Police, Fire and Civil Defence Authorities

– in the House of Commons at 12:12 am on 8th February 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 12:12 am, 8th February 1988

I beg to move, That the draft Local Government Act 1985 (Police and Fire and Civil Defence Authorities) Precepts Limitation Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 28th January, be approved. The draft order sets the maximum precepts that can be levied for the financial year 1988–89 by the joint police and joint fire and civil defence authorities with whom it has not been possible to come to an agreement over their precepts. Hon. Members with long memories will recall that a similar order was made for 1986–87. It was then debated at some considerable length.

I hope that the House will not think that it is necessary to debate this order at quite such length. We were spared that task for the current financial year by the provisions of the Local Government Finance Act 1987, which determined the expenditure levels for the authorities and their precepts by reference to a formula. In total, the expenditure levels for the police authorities for 1988–89, at £421 million, represent a 6·2 per cent. increase over the levels that were set by the formula for 1987–88. The corresponding figure for the fire and civil defence authorities is £371 million—a 5·1 per cent. increase over the figure for 1987–88.

Photo of Mrs Elizabeth Peacock Mrs Elizabeth Peacock , Batley and Spen

During the next few minutes, will my hon. Friend explain to the House and to the ratepayers of West Yorkshire why those ratepayers have to pay so much more than the rest of the country for their fire authority? In West Yorkshire the budget met by grant is 26·98 per cent., whereas on Merseyside it is 58·27 per cent. I have great difficulty explaining that to my constituents and it would help if my hon. Friend could explain it to me.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Perhaps I may pick up that point now to save my hon. Friend from having to listen to the whole of my speech. The position in West Yorkshire arises because under the present system authorities' grant settlement depends on their grant-related expenditure assessment, their rateable value resources and their expenditure. That is why the West Yorkshire fire and civil defence authority's grant entitlement next year is different from that for 1987–88. The difference is equal to about £1·4 million—the equivalent of a 0·6p rate.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

Will the Minister take it from me that West Yorkshire receives the lowest grant per head of population and has to levy the highest precept of any county? There is a substantial problem with West Yorkshire and I hope that the Minister will give the matter special consideration.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and this is the last occasion on which we shall debate an order such as this. The hon. Gentleman's point, to which we listened carefully, points to his need to support the Local Government Bill, which will enable us to sort out many of the problems surrounding the relationship between grant-related expenditure and expenditure levels, and I look for the hon. Gentleman's support in future years. As hon. Members may be aware—

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Yes, indeed. There is no need to point.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central

I only pointed because the Minister seemed lost in his brief and I thought that it might be useful to remind him that the House was still sitting.

Will the hon. Gentleman respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) that the difficulty relates to this year rather than to subsequent years? It does not relate to the Local Government Bill. What does the Minister propose to do for West Yorkshire this year, because it is this year that is crucial to the ratepayers of West Yorkshire and to the service that is provided?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I shall forgive the hon. Gentleman for his personal remarks; I do not hold any personal animosity against him. I can tell him exactly what we are doing this year. The maximum precept this year, which is 15·72p, will allow for an increase of some 7·7 per cent. over West Yorkshire's expected expenditure for 1987–88. We think that that is a reasonable level of provision. As hon. Members may expect, there are variations in the percentage—

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). He prayed in aid the 15·72p precept. Is not that a cut of nearly 20 per cent. in the figure for the current year?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

No, Sir. In no way is it a cut. Between 1986–87 and 1988–89 there has been an overall increase of 22·1 per cent. in the levels of expenditure allowable. That is a substantial increase in public expenditure by anyone's standards and the authority should be able to manage within that provision.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Well, I should like to make a little progress—

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) first.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

I thank the Minister for giving way. He has been rather economical with the truth. Since 1986 the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has been trying to resolve the problems of the financing of West Yorkshire. The reality is that this year, for example, Merseyside, which is commensurate with West Yorkshire, has a percentage of GREA over maximum expenditure limits of 94·1 per cent, while West Yorkshire's is 72·7 per cent. and Merseyside's maximum precept is 8·22p while West Yorkshire's is 13·41p. Can the Minister explain why it has taken since June 1986 until last Monday for the Minister to meet the AMA to consider that matter and why, when he was meeting that body, he had already made the decision in relation to West Yorkshire?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

When the delegation met my noble Friend Lord Ferrers in another place, they were able to have a full discussion about the recommendations made by the AMA. The hon. Gentleman cannot fly in the face of the fact that there is a 22·1 per cent. increase in the level of expenditure but in 1986–87—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Yes, but I am trying to finish my sentence.—and the proposed amount for 1988–89 as listed in the order itself — [Interruption.] —I give way to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mrs Elizabeth Peacock Mrs Elizabeth Peacock , Batley and Spen

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. My concern is not about the increase in expenditure but about what the Government are going to do about the grant. It is the basic grant that is the problem and not the increase in expenditure.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

That is not a matter for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. —[Interruption.] That is a matter of fact.

As hon. Members are aware, there are considerable variations in the percentage increases for each authority.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the robust and wholly technically correct way in which he is seeking to defend the position. However, is he not aware that in relation to the fire precept and the fire expenditure in West Yorkshire there has been a longstanding disagreement between my hon. Friend's Department and the local fire authority? If it was purely a matter for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, would my hon. Friend be prepared to advise our right hon. Friend on what he would wish to see for the fire expenditure— [Interruption.] — because this is a crucial issue?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) was the Minister of State, Home Office who made a most moving and passionate speech in favour of similar provisions in 1986, which I have read and reread carefully. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that this is an issue for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, my right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that he is always prepared to consider methodological suggestions about changes to the grant-related expenditure for West Yorkshire in this respect at any time.

Indeed, there is a forum—the grants working group of the consultative council on local government finance —where proposals for changes can be tabled either by a local authority or by the Department of the Environment. The intention is that the development work on the fire grant-related expenditure assessment should he taken forward in the coming months. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey regards that as an adequate answer to his direct question—[Interruption.] Does he not?

