HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc394-404 8.12 am
Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

It has been a somewhat long wait since 3.30 pm yesterday to have the opportunity to raise the subject of the establishment of the Sussex police force. We have had a series of important but not heroic debates and I doubt whether anyone will join with Henry V in saying: And gentlemen in England, now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here. But our proceedings necessitate keeping a careful watch in case a debate unexpectedly comes to a conclusion and the opportunity to raise a matter of great concern to one's constituents is missed.

I am glad to raise this subject which concerns all my colleagues in east and west Sussex. The Government's policy on law and order is good and has been effectively developed since they came to office. I greatly welcome the considerable improvements in police pay and conditions. There has been an overall increase in technical resources and I am glad that the legislation before the House will enable higher courts to review what may be regarded as too lenient sentences in order to avoid the inadequate punishment of crimes.

I also welcome the increase in the prison building programme. Some time ago we were in a vicious spiral where a lack of accommodation might have led to lighter sentences than would otherwise have been passed. As a result, crime was increasing, convictions were going up and there was continuing pressure on accommodation. I hope that, with the improvement in the programme, appropriate sentences will be imposed and that that will provide an effective deterrent and the pressure on prison accommodation will be reduced correspondingly.

All of those factors are good from the national point of view. However, we must recognise the fact that there are considerable differences between the regions among the various provincial police forces. That gives me particular cause for concern. Like my constituents, I am worried about the recent crime figures.

I want to pay tribute to the splendid efforts made by the Sussex police force in all its operations and also to pay tribute to the response from the public to the crime alert system. It has received strong support from my constituents and from the local press and has had an impact on the general level of crime in my constituency and elsewhere in Sussex. During the night I wrote a letter to my hon. Friend the Minister who is to reply to the debate about the crime alert system. There are some problems about planning permission with respect to the appropriate posters that can be put up in areas subscribing to the crime alert arrangements. I look forward to receiving a reply to that point in due course; I do not expect to receive one this morning.

With others in west Sussex, I have been pressing for an increase in the establishment and size of the police force. There is especially a need to increase community policing. I made representations to the Minister and initially was glad to receive a reply and to read the press release issued by the Home Office on 10 March 1987 with the headline: More police officers for provincial forces. I was particularly glad to read the final paragraph on the first page of the press release which stated: The increases are intended for use directly to enhance operational police strength, mainly in terms of increasing patrol cover and community policing in specific divisions where the workload is highest. I welcomed that statement, together with the list of approvals for different provincial police forces which contained a figure of 66 for Sussex. I also noted that the report states that the increases for Dorset and Warwickshire meet in full the police authorities' applications for the next financial year. The increase for Staffordshire meets in full the remainder of the police authority's application for 52 posts. On the face of it, it appeared that our requests had to some extent been met. Alas, I regret to say that our joy was short-lived. It is clear now, after going into the matter in greater depth, that the press release is, to say the least, grossly misleading.

As I understand it—and no doubt the Minister when he replies will tell me whether I am correct—all of the 66 mentioned in the press release are to go to meet the extra demands imposed by the opening of the new terminal at Gatwick airport. The whole number will be devoted to that purpose and not, as the press release states, directly to enhance operational police strength, mainly in terms of increasing patrol cover and community policing. Worse than that, as I understand it, despite the requests otherwise made by the police authorities in Sussex, it will be necessary for an additional 21 special branch officers to be allocated to meet the further demands of Gatwick. The strain with regard to the overall police force outside Gatwick will be increased instead of being, as the press release implied, reduced.

There are other problems associated with the development. I understand that it will not be possible for the chief constable, who would normally have some flexibility in the allocation of resources, to have the same flexibility with officers allocated to Gatwick, partly for reasons that I shall give later and partly because of the strains which the Gatwick operation imposes with regard to drug control and general international problems.

I understand that the Sussex police force will also be required to train the extra officers at Gatwick, so there is an additional imposition on the force outside Gatwick. Gatwick is now the third largest international airport in the world. It is quite clearly a national responsibility. It is sheer chance that it is in Sussex rather than just across the border, for example, in Surrey. It is the concern of general transport policy.

