UK Politics

Riots: Think again on police cuts, says Ed Miliband

Labour leader Ed Miliband has urged the government to "think again" about police cuts, in the wake of rioting and disorder across English cities.

He told MPs, who gathered after David Cameron recalled Parliament from recess, it had been a "stark reminder" of the need for police on the streets.

Numbers of police on city streets in England were boosted to help restore calm in the past few days.

The government says its proposals will not reduce "visible policing".

Labour says 20% cuts in central government funding over four years, for forces in England and Wales, are taking "huge risks with law and order".

CCTV plans

But Mr Cameron told MPs that, when the local authority precept which also funds police forces was taken into account, "cash reductions" in police budgets amounted to 6% over four years, which was "totally achievable without any reductions in visible policing".

He told MPs: "We will still be able to surge as many police officers on to the streets as we have in recent days in London, Wolverhampton and Manchester."

Ministers argue money can be saved by cutting bureaucracy and changing shift patterns.

Mr Cameron faced repeated calls from Labour MPs and Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyn to reverse planned cuts to police funding in the Commons on Thursday.

Mr Miliband told him: "The events of the last few days have been a stark reminder to us all that police on our streets make our communities safer and make the public feel safer.

"Given the absolute priority the public attaches to a visible and active police presence, does the prime minister understand why they would think it is not right that he goes ahead with the cuts to police numbers?"

He also pressed the case for CCTV and urged Mr Cameron to make sure civil liberties plans "in no way hinder bringing criminals to justice".

Labour former home secretary Jack Straw also criticised the PM, saying his answers about having visible policing and sufficient prison places "sounds very complacent".

He attacked Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's plans to reduce the number of people in prison - suggesting that "softer sentencing plans" needed to be reversed.

'Frail' argument

But Mr Cameron repeated his argument that the government was cutting police paper work so more officers could get out on the street and told MPs the problems officers had faced in areas like Croydon had not been because of squeezed budgets.

Mr Cameron said: "The problem is that the police weren't on the streets, the problem wasn't about police budgets in four years' time - the problem was about the availability of the police right now.

"There are 32,000 officers in the Met. We needed to get more on to the streets more quickly and more of them to Croydon. It's about now, it's not about the budgets of the future."

On CCTV, he said the government was seeking to "regulate it to make sure it is used properly".

On Wednesday the Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson put himself at odds with government policy when he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you ask me if I think there is a case for cutting police budgets in light of these events then my answer to that would be no - I think that case was always pretty frail and it has been substantially weakened."

Mr Cameron chaired another meeting of the government's crisis committee, Cobra, ahead of the debate.

The police watchdog, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, said in a report last month that information from police forces in England and Wales suggested the number of police officers would be reduced by 16,200 between March 2010 and March 2015 - and police staff overall would fall by 34,100.

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