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

My hon. Friend made a perfectly adequate suggestion. It is therefore up to those in West Yorkshire who wish to argue that case, to use it on the understanding of my hon. Friend's suggestion that there is room for discussion of the principle of grant-related expenditure within that forum.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has said.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

I have heard enough about West Yorkshire. I should like to deal with South Yorkshire. We have only a small pot of gold, but it is £500,000 light. It seems to have been lost between the Department of the Environment and the Home Office. Will my hon. Friend explain where that money has gone, or if it was ever there?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Indeed, it would have been extremely careless of us to have mislaid £500,000. Even by my standards that is more than small change—

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

May I answer my hon. Friend's question before giving way?

The expenditure implied by the 1988–89 precept for South Yorkshire is 6 per cent. more than this year's expenditure. That represents a hefty 19 per cent. increase over the past two years. Those increases are significantly more than the level of inflation. That certainly will allow for service development in South Yorkshire to continue.

I shall give way for the second and last time to the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). I am sure that he will understand that I am anxious to make some progress.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

Is the Minister aware that Lord Ferrers had a meeting about South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside last week, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment pulled out at the last moment for the second time? Apologies had to be made for the fact that he was not there to put the case for the Department of the Environment.

Has not the Home Office been smoked out by the Department of the Environment? The promises to sort out this matter in regard to Yorkshire have not been kept. The Department of the Environment is turning the screw. The position is unacceptable and that is why the Minister did not attend the meeting with Lord Ferrers last week.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

That is not true. The Home Office and the Department of the Environment speak with one voice on these issues. The amounts of money that are available are reflected in the order, to which I shall make another attempt to return.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have two points of order and the first is—

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

From the start of the debate it has been obvious that there is considerable confusion and concern on both sides of the House. One and a half hours is grossly inadequate to protect the interests of the House and the various regions of Britain represented in the debate. Secondly, despite the claims that Ministers at the Home Office and the Department of the Environment speak with one voice, the element of confusion in South Yorkshire, and presumably, elsewhere suggests that the appropriate Minister from the Department of the Environment should be present to provide information that many hon. Members have sought already, and which other hon. Members certainly will be seeking.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

In answer to the first point of order, the time allocated for this measure has nothing to do with the Chair. In reply to the second point of order, I very much regret the fact that there is confusion among hon. Members from Yorkshire, as I, too, come from Yorkshire. Perhaps we can now get on.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I entirely agree. I intend to follow your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker, and get on with it.

As hon. Members may expect, there are variations in the percentage increases for each authority. We should expect that, as they reflect their particular circumstances. However, we are satisfied that, making proper allowance for efficiency, the expenditure levels for each of the police authorities will enable them to maintain and improve present levels of service. That also applies to the fire and civil defence authorities.

Having determined the expenditure levels, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set maximum precepts. These are derived from the expenditure levels that have been decided upon, together with the authorities' entitlement to block grant under the rate support grant settlement for 1988–89 and the rateable values for each area. My right hon. Friend notified all the authorities in December of the maximum precepts that he was about to set. The authorities were given until the middle of January to let my right hon. Friend know whether they accepted the proposed maxima.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

Many Conservative Members will be appalled to hear that there has been an increase in expenditure of 22 per cent. over the last two years. Is it not time that we refreshed our memories about section 42 of the Local Government Act 1985? It allowed the Secretary of State to return the functions to the metropolitan boroughs and to abolish the fire, police and transport authorities that are turning themselves into mini-empires. They are not far short of the mini-empires that the metropolitan county councils became. Will my hon. Friend remind our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment of that fact?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I shall draw his trenchant remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I should emphasise that we are not specifying what should be the precept—only the maximum amount that an authority can levy. They are able — indeed, some authorities have done so—to precept at a considerably lower level than the maximum because they have made efficiency gains that permit them to so to do. Thereafter, the authority is free to determine how to spend the money at its disposal. The precept simply limits the amount that can be raised from the ratepayer. Of the 13 authorities, six —Merseyside and South Yorkshire police and Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and London fire and civil defence—accepted the proposed maxima. We have welcomed that fact.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

The Minister can see that there are very strong feelings on both sides of the House. The West Yorkshire fire authority has made it clear that the precept will not allow it to maintain the standards of service that the Home Office lays down and that some areas of West Yorkshire cannot meet those criteria.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I made it clear in my response to the two interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) that considerably increased amounts of money are available. Exactly the same accusations about the end of the world coming shortly to the fire service were made in the 1986 debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, who was then Minister of State, Home Office, made it clear that in his view the provision would be more than adequate. The levels of service in West Yorkshire have improved during the last two years. My hon. Friend's prediction, made with characteristic foresight, can be banked upon completely. There is no evidence for what the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) says.

The remaining seven authorities with which we are concerned did not accept the proposed maxima and presented arguments about the levels of their precepts. Those arguments have been expressed during this debate. Four of the authorities requested meetings. That meeting took place with Lord Ferrers, at which they expressed their anxieties about the level of the precept. Some of the authorities at that meeting had sent deputations earlier in support of their redetermination applications.

My right hon. Friend was not persuaded that there was sufficient grounds for increasing the maximum precepts for five of them. However, he was satisfied that two authorities, Northumbria police and Merseyside fire, required an increase in the precept. Unfortunately, the two authorities felt unable to accept the increased maximum and together with the five authorities they are included in the schedule to the order, which I commend to the House.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:35 am, 8th February 1988

With so many of the Minister's hon. Friends at his throat, he will not be surprised if my right hon. and hon. Friends want to take part in the exercise.

The order and, indeed, the Minister's speech demonstrate the Government's bogus claims that the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils would make police, fire and civil defence authorities more autonomous. Quite the reverse has happened and the noose of central Government and Whitehall has tightened around their necks. Now it is the Home Secretary, aided and abetted by the Secretary of State for the Environment through the grant-related expenditure assessments, who in reality determines the levels of police cover and how public safety is safeguarded through the fire and civil defence authorities.

The Government determine the number of pairs of boots that police officers wear on the streets and the number of fire engines and fire officers, not against proven need, but against cash limits. That is the point and there is no good the Minister saying that that is not true because he is deciding half of it and his right hon. Friend at the Department of the Environment is deciding the other half.

