resources will be allocated via the outdated and inadequate funding formula, which the Government have been promising to reform since 2015. The Policing Minister himself said:
“For many years it has been an unspoken secret—something that senior police officers sniggered about behind their hands—that the formula that was put in place 10 years ago was so manifestly unfair, but nevertheless politically sensitive, that politicians would never have the courage to meddle with it. During the four years that I was deputy Mayor for policing, there were constant complaints about the police formula and nobody really had the cojones, if that is parliamentary language, to get a grip on it.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 1060.]
Does the Minister wonder whether using what he called a “manifestly unfair” method to fund his recruitment pledge is the right thing to do? When will he get the cojones to reform it?
In the absolute best-case scenario, where 20,000 of the new recruits go to local forces, 22 of the 43 forces, many experiencing the most punishing levels of violent crime, will not see their numbers restored. The reality is that the spending review confirmed that territorial police officers will not be the whole picture and that other national priorities will also take their share, which would leave a staggering 25 police forces down on where they were 10 years ago: Greater Manchester down 1,000, Hampshire down 700, Merseyside down 600, Staffordshire down 400, and the West Midlands down 1,100.
Across the length and breadth of this country, communities that will have heard the Prime Minister’s promise to restore police numbers are set to be badly let down. Is this not fundamentally a question of trust? Are those not the same communities that heard the Prime Minister’s promise to invest in them and then witnessed the local authority fair funding review cut £320 million from hard-pressed councils? Will those communities not have the right to ask whether promises made seem, for this Prime Minister, harder to keep?
May I welcome you to your position, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank colleagues across the House for their contributions during this important debate on crime and policing? Members on both sides have spoken powerfully about their constituents’ concerns and, indeed, about the sad stories of those who have fallen victim to crime. One line from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) struck home: his home town has seen four murders in 10 weeks. Those families and other families across the country are having to live with their terrible losses, and we all know that an act of violence may last no more than a few seconds, but it leaves a destructive legacy of human tragedy. We in this place will never forget that, which is why the Prime Minister made it clear that cutting crime and keeping our streets safe is an absolute priority for this Government—a point backed up forcefully by my new colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) and for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison). The Government’s commitment to cut crime and keep our streets safe is absolute.
However, there remains no short cut to solving violent crime. We need a clear, well-funded plan to stop violence where it appears, to identify the repeat offenders and knife carriers more likely to be involved, and to address the root causes of violence, giving young people a future that does not end on the point of a blade.
Will the Minister come to update the House on the work of the National Crime Agency and what it is doing about the so-called county lines? County lines have almost become an immovable part of our landscape, and it should not be like that. We need to do something to protect our children from exploitation in the pursuit of profit.
The hon. Lady is a real advocate for her constituency, which is sadly so often blighted by serious violence. The National Crime Agency, of course, conducts a national threat assessment, and I am happy to update the House on its report either orally or through other means.
We owe it to our young people to offer them a better future and to end the pervasive sense of hopelessness that drives so many into the arms of criminality. This principle was eloquently articulated in the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger). Representing Devizes, he is perhaps the only Member of this House who can call the great historic monument of Stonehenge a “vulgar upstart.” One sentence of his speech struck home with me:
“Our love of our country begins with love of our neighbourhoods.”
He brings to the House his experience of working with young people in prisons and of the vital role of independent civil society organisations in helping to cut crime and in helping those young people, which I will address later in my speech.
We have heard a lot today about the Government’s plan to bring 20,000 extra officers—new officers—into police forces across the country. One of the first acts of this Government was to make that pledge, and the work has already started. I am delighted that all forces have joined us in meeting this commitment to the public and have prioritised recruitment. Some £700 million from the police settlement will be made available to police and crime commissioners to help forces recruit the first tranche of 6,000 officers by the end of March 2021.
Will the Minister talk to her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about the prison officers who had to be recruited after thousands were removed from the Prison Service? There are real problems with recruitment and retention, and these are very inexperienced officers. The danger is that the same could happen with this recruitment of new police officers.
This is a whole-system response, and the Prime Minister has made clear his commitment to ensuring investment in the Prison Service, the prison estate and increased police numbers, exactly as the hon. Lady says, to ensure that the criminal justice system as a whole addresses the public’s needs.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) made an interesting maiden speech, and I thank him for his long service as a senior police officer in London, the great capital city of our great United Kingdom. He made some interesting points about the importance of mental health treatment and the impact it can have on police forces.
Opposition Members have raised the issue of cuts, and some raised it with anger and power. I hesitate to repeat the sound points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), but we have had to make these very difficult decisions because of the previous Labour Administration’s mismanagement. By way of illustration, £1 in every £4 of Government spending in 2010 was borrowed; it is now around £1 in every £30.
