I understand from the chief constable that the 1998–99 budget for West Mercia constabulary contained financial provision for 2,067 police officers and 1,065 civilian support staff. The 1999–2000 budget contains provision for 2,063 police officers and 1,072 support staff. The chief constable appears to have concluded that he can best deliver levels of service with slightly fewer officers and slightly more support staff.
Frankly, that was a disgraceful answer. Clearly, it is not true to say that that is the chief constable's decision. It is purely a result of the fact that the Government have not properly resourced police forces in this financial year. The settlement figure for West Mercia is 2.8 per cent., which clearly does not cover the police pay settlement and all the other things that the police have to do to conform with the Government's legislation.
Having admitted that disgraceful fact, will the Minister answer a question that applies to the future and not the present day? Changes will be made to the national emergency call centre in the West Mercia area. As a result, 90 police constables may well find that their posts become redundant. In the light of that dreadful answer, will he assure us that the complement will not be reduced and that those constables will be redeployed in the area, so that my constituents can look forward to having police on the beat rather than their being cut because of the inadequate resources provided by the Government?
Oh dear! The Tory leader and shadow Chancellor call for cuts in taxes and spending, but Back Benchers call for more spending. It is no wonder that two Tory parties are fighting the European election. The hon. Lady might have joined me in congratulating Peter
Hanson, the new chief constable. Let us consider the answer that she described as disgraceful in the light of the Conservative research department's 1995 publication, which states:
Central government controls on manpower numbers and capital expenditure have been scrapped by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994—a change for which chief constables had been calling for some years. Decisions about resources will in future be made by police authorities and chief constables. This reform commanded all-party support.
The Conservative party supported that and put it through. She should not now complain about what her Government did.