Right around the police, fire and civil defence authorities there are complaints because, although there are increases of between 2·7 per cent. and 10·4 per cent. in spending levels, they mask substantial differences in what authorities can levy. The Greater Manchester police authority, for example, has a cut of 13·9 per cent., Northumbria police authority a cut of 2 per cent. and the West Yorkshire police authority a cut of 19·3 per cent.

Can the Minister assure the House that those differences, especially where there are cuts, are because the crime rate has fallen so dramatically that less now needs to be spent on preventing and detecting crime? He need not answer that, because he knows, as well as I do, that under this Government inexorably year on year the crime rate not only in the capital but throughout the country has increased. Yet this is the period in which the Government choose to say to police authorities, "We know best. You cannot spend what you locally decide needs to be spent to give proper defence to people on the streets and in their homes." Councillor Keith Wilson, chairman of West Yorkshire police authority says: the present precept reduction in 1988–89 can only be achieved by utilising a substantial proportion of the West Yorkshire Police Authority's balances, thereby jeopardising the development of the service for which the Home Secretary himself is pressing. The Minister cannot have it both ways. He makes requests of police authorities to improve their service and they want to do that in the interests of the people whom they serve, but the Minister, aided by the Department of the Environment, denies them the cash resources with which to do it.

Councillor George Gill, chairman of the Northumbria police authority, says that the cash it is allowed to spend falls short of the amount that the police authority consider necessary for the chief constable to provide an adequate and efficient level of policing. Will the Minister stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he knows better than the chief constable? I hope that he will not dare. They are dangerous words and again demonstrate the hollowness of the Government's repeated claims to provide all the resources needed to combat rising crime.

The West Midlands police authority has had a 10 per cent. increase in what it can spend and its precept has risen by 14·5 per cent. How has that good news gone down with the chief constable and that police authority? The police authority states that the spend does not cover existing approved policies and will require a cut-back of some £1·37 million in gross expenditure terms in 1988–89 which will involve deferring such schemes, undertaken at the behest of the Home Office, as the introduction of administrative support units, the crime information system and the civilianisation programme. There is not much joy in that, especially as what the authority is allowed to spend takes no account of its outstanding request for an extra 350 police officers and 25 traffic wardens. That information must be set against the background of an alarming rise of 109 per cent. in reported crime in Birmingham and the west midlands between 1975 and 1986, with a 276 per cent. rise in robberies, a 100 per cent. rise in woundings and a 147 per cent. rise in burglaries. However, the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that he and his right hon. Friend know better than the West Midlands police authority.

Why does the Minister deny to that and other police authorities the cash to pay for increases in manpower that their experience, knowledge and sense tell them are needed if our streets and homes are to be made safe again? How is it that Government and Whitehall know best? They do not, but they override those who do and they are seemingly careless about the consequences.

Ministers have been all too eager to chastise Labour-elected councils that have sometimes appeared unfriendly towards the police. Now it is the Goverment who are antipolice by denying the manpower and resources that the police authorities need if they are to stand even a slight chance of reducing the crime wave.

In London in the past three years the London Boroughs Association, the Association of London Authorities and the Outer London Districts Metropolitan Police Consultative Association have jointly, in spite of political differences, criticised the Government for underfunding and for the way in which the precept is calculated and its size.

The mysteries of the police precept are compounded by those for the fire and civil defence authorities. I understand that one of the bases on which the precepts are calculated is population — of course, other factors are also taken into account. Can the Minister tell the House why it is claimed that West Yorkshire can get by on a precept of £3·88 per head of population while South Yorkshire has £5·51, Tyne and Wear £7·57 and Merseyside £11·38? What is the explanation for such wide disparities of treatment? One might have thought that the West Midlands, which is given £4·81 per head of the population might, as the largest fire and civil defence authority outside of London, needed more than South Yorkshire. But it is not need that comes into the reckoning. The cash limits override the need and proper levels of public safety.

After the horrors of the King's Cross fire, Zeebrugge and other events, Ministers cannot get to the Dispatch Box quickly enough to praise the bravery and skill of the fire service. However, in reality, that service is all too often run on a shoe string.

The Labour party believes that decisions about local police, fire and civil defence services are best taken locally, preferably by councillors accountable to those who elected them. The Government claim the same of the poll tax, but given the chance to put their claim into practice for the fire, police and civil defence services, they do exactly the opposite.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a future Labour Government would give central Government to local authorities without any control, so that they could spend what they wanted?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I understand why the Minister jibs at what I am saying, because for the past eight or nine years he and his right hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister, have said, "If we need more resources to combat crime, they will be made available." The Prime Minister loses no time going on radio and television to say that, but when it comes to orders like this one, the Government scrimshank.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is not for me to answer the Minister's question. We are debating an order laid by the Government. The incoming Labour Government will ensure that police, fire and civil defence authorities get the money that they need to provide proper public safety in their areas. That is more than the Minister can say.

Photo of Mr Hugo Summerson Mr Hugo Summerson , Walthamstow

Will the next Labour Government also ensure that all Labour-controlled authorities support neighbourhood watch?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the hon. Gentleman can give me an example of a Labour-controlled authority that does not now support neighbourhood watch schemes, I should be interested to hear from him. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Manchester?"] That is not true of Manchester; I said "now". In the west midlands, Labour authorities, like all other authorities in the area, wholly support such schemes. The hon. Gentleman had better be careful about this.

Neighbourhood watch schemes have consequences in terms of police manpower. Unless the chief constable in the west midlands gets the 350 extra officers whom he needs this year, the neighbourhood watch schemes in that area will be no more than signs on lamp posts because there will not be enough policemen to make them effective.

In many areas of England and Wales, fire authorities must make cuts in manpower and cover, equipment is taking longer to replace and the purchase of modern, lifesaving equipment is being delayed. If that is worrying enough in the context of the usual, although serious, run of fires in homes and industry, how much more important is it in the context of the Government's so-called civil defence policies? They are not even prepared properly to fund that sham.

