Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Police

– in the House of Commons at 1:21 pm on 3rd February 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 1:21 pm, 3rd February 2000

I beg to move, That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2000–01: (HC 169), which was laid before this House on 27th January, be approved.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion: That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 1998–99: Amending Report 2000–01 (HC 170), which was laid before this House on 27th January, be approved.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

May I begin by welcoming to his place the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald)? I congratulate him on his promotion. I am sure that his skills as a barrister will strengthen the Home Office Opposition team, and I welcome his contribution to the debate. I am not sure whether he intends to announce any dramatic switch in policy, or make a U-turn of the sort that the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) made in Treasury questions earlier today, but I look forward to some significant shifts in position.

Since I was appointed to my post at the Home Office last July, I have had the opportunity to meet many chief constables, visit many of their forces and speak to officers of all ranks. I intend to visit many more over the next few months. I have been exceptionally impressed with the professionalism and dedication of officers of all ranks in forces throughout the country. It has been genuinely inspirational for me to see the way in which many forces are looking at new and creative ways of reducing crime in their neighbourhoods, and the courage and dedication with which they do their work. I am sure that all hon. Members share my respect, and I think that it is an important moment for us to place on record our appreciation of the work that the police do.

As part of the consultation on the settlement, I have held discussions, both oral and written, with a wide variety of chief constables, police authorities and Members of Parliament. I have received delegations—

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that one of the representations that he received was on behalf of the rural forces, particularly in Lincolnshire, to the effect that the Government should implement the external report received in May 1999, which would give the Lincolnshire authority some £2 million more, or the equivalent of 50 officers? When will the Government implement the report produced by the external consultants, O.R.H Ltd?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am coming to that in detail in my speech. I confirm that, earlier in my tenure, I met a delegation of representatives from the rural authorities—including my own in Norfolk—which are concerned with sparsity. I know that the role of the Lincolnshire police authority in particular in co-ordinating that group is important. However, the clerk of the Lincolnshire authority has recently made public statements and stepped a bit out of line of the consensus of all the forces in that group. My advice to the group is to stick together in what they say rather than following individual public relations initiatives. However, the issue is very serious, and I will address it in detail in a moment.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

North Wales police are terribly concerned about the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) because they are losing £1.9 million in grant aid. I do not know what representations the Minister has had from that force, but I am sure that it did not agree to the formula and to the effective shelving of an extremely important report. North Wales police are receiving an effective £1.5 million increase in the standard spending assessment, which implies that they are in some way inefficient. Will the Minister tell us what those inefficiencies are, assuming that he has held conversations with senior officers?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I accept entirely that North Wales police are affected by the sparsity considerations, to which I shall come shortly. The same is true of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Sixteen forces are working together on that issue, which is a perfectly reasonable one for discussion. I can confirm that there is no comment on efficiency in the settlement published today.

I wish to discuss the Government's spending plans across the board. The Government's overall spending plans for the police over the next three years were announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, following the comprehensive spending review. Under our plans, there will be an extra £1.24 billion for the police service in England and Wales between 1999 and 2002. For 2000–01, the total amount of police authority spending to which the Government are prepared to contribute their share of funding will be £7.35 billion. This amount is known as total standard spending. That represents an increase of £212 million or around 3 per cent. over 1999–2000.

Under our present plans, spending on the police will increase by a further 4 per cent. in 2001–02. Those sums represent a real-terms increase, albeit modest, in police spending, which police forces have welcomed.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the Minister for his kind comments about me.

Has the Minister read the comments of the Association of Police Authorities on the 2000–01 settlement? The association makes it clear that funding from central Government is increasing by just 2.8 per cent. in cash terms, while revenue expenditure will have to increase by more than £300 million just to stand still. Where is the real-terms increase to which the Minister has referred?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I have read those comments and have discussed them at length with the organisations concerned. I shall come to specific points later in my speech, but I shall of course be happy to take further interventions from the hon. Gentleman if I may clarify specific points.

The Government's spending plans take no account of a variety of additional funding arrangements for the police. First, we have announced a new crime fighting fund, part of which will be used to recruit 5,000 police officers over and above the number that forces would otherwise have recruited over the three years from April 2000. Some £35 million will be allocated to meet costs in 2000–01 under the challenge fund. Additional funding will be available in the next two years. That is new money. All forces have made bids for it, and I pay tribute to the quality of those bids. The results of the process will be announced very soon.

There will be more new money in 2000–01 and 2001–02 to complete our pledge. The House will appreciate, however, that I cannot confirm cash figures ahead of the 2000 spending review. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a public commitment to provide necessary additional funding to follow his initiative through, and we shall stick to our promise.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The Minister knows that I shall not oversimplify police funding, but I am concerned by what he has said about additional spending. Many complex arithmetical relationships can be found in the formulas contained in the papers for this debate, but the major cause of crime to which chief constables—particularly mine in Humberside—draw attention is drugs. Several police authorities, including Humberside and Merseyside, face particular drugs threats because they have ports that are points of access. Does any of the additional expenditure deal with that problem? Historically, Governments—the present Government and, I am sorry to say, their predecessor—have made false economies by cutting down on Customs, which puts a greater burden on the police. We should put that right.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and correct point; I wholly acknowledge it. At this stage, I shall not embark on a general discussion of drugs, although he is right to highlight—as does his chief constable—the fantastic impact of drugs on crime rates. We must be better geared up to hit that problem.

Under the ring-fenced funding for the crime fighting fund for front-line policing to help in our crusade, we asked forces to examine three aspects to which we would give special consideration. The first was the problem of policing in rural areas; we realise that particular factors bear on that—I shall return to them later.

The second was the need to increase the profile of policing—to ensure that the officers appointed were not simply sitting in police stations, but had a visible presence in their communities. The third, which relates to the right hon. Gentleman's point, was the need for police in particular crime hot spots. There is evidence that such hot spots exist in certain areas covered by particular forces—the ports problem described by the right hon. Gentleman is a good example. I cannot recall whether the Humberside bid focused on the policing implications at ports where drugs were coming into the country. However, that was the type of problem that our initiative was intended to address.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My question is about the overall figures. Does the Minister agree that, in real terms—taking inflation into account but without adding the amount for police pensions—there was no increase during the first year of the Labour Government, but a 0.8 per cent. decrease? Does he further agree that, for the second year—the current year—the increase was 0.3 per cent., and that for next year, as he has announced, the increase will be 0.2 per cent? By the end of next year, there will have been a real-terms reduction over the first three years of the Labour Government of the money allocated to police grants. The crime fighting fund money—£35 million—does not change that fact; I shall return to that point later. Does the Minister agree that the first three years of the Labour Government will have seen a real-terms decrease in Government grant for policing in England and Wales?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

It is perfectly reasonable to consider under overall expenditure the points that I am outlining about funding that is additional to the police grant. The crime fighting fund was the first point that I mentioned. It is not possible to consider the resources available to the police without taking into account, for example, the £35 million for 5,000 officers this year.

The hon. Gentleman is correct to note that, during the first two years of the Labour Government, we decided to accept the spending limits that we had inherited; it was part of our policy, we made it public and it was the subject of political disagreement. That policy led to the figure of minus 0.8 per cent. in the first year. As we moved out of that period, from April 1999, we planned to increase the amounts—the increases are those that he described.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

May I take my hon. Friend back to the question put by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis)? The question applies not only to the policing of ports, where there may be drugs problems, but to areas that have suffered significant reductions in the size of their police force. For example, in Merseyside there has been a reduction of almost 500 posts during the past five years—most of that reduction took place under the previous Government. When my hon. Friend distributes the assets from his crime fighting fund, will he pay special attention to the areas that suffered the greatest reduction in their forces over the past five years?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

We have done that. That is why the bidding documents asked for detailed information for each force on recruitment patterns and other similar factors. The short answer is that we shall take full account of what has happened in particular forces when we decide on the allocation of the money. As I pointed out, we shall make an announcement on that matter shortly.

I was talking about the crime fighting fund for the 5,000 extra police officers.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is it not true that there will be no extra officers, as the Police Federation pointed out? Throughout the country, the number of police officers has been slashed, is being slashed and will continue to fall.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

This is a familiar debate. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman, in reading himself into his brief, is fully abreast of the facts.

The fact is that the fund will be used—as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear when he announced it on 30 September—to recruit 5,000 police officers over and above the number forces would otherwise have recruited over the next three years from April 2000. That is clear.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

As the Police Federation makes clear in this month's review, the number of police officers will fall by 1,000 over the three-year period. Is that not so?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

No, it is not. We seem to be talking at cross purposes. If I can help the hon. Gentleman, I shall do so. Police forces are setting about recruiting and they face all the normal difficulties that arise in trying to find police officers. We are providing funding for an extra 5,000 police officers to be recruited over the next three years. As that process goes on, as in any other profession, people will leave the service for a variety of reasons. Therefore, our conclusions as to how many police officers there will be after one, two, three, five or however many years depend on the interrelationship between the two factors.

We can try to inhibit—we are trying to inhibit in a variety of ways—the number of people who leave the police service. However, it is more important to put money into increasing the number who can be recruited. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the crime fighting fund last September. The decision was to go for 5,000 over and above what would otherwise have been recruited.

As several organisations, including the Police Federation, have done, it is perfectly possible to speculate on the pattern that will emerge over the next two or three years. Therefore, the point of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is a perfectly appropriate one to make. However, I do not accept his figures. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made clear, there is every reason to believe that our decision will lead to an increase in the number of police officers over the next three years.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the arguments about figures, the ultimate test for the public will be the figures for actual crime? The chief superintendent of Northampton says that crime … is reducing and the clear-up rate is increasing which in stark terms means there are less victims and more offenders being dealt with this year. He attaches the figures to that statement. Crime reduction will ultimately be the public's test of the effectiveness of the Government's policies.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Crime figures are the key test and crime reduction is our key target. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said to the House shortly before Christmas, we are establishing clear targets for vehicle crime, for burglaries, for violent crime and for drugs offences. Targets will be set for each force in the country, and I hope that we shall shortly be able to give further details on precisely how those targets have worked through, following consultation with the police forces.

I wish to make progress on a few of the other points that I want to emphasise. In particular, I wish to deal with the sparsity factor, a matter that was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). It is a serious issue that concerns many Members on both sides of the House.

In addition to the crime fighting fund, we have a crime reduction programme. We are pursuing a range of interrelated initiatives to reduce crime and to reduce the fear of crime. Some £400 million over three years is allocated through the crime reduction programme, including £150 million for closed circuit television schemes and £50 million to protect 2 million homes most at risk from burglary.

I announced last month that more than 180 CCTV schemes are to receive £33 million of Government funding as part of the package, which is the largest single allocation of CCTV money to date. So far, almost 220 CCTV projects nationwide have now been awarded £39 million under this initiative, and I know from comments from Members on both sides of the House how welcome CCTV schemes have been in their constituencies.

CCTV plays a crucial role in helping the police tackle crime and disorder and in reducing the fear of crime. It is extra eyes and ears for the police and it will greatly improve the quality of life for local residents and help to regenerate some of our most vulnerable communities. In the next few weeks, we shall publish the new guidelines to spend the balance of the CCTV money and one aspect of those guidelines will give particular encouragement to CCTV schemes covering rural areas. I have seen several positive schemes where those in a central control room can look at pictures from villages up to 20 or 30 miles away and can immediately communicate with the police. They are positive developments, and we want to encourage them in the guidelines.

On other funding initiatives, we are providing £11 million to fund security measures to help reduce crime and fear of crime among low-income pensioners who are most at risk from burglary. We are providing £30 million for targeted policing, £34 million over two years to expand the national DNA database and £50 million in the new radio communications system for the police. All that is new money. With those initiatives we are demonstrating, over and above our commitment to the police grant, our commitment to extra funding that offers support for the police and local agencies, and our determination to tackle crime and disorder in rural and urban areas.

