HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc955-82
Madam Speaker

I have limited Back-Bench speeches in the debate to 10 minutes. I have no authority to limit Front-Bench speakers, but I hope that they will note what I have said and will restrict the length of their speeches accordingly.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that what we are doing under your guidance is procedurally correct, but the report that we are about to debate was laid before Parliament only yesterday and has not been before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Is that procedurally helpful?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct, as hon. Members will see from the Order Paper. However, the report was put before the Joint Committee today, so everything is in order.

10.15 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I beg to move, That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 1995–96 (House of Commons Paper No. 164), which was laid before this House on 30th January, be approved. The motion relates to the Police Grant Report for 1995–96, which was laid before the House on Monday in accordance with the provisions of the Police Act 1964, as amended by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, and on which the House may vote tonight. This is the report which was placed in the Library in draft when my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced details of the police settlement in December 1994. I should like to explain to the House the basis on which my right hon. and learned Friend has made his decisions about the allocation of funding to individual police authorities.

This year's settlement for the police is, I believe, a very fair one. At a time when, as the House knows, we are anxious to keep public spending under control, the police will receive an extra 3 per cent. or nearly £200 million. That is a clear demonstration of our continuing commitment to the police service in England and Wales.

In addition, there will be a special grant amounting to £95 million for certain forces to help those authorities whose entitlement to regional support grant and police grant have been most affected by the change to the new distribution system. The grant will assist in reducing the level of precept, which affects council tax levels.

This means that, overall, the funds available for the police are going up by more than 4 per cent. That is much more than the net increase of 2.5 per cent, in police pay from September 1994, which is the largest element by far in police budgets. With the provisional capping criteria, it means that all forces will he able to increase their budget requirement in 1995–96, and more than two thirds of forces will get more than 3 per cent.

In addition, all forces will benefit from the fact that they will not, as in past years, have to pay further for common police services in 1995–96. These are services such as the national criminal intelligence service, which is organised centrally and provided to all forces.

It cost police forces £43 million to provide common police services in 1994–95 and that money was recouped from police authorities through charges. Now that police grant is cash-limited, we have taken that cost into account before determining the total amount of police grant to be distributed. For each force, that represents about 0.8 per cent. of their budget.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that what he has just told the House gives the lie to the Labour party's accusations during the proceedings of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act that the provisions it contained would mean that the police would be short-changed? That has clearly not happened, and if there are fewer police officers on the street after April this year it will be because of the decisions of chief constables, not because of Government funding.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and I shall turn to that point now.

The figures obviously speak for themselves. The largest element in costs to police is pay, which has increased by 2.5 per cent. All told, police resources will increase this year by more than 4 per cent. There is clearly more than enough money in the settlement for the police force to maintain police numbers if it wishes to do so.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Minister, who represents a neighbouring constituency, knows that there is deep concern throughout Cumbria over cuts in policing, particularly in village areas. In so far as there will be a £3 million shortfall, will that money ever be made up? How can the Minister assure the House that money is being made available for proper policing, when Cumbria constabulary and Conservative councillors are complaining about the settlement?

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman must be careful when he bandies about the word "cuts". Cumbria can increase police expenditure by 2.5 per cent. next year if it wishes, up to its capping level. The largest element of police expenditure is pay, and that is rising 2.5 per cent. Merely because the police authority can increase its expenditure by half the amount it wants, that is not a cut. Cumbria is getting more money next year.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Liberal Democrats won control of Dorset county council on the basis that they would spend more money on policing? In fact, they have taken from the police the £2 million that exceeds the amount suggested by the Government and are spending it elsewhere, without telling council tax payers. Can my hon. Friend provide a county-by-county table showing where money is being taken away from policing by county authorities—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. This is a short debate, in which many hon. Members want to participate. Long interventions do not help.

Mr. Maclean

I might not be able to provide such a table, but my hon. Friend's facts speak for themselves.

Liberal or Labour authorities will be unable to underspend on the standard spending assessment next year, because the money will go straight to the police authority.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

West Yorkshire, and my constituency in particular, is suffering a shortage of police officers on the beat. When will there be a sufficiency to meet community demand?

