Skip to main content

Police: Reduction in Numbers

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the reduction in the number of police officers.

My Lords, what matters is front-line services—that is, how effective the police are at fighting crime. The Government are clear that the effectiveness of a police force depends not on overall numbers but on how well it deploys its resources.

That is an interesting but slightly disappointing response from the Minister. Can I give him an example of the impact of these cuts? Twenty police stations in Essex, 28 in Hampshire and a staggering 34 in Devon and Cornwall are no longer open to the public. Across the country, we are losing police officers—500 in Sussex, 438 in south Yorkshire and more than 1,900 in the Met. I would never argue against any cuts.

That has been the Labour Party position consistently. We are not against cuts. But even the HMIC and the Audit Commission warned of dangers of cuts in the police of more than12%. The Government are cutting around 20%. What evidence is there that cutting so much above 12% would not lead to an increase in crime victims, and what estimate can the noble Lord give of any increase or decrease in crime in the next 12 months?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for at last saying that she and her colleagues are not arguing against making any cuts. The noble Baroness will accept that we inherited the toughest fiscal challenge in living memory and therefore we had to make cuts—cuts that the noble Baroness’s own party would have made in the unlikely event that it had won the election. We have been clear that it is necessary to make cuts and that there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels. We want to make sure that we get the right people in the right place at the right time in the front line, doing the right job.

My Lords, can my noble friend help me to define what the Home Office understands front-line policing to be?

Put very simply, I can give my noble friend the definition as provided by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who said that the police front line,

“comprises those who are in everyday contact with the public and directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law”.

We want to make sure that as many qualified certified constables are there doing that job and not doing backroom duties.

My Lords, this policy will reduce the amounts of money for the Humberside police by £30 million and hundreds of front-line police. Is the Minister aware that the number of criminal incidents and those of anti-social behaviour has been reduced considerably by the present force? In those circumstances, does he not accept the charge laid against the Home Secretary last week that a 20% cut is criminal? Is it not now true that, as with the health service, law and order is no longer safe in the hands of this Government?

My Lords, my understanding is that the noble Lord is thinking of standing as police and crime commissioner for Humberside, and we wish him well in that job. He will then no doubt make the right decisions for that force. He knows, I know and the House knows that simple matters of numbers and the amounts of money spent are not the right thing. The important thing is to make sure that the right people are doing the right job at the right time, and that is what we want to make sure is happening. I am sure that that is what the noble Lord will want to make sure is happening should he manage to be elected as police and crime commissioner for Humberside.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the function of the police in combating crime, and undoubtedly that is a major role. But would he accept that the duty of the police goes much wider than that? It is essentially to preserve the Queen’s peace, which is much wider in its function than the mere combating of crime.

The noble Lord is absolutely correct, but it is still a matter of making sure that the right people are doing the right thing at the right time. That is why I am making it clear that it is not simply a question of the number of police officers we have at any time but of their deployment by the chief constable of any given constabulary.

My Lords, as it is in everybody’s interest that we should get value for money from our police service, is it not regrettable that the Surrey police have dropped their idea to privatise a large amount of their services?

My Lords, at this stage I do not want to discuss any individual constabulary, but certainly I agree with my noble friend that we want to make sure that we get value for money. I hope that all police forces look at cheaper options for carrying out certain of their tasks which do not involve constables. As my noble friend says, that might imply that they privatise some of those activities.

My Lords, how many neighbourhood meetings, which the police hold regularly, has the Minister attended? Will he confirm my experience that what the public want is a police officer to respond when there is a difficulty, be it domestic, burglary or whatever? Mathematically, there is inevitably a relationship between the number of police officers employed and the response time to incidents, especially on a Friday and Saturday night.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for talking about the need for the police to respond to individual and repeated complaints that come in. I refer her to the White Paper that we issued only yesterday, which makes it clear that we see it as vital that the police respond when complaints come in from the same individuals a number of times. That is why we talked about the community trigger in that document. The noble Baroness makes a very good point.

My Lords, I suspect that we can probably talk about numbers for a long time. Of course, cuts are regrettable but I think that most Members of this House appreciate why some cuts are necessary. Earlier, the Minister mentioned getting value for money. Perhaps he could reassure the House that not only is it a question of having the right people in the right place at the right time but that the amount of equipment and the quality of training are also important. That would reinforce the statement that some cuts can be more than offset by the way in which the police are deployed.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said, which is absolutely right. The way that different police forces co-operate with each other in terms of getting their equipment procurement right is a very valuable way of getting greater value for money in those matters. It is not just a question of equipment but of IT and all such matters. Only yesterday, in the Moses Room, I dealt with an order relating to the national police air service. Again, that is a service where true value for money can be obtained only by all the police authorities operating together. That is something we want to continue to pursue.

Does the noble Lord accept his unchallengeable logic that if there was one policeman left doing the right job in the right place at the right time, that would apparently satisfy the Government?