The settlement for 2000–01 also takes into account the Home Secretary's commitment to improve efficiency in the police service during this Parliament. Last year, we set a year-on-year target of 2 per cent. for efficiency improvements in the police service.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister mentioned additional funds that are available. I hope that he will also consider the additional costs that need to be taken into account. Greater Manchester police have received a real-terms increase of 0.26 per cent. this year, but that is set against a police pay settlement—which is welcome—of 3.6 per cent.; additional costs for the police national computer of nearly £1 million; and an increase in the national crime squad and National Criminal Intelligence Service levies of 7 per cent. and 26 per cent. respectively. There are massive cost increases that far outstrip the additional money available. Does that not make it inevitable that the number of police officers will fall even further?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

That is certainly not inevitable. Of course costs rise; that is the nature of life, as most hon. Members will know. I need to place on record that the figures that the hon. Gentleman quoted for the NCS and the NCIS are not correct. They are from an earlier bid, and the final precept will be lower. I simply put that on record so that the hon. Gentleman does not inadvertently mislead the House.

Many police forces have written to me to say that they do not support the amount of money going to the NCS and the NCIS, and are worried about the public safety radio communications project, to which I shall turn in a moment. Those are all competing issues, but my view is that investing in the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the national crime squad is an important means of tackling major international organised crime. That includes drugs crime, which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) mentioned, which needs to be tackled by better intelligence and co-ordination between forces. That merits those increases in investment.

The inspectorate's assessment of the efficiency plans submitted by police forces for 1999–2000 is that the police service is on line to deliver the 2 per cent. efficiency gains required by the comprehensive spending review. Gains will be reinvested in front-line policing, and go some way to answering the point about costs made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). Plans are being developed by police forces and authorities to deliver a further 2 per cent. efficiency gain in 2000–01. We estimate that efficiency gains could total around £440 million over three years.

I turn now to the details of next year's funding settlement. For 2000–01, we propose to set considerable store by stability in the grant system to help police authorities to plan ahead. We shall not therefore make any changes to the method of police grant distribution for 2000–01, so there will be no substantive changes to the operation of the police funding formula for next year. There will limited changes; for example, to accommodate force boundary changes.

The issues that I shall address in explaining that position are as follows: sparsity; the continuation of the old force establishment component in the formula; the cost of the new national radio communications service, a subject that was raised by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West; the cost of police pensions and the cost of security, matters that have been raised with me by several forces. I do not want anyone to think that I am not addressing the issues that hon. Members have raised.

I need first to report on force boundary changes; 1 April will mark a major step in our programme of aligning criminal justice boundaries when we bring the boundaries of the Metropolitan police district into line with those of the 32 London boroughs. That will make co-operation between the criminal justice agencies in Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey much more straightforward and will help our crime reduction partnership approach to be much more effective.

The four forces involved have worked closely with each other and the Home Office to ensure that a smooth transfer of responsibilities can take place in April. The allocation of money under the funding formula reflects the increased size, and hence policing need, of the three county forces. In the settlement, the Government have also recognised that, in preparing for the change, the three authorities will continue to incur additional costs next year.

The Government will therefore make special payments of grant in 2000–01 totalling £10 million, in recognition of the additional costs resulting from the changes to the Metropolitan police district boundaries. Essex will receive £1.25 million; Hertfordshire will receive £2.75 million; the Metropolitan police will receive £500,000; and Surrey will receive £5.5 million. Those payments are reflected in the grant report.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

The Minister has mentioned the variation in allowances because of the changes in the Metropolitan police boundary. He will understand that the Metropolitan police have lost areas in Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey. I understand that he is allowing an additional £500,000 to the Metropolitan police because of the adjustments that have to be made. Does not that figure depend on the numbers of people and the numbers of assets that have been transferred out of London? Will the hon. Gentleman think again about £500,000, which has left many parts of London that remain within the Metropolitan area, especially those nearest the areas affected, with some very difficult problems?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman, especially in respect of his constituency. It is in the position that he describes, being near the border. I shall talk about police funding and I shall consider the issue that he has raised, but it is important to pay genuine tribute to the co-operative way in which the Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey forces and the Metropolitan force have worked together in dealing with the difficult managerial issues that have been involved in the transition. It is not only kit that is involved, but people. Difficult issues have arisen and the individuals involved, from chief constables downwards, have used a great deal of creativity to try to minimise the problems that any change will bring so that policing in areas such as that represented by the hon. Gentleman will not be adversely affected.

I fully accept the point that has been made by many that the police funding formula is not sufficiently sophisticated or flexible to respond to the distinct characteristics and responsibilities of the Metropolitan police. It is for that reason that the Met receives a special payment of grant outside the funding formula. In recognition of the Met's specific needs, we have increased the level of the special payment from £151 million in 1998–99 to £176 million in 1999–2000, and to £182 in 2000–01. This is paid as a 100 per cent. Home Office grant and is not charged to London council tax payers. It is an acknowledgement of some of the problems referred to in the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I intervene specifically on London matters. We have seen the appointment of the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who has taken over this week. Will the Minister confirm that both the outgoing and incoming Commissioners have made the strongest representations to Ministers that, at the level at which the Met is funded for the foreseeable future, it is likely that there will be a considerable reduction in the numbers of people who are able to serve it, in both civilian and uniform capacities? The implication is that, if there is a wish to keep up the service, even though the numbers of police officers may be falling, the local authorities that will be precepted to raise money for the Met will see significant increases in the sums that they are asked to pass on to London taxpayers and ratepayers.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I can confirm that both the previous and current Commissioners have been strong and vigorous in making the case for proper funding for the London force, as they properly should. The Government believe that they have taken serious consideration of the representations that they have received, given the figures that I am announcing. The Metropolitan police, along with other forces, are bidding for resources from the crime fighting fund, for example. That, too, will help the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes. Sir John Stevens has already shown outstanding leadership in trying to address these issues. I think that we shall see significant changes, which will be welcome, certainly to all London Members.

The Metropolitan police service needs a reasonable budget increase to prevent significant reductions in police numbers in London. The proposed cash increase is not excessive, at about 2 per cent. above the comparable figure for 1999–2000. About 87 per cent. of MPS funding comes from central Government, with only about 13 per cent. accounted for by council tax. That is below the average of 15.2 per cent. for police authorities in Britain. The MPS is already on target to deliver efficiency savings of more than 2 per cent., which is around £35 million.

Another major development in policing in the next financial year will be the creation of a new police authority in London.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the Minister, who has been generous in giving way. Is it right that, by the end of March 2000, the Metropolitan police will be 400 officers under strength? If the hon. Gentleman can confirm that, will he explain why that is?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I cannot confirm at the Dispatch Box the specific figure to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, I can confirm, as I did earlier, that the Metropolitan police force is under serious pressure on numbers. There were substantial reductions during the final period of the Conservative Government—[Interruption.] There were substantial reductions under the last period of the Conservative Government, and the Metropolitan police is now trying to stabilise the position. That is precisely the subject of the conversations to which I referred earlier, between the Commissioner, the force and the Home Office.

Another major development in policing in the next financial year will be the creation of a new police authority in London—the Metropolitan Police Authority. With the arrival of the MPA, arrangements for the policing of London will be brought more closely into line with arrangements elsewhere. As from July, there will be an independent body of 23 members, drawn from the London Assembly, the magistracy and other walks of life, who will be responsible for securing an efficient and effective police service within the Metropolitan police district.

I look forward to the new Commissioner and police authority working together constructively to build on the existing strengths of the Met and to improve the links with the communities that it serves.

I turn to the main issues that I heard and discussed during representations on the settlement. As I said earlier, five main issues arose: the problems of policing sparsely populated rural areas; the continuation of the old force establishment component in the formula; the costs of the new national radio communications service; the costs of police pensions; and national security policing.

On sparsity, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham noted in his intervention, we commissioned independent research in 1998 to try to nail once and for all the question of whether extra costs were involved in policing sparsely populated rural areas. The research study was finalised last year. It found that additional costs were, indeed, incurred in policing such areas.

I emphasise that the report was not about police numbers; it was about the costs of policing in rural areas. A copy of the full report and the executive summary was put in the House Library in November and circulated to police authorities and chief constables. The report recommended that the police funding formula be changed to reflect the additional costs—that is, by switching some funding from the metropolitan forces to the shire county forces.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in November that he did not intend to change the funding formula for 2000–01 because of the moratorium on changes to the grant distribution system for local authorities and police authorities, pending a wide-ranging review announced by the Deputy Prime Minister in July 1998.

As I said earlier, I met a number of delegations, including one from all the authorities in sparsely populated areas, and I received individual representations from Members of Parliament, chief constables and police authorities in areas of sparsity. I recognise that my right hon. Friend's decision not to change the funding formula was a disappointment for the forces for which rural sparsity is a significant factor.

As I said to the delegations, I understand and sympathise with their concerns, but I emphasise to the House, as I emphasised at those meetings, that we are considering the position. We will consider the position again fully next year. I think that the force of the argument is well understood.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am happy to take interventions on this particular point, as I shall not return to it later in my remarks.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has already given way to me once, and I acknowledge that fact.

In the case of Lincolnshire, the report recommends a change that would increase the number of police men by 50 for the county. Does the Minister accept the principle of changing the formula to take account of sparsity, or is his hesitation simply due to lack of money? I understand that money is a problem, but I should like to know whether he accepts the principle and the line of the recommendations, and whether his inability to give a commitment today is due essentially to his inability to allocate money for that purpose.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am unable to give a commitment today because of the moratorium on changes to the grant distribution system for local authorities and police authorities while the review announced by the Deputy Prime Minister is taking place. It is not possible—or not easy, at any rate—to make changes to one aspect without looking across the whole range.

For my part, I believe that the argument of the sparsity report is well made and widely accepted. It was a factual research study, which examined the real costs of policing in sparsely populated rural areas. I am familiar with the matter from my own constituency, which, although not a rural area, is in a rural county. Those issues are well understood.

The issue is the cost of rural policing, not police numbers specifically. I understand, of course, that there are relationships and knock-ons in the way that those factors operate, but the key argument is about the additional costs of rural policing, and that is what the research report addresses.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have no difficulty with giving sparse areas extra resources. However, if I understood the Minister correctly, he suggested that resources should be transferred from metropolitan areas to sparsely populated rural areas. That is a cause for anxiety, especially when the Government's figures show that crime is increasing most rapidly in metropolitan areas.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I did not say that there would be a direct transfer. I was making the obvious point that, in a zero-sum game, increasing resources for a specific area has implications for other areas. Two serious policy considerations weigh against the sparsity argument. First, as the hon. Gentleman said, despite anxiety about crime in rural areas, there is significantly more crime in urban areas, and resources have been focused there. Crime levels are significantly higher in Norwich in my constituency than in the rural parts of the county, despite the fears that exist there.

The second factor is relevant to our debate. Urban forces argue, with justification, that policing densely populated urban areas involves specific costs. It is an example of the interplay of arguments and the reason for not making a move in one direction outside the context of the overall review. That is why my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's review is so important. I did not suggest that there was a specific shift from urban to rural areas, but I acknowledge that there is a debate.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

What should police authorities do about council tax payers, in view of the major impact of the review on them? In Dorset, council tax payers pay a higher proportion of the police bill than in any other county or authority in the country. The figure approaches 30 per cent. Does the Minister recommend that the police authority reduce its costs until the Government issue a fair grant settlement, or should the additional burden be imposed on a population comprised largely of pensioners?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman and I have had previous exchanges about the extreme poverty of the residents of Christchurch and Dorset compared with those in other parts of the country. I shall not repeat those arguments in the context of policing rather than education. This year, Dorset received an increase of 3.2 per cent., which was more than the average for England. I shall not accept his invitation to recommend what precept police authorities should set; that is a matter for them. However, I shall answer his second question: police authorities should try to make efficiency savings of 2 per cent. a year in the way in which we suggest. I have no reason to believe that Dorset does not reduce costs through greater efficiency.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

The Minister has been refreshingly candid. I urge him to implement the sparsity policy next time round. In north Wales, we have lost all outlying small police stations and policing is done from afar. In some months, police do not have petrol for the cars. That is not due to incompetence; the money is simply not there.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

As I said earlier, I understand and sympathise with the argument. I make an appeal to hon. Members: sparsity is an important element in the rural crime and policing debate, but it is only an element of it. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) talked about higher police presence in a whole area. Developing better crime reduction partnerships between rural district councils and the police, and giving policing a higher profile, are only partly related to resources. Other issues must be considered. The Government will address them fully as part of our overall strategy on rural matters. I hope that, like the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, other hon. Members will consider rural crime in the round, not only in the context of sparsity and funding.