People demand and expect adequate public safety cover from our police, fire and civil defence authorities. The Government have made too many police forces unable to provide the service that they wish to provide, and that they know needs to be provided. People have a right to a direct say in the services that are needed for the areas in which they live. The Government deny both to local people, and that is why the Opposition will vote against the order.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport 12:49 am, 8th February 1988

A moment ago I drew to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister the provisions of section 42 of the Local Government Act 1985, which allows the Secretary of State for the Environment to reorganise the fire and police authorities after consultation. It is now two years since the abolition of the metropolitan counties, and I suggest that the time has now come for the Secretary of State to consult and decide whether it is necessary to continue those authorities in their present forms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) will recall that, during the proceedings of the Committee that debated the abolition of the metropolitan counties, many hon. Members were concerned about the continuity of the police and fire authorities. Many members of the Committee suggested that the time had come to sweep away those authorities and return their functions to the metropolitan borough councils that had constituted the metropolitan counties.

My constituency has little in common with Bolton, Bury, Oldham or Rochdale: far better to return the police and the fire brigades to the communities they serve. The only connection that my constituency has with police headquarters at Salford is the telephone exchange. Every telephone call goes through Salford, returns to Stockport and gets lost on the way. It would be far better if everything went directly to the police who serve the community; the same is true of the fire brigade.

We have heard about a 20 per cent. increase over the past two years. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can tell us what the increases over the past three years—since the abolition of the metropolitan counties—have been.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

Over the past three or four days, the Government have had the good sense to see that ILEA should be abolished. ILEA is not dissimilar to the fire and police authorities. Let us sweep them away now and return them to the communities that they serve.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone 12:52 am, 8th February 1988

I want briefly to discuss the South Yorkshire fire service, which the Minister knows well. I also want to correct one or two things that he said.

The Minister said that the Home Office and the Department of the Environment speak with one voice, but it appears that the voice is that of the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Minister talks like him when discussing facts and figures, but whatever facts or figures he reels out will not make up for the lack of fire cover in South and West Yorkshire.

The Minister's talk about using balances is ironic. Not so long ago, after the severe damage caused by the gales, the Secretary of State for the Environment took authorities to task for not having balances with which to cope with emergencies. Yet that is how the fire services use their balances—for contingencies. If two machines come off the road, the balances are there to be used to put them right.

It is now three years since we tried to convince the Government of the growing crisis in the South Yorkshire fire service. Statistics are of no use; the facts are there to be seen. South Yorkshire is already below the manpower requirements asked for by the Home Office. According to the standards recently laid down by the Home Office, the area needs 1,114 men, but the service does not have them. So the Minister, through the precept, is saying that it will have still fewer men, because the authority will not be able to replace losses incurred through natural wastage over the coming months. This precept will mean its having only 1,000 men, and that will mean that stations will close. They cannot be kept open without men to operate them.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

My hon. Friend's constituency is in South Yorkshire and is similar to mine. Does he share my concern that every six or 12 months there has been a squeeze on rural part-time staff at fire stations, such as in Kiveton Park in my constituency? The stations are constantly under threat. Anyone who has any sense of geography will realise that if they are taken away, fire tenders will have to travel miles through country lanes to reach the villages that now have stations. People are deeply concerned about the threat to the South Yorkshire fire service.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

Ministers do not understand that sometimes four tenders are needed on the first call-out. Each area has a set number of machines that must turn out. When the machines go out, they have, not six, not five and sometimes not four, but three men. That is dangerous, because the machines are not adequately manned.

Because of the lack of finance, 27 people who have been recruited, and who are waiting to take over as a result of natural wastage, cannot be trained as there is no money to put them through the training school. If there was, the training personnel would not be there to train them, because they have to make up for the manpower loss in stations that are already undermanned.

The appliance turnout time is extended. I do not know whether the Minister realises what that means. At Hood Green, a house was completely gutted in four minutes. That is the maximum turnout time for such a house. For polyurethane, which I understand we are getting rid of, the turnout time is six minutes. If those turnout times are increased, one is increasing, not the danger to property, but the danger to life. That is what the fire service is all about.

The firemen are excellent. They could not be matched anywhere in the world, but there will come a time when they will say, "What is it all about? What have we done to deserve this? Our training and manpower are going through the roof." What about the fire service inspections? In South Yorkshire, fire service certificates are not being given out because those inspections are not being done. Those who carry out the inspections have to man the machines. That is what is happening in South Yorkshire, and it is time that the Minister realised it.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I am listening with great care to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because he speaks with greater knowledge of South Yorkshire than I have. He will appreciate that. Does he agree that the substantial increase of just under 20 per cent. in expenditure over the past two years can in no way be represented as a cut or diminution of service available to South Yorkshire? That is flying in the face of reality.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

It is not flying in the face of reality. The Minister should forget his facts and figures, come to South Yorkshire with someone from the Department of the Environment, and look at the books and the stations. If they think that they can do better, they should advise on how it should be done. If they do not think so, they should put on the table the money that should be there.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Let me respond to the hon. Gentleman immediately. I am sure that my noble Friend Lord Ferrers, who has ministerial responsibility for the fire service, will be delighted to work with the South Yorkshire board to try to find ways in which greater efficiency in the service could contribute to available fire cover in the area. It is not just a matter of additional money: it is a matter of making the best possible use of the money that is available. The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned that.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

I was a member of the West Riding fire service for about 14 years, as a retained fireman. I know the area, the turnout, and the number of machines that are needed. Believe me, the Government are undermanning an excellent fire service. All that I am saying to the Minister is: come and look, open the books examine them and advise. If an improvement can be made, let us know about it.

I should like to talk about the £440,000 grant, which was in two phases, for 1986–87 and 1987–88. The 1986–87 part was taken into consideration. The other part has never appeared. The South Yorkshire authority could not take into consideration the money that it had been told was available. It knew about it only when it came down to see Lord Ferrers.