Mr. Maclean

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not realise that, from 1 April, we will no longer control the number of officers deployed by chief constables. I believe that West Yorkshire gains 3.7 per cent. or 3.9 per cent.— I will confirm the exact figure. It is certainly higher than the increase in police pay. There are more than ample resources for West Yorkshire, if the force there wants to use them to buy more constables. It may want to spend those resources on other things.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Is my hon. Friend aware that Derbyshire is pleased that formula funding for police recruitment has changed? Derbyshire county council ignored for years the police authority's pleas for increased spending. We welcome my hon. Friend's moves, and hope that he will go further.

Mr. Maclean

There is no doubt that the problems in Derbyshire built up in the 1980s because of action by the then county council. It is unreasonable to expect me or my right hon. and learned Friend to solve all Derbyshire's problems overnight. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will save the police service in Derbyshire, and we have made a start with an allocation of 5.9 per cent.

If Derbyshire wishes, it can spend up to its cap of 7.9 per cent. That is beginning to redress the problems that accumulated in Derbyshire because of the way it was run in the 1980s.

Mr. Barnes

Will the formula be such as to allow Derbyshire to regain its certificate of efficiency? Will the Government's policy—[Interruption.] May I continue?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already told the House that this is a very short debate, and long interventions do not help—nor does harassment from the opposite side of the Chamber.

Mr. Barnes

My point is that Derbyshire has been hit by the Government formula. The policy of civilianisation, now encouraged by the Home Office, means that the number of officers on which future grants will be based has been restrictedߞ

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Obviously my words are going unheeded tonight. I must insist in short debates of this kind that interventions be brief—the more so since many hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Maclean

Derbyshire has not been hit by the Government formula; it was hit by its lunatic council which, in the 1980s, effectively damaged its police service so much that it failed to get certificates of efficiency. Derbyshire has now been saved by a Government formula which, instead of allocating a flat rate of 3 per cent. around the country, is giving Derbyshire 5.9 per cent. this year. If the police authority there wants to, it can spend up to almost 8 per cent.

A good look at the arithmetic shows that we have secured enough extra money for chief constables throughout England and Wales to maintain the same numbers of police officers in 1995–96 as they did last year, if they choose to do so. The fact is that some forces will be able to increase numbers if they choose to do so. Others may hold recruitment.

In any new formula, there is inevitably a redistribution of resources across the country, but there is no reason why the total number of police officers throughout England and Wales should drop, unless chief constables think it right to reduce manpower spending in favour of capital investment or equipment.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

The money is being redirected to Tory areas.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman should remember that he represents an authority that is gaining 10 per cent. It will be news to many of my colleagues to learn that Northumberland and the hon. Gentleman's constituency are Tory areas.

Turning from the overall cake to how we arc to divide it among police forces this year brings us to the new funding system introduced by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. The House will recall that this year two major changes are being made to the way in which the police in England and Wales are financed. First, police specific grant is being changed from an open-ended grant based on actual expenditure to a cash-limited grant. Secondly, the Home Secretary will, from 1 April this year, have no control over the establishment of each police force, which formed the basis of the police standard spending assessment in England.

The great advantage of the new system is that it ensures that all the money provided by the Government for the police goes into policing. That, as my hon. Friends will know and have pointed out, is not the case now. Local authorities have made their own assessment of policing needs. The practical result is that some forces have a history of being funded well below their police SSAsߞincluding Derbyshire, by £500,000 in the current year.

Funding for the police will in future go straight to police authorities. In addition, police authorities will have far greater flexibility in how they determine their spending priorities. Detailed controls on manpower and all but major capital expenditure will he removed. That means that taxpayers can be protected while decisions about the best use of resources are made locally by police authorities and chief constables.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

How will the money required to fund police pensions be dealt with? In Staffordshire, we have a critical problem, of which I think my hon. Friend is aware. I hope to be able to discuss it with him, as he kindly agreed to come soon to my constituency to do just that.