I want to move on to the second point on which I received representations: the continuation of the old force establishment component in the formula, sometimes called "damping". Police establishment levels were originally included in the formula to provide stability and some continuity with the previous funding system. The Government always intended that those historic manpower levels should be part of the formula only on a temporary, transitional basis, and that they should be removed at whatever rate was compatible with the need for stability in funding.

It remains our intention in due course to get rid of that part of the formula, which accounts for only 10 per cent. of overall funding. However, for reasons that I explained earlier, we are making no formula changes for next year.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the retention of the establishment element in the formula works strongly against a county such as Derbyshire, which has had a low establishment for historical reasons, and that an early change to that formula would be welcomed there?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I entirely recognise my hon. Friend's point, with which I am familiar in respect of not only Derbyshire, but a number of other forces. He makes his argument forcefully and, as I have suggested, it remains our intention to get rid of that part of the formula in due course. Although it represents only 10 per cent. of overall funding, it operates unjustly, as he described.

Most of the costs of implementing the public safety radio communications service are contained in annual charges for the core service. These will be met by central funding by means of a deduction from total police grant provision. As part of next year's funding settlement, £5 million has been provided from police grant and standard spending assessment provision towards core service costs. It is estimated that the cost will be about £150 million a year at today's prices when the service is fully operational, which will be equivalent to 2 per cent. of police authority budgets. That needs to be set against the expenditure that forces already incur in maintaining their existing radio communications systems. The cost will be reduced by the £50 million subsidy announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last September.

The costs of the public safety radio communications project will also be taken into account in the overall resources provided for the police service in future years. That new digital radio and data service is tremendously important to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the police service. It will provide state-of-the-art, fully digital secure mobile radio communications services and offer users ready access to the police national computer and other computerised databases. The new PSRCP system will ensure that the police have a crime-fighting tool that is at the cutting edge of new technology. That development is difficult but important, and I believe that it will be widely welcomed.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

For absolute clarity, is the Minister announcing genuinely new money in the third year, over and above the comprehensive spending review, or is the money part of the comprehensive spending review that we already know about?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

As the whole House knows, we are undergoing the next comprehensive review and the process will be concluded next June for the next three years.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale

Is that June 2000 or June 2001?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

With effect from June 2001. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am at risk of misleading the House. I responded to the hon. Gentleman's comment, which was made from a sedentary position. I cannot remember the legal term, but he is briefing his colleague, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, on exactly how to operate. In June 2000, the outcome of the comprehensive spending review will be clear, so we shall know what the position is. It covers the three coming years. In the context of that review, which is taking place, the additional costs arising from the PSRCP will be taken into full consideration as we see where we can make progress. The force as a whole welcomes the service, although aspects of it have been controversial. Generally, it will affect the nature of policing and increase its quality substantially.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. Does he recognise that, with no change in the support given to implement the new service, which he rightly says is welcome, it has been calculated that a force such as Derbyshire would have to cut the equivalent of about 173 officers to meet the cost, either through the additional revenue cost of the system or through additional contributions to the capital cost from revenue?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I acknowledge that that representation has been made by Derbyshire and appreciate the way in which my hon. Friend makes his point, as he said that those could be the implications "with no change" being made. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already announced changes, such as the extra £50 million to which I referred a moment ago, and there may be other changes further down the line. I am experiencing slight wry amusement as I am new to this game. Whatever forces attacked—the cost of the PSRCP, the sparsity factor or the National Criminal Intelligence Service—they had drawn up a little equation about the cost of one measure versus more bobbies on the beat in each particular locality and ran that argument every time. I appeal to hon. Members to listen to the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who said that, although we should consider police numbers, we should also look at what we are doing to reduce crime. That issue has to run through the whole debate.

The fourth issue on which I received representations was that of police pensions, a difficult and problematic subject. The Government have recognised the increasing costs of police pensions: we increased the proportion of funds to be distributed for pensions from 13.2 per cent. in 1998–99 to 14.5 per cent. in 1999–2000.

The arrangements whereby police pensions costs form part of each police authority's budget are long-standing. They have some merits in ensuring that police forces concern themselves with, for example, the number of unnecessary medical retirements that they permit; but we accept that rising costs are a matter of concern to the police service.

The absence of a funded scheme is not the only or, indeed, the main reason for the increasing costs. That is why we did not advocate a move to a funded scheme in the March 1998 consultation exercise. In the light of the consultation, we have been giving further consideration to the case for a funded scheme. No decision has been made, but a funded scheme is not an easy option, given the extra start-up costs. Those are substantial—around £25 billion—and the money would have to come from somewhere. That is why the focus of the review has been on a more affordable scheme for new entrants, and the improved management of ill-health retirements for current as well as new officers.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

How many of the 1,642 medical retirements of police officers and the 839 medical retirements of civilians that took place in the last year for which figures are available does the Minister think were unnecessary?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I cannot answer that at the Dispatch Box, but I do not wish to demean the hon. Gentleman's point. There are serious issues relating to the operation of the system and the way in which it has moved forward. I have had a number of discussions with chief constables about the possibility of establishing more effective systems to control such important personnel decisions. I am not prepared, and would not be prepared in any circumstances, to speculate about how many retirements are reasonable; I do not think that that is the right way in which to proceed. The right way in which to proceed is to introduce a more rigorous method of examining the issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Can the Minister explain why he is able to assert that some medical retirements are unnecessary?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

As I tried to explain earlier, I have discussed the issues with a range of forces and individuals, and have concluded that some of the arrangements—I only say "some"—may not be operated with the fullest rigour in certain areas of the public service. I simply say that; the hon. Gentleman probably understands what I mean.

I also received representations about the costs of security from a number of forces whose members were concerned about the costs of specific matters in their police authority areas. Representations were made to me by, for instance, the Gloucestershire and Norfolk forces. I considered them to be fair and well made, and we will examine the position.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

My hon. Friend is being generous with his time. He will not be surprised by my intervening at this point. Does he accept that the problem is not just the overall sum—my chief constable in Gloucestershire says that the allocation there is down on that of the previous year—but the fact that it leads to perceptible difficulties when local communities allege that they are losing out because of the amount that must go into the security budget?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I agree that this is a question of perception. When the delegation in which my hon. Friend participated discussed the matter with me, we talked about the various homes in Gloucestershire of members of the royal family, and I was reminded of similar issues relating to royal family homes in Norfolk. I find that people welcome the idea that members of the royal family are living in the community, but we must try to deal with questions of perception such as this.

The amending report laid before the House corrects the effect of an error that has come to light in the distribution of grant as set out in the 1998–99 report. The distribution of grant under the pensions component of the funding formula is based on projections of expenditure on police pensions by the Government Actuary's Department. Unfortunately, data relating to Derbyshire police was processed incorrectly. The Derbyshire police authority expressed concern about the data at the time, but, despite investigations by the Government Actuary's Department and the Home Office, it was only some time later that the processing error was identified.

The amending report rectifies the error by allocating a further £800,000 to Derbyshire and clawing that sum back from the other authorities. We consulted chief constables and police authorities on the amending report. No representations were received.

The Government are determined to do all they can to reduce crime and the fear of crime. We also want to see more police officers back on the beat. We have a series of measures to address those policy goals. Those measures and the additional resources that are being provided will help the police to play their key part in tackling crime and disorder, in conjunction with other authorities.

Our aim is to make people feel safer and to ensure that the chance of their becoming a victim of crime is reduced. We have started work on that aim. The funding settlement for the police that has been announced today, along with the other initiatives that are being put in place by the Home Secretary, are providing the police in England and Wales with extra resources to carry out their excellent work in tackling crime and disorder. We are providing a well resourced, well equipped police service, and I commend the reports to the House.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:10 pm, 3rd February 2000

Again, I thank the Minister for his kind words of welcome and I echo his tribute to the professionalism and hard work of the men and women of the police service. Their dedication and commitment mean that they do an invaluable job for our communities throughout the land, in rural and urban areas alike.

I was amused when the Minister talked about the amending report following the error on Derbyshire police pensions. I wondered whether it was another example of problems with the Home Office fax machine. Was it another example of a document going AWOL between the Government Actuary and the Minister's office?

We should not just do what the Minister has just done—talk about serious issues, discussions and meeting people, making the points that Ministers always make—but should look at the background to the debate. A year ago, the position was different: with the Government's having come into office saying how tough they would be on crime, the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), said at the Dispatch Box that it was "sterile and simplistic" to talk about police numbers. He told us that there was no link between detection of crime and police numbers.

A year later, the job of the police has become even more difficult; the number of police officers in England and Wales has gone down yet again—it is 1,000 below the number at the general election—more experienced officers have been leaving the force; it is more and more difficult to attract high-calibre recruits; and the police feel that they have been misled over the 5,000 new officers.

The Home Secretary offered the police the enticing prospect of new officers and reinforcements to fight the battle against crime, but his speech was torn up before the ink was dry on it. The fact is that those are not new officers. Morale in the police service is crumbling, and one can understand why. For six years, crime was falling—and particularly violent crime, which is precisely the sort of crime about which people, and in particular elderly people, worry. Now, violent crime is up by 6.3 per cent., and robberies—one of the most worrying forms of crime—are up by 19 per cent. It was all so predictable: it is common sense.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

We did indeed. My hon. Friend, who did such a noble job in the shadow Home Office team before moving to the world of sport, is assisting me today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said that it was nonsense to pretend that police numbers did not make a difference.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that what was important was not just the size of the police force but efficiency in every area. No one would disagree that efficiency is important, but more efficient officers means more crimes detected.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

On the overall crime figures, I understand that, although there have been substantial increases in places such as the Metropolitan police area and some other big cities, in other areas—for example, Northampton—the trends have been different. The graphs are there; the hon. Gentleman is welcome to examine them. Does he not agree that, if we are to beat crime, which is what the public want—they do not want semantics—we will have to understand what is happening and then address the situation? That is exactly what the Government's targeted approach is intended to do. It has shown results.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the hon. Lady not accept that it is obvious what will happen? If we increase the number of bobbies on the beat, crime will fall. More crime will be detected and the police service will be more effective. To give an example, over the Conservative years, 15,000 more police were employed. In the previous Parliament—1992 to 1997—which is often cited by Labour Members as a period when police numbers fell, the number of bobbies on the beat increased by 2,200. What happened to crime? It fell, year after year after year.

The present Government came into office talking about being tough on crime, but they have not delivered because the number of front-line beat officers has fallen by 900 since they came into office. What has happened? We have had a 19 per cent. increase in robberies, and violent crime is up. It is time for a common-sense revolution.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to agree with that, but I am grateful to him for giving way. Of course, if we had extra, more efficient people, extra work would be done. That goes without saying, but does he not accept that, if we did that, we would also have to put up taxes, which his party opposes? My constituents want a fine balance between the tax burden and effective, efficient public services. Does he not accept that the Government's proposed plans balance the two, look at effective ways in which to target the type of crime that hurts people most and address those needs?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

Should not the hon. Lady—I ask her rhetorically—direct her question to Ministers? The Opposition are saying that they would find the resources to build the number of police officers back up to the level at which it stood when we left office. That is not something that the Government are saying. That is our guarantee of security to the public.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Lady has had two goes. I think I will move on.

Police morale is at an all-time low. A recent survey showed that 70 per cent. of officers would leave the service if they could find a job with the same pay. Why is that? It is because crime is rising again, criminals are being let out early to reoffend and police numbers have been slashed. That is the background against which we debate the settlement for the coming year.