That is a significant difference, and it means that we are now able to announce the biggest increase in police funding for a decade. For the second year in a row, we have issued a record-breaking rise in our police settlement. With the help of police and crime commissioners, the total funding available to the policing system next year will increase by over £1 billion. For those worried about what that means in their local area, it will work out at less than 20p a week for the average band D household.
The increased funding will help to tackle the crimes about which the public are most worried. We are targeting high-harm crimes, with £150 million to fight organised crime and, in particular, to crack down on online child abuse. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) can always be relied on to continue her campaign to ensure that child sexual abuse in her constituency is tackled properly. I do not see her in her place, but I am happy to meet her, because the issues she raises are so complex. The shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Policing Minister raised the issue of sexual violence. We are conducting an end-to-end rape review to see what is happening in the criminal justice system and in the police investigation of sexual violence, because we all want the rates of prosecution and investigation to improve.
We are also getting tough on serious violence, with an extra £39 million, including £20 million to tackle the county lines gangs terrorising our towns and communities. Several colleagues mentioned the impact that the illegal drugs market has, particularly with county lines gangs and violence, and I hope they will be reassured to know that the national county lines co-ordination centre has already arrested more than 2,500 people and helped to safeguard more than 3,000 vulnerable people, underlining how ruthless these gangs are that operate these county lines.
This is not just about money; it is about how we spend it, too. The Queen’s Speech announced that we will be introducing a new serious violence Bill, which will place new duties on agencies to work collaboratively and put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence, and will strengthen stop-and-search powers. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) raised the issue of violence reduction units. We are investing £35 million in VRUs to ensure that local solutions are found to local crime problems, and of course the serious violence Bill will help to support that effort.
My hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) made the point that their constituents are worried about not just serious violence, but other crimes such as antisocial behaviour, burglaries and car theft. We have launched a £25 million safer streets fund to support areas that are disproportionately affected by acquisitive crime, and the fund will provide investment in well-evidenced interventions to prevent crime from happening in the first place.
My hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), for Bolsover and for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) rightly raised the issue of public confidence in the criminal justice system. To ensure we have that, we must look at every aspect to ensure that the criminal justice system works for victims, witnesses and the most vulnerable. Alongside the royal commission set out in the Conservative manifesto, we are working across government to ensure that all parts deliver. Only yesterday, the House of Commons considered a statutory instrument on extending automatic release for the most violent offenders from halfway through their sentence to two thirds of the way through it.
We can all agree that prevention and early intervention are key to stopping violent crime and other types of crime. Last year, we passed the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, which introduced new laws giving police extra powers to seize dangerous weapons. It also included knife crime preventions orders, which will provide an additional tool for police to steer adults and young people away from serious violence before conviction. The early intervention youth fund of £22 million is supporting 40 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales until March this year. We also have the youth endowment fund of £200 million locked in for 10 years, which will offer targeted intervention and support to those young people most at risk of serious violence.
We also need to look to the future of our young people. Last year, I met young former gang members, articulate young men who were clear that they had made bad choices. Listening to them, I could see the difference that work and training opportunities could make to their lives, so I am working closely with businesses, both national and local, to see what more we can do to give employment and development opportunities to young people at risk of being involved in violent crime, giving them a chance and a choice to walk away from crime. Because when a young person goes into a hospital, I do not want them to be there as a victim of knife crime, I want them to be there as an aspiring neurosurgeon or cardiologist. We need to show young people that there is an alternative—to offer them real opportunities to divert them away from crime and improve their life chances—because crime is not an ungovernable law of nature. This is not an insurmountable challenge. Now that we have a Government with the ambition, resources and will to succeed, I truly believe that we can stem the violence and offer vulnerable young people a path to a better life.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31 (2)), That the proposed words be there added.
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House welcomes the Government’s commitment to the people’s priorities to drive down crime in all its forms including serious and violent crime; further welcomes the Government’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers and increase police funding to its highest level in over a decade, including over £100 million to tackle serious violence; and welcomes the Government’s intention to bring forward the necessary legislation which will provide police officers with the powers and tools they need to bring criminals to justice and give victims a greater voice.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Transport Secretary has just today put out a written statement about the nationalisation of Northern Rail. This is a matter of huge interest to Members of Parliament. I wonder whether you and your office have had any notification of whether there is a plan to have an oral statement given to Members. I note that the company that has lost the franchise, Arriva, is the same company that only a few months ago was given the east midlands main line franchise, so this is a matter of great concern. Can you tell us whether you have been notified that Members will get an opportunity to scrutinise this important matter?
Thank you very much for that point of order. I have not been given any notification that the Secretary of State for Transport or any other Minister intends to make an oral statement on this particular matter. However, I advise the hon. Gentleman that it is Transport questions tomorrow, so if there is not an oral statement, at least he and other Members will have an opportunity to question Transport Ministers then.