Mr. Maclean

I had hoped that my hon. Friend would not announce to the House that I had agreed to come to his constituency. It was perhaps many months ago when I did so.

There is no doubt that, throughout all police forces, pensions are a cause for concern, because of the large amount of resources that they take up. The allocation for pensions is not hypothecated to each individual force, but is set on a national average. Of course we are willing to look at whether the figure has been set at the correct level. We are willing to look in the next year as we discuss the formula with the Association of Chief Police Officers, with police authorities and other Government Departments how the allocation for pensions can be refined even further, but we must bear in mind closely the police view, which was not to hypothecate the amount of pensions. They preferred the present structure.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

There is great concern in Suffolk about the funding of the police next year. Indeed, there will be a debate in the House on that subject tomorrow. Following on from the point just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), will the Minister comment on the fact that the chief constable of Suffolk seems concerned, because he is not sure just how many of his police officers will decide to retire next year and require handouts as a result? How is a chief constable supposed to manage his force from year to year if he has no idea how many of his officers will want to retire in that year?

Mr. Maclean

Nothing has changed with regard to that problem. It is a management difficulty that the police have encountered for many years. Nevertheless, a chief officer can estimate the number of officers coming up to retirement. He knows their ages. There will be certain parameters—the minimum and the maximum number who may retire. If it helps, I can tell my hon. Friend that the settlement for Suffolk is an increase of 4.7 per cent. With police pay rising by 2.5 per cent., there should be ample flexibility within that fairly generous settlement to deal with the problems that my hon. Friend raised.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

In his review, will the Minister undertake to look at police officers who retire facing disciplinary action and ill health, which seems to be a major problem that is not predictable?

Mr. Maclean

That is a related but separate matter, which we are looking at. It does not directly affect the allocation that we are discussing tonight, but we are keen to look at that measure.

On the formula, the changes that we have had in the structure of police authorities in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 meant that we needed a different method—a more equitable system—for distributing the extra resources that we have given the police this year. We chose to do that by means of a formula for distributing both police grant and standard spending assessment. The approach is similar to that used in assessing local government spending needs. Broadly speaking, it means that police authorities will be funded according to the population and area characteristics that create the most work for the police service.

Using a formula to distribute funding brings the police service into line with other local government agencies, such as social services, highway maintenance and all other services with a local authority component. The formula provides an objective way of assessing relative need as a basis for distributing the resources available.

Devising the formula was complex. In essence, it means that policing needs have been identified as falling into six main areas: maintaining a stable presence in the community; responding to calls for assistance; dealing with crimes; traffic management; maintaining public order; and community relations. Some 50 per cent. of the formula is based on existing establishment levels. That will assist in providing stability and continuity of policing by limiting the extent of change next year.

The formula has been used to determine provision for the Metropolitan police as well as to allocate funding to provincial forces. But of course, a formula to be applied across the country cannot reflect the unique demands on the Metropolitan police, arising from the fact that London is the capital city, the permanent seat of government and the primary residence of the royal family. Special provision of £130 million over and above the figure indicated by the formula will therefore be made available to the Metropolitan police in 1995–96, in recognition of its national and capital city functions.

Anyone who has experience of devising formulae like these knows that, when one grafts them on to a funding system—everyone acknowledges that the present system is based on a less objective basis—one can expect some pretty large swings. That is what would have happened had we not taken steps to limit the change.

First, we included an element for establishment levels, and 50 per cent. of this year's formula is based on existing establishment levels. Secondly, the special grant that I have already mentioned will also help forces which would otherwise have been adversely affected by the introduction of the new formula.

During the consultation period, we had the chance to consider the figures and revise the formula where appropriate. The pensions element of the formula is one of the issues which we have considered and on which I have asked officials to work in the year ahead, because we recognise the stresses that pensions put on the police budget in every police force in Britain. More work will be done on that.

Work will also be done on other areas, such as the special policing problems of inner cities and how and why we might be able to take into account criminals who travel from one area to commit their crimes in another.