The Minister mentioned the crime fighting fund. It is right that, in year one, £35 million is available, but the hon. Gentleman has already had bids for £96 million for the first year from hard-pressed police authorities throughout the country. They are asking for double the number of officers that he is prepared to provide in the first year. For the three years as a whole, 8,200 officers have been requested, against a maximum of 5,000.

The Government have to ask themselves this: is it not time to move from the talk phase to the delivery phase? Although it is easy to make the odd joke in these debates—as we have—the fact is that policing is a very serious matter for the public; the fear of crime is one of the most important issues for people throughout the country. It is a tragedy that what was a falling crime rate has been reversed so soon after the general election.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

On the hon. Gentleman's point about the delivery phase, does he accept that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the extra 5,000 officers in September? We then went to get bids. We have those bids and will announce a decision shortly, which will mean that more people will start to be recruited from 1 April. That will deliver the numbers to which we referred.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall simply quote what the Police Federation said—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs at the body that represents the interests of police constables across the country—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister may recall that a Conservative Government introduced the first laws to protect the rights of association. Although we have had our differences about unions over the years, I certainly would not be so disparaging about an important body representing police officers.

In November, the Police Federation said: We doubt the extra £35 million for additional recruiting will enable forces to do more than replace officers who are retiring or leaving the service prematurely. Indeed, we believe that by the end of 2000 there will be fewer police officers and a further reduction in front line services. In January 2000, in Police Review, the Police Federation went further, stating that it believes that there will another 1,000 fewer officers. In all, that is 2,000 fewer officers. The Minister will not persuade me that that will not make a difference in the fight against crime or that it will help to reverse the trend of crime increasing. As I was saying when he intervened, that is a tragedy.

Police are being asked to accept a Government spending programme that is mean and that leads to cuts in police numbers, withdrawal of specialist services and the closure of police stations—and more of the same is predicted in the year ahead.

It is wrong to set funding levels that are inadequate to maintain authorities' budgets. Let me give an example relevant to someone close to where I am standing—my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who until last night had responsibility for police matters. In North Yorkshire, the increase will be £2.1 million. However, the force needs £3.9 million simply to pay for pensions. In 1999, North Yorkshire lost 50 officers. This year, there will be no recruitment. Next year, only 15 officers will be recruited. There will therefore be a net loss.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I am always intrigued by the pensions issue, which has been known about for a long time. I just wonder why Conservative Members, when in government, did not try to do something about it.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we did do something about it, and the result under the Conservative Government was six years of crime reduction. If he compares that with his own Government's miserable record, he will see that—two years after those Conservative plans ended—we now have a tragic situation in which crime is rising again. The Conservative Government were addressing those issues, whereas the current Government are all talk and no delivery.

Last year, the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South predicted that future increases would be "modest". Indeed they are: this year, there is barely a real-terms increase at all. The Association of Police Authorities has said: funding from central government will increase by just 2.8 per cent. or £205 million". whereas authorities need £300 million just to stand still.

The Minister mentioned the new radio system, with which huge costs will be associated. The Association of Police Authorities has said: Unless additional funding is made available to finance this new national service, a large part of the cost will inevitably have to be met from money which would otherwise go to pay police officers. Today, all we have received from the Government is an indication that that new money may be considered in the June spending review. There is no promise of any new money. However, Councillor Neil Taggart, the Labour chairman of West Yorkshire police authority, has described the Government's current funding as a mere "drop in the ocean" compared with the costs of the project. Does the Minister agree with the chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, Roger Benn, who said that the costs of the radio scheme would "decimate the force"? Would the costs decimate the force?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I should like to take the hon. Gentleman back to the pensions issue. In the latter years of the previous, Conservative Government, I was the chairman of a police authority and represented police authorities in their negotiations with the then Conservative Government. Year after year, Home Office Ministers assured us that they would address the pensions issue. I received a categorical assurance from the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) that he would produce the answer to the pensions problem in January 1996. We are still waiting.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman has obviously forgotten that we changed the formula to address the issue—[Laughter.] It is easy to laugh, but the facts sometimes hurt.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for showing such confidence in the new Conservative sports spokesman.

The Government could be excused if it was only the Opposition who were attacking the settlement, but it is not. The settlement has been attacked, as I said, by the Association of Police Authorities, which now describes the Government as "tough on police budgets". The chairman of the Police Federation has accused the Government of shortchanging the service. The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation recently called for the Home Secretary's resignation.

When I asked the Minister whether it is right to say that, by March 2000, the Metropolitan police will be 400 under strength, he was unable to reply. We should be concerned if it will be 400 under strength.

As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, it really is time that the Government dealt with the problem of police pensions. It is no good Ministers sitting on a report for two years, doing nothing about it. The problem needs to be sorted out, and the Government are the ones who are in power—or at least that is the rumour.

The Metropolitan police is at a crossroads. We all wish Sir John Stevens well, but he will need more than the good wishes of people in this place, including the Government. If he is to fight against crime in the capital, he will need our active support and help. I hope that the Government will give him all the support that they possibly can.

We should ask ourselves what will be the effect of the settlement on the Metropolitan police and recruitment. Is it right, as the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation said, that at current levels, the Metropolitan police stands no chance of recruiting to fill current vacancies, never mind to increase its strength?

What does the Minister think about Sir Paul Condon's comments last year: the officers in this hall and the many others in London feel angry, confused, anxious about their future"? In 1996, the Home Secretary told the Labour party conference: The police deserve and receive our support and gratitude. The Labour manifesto said that the police have our full support". Is it not time for the talk to be turned into action? Is not this police grant settlement a sad event, and an opportunity missed to tackle rising crime and the problem of police numbers and morale? Should this not have been an opportunity to perform the first duty of Government—to safeguard citizens, to stop the fear of crime stalking our streets, and to stop the thin blue line from getting thinner?

The next Conservative Government will provide the resources to reverse cuts in police numbers. I look forward to sitting on the Treasury Bench listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo)—who made such a glittering start today—make that announcement.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:29 pm, 3rd February 2000

I welcome the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) to the Front Bench. We shall miss the Ryedale wriggler.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that the introduction of the radio communications system was contentious. The problem is not just the funding, but the nature of the system, which needs careful attention. Several of us have received representations from companies in our constituencies about how the decisions on the commissioning of the system have been arrived at. I should welcome close ministerial attention on that issue.

This is a particularly relevant debate for some of us. I say that not only because I was burgled two days ago—I am sure that it was not one of my constituents; it must have been someone passing through—

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Yes, probably from a rural area. The debate is also pertinent because this morning a delegation from the London borough of Hillingdon—including the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and me—met my noble Friend the Under-Secretary to discuss the issues facing our area. The problems of some areas that are sometimes described as leafy suburbs are neglected, even though they contain pockets of considerable deprivation. Inner-city areas have had access to substantial resources allocated by successive Governments under special schemes and rural areas are getting significant attention from the Government. Areas such as mine fall between those two stools and our problems have not received enough attention.

Over the past few years we have also been penalised as a result of our success in policing. The London borough of Hillingdon, like other areas, has had a significant fall in crime of about 5 per cent. Worryingly, there has recently been a slight increase in violent crime, motor vehicle crime and burglary—as I have experienced to my cost. The fear of crime has been top of the agenda in the local residents' survey for five years. It has outstripped all other issues, largely as a result of perceptions, but also as a result of the reality of crime becoming personalised, particularly with social disorder in public areas. We have done everything possible locally to work together to combat crime and raise community safety issues. We have established community safety as a priority. We have an active police consultative group representing 50 local organisations. We were among the first to set up a crime and disorder audit under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. That helped us to tackle our priorities of reducing crime involving young people, tackling drugs, dealing with disorder in public places and combating the high statistics for crimes such as burglary.

However, our ability to deal with those priorities depends heavily on the police being proactive and responsive on the ground. That brings me to the concerns that we expressed to my noble Friend Lord Bassam this morning. We are concerned about the reduction in the number of police officers. It would be wrong of me not to draw that to the attention of the House. The figures for recent years are startling. The briefing that was courageously provided by our local divisional commander shows that we have gone down from 440 police officers to 354, and from 107 civilians to 84. The overall reduction is from 547 to 438. That is a reduction of 20 per cent.—more than 100 people. At the same time our constituents have had a 34 per cent. increase in their precept.

Our worry is that unless suburban area receive attention on two levels we shall be faced with another dramatic round of cuts. The new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis needs to recognise our problems and adjust his regional formulae for distributing policing resources and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary needs to consider the bids for resources from police authorities. I shall outline what those cuts could mean for Hillingdon.

We are about to lose our entire permanent beat officer force. They will be withdrawn. There is also the prospect of an end to all school involvement, our junior citizenship scheme and the involvement of the police in youth activities. The first time that a young person in my constituency comes into contact with a police officer could be when they are arrested or given a caution. At the moment, police come into schools and are constructively involved in youth activities. We are concerned about the reduction in community policing and neighbourhood watch support. I have already lost opening times at two of my local police stations. I am now faced with the possible closure of Hayes police station and the sale of the site. Those are just some examples of what faces us unless the Metropolitan police's budgetary decisions and the overall settlement direction are reversed as a result of today's announcement.

I acknowledge that this is special pleading. We require a longer-term strategy that tackles the issues of suburban areas. We are being penalised for our success. We have reduced crime as a result of community partnership schemes in line with what the Government have asked of us. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who came to my constituency before the general election and explained what was required of us and then came again several times after the election to help us to set up the new schemes. We have done that and reduced crime as a result.

We have had some superb divisional commanders who have created an efficiency agenda in line with what the Government have asked for. We have reduced sickness levels dramatically. However, we are being penalised as a result of those successes in efficiency and reducing crime, because the formulaic approach used by the Commissioner and, at times, the Government in their regional distribution results in resources being withdrawn when crime is reduced. That is a short-sighted approach to crime and policing across all three Hillingdon constituencies. We need a longer-term programme that addresses the issues of suburban areas, recognising that investment, particularly in preventive work among young people, will reap rewards in future by stabilising crime levels and reducing them in the long term. I am grateful for the support that the borough has been given in developing the recent closed circuit television scheme in Hayes and St. Dunstan's close. Our problem is that, although the CCTV schemes will help us to identify crimes being perpetrated in the area, we shall not have the police resources to respond quickly enough if the reductions go through.

I am pleased that the additional resources that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced have been translated into reality in today's settlement. That enables us to bid for those resources. Suburban areas such as mine must not be penalised for the successful work that we have undertaken. Our serious problems—immediate and long-term—need to be acknowledged through adequate Government support.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:38 pm, 3rd February 2000

I welcome the Minister to this important annual debate. This is the first time that he has spoken in it on behalf of the Government. I apologise to him because he had to suffer me this morning upstairs in the Committee considering the Terrorism Bill and he now suffers me here discussing police matters. At least we are both involved in important business.

I wish the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) well in his new responsibilities and I welcome his successor, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). I hope that he does not suffer the same fate as another previous Conservative candidate who stood against me in Bermondsey and then went on to slightly more profitable fields, representing Harrow, West and being promoted within his party before disappearing almost as suddenly. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is only a rumour that the Government are in power, no wonder his party is not doing very well.

The Liberal Democrats echo without qualification the tribute that the Minister paid at the start of his speech. Like him, I visit police forces and officers throughout the country. One of my most impressive duties since taking on this job in October was to attend the police constable of the year award ceremony last autumn at St. James's palace, also attended by the Prince of Wales. Each force selected one person and there was then a selection from around the country. Last year's award was won by an officer from Bedfordshire policing in Luton. He is a white police officer policing in a multiracial area and was commended by all sectors of the community, not least the minority ethnic communities, for his excellent community policing. In the previous year, the award was won by a police officer from Northern Ireland. It is obvious how widely valued the police service is.

This will be the last debate held during the time that the Metropolitan police force has been responsible for its larger area. When police authority responsibilities go from the Home Office, and the Home Secretary personally, to a Londonwide government—something many of us welcome—the boundaries will become the logical boundaries around Greater London. I thank the Met for the work that it has done in its extended area over the years. The force has done a good job, as has been recognised by local communities. The boundaries are being changed not because of complaints, but because it is logical.