The extra 66 officers are to be paid for by Gatwick Airport Ltd. They will not be an imposition on public funds. The impression given by the press release-that the Treasury is loosening the purse strings so that we can have more community policing in Sussex-is simply not true. There is no cost to the Exchequer for the 66 mentioned in the press release.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Not a penny piece.

Mr. Higgins

My hon. Friend is right. There will be a strain on local finances, however, because of the cost of training the 66 and of providing the extra special branch officers. I understand that there is some discussion about whether three extra custodial sergeants should be provided, but they have not been.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the absurdity surrounding the three additional sergeants to be used as custody officers is that they also would be paid for by Gatwick Airport Ltd.?

Mr. Higgins

The whole issue is incomprehensible. I do not understand what Home Office Ministers are thinking about. That is why I am grateful for this opportunity to put this issue on the record.

The Minister has a duty to bring about what his press release clearly said would be brought about. I shall not suggest that he should resign, but it might be appropriate for him to apologise for the way in which the matter has been handled. It is more important, however, that he puts the matter right. I hope that he is able to consult the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and to explain that the press release is misleading and that the legitimate requests of Sussex have in no way been met. Far from it, the strain on the police will be greater. It would therefore be appropriate for the Treasury to cover the situation created by Home Office Ministers.

It would be as well for the Minister to consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport who, by good fortune, is to visit the Sussex police headquarters next Friday. I believe that he will discuss traffic management and the like, but the visit will give him an opportunity to appreciate the strain that transport policy puts on the Sussex police.

Mr. Gow

Perhaps the Secretary of State will take the Chief Secretary with him.

Mr. Higgins

Perhaps it would be better if the Chief Secretary simply approved the increase.

The crucial point is that the Minister concerned should get together with his colleagues, whether they are in transport or in finance, and ensure that the requests for additional precincts, for increased patrol cover, and so on are met. Part of the problem arises from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and various issues involving custody officers, and so on.

I do not want to take too long, because many of my Sussex colleagues wish to speak. Clearly, not every one will be able to take part in what will be the shortest of our debates during the night—indeed, it is only about half the length of most of the other debates.

In the letter sent to me by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department— my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg)— when the announcement was first made, he referred partly to "civilianisation", or using civilian forces. The Sussex police have gone to great lengths to implement that policy, with considerable success, but they do not have great scope for proceeding further down that road.

I hope that my hon. Friend will give attention to that point. His letter of a few days ago is out of date. He should have checked on the situation. He understood that the existing establishment was not fully met and that there were problems with recruitment. I have checked and I understand that, although, that occurred earlier, it is not the case now. Moreover, I am assured that there would be no problems in recruiting and training those for whom the police authority had sought authorisation. The letter, which sought to pray in aid the fact that the existing establishment was not up to strength, is out of date and is no longer valid.

For all those reasons, I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister clearly has a duty to implement what the official statement issued by his Department clearly said would happen. Not only is that not true of Sussex, but the reverse is the case. My hon. Friends and I believe that this position should not continue. It must be put right at the earliest possible moment. I hope that, having carefully considered the matter and having realised the way in which it has been presented, my hon. Friend will tell us that he will agree forthwith to our modest requests, which have been made on a firm basis, or at the very least will say that he will consult his colleagues and come back to the House with a favourable reply for my Sussex colleagues and me. This is a matter of great concern to all our constituents. It should not have been handled as it has been handled.

8.27 am
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

I welcome the debate, which was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). It is notable that of all the debates that I have attended last night and this morning this is the best attended by hon. Members interested in the subject. That is a mark of our concern. I endorse what my right hon. Friend said about the Sussex police and what they do so admirably for the communities of Sussex, and also what he said about the local media, not just the local newspapers, but local radio, in supporting the police in controlling crime.

I should like to emphasise again some of the points made by my right hon. Friend. If our hon. Friend the Minister had listened to Sussex Members or, indeed, to the chief constable of Sussex as long ago as last December, he would have been assured that the force would be up to strength at the end of the fiscal year, which now means as of the end of this month. The chief constable gave my colleagues and me that reassurance then, and it has just been borne out by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing.