The authority examined the matter and told the Department of the Environment that it could not accept that the money had been available. The DOE said that the authority had received about £150,000, when it had not. However, even if that money had been available, and even if the authority had used the £900,000 in reserve, it would still not be manned to the levels that the Home Office has laid down. We are asking the Minister to come and see for himself and sort the problem out.

Nobody wants there to be a major fire, and nobody wants there to be a loss of property or loss of life, but if that happens the buck will stop with the Government, not with the South Yorkshire fire service.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), but this is a very short debate, so very short speeches might be appropriate.

1 am

Photo of Mrs Elizabeth Peacock Mrs Elizabeth Peacock , Batley and Spen

My hon. Friend is no doubt aware that since 1983 I have made persistent and consistent representations to his right hon. Friend about the level of grant to West Yorkshire.

I recognise that the professional assessment made by Her Majesty's inspector is independent of the Minister and of the fire authority and that the inspector is satisfied with the level of cover in the area.

Fire cover, rightly, is an emotive issue. In west Yorkshire there are many textile mills, the floors of which are steeped in centuries of oils. It is essential that my constituents, and others in west Yorkshire, are satisfied that the level of cover is as the inspector says. To reduce the unease, it would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister would persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that the level of grant now available is not as satisfactory as the level of precept that my hon. Friend has announced. Representations to my hon. Friend have proved successful, but can we hope that representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be as successful? We might then obtain necessary changes to the grant, which many other hon. Members would support.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck 1:02 am, 8th February 1988

The debate began with a quick tour of the west midlands and up through west and south Yorkshire. I should like to take the House's attention a little further north, to the area of Tyne and Wear and Northumbria, which is covered by the Northumbria police authority.

In some ways, it is unique in that it covers a shire county and what was a metropolitan county. It covers the low population areas of north and west Northumberland and the inner-city areas, with all their associated problems, of Tyneside and Wearside.

The authority was established in 1974, and at one time I had the honour of being a member of it. Since that time, it has faced severe problems, principally because of the mixed environment of the area.

I remember, as a representative of the police authority from Northumberland, that I and my colleagues from the shire county constantly brought the attention of the authority to the problems faced in the urban south-east and rural part of the county.

We recognised that the problems that the chief constable faced in the inner cities of Tyneside and Wearside were far more difficult to cope with than those in the rural parts. Therefore, we had to accept that manpower had to be redeployed from the rural and urban parts of the authority to the inner cities. It caused severe problems in those areas. It meant that in the rural areas one police constable covered up to 200 sq miles, but when he was redeployed in the more central parts of the police authority area, the other police officers in the area had 400 or 500 sq miles to cover. This was and still is a constant problem.

Ministers consistently stress the need for efficiency. I took part in reviews when I was a member of the authority and they have continued almost yearly since then. There is a review each time the budget is drawn up, and the authority is highly efficient. All credit is due to the chief constable, the officers and the authority for the way in which the service has been run. Like other metropolitan authorities, however, we have suffered as a result of the change in grant-related expenditure allocation last year. The basic problem is that the change was based on police establishment rather than on recognised need. As expected, the proposed maximum precept level of 13·92p effectively reduced the budget by about 10 per cent. Like other authorities, the Northumberland authority made representations to the Home Office. The result was an increase of 0·48p, which brought the precept up to 14·4p for 1988–89, but it did not match the modest requirements of the authority. A realistic increase would have been 1p. In cash terms, the figure was £700,000.

The problems faced by the Northumberland authority are probably greater than those in some metropolitan authorities. It has had a consistently higher percentage of retirements, particularly due to ill health. The figure has doubled since 1982, and that pattern is expected to continue. The number of serious offences per officer is 46·9 — that is 50 per cent. higher than the Metropolitan police in London whose problems are rightly emphasised—and well above that for Greater Manchester, which is the next highest at 43·6. That workload is probably a major factor in the high rate of ill health retirement. Loyalty is certainly not in question as next year a substantial number of those seeking retirement next year will have more than 25 or even 30 years' service.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

The expenditure levels take into account additional needs caused by high levels of early retirements and pension requirements.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, but no one can predict the number of ill-health retirements, although the heavy work load increases the likelihood of such retirements. As a result, pension payments are between £3,500,000 and £4 million per year and are expected to rise to £4,250,000.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

The Minister nods, so my figures must be right. They are of course, linked with the increased police pay settlements, so the problem will get worse year by year.

In the 1988–89 projections, no provision was made for expenditure on new initiatives—a proposition that was given up by the authority almost immediately. However, there was a recognition of the need for 529 new officers in the service. A bid for a further 80 was submitted in April 1987, but, as yet, there has been no response—perhaps the Minister can give me one tonight. In the meantime, the crime figures in our police authority continue to rise, as they do everywhere else, and that is an increasing concern of the population.

The police authority has assessed its requirements for 1988–89, to provide the present level of the service as a minimum, at £51·75 million. That allows for existing commitments, anticipated pay awards and price increases. The Minister spoke about using reserves, but the authority will have none by the beginning of next year. It has £700,000 in balances, which will be gobbled up in paying for pensions.

The authority is in a serious situation, and many of these elements have been ignored by the Home Office in arriving at the assessments. People in Northumbria, like people everywhere, deserve proper police protection, and many in my constituency feel that they are not getting that. The sad thing is that they tend to blame the police constable on the beat, the sergeant, the inspector or even the chief constable, and, eventually, the police authority, when they become aware that there is one running the police affairs, when the blame lies with the Home Office.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam 1:11 am, 8th February 1988

I agree with the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), although 1 shall not go for the throat of my hon. Friend the Minister. An argument is being waged between the Home Office and the Department of the Environment about £500,000. One says that South Yorkshire fire service has the money, and the other says that it is sure that it has, but neither of them can find the money. The situation is not as grim as the hon. Gentleman tried to make out. Damnation and fire are not surging through all of South Yorkshire, but cash is needed. There is a shortfall of £500,000. Thanks to the water authority, which has great powers on maintenance, £200,000 of that has been found, so the shortfall now is £300,000.

