§ 10. Mr. Mike O'Brien
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from chief constables about inadequacies in their constabulary funding settlement for 1995–96.
§ Mr. Maclean
Twenty chief constables have made representations. These cover their allocations under the new funding formula, the burden of pay and pensions increases and connected matters.
§ Mr. O'Brien
Does the Minister accept that for many constabularies this has been a very harsh settlement? The 450 Association of Chief Police Officers has said that 900 jobs may go, and the Police Federation has put the figure higher.
Many forces, such as Warwickshire, have particular problems. A continuing public order problem at Baginton airport will put great pressure on its funds. Is not it time that the Home Office provided special allocations for forces in areas with on-going public order problems, so that they are not hit by station closures at the end of the year and do not have to sack officers because insufficient funds are available to support our police properly?
§ Mr. Maclean
The Warwickshire constabulary can spend up to 2.5 per cent. more in the coming year than this year. It is possible, moreover, for police forces to ask the Home Office for funds in exceptional circumstances—to provide cover for special events—but not for on-going or regular policing.
As for police numbers, the House should be aware of the statistics. I have seen surveys carried out by some members of the police service that suggest that officer numbers may fall next year. If that is so, it is because of a decision by the police service. Overall it received about 4 per cent. more this year.
For me, the telling statistic is that 21 police forces are receiving over 5 per cent. more, and some are receiving increases of more than 10 per cent.; yet only four say that they will recruit more bobbies. If all those forces that are receiving a great deal more money choose to spend it on other matters, that is their decision and I will not criticise them, but the hon. Gentleman should not criticise me if chief officers do not retain the same number of police officers.
§ Mr. Brandreth
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Chester we are funding not only more effective policing, but more policemen? In 1979 there were 158 police officers in Chester; today there are 227. That is a 38 per cent. increase. Is my hon. Friend aware that the only fall in the number of police officers in the city of Chester in the past 20 years took place under the last Labour Government?
§ Mr. Maclean
Yes. I find it rather strange to hear certain Opposition spokesmen quibble about 50 officers here or there, or a few hundred officers out of 127,000. They should remind the House that, in its last year of office, Labour left a devastated police service, 8,000 officers short of its establishment. We need not look into the crystal ball; we can look at the record. We put in those 8,000 officers, and 8,000 more, and 16,000 more civilians to help.