The letter from the Home Office to the clerk to the Sussex police authority on 9 March said: The Secretary of Slate suggests that consideration should be given to meeting the requirement of the remaining 37 posts in the police authority's latest application through civilianisation and recruiting close to the police establishment. However, that was an excuse and will not do the trick.

On the matter of civilianisation, which has mentioned correctly by my right hon. Friend, that letter stated: The Secretary of State has noted the continued progress in implementing the civilianisation programme in the Sussex Constabulary, the information provided with the police authority's latest application for additional police posts, that measures already taken have released the net equivalent of some 50 patrol officers, with more expected. More are expected, and presumably they have been allowed for in the chief constable's plans. However, to step from that congratulatory tone to the expectation that the total requirement for 34 new officers could be met in one year is begging credibility.

My right hon. Friend referred to the increase in police numbers at Gatwick terminal. However, he did not emphasise sufficiently the fact that those extra officers do not represent a supplement to the existing police force at Gatwick—which is already doing a necessary job-but are to meet the specific requirements of the new terminal. That new requirement comes on stream at the end of next year. Therefore, it is all the more peculiar that the Home Office press release of 10 March says that the increase of 66 officers for Sussex would be used directly to enhance operational police strength throughout those areas that need it.

It is inconceivable that either through civilianisation or by recruiting up to strength the gap can be met between what is needed in West and East Sussex and the numbers that the Home Office is allowing for those areas. In future it may be possible to change the classification of those officers who serve Gatwick and who are recompensed by the British Airports Authority. That is something that would be applauded, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about that, but, it will do nothing to improve the position this year or next year, and it is probably unlikely that it will do anything to help in the year after that. Some action must be taken now.

The tragedy is that there is a requirement for more police both to assist the population in our constituencies in Sussex in the policing and control of crime, and to meet the dramatic increased strains on the police because of the upsurge of crime resulting from the use of drugs. The drugs problem pertains to Gatwick and also to Brighton. Sadly, it must be said that there is no place in the country- certainly no constituency in East or West Sussex-that is not touched by tragedy of drug misuse and associated crime.

The allocation of 66 officers was specifically identified for Gatwick. Indeed, the letter of 9 March states: The Secretary of State approves an increase of 66 posts … for duties at Gatwick Airport. That letter is not trying to mislead. Unfortunately, the Home Office press release is, at best, trying to mislead, or, at worst, covering up unacceptable actions. As a new day starts, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will shed new light on the decisions taken and apply himself to the necessary actions to put the matter right.

8.34 am
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

This is a bitter-sweet moment for me, because by participating in this debate I am squeezing myself out of a later one this morning. I am pleased, however, to have the opportunity to support entirely what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said.

The problem that we are debating has exercised the minds of Sussex Members over several months and has to be considered in relation to the recent crime figures. It is most unfortunate, to say the least, that at a time when there is great public anxiety over crime figures an announcement should be made to the effect that there will be a net reduction in the number of effective police on the ground.

Gatwick is a national need and it should be considered in that context. I am beginning to turn towards the idea of a national police force at least to execute responsibilities of the sort that apply at Gatwick. The arrangements that are being envisaged for Gatwick raise the question of drugs, which are a major problem at an airport which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) said, is the third largest airport in the world. The connection between drugs and violent crime has been well demonstrated, and we want to help in Sussex and play our part. We want also to support what the Government are proposing to do as set out in the Criminal Justice Bill. I join my right hon. Friend in looking forward to the implementation of that legislation. The provisions on rape and violent crime that will be coming before the House on Report are of the utmost significance in the wider context of the fight against crime.

At the end of the day, the public believe that the most effective deterrent against crime is police officers on the ground, as it were. It is worrying that apart from Gatwick needs, and even if our full request had been met, we would have seen only an additional 13 policemen available for general duties throughout West and East Sussex. Surely that is not asking a great deal.

It must be said that the Sussex police are being asked to carry out an increasingly difficult and sophisticated task. Perhaps there has been a shift away from policemen on the ground over a long period. I have gone into the issues carefully, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I am quite satisfied that a modest request was made. I must tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State— I do so more in sorrow than in anger— that his enthusiasm, which we all applaud greatly in many regards, has in this instance been misplaced. There is no doubt that he has aroused expectations. We have all sought to assure our constituents that the Government were taking the representations seriously. Therefore, as I said at the outset, to have to say that we shall suffer a net loss in police manning at a time when the crime figures are showing increases of a worrying nature is singularly unfortunate.