My argument is not about how the fire brigade operates in South Yorkshire, or about how good it is, because the capital fund allowed for South Yorkshire is quite good. The problem arises solely from the discrepancy of £500,000. I should welcome an opportunity to come to a meeting with representatives from the two Departments to see whether this can be sorted out and ways found to retrieve the £300,000, which should leave South Yorkshire with a fire brigade of which it can be proud.

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West 1:13 am, 8th February 1988

The Minister has not given a satisfactory answer to West Yorkshire. Why must our ratepayers be obliged to pay almost twice as much as people in other comparable authorities for a broadly similar level of service, not only this year but in the year before and the year before that? As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) said, both the Home Secretary and the Home Office seem unwilling to acknowledge that, in our case, the police authority's reasonable request for a small increase in precept—to 16·5p—to preserve a realistic balance, cannot be met, in view of the circumstances. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about the request for the authorities to be cut, if not abolished. What is the strategy for the next few years, and what are the Government's hopes and intentions? I hope that he will come clean tonight.

There is an underlying political strategy. The Government, through the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, are setting up local authorities in a cynical, political budget manoevre. They want to demonstrate that for the three years of rate capping, the precept was reduced each year. Then, as the authorities are released from that constraint in 1989–90, those reductions will mean that they have to increase their precepts substantially, which will be a massive burden on their ratepayers. They will have to pay the price at a politically sensitive time as we go into the next general election. Service levels can be maintained only by increasing the precept at this stage, or ratepayers will have to pay the price in future.

If the Minister holds his ground and says that he cannot increase the precept, will he tell us what he expects to be the future levels of services in those authorities?

Photo of Dr John Blackburn Dr John Blackburn , Dudley West 1:16 am, 8th February 1988

So many hon. Members want to contribute to the debate that I shall be brief—

Photo of Dr John Blackburn Dr John Blackburn , Dudley West

Their policy ends at 10 o'clock.

Although the debate has been centred on Yorkshire, there is a serious problem in the west midlands. Like all hon. Members who serve constituencies there, I have a responsibility to say a few words, especially about the precept for the police authority.

It is almost immoral for the Home Secretary to determine that there should be an inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombings, and then to invite the West Midlands police authority to pick up the bill for £600,000. I know that part of that sum is still under debate, and the problem may well be resolved. However, it is unfair of the Secretary of State to order an inquiry and then expect the police authority to pick up the bill.

When reading the chief constable's annual report,, I was horrified to note that 1,100 police officers in the west midlands had been wounded or assaulted during the past year, resulting in the loss of 7,000 days of police duty. The Home Secretary should address himself to such facts, and ensure that we obtain value for money and that we protect the police service.

I unashamedly tell the House that, for the past eight years, I have had the privilege of being the parliamentary adviser to 90,000 members of the National Association of Retired Police Officers. The Home Office should not point a finger and claim that the problems have arisen because so many police officers have retired. No one in society pays more for his pension than a serving police officer. The way that the matter was handled bordered on the disgraceful. In August 1982, by statutory instrument and without debate, and when the House was in recess, the pension levels were increased from 7 per cent. to 11 per cent. for male officers, and up to 7 per cent. for female officers.

I do not want to hear any arguments about pensions. They are well paid for and well supplied. The Minister must leave an avenue open to review responsible, reasoned argument that is based on fact. I hope that he will give such an assurance to the House.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield 1:19 am, 8th February 1988

At 7 o'clock in the morning of 13 July last year, the Under-Secretary of State, the then Labour spokesperson, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and I were the only people in the House debating the issue. It took from 13 July until last Monday for the Home Office to respond and to meet to discuss the discrepancies between the maximum expenditure limits set by the Home Office and the grant-related expenditure assessments set by the Department of the Environment. The Home Office has lost out in the battle between the two Departments on the issue. All through the summer, meetings between the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Departments were cancelled and were agreed only at the last minute following the King's Cross disaster. This was because the Department of the Environment has been intransigent and has not made the necessary changes that the Minister knows are necessary to get rid of such discrepancies.

The precept is the difference between what the Home Office says that fire authorities need to provide the services set down by its own inspectorate and what the Department of the Environment is prepared to give in grant-related expenditure assessments. That is the reality. Tragically—it has not been debated so far—in London, not a single penny will go to the fire authority in the nation's capital. Because of that, 800 firemen's jobs are at risk, months after the King's Cross fire disaster. That is the reality of the terrible decision that will be made tonight and of the Home Secretary giving in to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

It is no good Conservative Members parroting on to the local press. They have had all summer to get the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment to change his mind. They have done nothing. They come to the Chamber tonight to try to give some support. It is too late. The decisions have been made. If they are honest, the only thing that they can do is to go into the Lobby and vote against the proposal.

The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) made two remarks. It is a pity that he does not communicate with the fire and civil defence authority in Greater Manchester. The changes in communications at fire service and police service headquarters in Greater Manchester were done at their request and with 100 per cent. Home Office funding. The Home Office is so pleased with the savings that have been made by both authorities that, on a regular basis, the fire and police authorities receive requests from other authorities to show them through their facilities. Authorities in Manchester are saving ratepayers' resources.

Stockport borough council's three representatives on the fire authority agreed with the fire authority and voted for the resolution that maximum expenditure limits as affected by GREA are wrong and impose an unnecessary burden on ratepayers and distort what is required. If the hon. Gentleman cannot support his local authority and local ratepayers, he should not be here. Maybe after the general election he will not be.

There is no evidence that the Home Office can produce to show — in accepting the Department of the Environment's analysis of places such as west Yorkshire, whose precept has been doubled—that there is anything like a doubling of services to ratepayers. Millions of pounds are being siphoned from ratepayers as a consequence of the decision.

It is also true that Merseyside in the north-west will be substantially short of what is required. Already, there are discussions about whether there will be job losses for front-line fire-fighters. The Home Office sets the number of front-line fire-fighters, the level of expenditure for firefighters, the number of fire stations in each fire authority area and the ridership factor. Such matters have been determined not by the fire authority but by the Home Office.

