Diane Abbott MP’s speech to the National Police Chiefs’ Council conference
Thank you ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Today I want to address some very serious issues.
You meet at a time when police recorded crime is rising sharply. Serious violent crime is rising. But the rate of cautions and charges is falling.
There is a crisis in crime and policing. I am not one of those people who says nothing can change, that everything that is done now is perfect and nothing can be improved. There is always room for improvement, as develop and as we learn from each other and we learn from international experience.
But I also want to be absolutely clear. The crisis in policing and crime is not caused the fault of the police. This is a failure of policy, not a failure of policing.
Security after Brexit
On top of all this, as I join you today when we are less than 5 months away from Brexit. I know you have concerns on this and that you debated this issue at length yesterday.
I was recently in Brussels to discuss our policing, security and justice arrangements after March 29 next year. We have very little time left to agree and implement any new arrangements with the EU-27. When I spoke to the Commission and elected representatives and experts in Brussels, I really didn’t get the impression that the Government has done the work on this that is needed. Frankly, I didn’t even get the impression that Ministers are properly engaged. I should also say that not everything the Commission has said and done in this area is constructive or helpful.
It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon and the endless acronyms and Directives. But the reality is that our current co-operative arrangements as a Member of the EU are vital to our mutual security and effective policing.
But our current arrangements provide everyday basic tools for effective policing in this country. We have real-time access to the Europol database which allows us to effectively monitor suspected terrorists, organised gangsters, people and drug traffickers and so on. But Europol is an EU institution. When we leave the EU, we will be outside it. Worse, there will be no legal basis to retain the data we have already accumulated. Unless new arrangements are in place, it will be illegal for our police forces to access or even retain this data.
This will damage our ability to mount effective policing. The practical consequences are dreadful. If there is not a new arrangement, we could find ourselves where every major criminal in the EU can evade justice by coming here. Likewise, our major criminals, home-grown terrorists or those on the run can try to evade our police and security agencies within the EU.
The same point applies in a different way to the use of the European Arrest Warrant. That falls away outside the EU, unless new arrangements are in place.
Theresa May has told us that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice must end. That this is a red line for her. But she hasn’t told us what will replace it. Any warrant must have judicial oversight and a right of appeal. So, it is the duty of those who insist it must go to say what will replace it.
In the Labour Party, we are not wedded to institutions. Our focus is on outcomes. But Keir Starmer has made it abundantly clear that security and policing is a vital part of Brexit. Test FIVE of our SIX texts is:
“5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?.
And, as the world should know, Jeremy Corbyn has made it abundantly clear that we will be voting down any Brexit deal that does not meet our SIX tests.
And the reason we insist on these has nothing to do with political in-fighting, party management posturing to be next leader. We leave that to the Tories. Our SIX tests are based on what this country needs, on the vital interests of all the people of this country.
As a result, we will be voting down any deal which leaves our security and policing in a worse situation than before. Put simply, the Government’s Hard Brexit and its lack of progress and security contains a real risk that this country could become a safe haven for the terrorists, the Mafiosi, the smugglers and the paedophiles on the run from the EU 27. And the European Union could become the safe haven for all the worst criminals, terrorists and others from this country.
This is not a prospect either this country or the EU should even contemplate. I would urge both sides to think again, negotiate properly and reach swift conclusions that can be in place before March 29 next year.
We will need an over-arching Security Treaty between the UK and the EU. We will need clear and vigorous data protection regimes on both sides. Data flow is vital. It is also vital that it is subject to the proper checks and restraints. We will also need further co-operation on judicial and policing issues. We will need continued and further co-operation on matters of social policy.
Alongside Europol, we will need continuing participation agreements with Eurojust. We will need access to the Schengen Information System TWO, which is such an important database monitoring criminals and terror suspects. We will also need more recent shared resources including ECRIS, the European criminal records information system and PNR, the Passenger Name Record which are also highly beneficial for investigations.
All of this must be subject to mutually agreed and robust protections for citizen’s privacy rights and the risks of an over-mighty state. Defending our freedoms from terrorists and criminals means defending all of our hard-won freedoms.