I know that a number of my hon. Friends from rural constituencies believe that the formula has been too generous to cities. I can assure them that that is far from being true, but it is true that we have as yet found no statistically valid basis to support an element for rural sparsity. If that statistically valid basis can be found, I assure the House that we shall consider it for inclusion in 1996–97, and no one will he happier than I will he to do so.

My officials are already discussing with the police the way in whichߞ

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean

I must push on, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and I have taken several interventions.

My officials are already discussing with the police the way in which the work should be handled. I am very keen that, whatever basis of distribution we use, it should be accepted as valid both by the police and by the police authorities.

The formula is there for the benefit of the police service. It is not there for the benefit of the Home Office or the Treasury. This year, we are allocating more than 4 per cent. The formula is an attempt to deliver and distribute the extra resources in the fairest possible way.

All hon. Members, and those in the police service and in the police authorities have a deep and abiding interest in making the formula as fair and as accurate as possible, and I look forward to that work progressing next year.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I recognise that, unlike the old system, the formula introduces an element of objectivity, but does my hon. Friend agree that areas such as West Mercia feel disadvantaged to the extent that they have areas of quite high population density in areas of rural sparsity? Therefore, it is felt that, unless the formula is based on an enumeration district basis, which is the basis for only the call management rather than the crime management formula, it is likely to miss out. To that extent, West Mercia will have an increase of only 2.7 per cent. this year, against 3 per cent. on average. Will the Minister agree to review the formula in the light ofߞ

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we are having mini-speeches disguised as interventions in a debate that lasts for only one and a half hours.

Mr. Maclean

We shall be delighted to do that. There may be other areas largely regarded as rural, with towns or small cities with populations of less than 100,000, of which the present formula does not take account. Of course we are willing to consider that as well. I had a good discussion with colleagues from West Mercia and the authority there.

If we can obtain good evidence on rural sparsity, we shall take it into account. We shall also consider road lengths and motorways, and any other factors which police authorities consider should be taken into account because there is a specific policing cost.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maclean

I do not need to give way to my hon. Friend, because I know that he is going to mention travelling. Of course we shall look at the travelling element and the possible additional cost, but I cannot make that change based on my political instinct that there might be a cost. I have to do it on an objective formula and for objective reasons, and rightly so.

Mr. Ainger

Can the Minister assure the good people of Dyfed-Powys that the extra £2 million coming into Dyfed-Powys announced by the Secretary of State on Monday will be a permanent change to the formula, not a one-off sum this year to get the Minister and his colleagues off a difficult hook in Wales, particularly in north Wales and Dyfed-Powys?

Mr. Maclean

Of all the interventions that I have taken, that is possibly the silliest. The hon. Member knows fine that no one can make a commitment to the level of public expenditure next year. I can certainly say that the Dyfed-Powys police service has done exceptionally well under the Government. It has a good police service, with a very effective clear-up rate. I might add that Dyfed-Powys asked me for about £2 million, and received slightly more than that. It is an excellent settlement for Dyfed-Powys, and for the other Welsh authorities.

We consider the allocation of police grant to be an important part of police reforms. In attempting to identify the factors that dictate police work load and fund accordingly in the formula, we have been breaking new ground with the help of the police, local authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate. In the first year of the new funding systems, many authorities will benefit, and we have taken care to protect those which benefit less.

It appears that the House is to divide on the motion. That seems rather extraordinary to me, and it must put some Opposition Members in a difficult position. How will the shadow Home Secretary explain to Lancashire police authority that he has voted against a 5.6 per cent. settlement—over 6 per cent. if Lancashire spends up to cap? I hope that the Opposition have slipped, or paired, their leader tonight: with Durham receiving 10 per cent. extra, it must be rather embarrassing for him to vote against the increase.

Other Opposition Members have also benefited exceptionally from the redistribution formula. I shall be interested to hear what excuse the Labour party uses for voting against a settlement amounting, overall, to more than 4 per cent. If Labour Members are saying that it is not enough money, I think that we need to hear from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) whether he has been consulted about whether Labour has been given permission for all the extra police spending on top of what the Government have done.

The police settlement for 1995–96 is fair. It fully reflects the priority that the Government give to tackling crime and giving our police service the means to do it. It puts into effect the Government's real commitment to a properly resourced police service in England and Wales.

