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Police: Cuts

Volume 765: debated on Wednesday 28 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the potential impact on national security of the cuts in police numbers.

My Lords, the Government are committed to providing the resources needed to protect our national security. In the summer Budget this year, the Chancellor announced that counterterrorism spending would be protected in real terms over the next spending review period. The size and make-up of the police workforce is a matter for chief constables to take locally in conjunction with the democratically elected police and crime commissioners.

My Lords, crime today is very different from crime 40 or 50 years ago. We have serious threats from counterterrorism, as the noble Lord identified, and, as we have seen this week, from cybercrime. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that security and counterterrorism are not just about new legislation but also about mainstream policing. Local knowledge is vital to that work, as has been pointed out by the head of counterterrorism, Mark Rowley, Peter Clarke, the head of specialist operations, and the Met commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. Because of the further cuts, not in the counterterrorism area but in local policing—the eyes and ears on the ground—Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said:

“I genuinely worry about the safety of London”.

Does the Minister share the concerns of those professionals or does he think that they are wrong?

The noble Baroness is right when she talks about crime changing. It is changing and policing must change in response to it. On the specific comment made by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, earlier this year we had Operation Strong Tower, which tested the resilience of the capital to terrorist attacks. Following that, Sir Bernard said:

“With events like today we are committing around 1,000 people to exercise our plans and make sure that should the worst happen we are ready. And we will be”.

In other words, he was saying that he felt that there was a resource available to protect the capital. Of course, we are in the midst of a very difficult spending round and set of discussions. There is a new policing formula on which we are consulting at this very moment. The outcome of that will be known in November and we will respond further then.

My Lords, I rise more in sadness than in anger. I have asked the Minister on a number of occasions in this House what the national strategy for policing is. The Minister, courteous as he is, has always answered, “Reducing crime”. Unfortunately, this week we know that, as we all suspected, crime has not reduced; it has just moved to the internet. What is the strategy for policing now, and what is the current strategy for the policing that supports counterterrorism? If you are faced with a 40% cut but you still have the same amount of crime to deal with, what is the strategy? Is it amalgamating forces? Is it more private sector involvement? Is it more volunteering? What is the national strategy for policing? I ask that because there does not seem to be one.

As the noble Lord will be aware, there is a National Crime Agency, an ongoing security and defence review of our capabilities, and a policing college, which is sharing best practice. In terms of what we believe, we share the view of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which found that significant further savings were still to be made by reorganising the way in which services are delivered—by getting more co-operation between the blue line services and sharing back-office functions. There are ways of protecting the front line while making significant savings in administration. That is what the Inspectorate of Constabulary found and we agree with it.

My Lords, if we are going round in order, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrat Benches, which have not yet asked a question.

My Lords, last night on BBC’s “Newsnight” the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, predicted that the cuts that the Government are about to make will mean the end of routine police patrols. The Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said that he was anticipating losing 8,000 police officer posts in London—25% of its current establishment. Can the Minister please explain how the police can maintain relationships with communities, from which counterintelligence comes, in the face of such cuts?

I watched that same interview and listened to it very carefully. It seemed to me that Sara Thornton was saying that the nature of policing is changing and that perhaps patrols in low-crime areas can no longer be guaranteed at the same level as in the past. There is a big philosophical question facing policing and I do not dodge it. It is a question of whether in low-crime areas you want the comfort of seeing a police officer walking down the street or to see crime levels falling—as they are, by 8% year on year. Crime is down by 30% to its lowest level since 1981. We believe that the target in policing is to cut crime and that is what the police are doing.

My Lords, I just want to correct the Minister. I hope I am right, but I read last week that crime is not falling. Crime has, in fact, increased in the last statistics by around 70% because, for the first time, we have included cybercrime. Why on earth this has not been included for years, I do not know. However, I return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. We all want the Home Office to be, in every aspect, fit for purpose. But when he was asked what the strategy for policing is, the Minister told us that there was a review of one aspect of it, a policing college and that best practice was going to be shared. With the greatest respect to the Minister, none of those, either individually or in aggregate, constitutes a strategy. Will he have a go again at telling us what the strategy is? If it is classified, he can talk to me on a Privy Council basis.

The national strategy is to cut crime. That is what we are about. The strategy is twofold. We want to cut crime, and crime is falling. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, crime is down 8% year on year. The big point is that we want to work nationally on tackling cybercrime and big organised crime; that is the reason for the National Crime Agency, the counterterrorism units and the College of Policing. But also, we believe that the answer lies in local people making local decisions. That is why we support police and crime commissioners working with their chief constables to allocate resources where they are best needed to tackle crime in that area. I am delighted to see that the Opposition now support that.