We also wish the new Commissioner well, and we hope that he succeeds in his ambitions and objectives. He wrote to many Members to set out what he planned to do, and we hope to have the opportunity soon to talk to him. We thank his predecessor for much good work over many years.

Given the events of less than a week ago in Cheltenham, I would like to pay particular tribute to Gloucestershire police on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) and our councillors, some of whom are on the police authority for Gloucestershire. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) will also have heard that they did an excellent job, as would be expected. We are all conscious of the obligation that we owe to them.

I share the view that we need to strengthen the national forces—the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the national crime squad. I look forward to talking to the Minister before the election about ideas that we are formulating on how we can build up the profile of the national service to deal with national responsibilities. I share the Minister's implied views on that matter.

It is clear that a new communications system is needed to give the efficiency that we ask for. I have had informal and formal representations that some of the technology that the police work with is not 2000 technology—nor is it even 19-something technology. I have seen it work, and I have seen it not work. The amount of technology downtime that hampers the police is frustrating.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that of course police numbers were not everything, and that crime figures are important. Here there is a difference of view between the Opposition and the Government. Although police numbers are not everything, the numbers of police officers have a direct implication on the ability of the police service to do its job. Nurses are not everything in the health service; however, the fewer nurses there are, the fewer beds we have, and the fewer beds we have, the fewer people we can treat. The fewer people we can treat, the less likely the health service is to do the work demanded of it.

The more good and competent officers we have, the more likely we are not just to reduce crime, but to increase clear-up rates—which, in some areas, are still low. In some areas of Northern Ireland, clear-up rates are very low, and in some areas covered by the Met the rates are far lower than our constituents want.

The Minister referred to the sparsity factor, and it is not just those of us who represent urban seats who understand that a conclusion is needed to this debate. I understand that it is better to have a comprehensive review across Government of the formula for allocating money to local authorities and police. However, there has long been dissatisfaction across the country with the formula.

One of the frustrations is that the recipients—in this case, the police authorities—are not able to agree what the formula should be. If they cannot agree, the matter comes to Ministers. If we had a sort of papal conclave to come up with a formula, there would have to be a compromise. I have a London caveat to add to that, but I hope that we will not have many more years of Ministers saying that they are doing the work but that they have not come up with a solution.

One element of the police grant—the 10 per cent. element—is based on the strength of the forces as they were in 1994. That has less logic with every year that passes, and it ought to go. If Ministers are clear that everything should not be determined by the numbers of people in police forces, we should not allocate a part of the formula on the number of people in forces in 1994. The police chief constables are now given the responsibility of deciding how to use their money—even more reason why we do not tie the amounts to forces. I should be grateful if the Minister could address whether that matter is on the agenda, and how soon that measure might be abolished.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I said earlier that it remains the Government's intention to get rid of that part of the formula in due course.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Like many ministerial answers, that is helpful as far as it goes, but we would like something more specific than "in due course". However, I am grateful for the Minister's confirmation that that part of the formula is on the way out.

The police complain regularly that one of the implications of the funding formula is that they cannot have the money for capital spend that they would like. Money for capital equipment is often hugely spent. An article in Public Finance, headed "Police funding reaching crisis levels", stated: As well as the boost to revenue funding, police authorities want a major increase in capital allocation. The allocation for 2000/01 … is £144 million. This compares with forces' investment plans of £349 million. These plans rely heavily on capital receipts and contributions from revenue. There is a major problem and a deficit in that regard.

As police funding largely goes on pay and pensions, one of the complaints will always be when the funding allocation from the Government is not tied to pay increases. If the pay increase goes above inflation or above the percentage police grant increase from the Government, there is less money left. Given that these matters are not negotiated together, as in other public services such as the health service, the formula ought always to take into account—in my view, much more explicitly—the increase in pay. That ought to be effectively ring-fenced as, to a large extent, there can be very little choice. We cannot suddenly lay off a number of police staff, although we can project the number of people due for retirement in the near future.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire did not give my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) the answer that he was hoping for—nor, indeed, the answer that the hon. Gentleman knew would have been expected. The Tory Government did not deliver a removal of or a fundamental change to the pension arrangements. I know that this is now on the new Government's agenda, and I have argued the case often.

Across the emergency services, if we are to make what is given by the Government relate to the service on the ground, we must find a way of taking the pension allocation and the pension spend out of the general spend. The pension bill keeps going up—it is something like 14 per cent. at the moment—and there is no direct account taken of that in the formula. For every £1 million spent on pension entitlements, there is £1 million less to spend on front-line policing. If the allocation does not take into account the pension amount, it will be much more fictitious and will not reflect the needs on the ground.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I agree that the previous Government changed the formula to some extent, but this Government have been sitting on the report on the issue for almost three years. Is not it time for action?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Absolutely. It is time for action—not only because politicians are calling for it, but because it is a grievance and a source of frustration that it has been on the agenda for so long. I have told Ministers before that I am comfortable with the idea of sitting down with representatives from the Conservative party and other parties and with the Government to try to reach agreement on how to sort out the pensions issue. The longer it passes from desk to desk, the further away a solution is and people become more and more frustrated.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right in what he says about the grievance about pensions and the squeeze that funding them puts on police authority budgets. The problem is that each year the problem is not addressed, the difficulty of addressing it becomes greater. The only tenable long-term solution is a funded scheme. The longer that is delayed, the greater the costs become. I can understand Ministers' difficulty, but somebody must grasp the nettle.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I could not have put it better. [Interruption.] I do not necessarily agree with everything my hon. Friend says, but on this occasion he was word perfect.

Police officers often point out to me that the more successful their police force is in bringing crime figures down, the more it is penalised in its financial allocation. We must avoid penalising successful forces which use their resources efficiently and deliver the outputs—to use the jargon—that everyone wants. Such forces can be in the suburbs, such as the local force of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), in an inner-city constituency such as mine, where crime levels are high, or in a rural area, such as those which my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome and for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) represent. It should be a given that successful policing, producing fewer crimes and higher clear-up rates, is not penalised by fewer resources.

The Liberal Democrats will vote against the Government motions at 4 o'clock because, unfortunately, the Government are for the third time proposing a funding settlement that will mean less money will be spent on the police than in the year before Labour came to office. I have obtained the figures from the Library. In the first year the Government inherited a fall of 0.8 per cent. Funding went up 0.3 per cent. in the second year and up 0.2 per cent in the third year. Even my elementary maths is sufficient to work out that that means a net fall of 0.3 per cent. over the three years. It is true, as the Minister pointed out, that the figures show that the level will start to pick up after that, but the grant settlement for next year that we are being asked to approve this afternoon will provide less money in real terms for the police from central Government than was the case three years ago.

The comparison is simple and has been provided by the Association of Police Authorities. The education settlement for the coming year will increase by 8.7 per cent, the social services settlement by 5.6 per cent., and the fire service settlement by 3.5 per cent.—only the police settlement increase is below 3 per cent., with a pre-inflation level of 2.9 per cent and a post-inflation figure of 0.2 per cent. That is not acceptable, given the pressures the police are under.

Many authorities have had a decrease in real terms this year, if pensions are removed from the equation. They include Bedfordshire, City of London, Cleveland, Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Sussex, Warwickshire, West Mercia, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. The Library's figures for the settlement proposed for the coming year show that some forces will be specifically penalised. The City of London force will have a real-terms cut for the third year in a row. The Gloucestershire police—sadly, in the light of the tribute we have paid to them—will have a real-terms decrease for the fourth year in a row, with a 0.6 decrease in the coming year, having had a 0.9 decrease in the year just finishing. The North Wales police—the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) has just left his place—will have a decrease after a couple of years of small increases, and the South Wales police will also have a decrease. As a whole, the police in Wales will have exactly the same amount, neither an increase nor a decrease. In those four specific force areas, the financial position will be worse than elsewhere.

What do the figures mean for police numbers? On that point, there is no dispute between the Conservatives and ourselves because the Library figures are clear. The police service numbers inherited across England and Wales were 127,158. The figures for March 1999 were 126,096. Pending the announcement of the latest figures, the reduction is 1,062. The argument about the 5,000 extra still hinges on the fact that that figure must also take account of the reduction so far and the number of officers retiring or leaving the force. In the same period, we have also seen a reduction of 3,390 in the number of special constables.

The experience of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington in west London is replicated throughout the Metropolitan area, just as it is in many other areas of the country. I know what has happened in my local authority better than in others, but in Islington—where the Liberal Democrats have just taken control of the council—the number of police in the Holloway area has fallen from 245 to 226, and has fallen from 284 in Islington. My local authority of Southwark, south of the river, has seen police numbers fall from 874 to 851 in the past year. In Bromley, an outer London borough, police numbers have fallen from 442 to 432, and in Kingston they have fallen from 329 to 325.

All over the place, police numbers have fallen and police stations have been closed. We can argue about whether every police station is justified, but the public need to have a police presence, and fewer police officers make it less easy to deal with crime and the fear of crime.

My final point concerns the famous crime fighting fund. In an answer I was given on Tuesday this week by the Minister—which the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire has obviously also seen—it was confirmed that 43 forces have bid for the £35 million available. The total number of officers bid for was 2,908, which would cost more than £96 million, so only about a third of every bid will be satisfied. For example, Avon and Somerset bid for 65 officers, but if its bid is successful it may get only 23. The Metropolitan police force bid for 600, but it may get only 216. The Sussex bid was for 45, but only 16 may be granted.

We have had an allocation of £35 million for next year. That will not be enough over three years to deliver 5,000 officers unless it is doubled in the following two years, and will be enough to keep those officers only if we have the additional money in subsequent years as well. Money at the beginning is sufficient only to bring them in, not to keep them there. I hope that the Government will realise that £35 million—interestingly, they said that that was the extra cost of policing the millennium—is hardly a large additional sum.

Police numbers will be down in the coming year; there will be fewer police stations; and the council tax police precept that our constituents have to pay will be higher. People will pay more and get less. To follow up something that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire quoted, the police and many of the public feel that the Government are being too tough on the police and far too tough on police funding. We need more of both, and very soon.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire 3:01 pm, 3rd February 2000

I welcome the relatively generous settlement for Derbyshire, which did not appear on the list that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) gave. One reason for that is the correction, not before time, of a pension error, but the settlement was fairly generous in any case.

We still have about 250 officers fewer than the average for a county force. The force is thinly stretched at any time, but last year, with three murder inquiries running concurrently and the call on specialist officers hitting some sections disproportionately—including the one that covers a substantial part of my constituency—there was an incredible burden.

For some time, an area of about 70 square miles, with a population of about 60,000, was policed on a shift basis by only three or four officers. It is scarcely surprising that things became very difficult from time to time. Thankfully, the area is generally extremely law-abiding, but some parts of it, including Linton and Newhall, have faced short-term increases in crime that have alarmed local people significantly.

The authority has applied for a share of the crime fighting fund, and I have already written to my hon. Friend the Minister expressing strong support for that bid. If it were granted in full over the full three-year period, the force would just about reach the average strength of a county force; but the likelihood of that is perhaps remote if the funding figure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave at the Labour party conference last year is adhered to. There is an opportunity to review that figure in the light of the bids that have been received.

With the full increase, the Swadlincote section, which serves the bulk of my constituency, could increase the team available to fight and prevent crime by seven or eight officers. That may not seem a great number, but it would make a vast difference to the number of times one saw a uniformed officer in one of my villages.

I have regular meetings with my police inspector, and I expect him to bring me up to date on a variety of local issues when we meet tomorrow, but I know already that the difficulty in responding to local pressures is acute. The increase would make a vast difference to his ability to direct officers to deal with crime, whether in Swadlincote town centre—where local shopkeepers and residents have expressed concerns—or in the outlying villages. The two other sections serving my constituency would have roughly equivalent increases. One of them covers a significant rural area as well as part of the city of Derby. Let us hope that the bid is viewed favourably.

The public safety radio communications service will be a welcome enhancement to the ability of the police to respond to crime and communicate about it. I fully endorse the project, but its cost is substantial: in Derbyshire, the additional revenue element of more than £2 million would cost the equivalent of about 80 officers a year.