10.41 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

This is the first police funding order to be made under the new arrangements introduced by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. We shall be voting against it, for four reasons. First, it is inconsistent with the Government's own clear manifesto promises on police numbers. Secondly, some police services say that they will have to cut police numbers. Thirdly, we do not believe that the new funding formula meets the Home Office's own criteria. Fourthly, the new system lacks the flexibility that is needed when relatively small local police forces in places such as Sussex must meet the cost of wholly unanticipated spending to deal with public order crises relating to national political circumstances—in the current instance, animal welfare.

Let me deal with those reasons briefly in turn. Page 22 of the 1992 Conservative manifesto states: We are continuing to increase police numbers. There will be 1,000 extra police officers this year. That was the promise, but in fact the number of officers available for ordinary duty fell by 401 between April 1992 and April 1993.

What is more, according to Mr. John Hoddinott, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the settlement is likely to lead to the loss of 900 police officers in the forthcoming year. In a press briefing that he gave a week ago, Mr. Hoddinott said that the effect of all the funding problems to the average man or woman in the street would be a reduction in the level of service to the tune of 900 officers. The Minister asked on what basis we would vote against the order. One of the functions of the House is to judge Governments by what they promise at elections. On that test, they have palpably failed the House—and, more important, the police and the public.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

The hon. Gentleman referred to my county police force of Sussex. Will he confirm that last year it spent £4 million less than it would have been able to on standard spending assessment, and by doing so did not attract the pound-for-pound grant from the Home Office? It was therefore £8 million down, by choice. Will he confirm that, in the forthcoming year, it will be able to spend an additional £18 million, which more than covers the cost of policing at Shoreham?

Mr. Straw

If that is the best that the hon. Gentleman can do to explain the financial predicament of his constituents as a result of their having to bear the cost of nearly £2 million for policing at Shoreham, I am not surprised that he is running scared about his prospects at the next election. That cost was not anticipated by the Sussex police authority in its budget. On his weasel words about the £4 million and £8 million, when I was shadow Environment Secretary this time last year, I do not recall the hon. Gentleman at any stage coming into the House and demanding that East Sussex or West Sussex county councils should spend another £8 million on the police. Did he come into the House and tell us that? Come on.

Mr. Stephen

If the hon. Gentleman believes in local democracy, he will understand that the decision on what to spend on the police is a matter for the police authority and the county councils concerned. It is not for this House.

Mr. Straw

There are words for that which would be unparliamentary, but the hon. Gentleman's constituents will take note of the fact that, this time last year, he supported cuts in the budget of Sussex county council. He did not call for an extra £8 million. Now, when it is too late, he is calling for it. He will be judged by what he said.

Mr. John Greenway

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I must get on. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

One of the reasons why there is a discrepancy between what the Minister is saying about the settlement and what the Association of Chief Police Officers is saying about it is that part of the famous 4 per cent. that the Minister mentioned will not, and cannot, be used to finance front-line services. The 4 per cent. needs to be set against a gross domestic product deflator of 3.4 per cent. Mr. Hoddinott has spelt out that, because of the new arrangements, police authorities, for the first time, will have to build up their own reserves of 2 per cent. of their budgets. As the hon. Members for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) and for Stafford (Mr. Cash) have pointed out, police authorities also face significant increases in pension contributions, which I understand are to rise this year by 9 per cent. They question whether full account has been taken of that in the formula that the Minister spoke about.

Our second point is that some forces are likely to suffer absolute reductions in police numbers. According to the information that I have read, which is based on estimates from police authorities, those forces include Derbyshire, Dyfed-Powys, Lincolnshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Thames Valley. According to ACPO figures, of the 41 forces in the country, four have said that they will be able to improve their services, 17 will be in a standstill position, and 22 will have to make economies.

I gather that, in an intervention, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) talked about the Minister putting money in the way of Tory areas. It is rare for me to have to correct him. [Interruption.] It was my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) who made the point. I apologise for pulling him up on this matter, but one of the historic events of 1993 was that, for the first time in 20th century history, not a single area of the country had a Conservative-controlled police authority. Such is the lack of confidence that the British people have in the Conservative Government.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

The Metropolitan police.

