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Police: Vehicles

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with police authorities about the cars they purchase.

My Lords, Ministers frequently meet police authorities. In 2011 the Government made regulations that require police vehicles to be provided through a specified national framework agreement. Decisions about what to buy from that framework are for chief constables and their police authorities.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he agree with me that as all the police authorities in the north-west and many throughout the country are changing from buying Vauxhall vehicles to buying Hyundai, that is a kick in the teeth for Vauxhall workers who are trying to keep the efficient car plant in Ellesmere Port open? Could he give an indication that any Korean police authorities are thinking of buying British-built vehicles?

My Lords, I do not speak for the Korean Government and cannot speak for the police authorities in Korea, so I do not know what police cars they are buying. I am aware of the noble Lord’s concern about matters in relation to his own police area, and I understand that it is buying Hyundai. But I can give an assurance that, if he looks at the figures, he will find that Vauxhall is still the largest supplier of lower and intermediate-performance police cars, which are manufactured in his own area of Ellesmere Port. The important point is that police authorities and chief constables should be able to buy the cars that they believe are suitable for their needs, and deal within the framework in doing so.

I do not much mind what kind of cars the police use, but could the Minister use his influence with the police to persuade them to moderate their use of sirens, which are such a widespread source of noise pollution in our cities? The siren is for use in a real emergency, and not just when the officer is in a hurry to get home for his tea.

My Lords, I am aware of this complaint from a number of noble Lords who have put it to me on a number of occasions. I understand that there might be one or two occasions when police cars are using sirens in an inappropriate way. Again, that should be a matter for the police authorities, but I hope that they will bear in mind what the noble Lord has to say.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to my declared interests. Would the Minister agree with me that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the businesses of this nation to believe that Her Majesty's Government want business to employ more people and pay more tax when they buy their ships from South Korea, their police vehicles from Korea, their trains from Germany and their cars from Japan? Further, would he agree that the EU procurement rules talk about best value and not best price, and that the Government increasingly show that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

My Lords, I would not want to go down the line that the noble Lord is suggesting, which smacks, dare I say it, of protectionism. I want the police authorities and chief constables to buy the cars that they feel are best for their needs. That is why I am particularly grateful, as I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, that Vauxhall is the largest supplier of one category of cars, which are being built in Ellesmere Port, very close to where he comes from.

May I ask what the police do with their cars when they have finished with them? Do they send them to auction? A few years ago my husband bought the ex-chief constable of Cambridgeshire’s car and we drove happily at all kinds of reckless speeds because everybody thought it was the chief constable’s car.

I am very grateful that I was not driven in that car by my noble friend or her late husband. Police cars do not last that long because they have a fairly heavy life. The police sell them at the end of their lives and try to get the best possible value for them.

My Lords, when I was a Minister in the Home Office I was shocked at how little co-ordination there was across police forces in terms of procurement, and I tried to change that. Can the Minister reassure us that, notwithstanding some differentials between police forces, they are quite minimal and there would be a huge gain to the public purse if we could co-ordinate procurement?

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to his time in government. I was trying to make clear in my original Answer that there have been considerable changes since then. That is why we have brought in the framework, which brings in co-ordination of a great deal of procurement across all police forces that we believe will save something of the order of £350 million a year. This is money that we need to save.

My Lords, do the Government agree that there is no justification for the Metropolitan Police keeping 32 luxury cars not for security purposes but to chauffeur senior officers to and from their homes?

My Lords, obviously I cannot comment on decisions made by the Metropolitan Police Authority —that is a matter for the mayor’s office. If it is spending money inadvisably, I hope that it would look carefully at the circumstances in which it could possibly save money in the future.

Would the Minister comment on the appropriateness of the list of activities in the leaked tender document by the West Midlands and Surrey police forces? Alongside the management of the vehicle fleet, these included a whole host of activities that ran to almost everything apart from the powers of arrest.

My Lords, I am not sure that that is directly relevant to the Question. We are talking about the purchase of vehicles. I want to make it clear that that is a matter for the chief constables and we want them to buy the appropriate cars for the job that has to be done.

My Lords, prompted by the very pertinent question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, can I ask the Minister if, when these police cars are no longer considered roadworthy, they are put out to grass and placed at the disposal of the Prime Minister and his friends?

My Lords, can I ask my noble friend to make sure that the opinions in response to this Question do not make noble Lords go away with a feeling that the British motor industry is in a bad state? It is in the best state it has been in for about 15 years and we should talk up our industry rather than the reverse.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for her comments. I remind her about the announcement made about Nissan and the extra jobs that will be available there as a result of decisions that Nissan has made about further inward investment in this country.

On the day when it has been announced that 2.7 million people in this country are unemployed, and the likelihood is that that figure will continue to rise for some time, is it not important that we take such factors into account when we address issues such as public procurement? Can one conceivably believe that the French, German or Belgian Governments would do some of the things that we do in this country?

Yet again, the noble Lord is heading down the road of protectionism, which I do not believe is the right answer. The answer that I gave to my noble friend Lady O’Cathain about the success of Nissan addresses that point exactly. Why have we attracted so much inward investment? It is because we have the right conditions to do so. The Nissan announcement is one that even the noble Lord should welcome.

Is the noble Lord aware that ACPO is reviewing the use of police vehicles with a view to standardisation, which will result in reducing the cost of those vehicles?

My Lords, again, I answered that point earlier when I dealt with the co-ordination that we have brought to this matter through the national framework. That is why we are looking to make savings of the order of £350 million a year, compared to what used to happen under the previous Government on proper co-ordination of all police procurement.