I shall conclude because I know that some of my hon. Friends are anxious to participate in the debate. If we bear in mind Sussex police activity and the way in which the neighbourhood crime watch programmes have gone ahead, there is evidence of splendid co-operation between the public and the police. There is an excellent relationship between the police and all the local communities in Sussex. One of the areas in which they would all want to join us today is in once more praising the work of the police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) did, and saying that they must be given support. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity of saying that he will consider again something that has not met the needs of our county.

8.38 pm
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and my two hon. Friends who have taken part in the debate, my hon. Friends the Members for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) and for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). There is unanimity in the counties of West Sussex and East Sussex among every Member of Parliament about the need to meet the modest request which has been made by the police authority and the chief constable for new manning levels for next year.

I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that Sussex Members had a meeting with the chief constable on 19 December 1986. That was followed by a letter dated 9 January, less than a month later, from the chief constable. All of my hon. Friends will agree that in Mr. Birch we have an outstanding chief constable. Indeed, he has won the admiration and respect of those who serve under his command and of all of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is not least because of his remarkable qualities as a police officer that we feel that special consideration should be given to his request, endorsed as it is by the police authority.

In his letter to me of 9 January the chief constable wrote—I think that he wrote to all of my hon. Friends on the same day— In November 1985 the Sussex Police Authority approved an increase in establishment of 66 officers for the policing of the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport. That increase has not yet been approved by the Home Office because of the delay in the opening of the North Terminal. We do expect to receive approval for that increase within the next few weeks. It took a bit longer than that. The chief constable went on to state: Gatwick Airport Ltd. will fund the whole of that increase". That point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, in whose constituency the police headquarters are situated.

I cannot understand how my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can continue to assert that the number of policemen required specifically and exclusively for Gatwick airport—paid for by not a penny piece from anywhere except from Gatwick Airport Ltd.—should be a charge against our police establishment. Such an argument would have done credit to Lewis Carroll, but it does no credit to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Benches. The chief constable went on to state: The Review of the Force indicated a minimum and immediate need for an extra 134 officers just to allow us to stand still in levels of service. That was at a time of a tragic increase in crime. On 20 February, the chairman of the Sussex police authority wrote to hon Members in East and West Sussex. He stated: The delay in the issue of Home Office approval is causing us some concern, and has prompted this letter to you with a request for your assistance. The chairman of the police authority went on to state that after the 66 and the 21 required for special branch duties this then leaves only 13 to provide extra men on the beat for the whole of the remainder of East and West Sussex. I remind the House that, for the purposes only of the police authority, the counties of East and West Sussex are combined. They have a rising population. Alas, the tendency to crime is not diminishing as time proceeds. On 24 February, I wrote to the Home Secretary in these terms: We had a meeting with the chief constable on 19 December 1986, at which we were all persuaded"— that is to say, my right hon. and hon. Friends— that it was absolutely necessary for you to approve an increase of 100 in the authorised establishment of the Force for the coming financial year. That increase of 100 only means an extra 13 policement actually on the beat. That is the point that we seek to put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.

I take part in the debate with great sadness. I find myself in serious disagreement with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. There is no Minister with whom I would more prefer not to be in disagreement. But it is possible for my hon. Friend to put right a matter that is causing deep concern to all of us. I say this in a spirit of great friendliness to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. Mr. Speaker is in the Chair. He is a saintly man. He and my hon. Friend will remember the advice given by our Lord: "Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him."

We must leave aside issues of friendship. Hon. Members who represent East and West Sussex will be importunate in bringing this matter again and again to the attention of the House, and, if necessary, in a further Adjournment debate next week and the week after that, until the legitimate claims of the police authority, the chief constable and the people of East and West Sussex have been met.

8.44 am
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

It is very difficult to follow the compelling rhetoric of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent constituencies in West and East Sussex. However, from my standpoint in the western part of West Sussex— mine is a very large constituency of approximately 600 square miles—there is consternation that the increase in funding and the manpower provision for police forces has not been translated into a larger complement of police officers. The House should be aware that in fulfilling their duties very special strains are being placed on the existing establishment. The personal dedication of the divisional commanders and of those who serve under them has been outstanding during a period of increased strain and pressure.

