Police funding debate

24th February 2016

Mike Penning responds to debate on police funding.

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning): I was laughing at the shadow Policing Minister, Mr Speaker, and I apologise for doing so as this is a very serious day and a very serious debate. Like the Home Secretary, I pay tribute to the emergency services that are still on the scene at the former power station at Didcot. I spoke to the chief fire officer earlier today and, on behalf of the House, expressed gratitude for the work that they are doing at the incident, which is very harrowing for them as well as for the loved ones and families of those who are still missing and those who have been injured and killed.

I listened carefully to the speeches made by the shadow Home Secretary and by the shadow Policing Minister. I think that I might have heard his speech before—perhaps before the election, before the shadow Home Secretary wanted a 10% cut to policing, or perhaps I heard it last week, and perhaps I will hear it again next week. The shame about having this debate, curtailed as it is, is that we will have a debate next week, led by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, on the Committee’s report. I bet that I hear an almost identical speech then from the shadow Policing Minister.

When we look carefully at what the Labour party is saying, we can see that on the one hand they are saying that we should have allowed cuts of 10% to policing until 2020 whereas, on the other hand, we hear speeches galore from Labour Back Benchers saying, “These cuts are not good.” What cuts? The cuts that happened between 2010 and 2015? Or those that would have happened had this country been foolish enough to elect a Labour Government?

The shadow Home Secretary is trying to say that we should not have taken into consideration the precept that is allowed—the 2% or 5%. Every Home Secretary has done that and every Chancellor has done that, when we look at how we fund the police. All of a sudden, we have a completely different narrative—“We want to cut it, and we want to cut it even more.” It fascinated me.

Andy Burnham rose

Mike Penning: No, I will not give way. I am afraid that the shadow Home Secretary went on for far too long, as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said. Perhaps next week we might hear the same speech again.

Neil Coyle rose—

Mike Penning: If I have time, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has a very important constituency issue that I have been trying to help him with and I will give way if I have time.

It is very important that we also take into consideration what was said by the third party in this House, the Scottish National party, complaining about the fact that VAT at 20% is not allowed to be deducted. It was part of the business plan when the SNP put the plan together for one force in Scotland. That was physically part of the plan. Is this a new type of politics that is happening in Scotland, in which the SNP put a business plan together, get agreement, and afterwards say that it does not like it and wants to change it—a bit like with a referendum that took place not so long ago, which it is not very happy with either?

I listened very carefully to the Opposition spokesmen, especially the shadow Policing Minister, who made a very powerful case for canoeing activities in his constituency—

Jack Dromey: For the prevention of crime.

Mike Penning: Absolutely, so perhaps the police and crime commissioner could explain why he has not spent part of the £153 million reserve in the West Midlands on that. Perhaps we should look at the polling in May when, as we have heard, the Labour party will have candidates in all 43 PCC areas. In its manifesto it said that it would not do that—it was going to abolish PCCs because they were wrong, expensive and unnecessary. It did not want them.

Jack Dromey rose

Mike Penning: No. Perhaps Paddy Tipping and Vera Baird convinced the Labour party that they would not accept being abolished. It is entirely up the electorate in England and Wales who to elect, but we should look carefully at the record of some PCCs around the country, especially Labour PCCs, where the cuts to front-line police have been the greatest.

Jack Dromey rose

Mike Penning: No. Perhaps we should look carefully at the only force in the country that is cutting the precept—Hertfordshire, in my part of the world. Why is it cutting it? Because part of the reserves that have been built up over the years will be used.

Jim McMahon rose

Jack Dromey rose

Mike Penning: I will not give way.

We have complaints when we use the precept, and complaints when we cut it. We should be talking about what is delivering the best policing in this country. Has crime dropped since 2000? Yes. For the first time we have a Conservative Government who have the courage to include new types of crime in the statistics. These crimes have not just suddenly appeared in 2010 or 2015. They have been going on for years, but the previous Labour Administration refused to include them in the statistics. Will it be difficult for some forces? Yes, it will. Is it the right thing to do? Yes, and that is crucial.

We have heard today quite a lot of scaremongering. There has been an increase in reporting domestic violence—quite rightly, I hope we will all agree. Every time I am at this Dispatch Box I say that we want people to have the confidence to come forward and report domestic violence, and it was not being reported correctly when we first came to government. We changed the reporting rules for how crime is reported.

Jake Berry: In the short time remaining, will the Minister address my concerns about what further protections can be given to special constables, and say whether the Government will act to extend the protection of the Police Federation to them?

Mike Penning: I was just coming on to special constables, because they were derided by the Opposition. Volunteers—what a terrible thing to have in a police force! Our specials are the most important people in the community. They come forward and do not get paid and only receive expenses. In my constituency, a special was attacked when on duty one evening. They laid his leg across the kerb, jumped on it and snapped his leg. The sort of protection that we should have—we will look at this, because it is vital—should mean that a special constable or a warranted officer has exactly the same protection as any other police officer in this country, and I speak weekly with the Police Federation about that.

I will respond as soon as I can to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), because I want to get this right. A lot of work is going on, particularly with the chief constables, about how we can get better collaboration on capabilities going forward. It is not possible to come up with new formulas until I understand fully where the chief constables will stand on capabilities. The right hon. Gentleman said that the chief constables had not been in contact with me, but I have met three chief officers in the past seven days, including PCCs, and discussed the issue face to face. I have not spoken to all 43 since the report, but I will ensure that I meet them all.

On Monday I have been asked to go to Didcot by the chief fire officer to thank the emergency services, and I am sure the whole House will join me in that. I hope that the country and the House will not listen to scaremongering from Labour Members who wanted to cut police funding by 10% or more.

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