I noted what the Minister said about forces' tendency to cite officer equivalents for every cost with which they are laden, but it is none the less a convenient shorthand way of looking at a cost. The capital cost, to which the county would have to contribute, is well beyond the capital resources that have thus far been given to the county to meet its obligations, so it will have to continue to make a contribution to capital from revenue funding, as it has done for some time.

In the year in which that contribution was made, there would be a further hit of about £2 million, which would once again take out about 70 or 80 officers. It has been said that forces will be decimated if the technology is introduced without further thought about the cost implications and on-going revenue commitments. I would not use the word "decimated" in the Latin sense, but it would certainly have a substantial impact on my force's ability to deliver the services that my constituents expect. The reductions cannot be accepted and we require additional resources to fund that valuable increase in service.

Derbyshire has sought to increase the local share of the cost of policing. I am probably unusual—I am happy to admit it publicly—in having written to my police authority last year urging it to use the opportunity of the removal of capping substantially to increase its precept to my constituents. It took my advice in spades and introduced a swingeing increase, but one that was at least understood and recognised as a step towards improving the quality of local policing by people whom I have met who read their council tax bills with some attention.

There are limits to the ability of local citizens to bear that extra burden and, presumably, to the Government's tolerance of the wholesale desire to ignore the spending guidelines and suggestions on what level of council tax increases might be acceptable. Last year, the authority did not receive a yellow card, and I hope that the same indulgence will be given this year, but one must recognise the limits of that source of funding.

The force has been historically underfunded. It seems that best value was invented here. It has committed itself repeatedly to finding ways of squeezing every ounce of fat out of the service. That is one of the difficulties of imposing savings targets on services in a blanket fashion. No doubt many police authorities have not had to go through the same exercises that Derbyshire had to go through in the 1990s, yet the same broad savings targets that are sought from Derbyshire are sought from them. That is seen as unfair, bearing in mind what we have gone through.

The Derbyshire force has an excellent record in many respects. Incidentally, in the most recent year, crime overall in Derbyshire fell marginally and has certainly fallen since the election. The force is still held in high regard, although many people wish that they saw more of the police officers so that they could express that high regard more freely.

Derbyshire police authority has led the way in a variety of areas. It was one of the first in the country, if not the first, to commit itself to DNA tracing, for example, which led to a conviction. Civilianisation has proceeded apace and there have been strong new controls on sickness and medical retirement. The force also has a strong commitment, led by the chief constable, to increasing representation from our minority communities. The chief constable, who served in other ways last year, made strong and supportive comments on the Lawrence inquiry and the responsibilities of the police service in that regard. He leads from the front in Derbyshire as well, and has earned great respect on that count.

I look forward to a positive response from the Government to the force's bid regarding the crime fighting fund, and a review of the Government contribution to the public safety radio communications service. I welcome unreservedly, and wish to see through to completion, the Government's statement that the removal of the establishment element of the funding formula is imminent.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet 3:12 pm, 3rd February 2000

It will come as no surprise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to hear that I shall concentrate my remarks on the Metropolitan police in general and the Barnet borough division in particular. The remarks of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) mirror the problems that we, in a similar borough, face—although all boroughs have significant differences—in that, although Barnet is generally regarded as a leafy suburb, it has areas of great deprivation.

We can argue about figures until the cows come home. I have done my best to be independent on this. I know that the incidence of recorded crime fell for six consecutive years until recently. The last Metropolitan police service report stated that street crimes went down in the area by 2.3 per cent. and burglary by 8.3 per cent. to a 20-year low. That is good news. Assaults on police officers and incidents of police officers suffering injuries on duty went down significantly in 1998–I hope that that trend continues. However, I remind the House that, in the year to September 1999, recorded crime was up by 8.7 per cent. in the Metropolitan police area. I hope that that is only a temporary trend, but it is nevertheless very worrying.

Twenty years ago, there were only about 22,000 Metropolitan police officers. By the early 1990s, the figure had reached its peak at 28,000. It has been fluctuating since, dropping slightly in general, but a recent fall brought the figure to 26,500. I am concerned that there is every prospect that the figure will tend to fall and not rise. Incidentally, I am also concerned that, in the last year, the number of special constables in the Metropolitan constabulary decreased by 5 per cent.

Another problem faced in the Metropolitan police area is the wastage in early retirements and transfers. In the past year, the figure increased by nearly 13 per cent. to 1,750. The Metropolitan police have recruiting problems in that so many who train and begin their career in London are seduced, as it were, to go to other police forces or, because of their experiences in London, they seek other jobs. We must think radically about how to deal with that problem because morale, sadly, is very low.

The income and expenditure of the Metropolitan police force is about £1.75 billion. That figure has increased by 100 per cent. over the past 20 years. The Minister's colleague in the other place confirmed in a letter to me that it is planned to increase the grant this next year by only 1.7 per cent. That, I understand, is also dependent on efficiency savings of 2 per cent.

I accept that the way in which the grants are calculated are necessarily complex, because they are comprehensive. The more I try to understand them—I have not broken through the knowledge barrier yet—the more they seem to be a byzantine labyrinth that would make the Ottomans drool with envy. Despite the previous Government's protestations that they were increasing the budget for the police year on year, resources seemed to be diminishing, on the ground and on the beat, at least partly—and not a little significantly—due to the escalating cost of pensions, which are unfunded. The present Government are also witnessing that problem. Although I want to see bigger and better pensions for everybody—something that I will say more frequently as the next election approaches—I am horrified that the figure for pensions in the Metropolitan police force is £335 million, including those for the civil staff. That represents 17 per cent. of total expenditure. We must find a better way of funding those pensions. My plea is popular and simple, but terribly difficult to realise. Can we devise a system in which the pension increase is taken out of the reckoning of the other vital parts of the service?

I have three brief points to make. First, I am deeply concerned about the number of emergency calls that are not genuine. The total annual figure in the Metropolitan police area is about 2 million—there were 200,000 emergency calls last November alone-80 per cent of which were not genuine. People may say that they accidentally touch the wrong numbers on their mobile phones, or whatever. I do not know much about this new-fangled technology, but surely it is not beyond the wit of these technologists to find some way of dealing with that problem.

Secondly, nearly 3,000 demonstrations and other public order events have to be policed in the Metropolitan area. I hope that some consideration is given to that in the budget.

Thirdly, Barnet borough is in a crisis with regard to policing. A very senior officer in my borough said to me that he finds the Metropolitan police service, in particular in the borough of Barnet, to be in a crisis situation.

Three weeks ago, my council—it is not, I regret, Conservative controlled, but I make that party political point only to show that the following criticism does not come only from Conservatives—wrote me a letter. I shall summarise and paraphrase it, but I assure the House that I am not misleading anyone or placing the wrong emphasis on what was said. The letter said: The Council notes with dismay that the number of police officers and civilian support personnel in Barnet continues to fall … there is a crisis in policing in our Borough. It noted that the number of notifiable offences committed in the Borough has increased in the past twelve months. It added: The Council expresses grave concern about the insufficient financial support given to the Metropolitan Police by HM Government in the form of this year's Local Government Settlement. The council also recognises that that problem is Londonwide, and that it will result in the probability of Barnet Council Taxpayers being forced to pay above inflation increases in the form of the Police precept in order to finance the Metropolitan Police. Those remarks are echoed by the chairman of Barnet borough watch—our network of neighbourhood watch schemes, to which I pay tribute. With 15 years of experience, she says that Barnet's manpower has been cut yet again and that there has been a near 50 per cent. reduction on the level of four years ago. The figure may reflect the fact that some officers are being taken out of the borough to serve in Hertsmere, but the minimum manpower per shift is 22 officers, while the recognised minimum shift strength should be 32. Those 22 officers must cover a population of 320,000.

We must address these real problems responsibly. We owe that both to our constituents and to those who serve us in the Metropolitan police, and who do a difficult, dangerous and sometimes dirty job. We must make sure that they have the resources to carry out that job and decent conditions in which to do it.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 3:22 pm, 3rd February 2000

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman). Although my angle on the police is slightly different, I can agree with some of what he said.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for meeting a delegation from Gloucestershire early in the new year. It was a useful meeting. One member of the delegation was the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), and I am sure that the whole House will wish him a speedy recovery. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, events in Cheltenham have brought home to us the unpleasurable role that the police carry out with ultimate efficiency and sensitivity. The police have already visited my constituency office to review security arrangements and to make some recommendations.

I do not wish to go over old ground, having spoken in the same debate last year, when the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) replied. I do not apologise for re-emphasising some themes. Policing is of acute interest in Gloucestershire, which has received the lowest increase. It would be easy for me to criticise the Government for that, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) said about his area, I feel that a slightly rum figure has been used to calculate the amount for Gloucestershire.

I hope that the Minister will keep his door ajar, because I am convinced that the figure is a rogue. That has nothing to do with the Home Office, but results from peculiarities in the way in which the Office for National Statistics has judged the population of Gloucestershire to be falling over the past year. I cannot repeat the phrases used by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, but I feel that the ONS must be the only people in the country who believe that. The statistics used make a huge amount of difference to our grant allocation, which is 1.8 per cent. below average. My hon. Friend the Minister may await some serious calculations from the county council and others before we make further representations.

The matters on which I wish to touch have already been covered, so I shall merely put a local spin on them. We welcome the sparsity report, and I hope that its recommendations will come into play. It would make a welcome difference of about 1.3 per cent. to Gloucestershire. The problem is that most counties are not dissimilar to Gloucestershire in being rural with an urban core. We must strike the proper balance between policing the urban core of Gloucester and Cheltenham and the more sparse surrounding areas. In Stroud, we would argue that people are sucked into urban areas, particularly at weekends, which makes a dramatic difference to the number available. Shift patterns also make a difference.

Photo of Mrs Diana Organ Mrs Diana Organ Labour, Forest of Dean

My hon. Friend mentioned the difficulties caused by the lack of government funding to recognise rural sparsity. Like him, I represent a rural constituency in Gloucestershire, and it faces a double whammy. The difficulty of providing a force in rural areas is not recognised, and the fact that our force is both small and efficient means that efficiency savings are difficult to find.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend, who represents the area across the water from me. She has made her point clearly, and we shall continue to argue that case. We have several times made the point to the Minister about the impact of efficiency savings on a smaller force. Our force is efficient, and I pay tribute to its policing of Gloucestershire. We cannot keep cutting the service.

Like every other force, Gloucestershire has put in a bid for what are colloquially known as the "Jack Straw bobbies". Our bid is realistic. I cannot say that I think that it will simply be taken from the shelf and implemented, but it is as realistic as it can be. We would certainly like additional police in the rural areas, even if a training element would mean their helping Gloucester and Cheltenham. There is a need for policing in rural areas so that officers can be seen to be in action as well as actually being in action.

As I said last year, I understand the Government's difficulties over pension provision. Perhaps because he is new to his post, I felt that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) did not quite answer my point that the Tories had had plenty of opportunities to sort out that problem. We have those opportunities now, and we must deal with the report that has been produced.

From the point of view of the police, we cannot improve on their pension provision. The only way in which to do something about it would be to set up a funded scheme. I believe that we must do so. It would cost money, and the Treasury would have to find it. Sooner rather than later, we must grapple with this almost impenetrable problem. As the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said, pensions take up to 17 per cent. of the budget, and that figure will increase, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said. We cannot allow that. It would be neither sustainable nor practicable to continue as we are. It is already doing enormous damage, and the operational impact is clear.

The Minister generously said that security is still—let me put it no more strongly than this—open to investigation. We feel especially hard done by because, although the overall budget may have increased, so too has the number of forces bidding for it. The perception of the matter must be taken into account. We do not want conflict between local communities over the way in which we fund security arrangements. That would serve no one's purpose. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a good way to run a police force.

The overall budgetary problems are clear, and we shall continue to advocate our case in that regard. However, our greatest concern is about the damage that can occur to the partnerships by which the Government set such great store. It is good to see community policing arrangements working to promote safety initiatives.