Mr. Straw

If the people of London had a say, the Metropolitan police too would be run by a police authority that was not controlled by the Conservatives.

Our third objection to the order is that the funding formula does not meet the Home Office's own criteria: it should be objective, based on the best available data, stable from year to year, command a wide measure of support and be free from perverse incentives. A chapter of accidents, about which the Minister was silent, have hit the development of the formula and £30 million was lost in the system, and chief constables, at a late date, received further information about changes in the formula. They may have involved only £1 million or £2 million in budgets of £150 million, but, as one chief constable said, when pay accounts for 85 per cent. of police costs, variations of £1 million or £2 million can make a huge difference to whether a particular service can be developed or has to be cut.

Mr. Ian Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is proving that he is a master of his brief and I compliment him on that. Given that he is a master of his brief, will he tell us how much more the Labour party thinks that we should he spending on the police? Will he spell Out the Labour party's commitment?

Mr. Straw

The debate is about judging the order against the criteria that the Home Office and the Conservative party set in 1992 and this year. I share the hon. Gentleman's confidence that the Labour party will win the next election. If he retains his seat, I invite him to sit on this side of the House and listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) announcing in his first Budget the details of our spending plans.

Our fourth objection is that the system lacks the flexibility to enable relatively small local forces to deal with what, to them, can be the huge extra costs arising from unexpected public order situations, such as the demonstrations at Shoreham in Sussex. I have here a letter from Councillor Steve Bassam, the leader of Brighton council, in which he complains about the costs which, at that stage, were running at almost£1 million a week. He said: This is not a cost which the authority can sustain for very long without affecting other front line policing priorities. He wonders whether one off events of the sort currently occurring at Shoreham … have a distorting and long term effect on policing in the County. He continues: Crime is a major issue here in Brighton with high levels of burglary and auto-thefts, anything which diverts police time and finance away from tackling these issues is not popular".

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that it is not only small forces that are affected by such incidents? Even the Lancashire force, which is quite large, has to deal every other year with an incident which adds considerably to its policing costs. I refer, of course, to the Conservative party conference. In that one week, my hon. Friend's constituency, like mine, provides extra police to Blackpool and we in Lancashire have to pay the costs.

Mr. Straw

I agree and the matter has been the subject of continual representations to successive Home Secretaries. Some change has been made in the formula set out in the police grant report, but the Home Secretary and his colleague need to examine much more carefully what happens when police authorities have to bear the cost of what amount to national incidents or occasions. Can the costs better be pooled? It would certainly be better for unanticipated events such as the demonstration in Shoreham, which meant the local police force bringing in assistance from other areas. I accept that there is no perfect solution, but I think that a pooling arrangement would be an improvement.

Mr. John Greenway

I think that all hon. Members have some sympathy with his argument, but the hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not prepared to state what the Labour party's total spend on the police would be, even though it would be a finite sum of money. He criticises the Government's position for its lack of flexibility, but he would cream off money from other forces to pay for a problem in one particular area.

Mr. Straw

There are some functions—pre-eminently those carried out by the Metropolitan police—which are national police functions. That is reflected in the formula as the additional £130 million takes account of the Metropolitan police's national police functions. There are occasions elsewhere around the country—party conferences or unanticipated incidents—that take on national dimensions. Depending on the size of the local police authority, the cost of dealing with those national incidents may be too much for it to bear. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I am not saying for one moment that there is an easy answer, but I am not certain that this motion is the answer.

Mr. Lord

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

This is the last intervention that I shall allow because we are under instructions to be brief.