Just the other day, Lynne Owens the head of the National Crime Agency warned the Home Affairs Select Committee about the dangers of a No Deal exit from the EU. She is right to be concerned. I can only add that, from what I can gather, we already look to heading for a No Deal Brexit on security and policing unless the negotiators on both sides change course dramatically. That must not happen.
Crime and Policing
I say all this not as some EU obsessive. That is not my political history at all.
I am extremely concerned that Government Ministers have taken their eye off the ball. This could have dreadful consequences for the effectiveness of our policing and therefore for us all.
But I am obsessive about what is required for effective policing, the co-operation we need to achieve that and the freedoms we need to defend. It’s ordinary people, including the poorest, who are the main victims of crime. It’s the most vulnerable, including disabled people. Women are much more likely to be the victims of domestic ccrime. Serious offences against children are an abomination to any decent society. LGBT people are much more likely to be victims of crime. And so too are ethnic minority communities of all types.
I believe there is good cause for this concern. Because we only have to see what is happening to policing and to crime to recognise that this Government is failing in the fight against crime.
You don’t have to take my word for it. You only need to heed the words of your own police chief constables and others.
There is barely a police chief in the country who hasn’t talked about the dreadful consequences of the cuts in their area. Or others who say they have to ration policing, and not respond to crimes at all. Or who say they are close to breaking-point. Or who have publicly said that they will not be able to cope at all with any further cuts to policing.
Since 2010 this Government and its predecessors have axed TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND police officers. Thousands more so-called back office staff, really support staff have also gone. When the support staff go, the police officers themselves have to perform those duties.
The police are being told they must do more with less. Well, there comes a point when you can’t.
And anyone who’s been listening to police chiefs, or the National Audit Office, or to the Home Affairs Select Committee, or to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate knows we have gone past the point where the police can do more with less.
The NAO said that the Home Office had no coherent policing strategy and that it conducted no analysis on the effect of cuts. The Select Committee said that there has been a significant loss of community policing AND that without a change of course “policing will struggle to attract the talented individuals that it relies on order to survive”.
The police are forced to do less with less. And no sensible person believes this is sustainable.
Arrest rates and caution rates are falling. This is at a time when police recorded crime is rising.
In Monday’s Budget the Chancellor only mentioned a rise in funding for Counter-Terrorism policing. This is welcome, but follows cuts made by the Coalition Government. All of this at a time when the terror threat has been rising.
But there was nothing about all other types of policing. All that was promised was a review in December. There have been innumerable reviews, assessments and analyses. What the police need is more resources.
This Government has failed in a most basic duty. That is the duty to protect our citizens.
They have increased the causes of crime. These are homelessness and poor housing, social deprivation, poverty, school exclusion and any other social ills. The policy of austerity has made all of them worse.
Despite all the fierce rhetoric and more legislation, they have not only failed to tackle the causes of crime. They have failed to tackle crime itself. Their record speaks for itself, and what it says is not at all welcome.
The Home Secretary told you yesterday that he wanted to increase stop and search. This is despite research which shows that random stop and search is ineffective. That research comes from the Home Office. What does work is intelligence-led stop and search, and I am in favour of it in those circumstances. Then, it is effective. Otherwise it is ineffective and poisons community relations.
At the last General Election in 2017, Labour pledged to increase policing by TEN THOUSAND officers. Along with the rest of our Manifesto, this was hugely popular. This is because policing and crime matter, and they matter to ordinary voters.
Each Manifesto starts as a blank piece of paper ahead of each election. But the Chancellor’s Budget this week has provided a strange, one-year giveaway, timed for 2019. And will resume austerity later.
So we might be looking at a General Election in 2019 or early 2020. Whenever it comes Labour will be ready. And I have already staked my claim that we will repeat our pledge to increase police officer numbers by TEN THOUSAND. If there is any scope for change I will be arguing that this should only be in an upward direction.
For us policing, and fighting crime matters. You can’t have safety and security on the cheap.
The cuts to policing have had terrible consequences for fighting crime. The Government cuts across the board have had terrible effects on the causes of crime. Labour will end the austerity policy. Labour will add police officers.
I know as elected representatives you come from differing political parties and traditions. But I hope we can agree on this: This Government is failing in its efforts to provide the necessary security and policing arrangements after March 29 next year. This Government is failing to tackle crime.
This country deserves better. My pledge is that Labour in Government can and will do better than this.