However, as officers of all ranks have told me, not only does that have to be paid for in time and money, but it results in an administrative overload. That has to be dealt with. The resources will not come out of fresh air—changes in policing need to be funded. It is good to implement such initiatives, but we cannot do so indefinitely without some money coming in.

The same point applies to best value programmes. It also applies to the tri-service initiative in Gloucestershire—of which we are extremely proud—for unifying the emergency call services. People are starting to realise the benefits of some communality for all three emergency services—ambulance, fire and rescue and police. We can build on that, because the public want the services to work together and to know that they will receive the best possible reaction—in both time and professionalism.

Budgetary problems need to be solved. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister's door seems to be open, because we shall be pursuing those matters with him in due course. We want our slice of the £35 million, although we have made it clear that we do not want more than our pro rata share.

The proof of the Government's ability to master the problems of law and order will be seen not only in budgets but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said, in the impact on the streets and in the perception of what is happening. I recently read a document commissioned by the Salvation Army, but produced by the Henley Centre for Forecasting—an interesting combination. I was rather depressed to note that the document showed that people stated that the fear of crime was the single most worrying aspect in their quality of life. That is a key factor in people's perceptions. We have to get that right in Gloucestershire and throughout the country.

Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington 3:33 pm, 3rd February 2000

As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) pointed out, the leafy suburbs have traditionally been neglected in debates on policing. I hope that my contribution and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) will go some way to redress the balance.

I illustrate the problem with an example. I have always been proud of the fact that my constituency includes the village of Biggin Hill with its famous fighter airfield, which was at the heart of the battle of Britain. Today, Biggin Hill is a pleasant place in which to live—full of character, as are its people.

However, the village has a problem—as the chairman of the residents association, many other residents and local councillors told me last Friday evening at my regular advice bureau. Until last year, it had a fully operating police station, right in the main road. As recently as the late 1960s, 14 police officers were working from that one station.

Last year, the police station was closed to the public and, more recently, the number of home beat officers was reduced from two to one. To have only one officer would seem to render the service almost non-operational, but that is the situation. The latest local rumour is that the police station is to be turned into a pizza parlour. If hon. Members think that that is bad enough, a police station in Chislehurst may be about to be converted into a theme pub. I do not know what that will do for the local crime problem.

The local police are still searching for somewhere suitable in Biggin Hill to locate the remaining home beat officer. The people of the village feel completely exposed. Orpington, which houses the main police station, is some distance away across winding country lanes; it can easily take 30 minutes to get from there to Biggin Hill. By that time, any incident would be over and all the miscreants would have gone.

As a result, a hard core of about 12 teenagers have taken to rampaging around local streets, causing mayhem. In a recent incident, they threw iron bars at overhead electricity cables, bringing them down and plunging the neighbourhood into darkness. Drink and, increasingly, drugs are part of the problem. That causes stress, anger and fear in the neighbourhood.

Biggin Hill is not alone. After six years of improving crime figures, which started under the Conservatives, there was a reversal of the trend last year; notified offences increased by 12 per cent.—a large increase—in the Orpington sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, that is a tragedy: much hard work went into reversing the previous rise in crime figures and produced that long six-year run of lower figures, but that has suddenly been dramatically reversed in areas such as Biggin Hill.

The Orpington police have worked hard to overcome those problems; I make no complaint about them. They have had successes, but there are now 20 fewer police officers in the Bromley district than there were two years ago. London itself has 400 fewer officers; during the past two years, the number is down by more than 1,000 over the whole country.

The Assistant Commissioner, Denis O'Connor spelt out the facts at a recent meeting of the Bromley police community consultative group. He said that he needed 6 per cent. extra resources each year even to keep the present strength. The Government have allocated an extra 2 per cent.; the force has to find 2 per cent. from extra efficiency and there is a 2 per cent. shortfall.

The Minister's speech makes it obvious that the situation will not improve in the foreseeable future. According to his figures, with the Government's resources, police numbers will decline again over the coming year, but the police precept will rise—in my area, possibly by 16 per cent. People will be paying much more for a lot less.

The police are being starved of resources when our society demands more policing—especially a more visible police presence on the streets. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) committed the Conservative party to reversing Labour's cuts in police numbers. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire reiterated that firm guarantee today.

The Government are beginning the second phase of their comprehensive spending review, to be concluded in June. I ask them to reconsider this matter urgently. If they do not, crime will be a big issue at the next general election.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:39 pm, 3rd February 2000

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) to his new position, although given his splendid record as a Minister in the previous Government, we should hardly be surprised at his excellent debut today. He has clearly explained the national situation, but I add one point.

During the first 10 years that I served as a Member of Parliament—all of them under Conservative Governments—total expenditure on the police increased by a real-terms average of 3.8 per cent each year. Yet here we are under a Labour Government, who pledged to be tough on crime, being asked to approve a real-terms increase of just 0.3 per cent. Even that figure is highly questionable, given that for Cambridgeshire, at least, the Home Office has imposed extra costs that were not imposed before.

Not surprisingly, I wish to deal with the position in Cambridgeshire, Britain's fastest growing county. It has consistently been at, or close to, the bottom of the league for the ratio of police officers to population. Given the time lag in statistics for a growing county, the true figures are almost certainly even worse.

Cambridgeshire also figures close to the bottom of the list for the level of council tax among police authorities. Only three have lower figures. Total resources in Cambridgeshire are about £17 per head of population below the average for England. If we had just the English average, it would mean as much an extra £10 million a year for the Cambridgeshire police authority.

I suspect that the Minister and other Members may say that the Cambridgeshire force does not need resources as much as an inner-city force. That would be a superficial and mistaken judgment to make. Last year, crime in Cambridgeshire rose by 4.7 per cent.—one of the highest rises outside the Metropolitan police area. A large part of Cambridgeshire is rural—much of it I represent—and the crime levels are becoming intolerable for my constituents. Much of that crime may be at the lower end of the seriousness league—it tends to be burglaries and robberies—but it is no comfort to people whose homes have just been ransacked to tell them that at least they have not been murdered. For them, the crime is palpable and serious.

A problem that is not unique to Cambridgeshire, but is particularly bad in the county, is the impact of a large traveller population. I do not suggest that all travellers are criminals; they are not. Many are perfectly good, law-abiding citizens. However, there is no doubt whatever that a significant proportion of them are. As a senior police officer in Cambridge told me, they are no more than a mobile crime wave.

In the last few weeks in my constituency, I have been made aware of cases in which outdoor machinery and landscape and other equipment have been stolen. In one case, the equipment was replaced and was stolen again a week later. The police often know who is responsible. However, if the goods are disposed of or if a car is taken—car theft is also common—and left burnt out in a gateway only 50 yards from a caravan, they cannot prove who did it. In addition, the fear of reprisals is commonplace in the countryside. If people act as witnesses against some of the traveller population, there is a serious risk that they will be at the receiving end of further crime.

The police in Cambridgeshire are extremely thinly stretched. Travel times in rural areas are very long. The Government study mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and other Members found that additional costs are involved in sparsely populated rural areas. However, the Government have chosen not to implement the study that they commissioned, which would have given Cambridgeshire another £1.2 million.

The Minister said that the study was not implemented because of the moratorium on changes to the formula. Frankly, that is a poor excuse. I do not criticise him for that; I know that the decision was taken by more senior Ministers. However, given how he handled himself today, he may become one of them before too long, and I wish him well. I say that in all honesty. He addressed the issues seriously and with candour, and I appreciate that. It made a great change from his predecessor's approach.

If the sparsity factor is introduced into the formula, it will have a significant effect on Cambridgeshire. If it is not, at some times of the day and night there may be only one police car in literally hundreds of square miles in some parts of the county. It can take 20, 25 or 30 minutes from the time of a call for a police car to arrive at the scene. That is not the fault of the police; it is the result of the low level of policing in the county.

I wish to consider the figures. The proposal for Cambridgeshire is an increase in total resources of 3.2 per cent., and I accept that that is marginally above the national average. However, the pension increase charge is more than £1 million. In addition, the Home Office's priorities include increased use of DNA and there will be a first-time charge of almost £200,000 for the police national computer and a first-time charge for a radio licence. When put together, all the Home Office's priorities will cost the policy authority more than £1.1 million, which will leave only £200,000 out of the total to cover inflation and everything else. Therefore, it is not surprising that our police authority is considering how much can it spend over and above the standard spending assessment and the police grant.

A budget increase of 3.2 per cent. will equal a 3 per cent. council tax increase, and will mean a cut of 72 officers and 86 civilians. The county would need a 16 per cent. increase in council tax just to eliminate the need for officer and civilian reductions in the coming year. Even that would ignore the fact that the number of officers will be reduced by 40 by the end of this year. That is why the so-called "crime fighting fund" would be a joke if the matter were not so serious.

The fund will take away local discretion, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said, it will do nothing to increase officer numbers in real terms. Cambridgeshire has bid for 43 extra officers and I have written to the Home Secretary to support that bid. Even if it gets that number—from what we have heard today, it is unlikely that all the bids will be met—it will merely balance out the reductions that have had to be made this year. Depending on the authority's decisions, the number of officers could be reduced by another 60 this year. The Government have let Cambridgeshire down not only on the sparsity and establishment factors, but on the promise that the Prime Minister made in Cambridge in the election campaign to rid us of the area cost-adjustment problem.

I wonder how long my constituents will have to wait before they have the number of police officers they need. What can I say to the residents of Soham and Ely, who face youths on the street causing disturbances and engaging in vandalism and threatening behaviour, when nothing can be done? What about the farmer whose machinery is stolen or whose buildings are set on fire but who is afraid to doing anything about that for fear of further reprisals?

Cambridgeshire police do their very best, but they cannot be everywhere. In parts of the county, the thin-blue line is about as visible as the river of fire on millennium night. Rural areas deserve law and order just as much as inner cities. Under the proposals before us, they will not get it.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:48 pm, 3rd February 2000

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), and I shall pick up on some of the points that he raised. His constituency is not that dissimilar to mine.

I wish to make a few general points, but I do not want to concentrate on the general case because we have already covered that in the debate. We have discussed the problems of pay, pensions and the public safety radio communications project, although I very much welcome what the Minister said about the potential for its funding. We have discussed the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the national crime squad top cut. I believe strongly in such national squads—I had something to do with NCIS in the past—but we must strike a balance between what individual constabularies pay and the perceived benefit that they receive from the national squads.

The one area that we have not debated sufficiently is capital budgets. I am extremely concerned that we shall apparently have a freeze on the overall capital budget to the 1999–2000 figures, which in themselves were 50 per cent. lower than those for 1995–96. Given the increased demand for capital, one might expect the Government to be more responsive to need.

Most of what I have to say is unashamedly parochial and will relate to the Avon and Somerset police authority, which I had the great pleasure to chair for three years and for which I have great affection and respect. Avon and Somerset police do an excellent job, and in the main I like not only what they do but how they do it.

I worry, however, about the consequences for the force of this year's settlement. I know that the police authority will meet in the next couple of weeks to consider a budget that will give it stark choices. It faces a £7 million shortfall. Those of us who have been in local government know that such shortfalls are a regular occurrence, but the force has been recognised as particularly efficient and it has for some time been innovative in its management practices, so there is not a great deal of scope for efficiency savings.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No, I am sorry, I do not have time to give way.

The settlement for Avon and Somerset is not the worst in the country. It is about two thirds of the way down the list; 27 authorities have done better and 11 have done worse. However, the settlement does not meet the inflation cost of the pay awards, which is £6.1 million, or the additional pension deficit of £2 million. It does not allow for a capital programme that goes beyond the basic investment in information technology needed to meet Government programmes, plus some maintenance of buildings, for which there is a £7 million backlog. The tragedy is that £9 million of capital receipts is locked in a cupboard and cannot be used. If that could be utilised, it would benefit the police authority.

The council tax benefit limitation scheme also penalises Avon and Somerset by £500,000, which in itself is the cost of 20 police officers. The Minister said earlier that he is faced with a currency of police officers, whereas in his previous job he was faced with a currency of teachers, but that is how we must look at these issues. What will happen if funds are limited in a manpower-intensive service such as the police? We will lose police officers. That, I fear, will be the effect in the Avon and Somerset force this year.

