That is most regrettable. The Minister will be aware that to avoid being poll-tax capped, West Yorkshire police have fixed their budget in accordance with the tender criteria of the Department of the Environment. Is he aware that as a result, now, only two months into this financial year, there are vacancies for 66 police officers, 15 traffic wardens, 95 civilian staff and one assistant chief constable in that force and that those vacancies cannot be filled? It is anticipated that by the end of the financial year, there will be a staff shortage in that force of 500, both police and civilian. Considering the 27 per cent. increase in crime last year and an anticipated similar increase this year, surely the Home Secretary has an obligation to intervene and assist that authority in attempting to avoid a breakdown in law and order in West Yorkshire.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my noble Friend the Minister responsible for the police gave the various metropolitan authorities written advice that they should maintain their police strength at the authorised establishment level. Even if the resultant budgets had then exceeded the provisional capping criteria, it would not have led to automatic capping. Each budget is examined on its merits and West Yorkshire would have been capped only if there were scope for savings or greater efficiency in other areas of its operation. That clear message was sent from my right hon. Friend with the full agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I am sorry that the West Yorkshire authority did not take heed of that advice.
Is the Minister aware that I have in my possession a letter from a superintendent of the West Yorkshire police, in which he says that staffing difficulties facing the police may have had a bearing on the difficulties that arose in the investigation of a crime referred to me in a complaint by a constituent? Is he further aware that the letter also states that unless action is taken to resolve the financial difficulties of West Yorkshire police as a matter or urgency, the situation can only get worse? Is it not indicative of the seriousness of the situation that a police superintendent puts such comments in a letter to a Member of Parliament? When will the Minister act on this issue and treat it as seriously as it deserves?
Obviously, I am not aware of that letter, as the hon. Gentleman did not send it to me. There may be cases in West Yorkshire where there are problems caused by a manpower shortage because the authority did not heed the advice of my right hon. Friend to bring the numbers up to the level of the establishment that he recommended.