On 23 May, I gave a speech to the House of Commons on policing and crime. During the speech I noted the importance of crime reduction and prevention and that crime fell by 43% to a 30 year low under Labour. I also registered my concerns that the coalition government’s cuts will put at risk any progress made in reducing crime at the same time that they propose to spend £100m on elected police commissioners. You can read the text of my speech below and read the full debate here.
Let me start by saying how offensive I found some of the remarks that the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) made. [ Interruption. ] I will leave it at that.
Let me say how important policing, and crime reduction and prevention are in my constituency, as they are in many others, as we have heard. As we have also heard, the British crime survey showed that during Labour’s Administration, helped by record numbers of police, crime fell by 43% to a 30-year low. Violent crime fell by 42% and burglary by 59%. The risk of being a victim of crime was the lowest since 1981, when the BCS began. Under Labour, there were record numbers of police—nearly 17,000—and more than 16,000 police community support officers.
This Government’s public spending cuts have meant that every police force in England and Wales faces a 7.5% real-terms cut this year and an 8.7% cut in 2012-13. That means that in the run-up to the Olympics, when there will be pressures on all forces, and when the Home Secretary says that there is an ongoing terror threat, forces will face a 15% cut in the next two years. By 2014, that figure will have risen to 20%. Contrary to what she said earlier about Chief Constable Fahy’s comments to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, let me point out that he said that £76.6 million would be cut in total over the next two years, and that because 86% of the budget is spent on the work force, that equates to—these are the figures that he quoted—nearly 1,400 police officers and 1,600 civilian staff posts being lost.
Claire Perry: I am enjoying the hon. Lady’s use of statistics, but I implore Members on both sides of the House—and we have a lot of intelligent people here this evening—to get away from this fetish about the numbers of police, and instead talk about the results. We all knew that we would have to make cuts; let us talk about where those cuts should fall and what the rights numbers are to guarantee safety.
Debbie Abrahams: I am happy to come to that, but it is important to set out the statistics that I have just given, which show that there has been a cut from a level that enabled the police force to work effectively.
We have also heard about the recruitment freezes, and about some police forces using the legal loophole in the police pensions regulations forcibly to retire police officers with over 30 years’ experience; they are some of our most experienced officers. Another issue is the Government’s fixation with what they call front-line or visible policing. We must not forget the important role that specialist units play in domestic violence and child protection cases. They are important areas that also need to be valued.
What most people cannot understand, however, is why, at the same time as putting communities at risk with cuts to the police force, the Government are proposing to spend more than £100 million on 42 elected police commissioners. That is the equivalent of 600 full-time posts. It just does not make sense.
In last year’s manifesto, Labour made a commitment to maintaining the then police staffing levels, with a three-year assured programme of investment. We were going to make tough choices elsewhere, in procurement, IT and overtime.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I am terribly sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, because we are about to hear where exactly she would make cuts. We all look forward to that. She speaks assuredly about the number of police officers under the last Labour Government, but many of my constituents tell me that they never saw a police officer on their streets during that time. How many more police officers would she offer, in order to give assurance to my constituents?
Debbie Abrahams: I am talking about the situation that we have now, with the hon. Gentleman’s Government in power. I had thousands of petitions presented to me during the by-election specifically on the subject of cuts in police numbers. I must also remind him that the Deputy Prime Minister promised to increase police numbers.
The effects of the cuts have already been noted by the Conservative chair of the Association of Police Authorities, who said that they would ultimately put at risk progress in reducing crime. In my constituency, the Oldham division of the Greater Manchester police has expressed concern not only about the direct effects of the cuts on police spending but about the cuts to the local authority budget and the abolition of area-based grants, all of which will have significant effects. The partnership working between the police, the local authority and the voluntary sector has had immense benefits for crime prevention and community safety—for example, in target-hardening measures such as alley-gating. There is strong evidence that such measures have a significant benefit for vulnerable properties. Other measures that have brought benefits include youth programmes and offender management.
I have been contacted by nearly 50 local police officers living in my constituency. Not only are they fearful for their jobs but the recent Winsor review and Hutton report will have significant implications for their terms and conditions and for their pensions. Sergeant David Donlan asked me:
“How many people have to go to work in body armour, routinely putting their lives at risk to protect our communities, and yet have imposed on them where they can live, who they can associate with or even marry? We can’t join a union, let alone strike.”
I am committed to working closely with the police on reform, but I think that the Government have mishandled this review process and treated police officers poorly. The Home Secretary pre-empted the final report and has attempted to paint the police as inefficient and not interested in reform. I urge her to reconsider the question of the royal commission. The discussions that I have had with local police officers make it clear that they want to see modernisation, but it must be fair. I know that we will be debating pensions soon, but the point for this debate is that, in addition to major changes in terms and conditions and cuts to the work force, the changes to their pensions are yet another hit for the police.
My final point concerns the long-term consequences of the Government’s cuts. In addition to the short and medium-term impacts on crime, I am worried about the long-term effects that these ideologically driven cuts will have on the social fabric of our society. Last week, we heard how pay disparities between the UK’s highest and lowest paid workers were taking us back to Victorian times. There is strong evidence that the increase in socio-economic inequalities will not only result in widening differences in life expectancy between the rich and poor but be associated with higher levels of crime and disaffection. The trust that underpins community cohesion and positive relationships in a multicultural society is once again being eroded by a Tory Government who are determined to drive their disastrous cuts through.