In the next couple of weeks, the police authority will be asked to approve a budget that next year will provide for 30 fewer police officers, less civilian support and fewer of the services that the constabulary would like to provide, such as financial investigation. That is not matched by a reduction in council tax. Far from it—there will be an 11.5 per cent. increase. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that people do not mind if taxes go up and they see the benefit in the service. People in Somerset will experience an 11.5 per cent. increase in the council tax for the police, on top of a 10.5 per cent. increase last year, but there will be 30 fewer officers on their streets. They will ask why that is happening and why they are being so badly served.

We may well come up trumps in the crime fighting fund application. Who knows? Maybe we will be given everything that we ask for, but I suspect not. If my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is right and we receive 27 officers from that fund, but lose 30 officers because of the general budget, it does not take a mathematical genius to realise that we will be worse off in terms of the number of officers fighting crime in Avon and Somerset. That is a labour of Sisyphus for the constabulary, because every time we think that we can make improvements, the stone rolls back and we are worse off.

What can the Minister do? First, of course, he can argue—I am sure that he is doing so—for a greater total sum for the police, which is not keeping up with other services. For Avon and Somerset, he can argue also for the removal of the area cost adjustment, because there can be no justification for such an adjustment for a police service in which pay and conditions are determined nationally, yet that is maintained year after year.

There is also sparsity, which the Minister said he is addressing. Avon and Somerset is a strange police authority because we have urban Bristol, including St. Paul's, and Exmoor, and the two have rather different policing needs. We have to police a large rural area, and that must be recognised. Having sympathy for the concerns of hon. Members who represent rural areas is not equivalent to doing something about the formula.

We have a complicated formula for the police grant that awards authorities that have terraced housing. That is wonderful for us because we have Bath, with the Royal crescent, and Clifton with its Georgian crescents, and we get rewarded for that.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No, I am sorry, I do not have time.

Let us have some sense about the costs of policing, and a needs-based budget. There is also the establishment factor, which the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) mentioned. It does not fit with a needs-based formula to base 10 per cent. of a force's budget on historical accident, favouring those forces who happen to have been favoured many years ago.

I could say much more, but I want to give the Minister the opportunity to give a brief reply. Before I do so, I shall make one point. The effect of squeezing police expenditure is not that the police will investigate murders or other serious crimes any less effectively. It is the marginal activities that get squeezed, such as patrols and the provision of cover in rural areas, which affect the visibility of the police. Local commanders have difficulty in carrying absences and abstractions for major crimes, which means that the public have less confidence in their local police, and the police are less visible. I hope that no Member of the House wants that.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 3:56 pm, 3rd February 2000

I shall respond briefly to this useful debate. Pensions were mentioned by many hon. Members, who made legitimate points. That issue is difficult to deal with across government, not only in the police. As has been suggested, we need to sort it out. I make no party political criticism in saying that the matter was not addressed fully under the previous Government; it has not yet been fully addressed, and it needs to be dealt with.

I am glad that the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the national crime squad have been complimented. They are in a different position from other forces, but I am glad that many hon. Members have referred to the quality of their work and the importance of supporting them. I am strongly committed to doing so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and the hon. Members for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) powerfully made the suburban metropolitan case. I have not heard the suburban argument made that clearly before, and I shall consider those important issues, which fall between those of inner-city crime and those of rural deprivation.

The area cost-adjustment point is well made, but as I said earlier, the overall review conducted by the Deputy Prime Minister is dealing with that, among other matters. Many hon. Members criticised the formula and made interesting points. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) talked about how population movements are measured, which will be part of the process.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the difficult issue of success being penalised, which runs through much of public policy. Obviously, the worse the problems in an area, the greater the inclination to give it more resources, but those areas that have done better then feel, reasonably, that their success is not being properly recognised. I take that problem very seriously.

I did not deal with capital in my opening remarks because of the limited time available. We are now in a period of stability for capital after successive years of cash cuts in police capital provision. Police capital funding next year will remain at this year's figure of £144 million, and our plans will allow police authorities to plan ahead with confidence. In addition, there are private finance initiative schemes.

I am sure that the numbers debate will run on. I merely want to emphasise that police presence on the streets is not simply related to police numbers. We had a meeting near Emneth, close to Norfolk, where there was a terrible murder last Thursday, and people raised the issue of the burden that the criminal justice system places on the police by requiring them to spend more time in police stations and not enough on the beat. There are issues of that kind that are at least as important.

I welcome the debate. I have tried briefly to respond to the points that have been made. I shall be happy to discuss these issues further outside the Chamber.

It being Four o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [28 January].

The House divided: Ayes 271, Noes 156.

Division No. 62][4 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeBeard, Nigel
Ainger, NickBeckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Alexander, DouglasBell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Allen, GrahamBenn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryBenton, Joe
Atkins, CharlotteBerry, Roger
Austin, JohnBest, Harold
Banks, TonyBetts, Clive
Barnes, HarryBlackman, Liz
Barron, KevinBlears, Ms Hazel
Bayley, HughBlizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Borrow, DavidHepburn, Stephen
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Heppell, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Hesford, Stephen
Brinton, Mrs HelenHill, Keith
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Hodge, Ms Margaret
Browne, DesmondHood, Jimmy
Burden, RichardHoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Burgon, ColinHope, Phil
Butler, Mrs ChristineHopkins, Kelvin
Byers, Rt Hon StephenHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Howells, Dr Kim
Cann, JamieHoyle, Lindsay
Caplin, IvorHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Casale, RogerHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cawsey, IanHumble, Mrs Joan
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hurst, Alan
Chaytor, DavidHutton, John
Clapham, MichaelIddon, Dr Brian
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Jenkins, Brian
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Clelland, DavidJones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Clwyd, AnnJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Coaker, VernonJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, IainJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Colman, TonyJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Corbyn, JeremyKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Corston, JeanKeeble, Ms Sally
Cousins, JimKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cox, TomKelly, Ms Ruth
Cranston, RossKemp, Fraser
Crausby, DavidKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Khabra, Piara S
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Kidney, David
Darvill, KeithKilfoyle, Peter
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Davidson, IanLaxton, Bob
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Dawson, HiltonLevitt, Tom
Dean, Mrs JanetLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Dismore, AndrewLinton, Martin
Dobbin, JimLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Doran, FrankLock, David
Dowd, JimLove, Andrew
Drew, DavidMcAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)McCabe, Steve
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)McCafferty, Ms Chris
Efford, CliveMacdonald, Calum
Ellman, Mrs LouiseMcDonnell, John
Etherington, BillMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Fitzsimons, LornaMcIsaac, Shona
Flint, CarolineMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Mackinlay, Andrew
Fyfe, MariaMcNulty, Tony
Galloway, GeorgeMacShane, Denis
Gapes, MikeMactaggart, Fiona
Gardiner, BarryMahon, Mrs Alice
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Mallaber, Judy
Gerrard, NeilMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Godsiff, RogerMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Goggins, PaulMaxton, John
Golding, Mrs LlinMeale, Alan
Gordon, Mrs EileenMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Miller, Andrew
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mitchell, Austin
Grocott, BruceMoffatt, Laura
Grogan, JohnMoran, Ms Margaret
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Heal, Mrs SylviaMountford, Kali
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Naysmith, Dr DougSnape, Peter
Norris, DanSoley, Clive
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Southworth, Ms Helen
O'Hara, EddieSpellar, John
O'Neill, MartinSquire, Ms Rachel
Organ, Mrs DianaStewart, David (Inverness E)
Palmer, Dr NickStoate, Dr Howard
Pendry, TomStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Perham, Ms LindaStringer, Graham
Pickthall, ColinStuart, Ms Gisela
Pike, Peter LSutcliffe, Gerry
Plaskitt, JamesTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pollard, Kerry
Pound, StephenTaylor, Ms Dan (Stockton S)
Powell, Sir RaymondTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Temple-Morris, Peter
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnTimms, Stephen
Primarolo, DawnTipping, Paddy
Prosser GwynTodd, Mark
Purchase, KenTouhig, Don
Quinn, LawrieTrickett, Jon
Radice, Rt Hon GilesTruswell, Paul
Raynsford NickTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Rogers, AllanTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTynan, Bill
Rooney, TerryVis, Dr Rudi
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Ward, Ms Claire
Rowlands, TedWareing, Robert N
Roy, FrankWatts, David
Ruddock, JoanWhite, Brian
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Whitehead, Dr Alan
Ryan, Ms JoanWicks, Malcolm
Salter, MartinWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, PhilWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Sedgemore, BrianWills, Michael
Shaw, JonathanWinnick, David
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Shipley, Ms DebraWise, Audrey
Short, Rt Hon ClareWood, Mike
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Woolas, Phil
Singh, MarshaWorthington, Tony
Skinner, DennisWyatt, Derek
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Mr. Mike Hall and
Mr. Greg Pope.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Amess, DavidBurns, Simon
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelBurstow, Paul
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesButterfill, John
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, TonyChope, Christopher
Ballard, JackieClappison, James
Beggs, RoyCollins, Tim
Beith, Rt Hon A JColvin, Michael
Bercow, JohnCormack, Sir Patrick
Beresford, Sir PaulCotter, Brian
Blunt, CrispinCran, James
Body, Sir RichardDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Boswell, TimDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Brady, GrahamDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Brake, TomDay, Stephen
Brand, Dr PeterDuncan, Alan
Brazier, JulianEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Breed, ColinFaber, David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFabricant, Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaFallon, Michael
Flight, HowardMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Forth, Rt Hon EricMacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath)McLoughlin, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMadel, Sir David
Fox, Dr LiamMajor, Rt Hon John
Fraser, ChristopherMalins, Humfrey
Gale, RogerMaples, John
George, Andrew (St Ives)Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Gibb, NickMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Gill, ChristopherMay, Mrs Theresa
Gillan, Mrs CherylMoore, Michael
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMoss, Malcolm
Green, DamianNicholls, Patrick
Greenway, JohnNorman, Archie
Grieve, DominicO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnPage, Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchiePaice, James
Hammond, PhilipPaterson, Owen
Hawkins, NickPickles, Eric
Heald, OliverPrior, David
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Redwood, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidRendel, David
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasRobathan, Andrew
Horam, JohnRobertson, Laurence
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Ruffley, David
Hunter, AndrewRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSt Aubyn, Nick
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Sanders, Adrian
Jenkin, BernardShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Kirkbride, Miss JulieShepherd, Richard
Kirkwood, ArchySimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Laing, Mrs EleanorSoames, Nicholas
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Lansley, AndrewSpicer, Sir Michael
Leigh, EdwardSpring, Richard
Letwin, OliverStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Steen, Anthony
Lidington, DavidStreeter, Gary
Livsey, RichardStunell, Andrew
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Swayne, Desmond
Loughton, TimSyms, Robert
Luff, PeterTapsell, Sir Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Whitney, Sir Raymond
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Whittingdale, John
Taylor, Sir TeddyWilkinson, John
Thompson, WilliamWillis, Phil
Tonge, Dr JennyWilshire, David
Townend, JohnWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tredinnick, DavidWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Tyler, PaulYeo, Tim
Tyrie, AndrewYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Viggers, Peter
Walter, RobertTellers for the Noes:
Wardle, CharlesMr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Waterson, Nigeland
Wells, BowenMr. John Randall.

Question accordingly agreed to.
Resolved,That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2000–01: (HC 169), which was laid before this House on 27th January, be approved. MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then put the remaining Question required to be put at that hour.
Resolved,That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 1998–99: Amending Report 2000–01 (HC 170), which was laid before this House on 27th January, be approved.—[Ms Armstrong.]

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. An announcement is running on teletext that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to make a statement to the House later tonight. Have you had notice that we can expect such a statement, or is that simply speculation by the BBC?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Had the hon. Gentleman been present for business questions, he would have heard the Leader of the House foreshadow the possibility that there would be a statement later today. I cannot add to that, but notice has certainly been given to the House.