I am told by the chief constable that, in September, Essex police had 2,953 officers, which is 66 more than in March, and 1,582 civilian staff, which is 135 more than in March. The crime fighting fund is delivering more police officers to Essex police and information supplied by the force shows that Essex expects to take on 247 new recruits in 2001-02.
Does the Minister accept that Essex police numbers are far lower than when I was previously an Essex MP and does he consider that to be deplorable? Does he accept that that figure is one factor that is driving down police morale in Essex, as elsewhere in the country where morale is at an all-time low? Does he agree that it is an unprecedented insult for the Government to refuse to grant the police the golden jubilee medal? I call on him to review his policy and grant that medal.
We are on course for a record, highest-ever number of police officers in England and Wales, and Essex, like other forces, is benefiting—[Hon. Members: "When?"] In the lifetime of this Parliament. [Interruption.] Opposition Members laugh, but it is good news that there will be more police officers than ever before in England and Wales. That is being achieved by this Government, and the figure will exceed any previous level. I do not accept that morale is low. Wastage from the police service is low.
On the question of the jubilee medal, a decision was announced earlier this year that members of the armed forces only would receive it, but representations have been made from various parts of the police service and we are reviewing the position.
Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the problem is not the welcome resources that he has described, but the chief constable's priorities and the way in which he distributes those resources? I represent some of the poorest areas in Essex and we are simply not getting our share of the cake. Bearing in mind that those are operational decisions of the chief constable, can my right hon. Friend have a word with him about setting the right priorities? We are talking about redistributing resources in favour of the most disadvantaged people who suffer the most crime and are least protected and supported by other mechanisms such as insurance. There is a real problem in Essex. It is not of my right hon. Friend's making, but those scarce resources must be redistributed.
As my hon. Friend rightly says, the deployment of officers is a matter for chief constables, but we intend to ensure that we drive up standards in the police service across England and Wales by identifying best practice and the ways in which forces are achieving it. The new standards unit that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced and the inspections of basic command units that are now taking place will enable us to identify any areas in which the service is not up to the standard that my hon. Friend would expect and will allow measures to be taken to tackle that.
Police in Essex will be interested to know that, by the end of this Parliament, there will be more officers than ever before, but they are fully aware that there are 1,600 fewer nationally than when the Government took office. They would be delighted to know when we shall get back to where we were when the Government started, let alone when that can be built on.
Does the Minister agree that Essex police will not accept that it is satisfactory still to be reviewing the issue of the Queen's jubilee medal? There has been a widespread outcry from the police force in Essex and elsewhere and his Government are breaking the tradition of 120 years, because jubilee medals have always been granted not just to the armed forces but to the police. Will the right hon. Gentleman state categorically that the Government will reintroduce that linkage, recognise police officers as equivalent to members of the armed services and give them the jubilee medal next year, which they deserve?
The hon. Gentleman should have the wit to adjust his question if it has already been answered earlier—but he ploughed on regardless and had nothing of any value to say to the House. I am proud of the fact that the Government have reversed the long-term trend of reducing police numbers that was established under the Conservative Government. Last year, police numbers increased by 1,349, the largest annual increase for well over a decade.