They are monitored by the Home Office's inspectorate. It is on the basis of monitoring exercises that the Home Office sets the maximum expenditure limit. If the Home Secretary is not prepared to include those figures in the order, it means that he is not prepared to back his own Department, which set out the expenditure required in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and London. Because of the vagaries of the grant-related expenditure assessment, made by a Department that is not responsible for fire services in the United Kingdom, the authorities and their ratepayers will suffer. They will face both an increase in precept and a reduction in services. That is totally unacceptable.

The King's Cross inquiry is already discussing a clear link between the cut in investment and the provision of fire services. It is astonishing that no London Conservative Member has been prepared to put the case that if the order is passed, not a penny of Government grant will be made available to the capital of the United Kingdom for its fire authority.

If the Home Office has said that this year £370,608,000 is necessary to run the basic fire services in the United Kingdom, why do Conservative Members support the figure of £315,073,000 produced by the Department of the Environment? That represents a cut in grant of nearly £58 million, simply because the Home Secretary could not stand up for the fire authorities. I ask Conservative Members to go into the Lobby to vote this disgraceful decision down.

Photo of Mr David Bevan Mr David Bevan , Birmingham, Yardley 1:26 am, 8th February 1988

I should like to add my voice to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) and other hon. Members who asked for a more liberal allowance —more liberalisation, if we have to use the word after 10 o'clock—to be made in the precept. I have been along with other hon. Members to see Ministers at the Home Office and have made representations. I have used the summer in trying to argue the case, as a previous speaker advised.

I have already instanced the extreme rise in crime in the centre of the land—the west midlands—and I shall not go over the figures again. They are well known. Therefore, I shall only repeat the words of the chief constable, who feels that policing is almost impossible if the precept is kept down to its present level. Even if £2·4 million from the balances is used in the west midlands, a precept of 14·36p will be required. Even if the police live off capital to that extent, leaving only £1·8 million in the kitty for real emergencies, they will still be well adrift on the figures. They still await the 350 extra officers and civilian personnel whom they need.

It is true that the situation in the west midlands is unique. We are an inland port and an area of immigration with relentless drug-related crime causing more and more resort to the knife and other weapons. It is no good Home Office Ministers simply ignoring those factors and adopting an arbitrary figure without explaining why. My conscience demands that I speak. I cannot remain silent.

There are many pressing matters. The increased demands caused by community watch, the Firearms Act 1982, the pub bombings, drug-related crimes and the repercussions of the Handsworth riots are such that, quite frankly, this precept restriction is out of order and I ask my hon. Friend and the Home Office to think again.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South 1:30 am, 8th February 1988

The mysteries and intricacies of central Government funding, local government and the police authorities are often beyond the likes of myself and, one suspects, people who are allegedly financially competent. However, although our constituents may not always understand the intricacies, they will see the end product and it is that which they will judge, not the clever words that may claim how much more money is being spent when, in reality, the quality of service is being impaired.

What is readily understandable to my constituents and, I suspect, to the constituents of many hon. Members who are present, is that when one telephones the police, they may not come, or if they come, they come late. The detection rate of the police is, regrettably, very low. Shopkeepers will tell us that they are finding it difficult or impossible to get insurance cover because their shops have been damaged so often that no insurance company will insure them. It is horrendous to discover how few police officers are on duty at some times of the day and night.

When hon. Members look round their own towns and cities, they are more likely to find a Securicor vehicle than a police vehicle because the vacuum that has been left by the Government is being filled by non-accountable private security companies. That is taking us back to the 19th century, prior to the establishment of the modern police system. That is the end product. One finds blocks of council flats being guarded by security officers. I am talking not about Park lane flats but about ordinary council flats. Such is the growth in crime.

It is difficult for me to talk about the growth in crime without being accused of sensationalising, but that growth is obvious to most of us here. The word consensus has almost left the English vocabulary but if there is a near consensus, surely it is that most areas are underpoliced. While one can make political capital out of the position, I make the point that this is not exclusively a political issue. It affects us all because in one way or another we are the guardians of the public interest; it is our job to reflect public anxiety.

A few months ago many Members of Parliament, representing the west midlands area attended a meeting in the House, at which we met the chairmen of the police consultative committees—bodies that were set up by the Government to reflect public opinion. They did so and expressed, rationally, the alarming developments of crime in their own areas.

My own town took about 1,000 years to reach the level of recorded crime that was reached in 1979, but in a few years that figure has doubled from 11,000 to 22,000 recorded crimes. At the same time, the number of police officers has risen fractionally, by 23, but the amount of overtime worked has fallen dramatically and considerably. I would argue that there are now fewer police officers on duty in the town of Walsall than there were a few years ago while, as has been said, the police are now faced with problems that they were not facing several years ago, such as drug-related offences, terrorism and football hooliganism, and as another hon. Member has said, crime watch schemes impose additional demands and problems.

When the West Midlands Police authority asked the Government for additional resources, it was given the cold shoulder. The West Midlands authority asked for £95·481 million to allow for a reasonable increase of 350 police officers and 150 civilians. That is equivalent to a 14·87p increase in precept terms. The Secretary of State for the Home Department imposed a limit of £93·4 million. That does not cover even existing commitments.

The Home Office has been twisting the arms of police authorities to make them more efficient. In my constituency the establishment of administrative support units, the use of computers to greater effect and greater civilianisation have all been to the liking of the Home Office. The consequences of the cut imposed on the West Midlands police authority are that from next year the administrative support unit concept will come to an end, as will the computerisation and the civilianisation programmes.

Photo of Mr Dennis Turner Mr Dennis Turner , Wolverhampton South East

How could my hon. Friend reconcile what he said about Government policy towards the west midlands in regard to the precept, when the most recently recorded figures for Wolverhampton show the highest number of crimes committed in the history of that area? Does my hon. Friend agree that when the party in Government is supposed to be the party of law and order, those figures are a disgrace? Government policy is a betrayal of the people whom I represent in Wolverhampton in the way in which they have treated us in the precept that we are debating.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

The picture that my hon. Friend has painted of his part of the west midlands is replicated throughout Britain. When an authority seeks to be prudent and to build up adequate reserves, it is punished. The West Midlands police authority has been landed with a large bill for the Birmingham pub bombings inquiry and has been lumbered with compensation payments amounting to £1 million in respect of the Handsworth riots three years ago. There are additional demands based on incidents such as those that occurred in my hon. Friend's town a couple of years ago. When there are reserves, they can be dissipated very swiftly.