Few members of the public realise how gallantly the police have fulfilled their responsibilities during the past year. Many people are also unaware of the fact that large areas of the county are not policed for long periods. It is alarming but nevertheless true that on some occasions the whole of the northern part of my constituency, north of the Downs, has only one police officer on duty at certain times of the night. That is an area of over 300 square miles, with a very large population. That police officer has to respond to whatever incidents may arise in the area.

One of the problems is that the increase in legislative requirements has imposed a paperwork responsibility on the police that has taken them away from the sharp end of their responsibilities. Those problems were highlighted when we met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and when we corresponded with him. In the rural constituencies people are concerned about the fact that the increase in police manpower appears to be for Gatwick. That is some way away from the area that I represent. They fear that 13 additional police officers for both counties will not be translated into a significant or meaningful increase in manpower in my own very large constituency.

There is great concern about the increase in crimes against property. Those whose homes are burgled believe that nothing can be done about them. The clear-up rate remains, sadly, remarkably low, despite the efforts of the police. There is great concern about burglaries in the city of Chichester. During the past week the parish council of Westbourne has written to me about vandalism and about the need for a police officer to be on the spot to try to prevent vandalism and other crimes. There are student and tourist centres in Chichester where there has been an increase in drugs-related offences with which the police have to cope.

My constituency is not alone among the constituencies of East and West Sussex in attracting major events of one kind and another. That leads to a diversion of police effort and to a major demand on police manpower.

For these reasons, my hon. Friend must respond to the requests that have been made today. It will not be enough for him to explain why the proposals he has already announced will be sufficient. I hope that he recognises the pressure of public feeling and the unanimity of the concern that has been expressed by Members of Parliament with Sussex constituencies and that he will respond positively to the serious problem with which we and our constituents are faced.

8.48 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

As only 12 minutes are left for me to reply to this debate, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand that I shall be unable to deal as fully as I should have wished with the very important points that they have raised.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have done a great service for their constituents by the way in which they have argued the case for an increase in the police establishment in Sussex. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) have pressed me on this matter. So have all the other Members who represent Sussex constituencies, notably my right hon. and hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), Crawley (Mr. Soames) and Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). They have all pressed me on this matter in forceful terms.

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will forgive me if I make a few general observations before turning to the particular. In national terms, in January 1987 we had the highest ever police manpower of 122,100. Taking 1979 as a benchmark, the total forces that are available to the police in England and Wales have increased by 16,300. Again, taking the benchmark of January 1987 as against May 1979, we now have an average deficiency of 1–3 per cent, in forces with fewer than 1,600 vacancies which contrasts with the position of May 1979 of an average deficiency of 6–5 per cent, and 7,600 vacancies.

In 1987–88 we expect to spend on the police service 46 per cent, more in real terms than was spent in 1978–79. I say that to demonstrate the Government's commitment in real terms to the police service. Moreover — this is relevant to the issue before us— it is our policy to continue that expansion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and my hon. Friends will bear in mind that in May 1986 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced a policy of continuing recruitment for the police. He announced— this is the important part—an increase in the non-metropolitan force of 500 a year. That is the measure of the increase that can be announced year on year in terms of increased establishment.

In the case of the Sussex constabulary, the 66 officers are being funded by the British Airports Authority, which, to use a colloquialism, is a third party; it is not a direct arm of Government. Hitherto and historically, when calculating manpower levels for public expenditure purposes, we have always included in the police maximum figure those officers who are paid for by third parties. They swell and form part of the number. That applies also to the 500 per year by which we have committed ourselves to increase police posts.

Mr. Gow

We should not.

