6 July 2005
Philip, raised the difficult decisions faced by police every day in towns in the Ludlow constituency, aggravated by the lack of any cells in police stations.

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I shall pick up on the remarks of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). I, too, have visited Monkmoor police station-last week, in fact-and I was told that some refurbishment work will shortly be done on the cells there, but the number of cells in Shropshire as a whole is lamentably low. I think that the building in question is a former secondary school; it was not built to be a police station. It needs to have proper cells put in and I welcome the refurbishment work. That is relevant to my constituents because there are no cells in the Ludlow constituency, which, for those who do not know the geography, is 40 miles by 20 miles. People who are to be held in custody overnight have to be taken to Shrewsbury, to Telford or, occasionally, to Hereford.

Just before Christmas, I went out with police officers in Bridgnorth, thanks to Inspector Andy Thomas, and I saw for myself the problems caused by drunkenness - which I am aware also happens in other towns. Generally speaking, the police on the spot have to take a tough decision. They have to ask themselves whether to arrest the person. That is the appropriate policing response, but it takes two officers to deal with an individual who is drunk. They have to be driven 25 miles to Shrewsbury or 15 or so to Telford, which takes the officers out of the local district for two hours at a time. There are usually four people on duty in Bridgnorth in the evening. If they make two arrests of drunks, the decision will be to have no cover in the town of Bridgnorth. It is a very tough call and it comes about entirely because of the points that many hon. Members have raised to do with the police numbers and the resources in our area and particularly in the rural areas. Ludlow has a brand-new police station, which is very welcome. The station has been built with no cells because, as other hon. Members have said, the level of manning to justify cells cannot be supported within the budgets of the division. That is wrong.

Although we have one of the lowest crime rates, not only in the county of Shropshire but in the West Mercia division, that does not mean that we have no crime. Far from it. To give one example, the village of Highley saw the second ASBO issued in the entire country. As of two weeks ago, Highley has had its first policeman for six months. It is an area with noted crime problems-it had the second-largest drugs bust in the county last autumn-and it has been without police cover because the police division does not have to man to 100 per cent. of its capacity. The beat duty officer took maternity leave and there was not any surplus capacity to provide cover to Highley. That should not be repeated.