This is not a partisan point, but the Government must recognise that more police officers are required. I understand that only a few hundred extra officers have been appointed. Many authorities will be putting a strong case for the majority of those police officers. The economy is now booming. If people were asked whether they would prefer a small income tax cut or feel more secure in their homes, I suggest that the vast majority would prefer the latter, at least in the area that I represent, and perhaps in the constituencies of other hon. Members.

I am asking Ministers for more police officers in our constituencies. The Government will be judged by their failure to react adequately to the growth in crime. I hope that Conservative Members will not simply exercise their consciences, but will translate that exercise into voting with us in the Lobby. Otherwise, their constituents will be rushing to them and asking for more police officers. If they read their local papers, Conservative Members will make the appropriate judgment.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington 1:39 am, 8th February 1988

When constituents come to my surgeries they ask for more policemen so that they can walk safely on the streets at night. Small shopkeepers ask for more protection for their property. They know full well that they are not being provided with that protection because there are not enough policemen. They also know that the result of this debate will be even fewer policemen. They understand, however, which party has spoken up on their behalf.

The Minister speaks with a forked tongue. Tonight he is supporting a charter for increased crime in the areas that I represent. The situation in the Northumbria police authority will grow worse. The number of reported crimes per police officer is greater in Northumbria than anywhere else. It is 50 per cent. above the comparative number in the Metropolitan police area.

Northumbria needs an additional 1,700 police officers. If one uses as a measure the number of serious offences recorded by each police officer, Northumbria needs 800 more police officers. Northumbria has carried out an important exercise that shows that it cannot manage without an additional 529 police officers. The Minister will be unable to satisfy that demand if expenditure levels remain as they are now.

My constituents will understand that this debate has resulted in their being given not more but less protection. When they come to my surgeries they will be told why. Unless Conservative Members join us in the Lobby and vote against the order, their words will be shown to have been meaningless.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth 1:41 am, 8th February 1988

The Home Office says that South Yorkshire needs 1,114 full-time firemen. Has the Minister any evidence to suggest that the Home Office is wrong? If he accepts that the Home Office is right, will he not assure us that South Yorkshire will have enough money to employ that number of full-time firemen and the appliances they need so that they are able to do their job on a full-time and professional basis? The House is entitled to an answer to that simple question.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 144, Noes 61.

Division No. 171][1.45 am
AYES
Alexander, RichardBoswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBottomley, Peter
Allason, RupertBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, AlanBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arbuthnot, JamesBowis, John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Brazier, Julian
Ashby, DavidBright, Graham
Atkinson, DavidBurns, Simon
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Burt, Alistair
Baldry, TonyCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, SpencerCarrington, Matthew
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Carttiss, Michael
Boscawen, Hon RobertCash, William
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaMorrison, Hon Sir Charles
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Moss, Malcolm
Couchman, JamesNeubert, Michael
Cran, JamesNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Currie, Mrs EdwinaNicholls, Patrick
Davis, David (Boothferry)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Dover, DenNicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Durant, TonyPage, Richard
Emery, Sir PeterPaice, James
Fairbairn, NicholasPatnick, Irvine
Favell, TonyPatten, John (Oxford W)
Garel-Jones, TristanPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Gill, ChristopherPorter, David (Waveney)
Gow, IanPortillo, Michael
Greenway, John (Rydale)Powell, William (Corby)
Gregory, ConalRaffan, Keith
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Redwood, John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Riddick, Graham
Harris, DavidRowe, Andrew
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyRyder, Richard
Hay ward, RobertSackville, Hon Tom
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidSainsbury, Hon Tim
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hind, KennethShaw, David (Dover)
Holt, RichardShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Speed, Keith
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Speller, Tony
Hunter, AndrewSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Irvine, MichaelStern, Michael
Jack, MichaelStevens, Lewis
Janman, TimothyStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyStradling Thomas, Sir John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Summerson, Hugo
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Knapman, RogerTemple-Morris, Peter
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Knowles, MichaelThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Latham, MichaelThurnham, Peter
Lawrence, IvanTwinn, Dr Ian
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Waddington, Rt Hon David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkWalden, George
Lightbown, DavidWaller, Gary
Lilley, PeterWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Warren, Kenneth
Lord, MichaelWatts, John
Lyell, Sir NicholasWells, Bowen
Maclean, DavidWheeler, John
Malins, HumfreyWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Mans, KeithWilshire, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Maude, Hon FrancisWinterton, Nicholas
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWood, Timothy
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Mills, IainTellers for the Ayes:
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Mr. Alan Howarth and
Mitchell, David (Hants NW)Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
NOES
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Dewar, Donald
Barron, KevinDixon, Don
Battle, JohnFatchett, Derek
Boyes, RolandGeorge, Bruce
Bradley, KeithGolding, Mrs Llin
Buckley, GeorgeHardy, Peter
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Henderson, Douglas
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Illsley, Eric
Clay, BobLeadbitter, Ted
Clelland, DavidLewis, Terry
Cohen, HarryLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Corbett, RobinMcAvoy, Tom
Cryer, BobMcCartney, Ian
Cummings, J.McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Madden, Max
Mahon, Mrs AliceRogers, Allan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Short, Clare
Martlew, EricSkinner, Dennis
Meale, AlanSnape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Strang, Gavin
Mowlam, MarjorieThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Nellist, DaveTurner, Dennis
O'Brien, WilliamWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
O'Neill, MartinWise, Mrs Audrey
Parry, RobertWray, James
Patchett, Terry
Pike, PeterTellers for the Noes:
Prescott JohnMr. Frank Haynes and
Primarolo, Ms DawnMr. Ray Powell.
Redmond, Martin

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Local Government Act 1985 (Police and Fire and Civil Defence Authorities) Precepts Limitation Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 28th January, be approved.