Mr. Hogg

I hear my hon. Friend say that we should not. May I give a justification? The justification at the moment— I realise that this may be a temporary situation— is that establishments are used to calculate the grant-related expenditure assessment formula whereby rate support grant is paid to the counties. At the moment— I do not want to place too much emphasis on this because it may change—the police establishment is used as the basis for calculating the support that is paid to police authorities. Therefore, for that reason only, the policemen who are paid for by third parties cannot be ignored. But if we stripped that element out and said that policemen who are paid for by third parties should not count towards the GREA formula, that argument goes.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have focused my mind directly on the question whether officers who are paid for by third parties should count towards the ceiling and, a fortiori, should then count towards the annual increase of 500. This has been a longstanding convention. That is not an argument for continuing it, but many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have more experience in government than I and they will appreciate that a convention that has been in place for quite a long time may take some shifting and may prove impossible to shift. The decision does not rest exclusively with me or the Home Office. I shall look seriously and carefully at the argument. If we can properly move on this matter we will, but I cannot give any short-term commitments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, who had great experience in the Treasury, will appreciate that many considerations have to be taken into account. I promise to look at the matter seriously and conscientiously because I am aware of the force of the argument.

The next question is about Sussex itself. The Sussex constabulary applied for 103 posts— 66 officers, and three custody sergeants at Gatwick, 21 special branch people for Gatwick operating from February 1988, and 13 general patrol officers. My hon. Friends have spoken about the announcement that I made on 10 March. That was an important step towards the implementation of the 500-a-year increase.

The effect of that announcement, together with the other allocations that are presently in the pipeline and those which were carried through from the preceding year—of which there were, I think, 98—have left me with 52 police posts to allocate during the rest of 1987–88. Taking account of the March announcement, including the 66 to Sussex, I have only 52 for the remainder of the year. That is the constraint on me, and I hope that my hon. Friends will take that into account.

Mr. Higgins

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hogg

I apologise, but I cannot give way. I have only five minutes in which to make one or two further points.

As I have said, that constraint operates on me and it operates on the Home Office. As my hon. Friends have said or at least implied, hitherto the force in Sussex has not been up to establishment. In 1985, taking quarterly figures, the average deficiency was 31. In 1986 it was 44.5. In February 1987 there were 15 vacancies. We are not yet wholly certain that by the end of this year the force will be up to establishment.

I should like to make two points about that. First, it is right that the force should be brought up to establishment, and, secondly, if it is brought up to establishment, it will mean that the deficiency of 44.5 has been eliminated. Therefore, another 44 officers will be available for general policing duties in Sussex. That is a positive expansion in the number of police officers available.

There is another point on civilianisation. In the chief constable's report dated 20 November, he identifies as a result of the progress of civilianisation a net increase of 50 constable posts, and he says that there are more in the pipeline. I do not know how many are in the pipeline until I make inquiries. Let us say that the figure is 15. That means that we are talking about an increase of 65 available for general policing duties.

Over a short time Sussex has got, by way of an increase in general policing duties, the 50 that have been civilianised plus those that are in the pipeline— say 15 for the purpose of the illustration, which gives a total of 65— plus the eradication of the deficiency. That makes a total of about 100. I must take that into account.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing has put his argument very clearly, and I understand its force. First, I have asked the inspectorate to go back to Sussex to check in detail what has happened to the civilianised posts, how many are in the pipeline, what will happen to them and what has happened to the 50 that were deployed at the end of last year. Secondly, I shall ask the inspectorate to check the exact level of vacancies, if any. There may be none.

Mr. Higgins

There is none.

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. Friend says that there is none, in which case that will be in the report. My advice two or three days ago was that there were vacancies. I am perfectly prepared to accept that there is none, but I want it checked. That is not unreasonable. I want to ascertain whether Sussex is certain that it will maintain that level. Thirdly, I shall ask the inspectorate to reassess the need for the remaining 37 unapproved posts and also the time at which there will be a real need for those 37. As my right hon. Friend will appreciate, the 21 special branch officers are not required to be operational until February 1988.

I can give my right hon. Friend no commitments. I am operating within the constraints that I mentioned. In particular, I have a limit of 52. But my right hon. and hon. Friends have put the argument extremely forcefully. No one could have done more than they have. I am not, I think, being a total fool. I have taken account of what they have said and, insofar as I can properly and reasonably help them, I shall do so. That is a commitment of good will. I am afraid that I cannot put a quantity on that assurance.

Mr. Rathbone

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Unfortunately, following my hon. Friend's reply, I have to give notice to the House that I shall seek to raise this matter again on the Adjournment.

It being Nine o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.