On Wednesday in the House of Commons there was a debate under the title of Policing (England and Wales) which was convened by Kit Malthouse who is the Minister in the Home Office who is responsible for Policing. Very sadly there were no MPs from Sussex who took part. However some of the matters that got discussed have a great deal of relevance for Sussex. One of these themes was introduced at the very beginning of the debate from the MP for Kettering, Philip Hollobone who was the first to speak after Kit Malthouse. Another was one of the last comments made by Kit Malthouse at the end of the Debate. However the first few words were also an important theme. Malthouse began by stating
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2021-22 (HC 1162), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
It is a great pleasure to follow our own version of Dorian Gray, and to announce to the House the final police funding settlement for 2021-22. Although I appreciate that it is not ideal that the House is debating this publication prior to the consideration by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, it is essential that suitable preparatory time is given to the relevant parties prior to implementation. This—coupled with the difficulty in securing suitable Floor of the House approval slots, and the February recess—has meant that, unfortunately, it has not proved possible to achieve pre-scrutiny on this occasion, and I am sorry about that. Nevertheless, public safety is an absolute priority for this Government, which is why we are backing the police with the resources and powers that they need to protect our communities.
It seems very disturbing that our Political leaders are proving capable of ignoring the way they should behave in allowing for the scrutiny of their decision making in both the House of Commons as a whole and the Select Committee that is relevant. Such issues need to raised as very serious concerns.
Moving on from this disgraceful situation the comment by Philip Hollobone was in one sense a great deal more concerning in terms of the protection of our Police Officers. Sadly his first sentence was a classic example of how politically problematic these people are. If he was speaking to a Labour Minister no doubt he would not have made such comments because these remarks were not acceptable. However:
I congratulate the Minister on his remarks and on the work he does with the police. Is he as concerned as I am that during the pandemic, across the country but particularly in Northamptonshire, the number of police officers coughed on, spat at, or bitten, rose to 130 attacks between February and November last year, which was up from 110 attacks during the same period the year before? Is that not especially disgraceful, given that the pandemic has been raging through our country?
I know because of the information I have seen that there has been a significant amount of cases in Sussex and given that the Police Officers are still not located on the list of key workers for the Vaccine this is very concerning. Kit Malthouse adds his words to the subject
My hon. Friend is right: it is a complete disgrace, and unfortunately during the pandemic we have seen a rise in the particularly unpleasant practice of spitting or coughing on police officers and claiming to have covid. Sadly, that comes off the back of a general rise in assaults on police and emergency workers. I confess that I do not know what goes through the twisted mind of somebody who would do such an unspeakable thing…….
So moving on to the third theme, almost the last words from Kit Malthouse at the end of the debate were the following words which related to two Conservative MPs which is indicative of where this theme is going in. One is referred to earlier and the other is the MP for Wakefield.
Let me turn to one or two particular specific themes that were raised. My hon. Friend Mr Hollobone made an excellent speech touching on several themes that were echoed by a number of other Members. Along with my hon. Friend Imran Ahmad Khan, he pointed out that it is not about how big a budget is; it is about what we do with it. Much of that comes down to the collaboration between the police and crime commissioner and the local chief constable. Given that we are approaching an election for police and crime commissioners, it is no surprise that we heard a number of, shall we say, political interventions and speeches, with a view towards that collaboration and helping people to put their cross in the right box.
So this is an equally important subject. Sadly over the last eight years and a few months since the first Police and Crime Commissioner election there has been numerous references by Labour and Conservative MPs endorsing their local PCCs who are members of the same party or criticising those that are members of the other party. By the same token a significant number of the local PCCs from these two Political Parties including our Sussex PCC have made decisions and statements that demonstrate very clearly how party political they are in their actions, even though they are supposed to avoid being party political when they are elected. The first set of proposals from David Cameron in 2010 was that the PCCs would need to be people from outside of Party Politics, in part because the Police Services have to be Independent of Party Politics.
Indeed when I stood as an Independent PCC in Sussex in 2012 I along many of the other Independent candidates had the privilege of meeting with Martin Bell who had been an Independent MP and had done a huge amount of work for his constituency and indeed for our nation. It is clearly vital that we reverse the proportion of Independent PCCs in May. In 2012 12 out of the 41 PCCs were Independent which was far less than Cameron had initially called for but given that he then anointed 41 candidates it was a good start. Sadly in 2016 the number of Independents dropped dramatically to 4 and this is because sadly the political parties have far more resources than most Independent candidates.
Here in Sussex I managed to put together a budget of 1% of what the Tories spent on their publicity and 7% of what Labour spent and 20% of the UKIP and Lib Dems. Yet it is very clear that a dominant political party as a PCC is very inadequate for the local residents who don’t support that party. The predecessor of a PCC was a Police Authority which reflected all of the political parties in the area but also a large number of Independent people. We need to see this re-established in May when the PCC election is due to take place.