The most recently published recorded crime figures show that, in the year ending 31 March 2000, the number of offences in Gwent was 2 per cent. higher than in the year ending 31 March 1997, taking into account the change in counting rules for recorded crime. However, domestic burglary was down by 18 per cent. and vehicle crime was down by 11 per cent.
The police authority has set a budget for this year of £76.1 million, which is an increase of 6.6 per cent. on the previous year and of 21 per cent. on 1996–97. That led to a rise in the total number of police officers in Gwent in September 2000 of 28 since March 1997.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and for the resources that will go to Gwent. May I remind him that the proposed settlement for 2001 is below the national average, especially in view of the rural nature of much of the Gwent police area in my constituency and the high levels of social deprivation in other parts of Gwent? I remind my hon. Friend of Gwent's high detection rate of 53 per cent., and that it has seen a decrease in crime this year. Gwent police deserve to be rewarded for their improved performance.
I discussed those matters a month or two before Christmas with the chief constable of Gwent and the chairman of the police authority at the police headquarters there. I can testify that my hon. Friend is expressing a view with which they strongly agree. We are examining the overall position. However, the force has received an extra £0.2 million for rural policing and more than an extra £1 million for the recruitment of officers under the crimefighting fund. As I said, the number of police officers is increasing, and I pay tribute to the force for that.
Crime reduction in Gwent is greatly to be welcomed, but does the Minister agree that increased use of closed circuit television would assist in reducing crime levels in Gwent and elsewhere? Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the Home Secretary gave a favourable response to my suggestion that it should be made a condition that shops and other premises that trade at unsocial hours should have CCTV? Is any progress being made in that regard? If not, why not—especially in Gwent?
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to learn that the number of police officers in Hampshire increased by eight over the six months concerned. I am considering the CCTV questions that have been raised. We have specifically highlighted in our most recent guidance the use of CCTV in rural areas, which will help constituents such as those that the hon. Gentleman represents, and along parades of shops in out-of-town estates where much crime takes place for the reason that he has indicated. His proposal to make it a condition of trading out of hours that CCTV should be installed is one that we are considering, and we shall continue to do so. As he knows, however, significant problems are associated with the proposal.
Does my hon. Friend realise that, following the allocation, there has been almost universal dismay in Gwent, even after his meeting with the chief constable? I believe that all Gwent Members of Parliament have written to my hon. Friend to say that they do not understand why an area with a fine police force with a fine detection level should be punished in such an extraordinary way. Why should those parts of Gwent and of Wales where crime rates are twice as high as they are in north and west Wales have a 35 per cent. lower allocation? The proposal for next year is a 35 per cent. lower increase. It cannot make sense. My hon. Friend has seen the chief constable, but will he agree to meet Gwent Members to discuss those matters and, if he can, to justify his position?
I am always prepared to meet colleagues to discuss financing. My hon. Friend will know that I have received representations from him and other colleagues in Gwent, and from many other Members representing other police authorities, who also have issues to raise. I will happily discuss their representations. As I have said, the Gwent police authority's budget has increased by a significant 21 per cent. since 1997. I am sure that more resources could be used, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of the Gwent constabulary in using its resources efficiently. We shall consider that in full detail, as we shall in respect of other forces throughout the country.