I have no plans to meet COSLA to discuss levels of police manpower, which are primarily the responsibility of individual police authorities. The allocation of resources to particular policing priorities is for the chief constable. I pay specific grant on all net expenditure by police authorities. Uniformed police strength has risen by 9 per cent. since 1979.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my police authority, Strathclyde regional council, consistently undermans the force by, on average, 200 policemen? In view of the Conservative party's manifesto pledge, when will my right hon. Friend make minimum police levels mandatory?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that the Strathclyde police are substantially below establishment. The authority could recruit 258 new officers and still be within establishment. My hon. Friend is right also to draw attention to the Government's commitment at the last election to take the earliest possible legislative opportunity to enforce statutory requirements to bring establishments up to full complement.
It is clear from the Secretary of State's answer that he offers only apathy where we desperately need action. Is he aware that in Paisley, in the past five months alone, there have been six murders, 50 serious assaults, 27 incidents involving guns and 33 hold-ups involving knives? Why is it that, every time I write to the Scottish Office on that subject, the right hon. Gentleman dodges his responsibility for police funding and passes the buck to everyone else? When will he stop blaming other people and dodging the question and take action to get police back on the streets?
Not only do we now pay a higher proportion of specific grant than the last Labour Government, but we have increased spending in real terms on the police by 52 per cent. I urge the hon. Gentleman as a Member of Parliament from the Strathclyde region to urge that local authority to increase its police force to full establishment.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it might not come amiss from those who were most energetic and slavish in advocating the poll tax to show a little humility in considering its consequences for local authorities? Will he give practical support to Strathclyde's efforts to civilianise many jobs, which would release police officers for the work that they should do? Will the right hon. Gentleman welcome the high-profile approach adopted by Strathclyde police during a recent weekend in Glasgow city centre? Does he recognise the widespread fear and concern that exist over the trebling of knife-carrying? Will he explain why I have had no response to my approaches to the previous Lord Advocate or the present one about the urgent need for legislative action to deal with this critical problem? When will we get action instead of fancy words?
I did not notice the hon. Gentleman supporting our proposal during the general election campaign to bring in legislation on knives. He need be in no doubt that we are determined to fight the increase in crime, especially crimes of violence and those involving offensive weapons. We shall strengthen the powers of the police as necessary.