Mr. Lord

One of the concerns of Suffolk police is the size of its contingency fund. As I understand it, it is anxious to build it up over the years in case it encounters events such as those at Shoreham, Brightlingsea or wherever. That could result, if we are not careful, in police forces all over the country building up contingency funds that they may never need. Perhaps we should rethink the whole business, dispense with contingency funds and allow police forces, when something strange happens, to apply to central Government.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. My understanding is that the police forces are this year required to build up balances of 2 per cent. One of the benefits of the old system—it was not always beneficial—was that forces could use the balances of their much larger parent county council or metropolitan council. If there were the kind of pooling arrangement about which I have been talking, the hon. Gentleman would be exactly right to say that there would be less need for those balances.

The most that the Secretary of State could say about the settlement in evidence that he gave to the Select Committee on Home Affairs was that across the country as a whole, it would enable the police service at least to maintain the existing number of police officers. I invite my hon. Friends to weigh those words with care, for the Secretary of State is admitting that some forces will suffer real cuts. That is light years away from the bullish claims which the Secretary of State and his right hon. and hon. Friends made before the last election.

It is no wonder that Mr. John Maples, the Conservative deputy chairman, had to admit in his now famous memorandum that crime is worse under the Conservatives. This settlement will do little to make crime better.

10.56 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

As an hon. Member who represents a constituency in the Metropolitan police area, I welcome the increase in grant of 3 per cent. of resources for the police service for 1995–96. That represents a budget of £1.619 billion compared with £1.6 billion in 1994–95. In addition, the £7 million cost of escort duties, which is no longer the Metropolitan police's responsibility, remains in its budget. I am especially glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has agreed that up to 2 per cent. underspending on the Metropolitan budget can be rolled forward in future. That will be worth £35 million and is a sensible way in which to handle any underspend that may result from the difficulty of hitting a precise budget of £1.6 billion.

My constituents, on whose behalf I speak in the debate, have good cause to be pleased with the excellent service that they are receiving. Only this week, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Paul Condon, advised me and other Members who represent London constituencies of the success of the service over the past year and of his hopes for the future. There is good news for the people of the Metropolitan police area, resulting in no small measure from the financial resources that have been provided.

The anti-burglary campaign, Operation Bumblebee, has achieved a 17 per cent. reduction in residential burglary. There has been a 37 per cent. reduction in armed robbery at business premises and a reduction of 17 per cent. in car crime. In addition, the Metropolitan police is meeting its ambitious targets of responding to urgent calls in under 12 minutes in 90 per cent. of cases. As the Commissioner has pointed out, many of the successes that the Metropolitan police is achieving are due in large part to the communities with which it works. So Londoners are getting excellent policing.

However, I have one concern. The Metropolitan police appears to have lost some 270 posts from the establishment level. No new officers have gone on to operational duties as a result of the change in responsibility for the escort service, despite the fact that, as I have said, for 1995–96, it was able to retain the £7 million cost of those services in the budget.

As the House knows, with the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien), I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. I shall comment briefly on the allocation of resources as the federation sees it. In doing so, I emphasise that my role is to advise the federation on what Parliament is thinking and to inform the House what the federated ranks are thinking about this year's settlement. I am not a spokesman for the federated ranks—that is to say, those who hold the rank of constable, sergeant or inspector. I speak only to tell the House what they are thinking and to ask from my hon. Friend the Minister of State frank views in return.

The federation welcomes the 3 per cent. increase in the allocation for the police for the coming financial year. However, it points out that when account is taken of the prevailing rate of inflation, low though it is, 3 per cent. or, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State pointed out, about 4 per cent. represents what is virtually a standstill for police spending overall. It will mean that when chief constables take responsibility for force expenditure in April, there will be no really significant extra money to meet constantly rising demands on the service, with some exceptions. In other words, the federation sees the settlement as a standstill. It also means that the cost of policing will be 32p a day per head of the population.

The federation believes that the public might be willing to pay a little more to secure the extra policing that many people talk about, especially more officers on the beat. However, I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has fought his corner hard with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor in securing this year's increase, and that must be taken into account in any mature consideration of the matter.

As the House knows, the new funding formula for police forces will come into effect on 1 April. It is the federation's view that, despite the 3 per cent. increase, the majority of forces in England and Wales will face some financial difficulties. There is concern that nearly half the forces will have to reduce their police officer and civilian establishment rates. There is a fear that about 1,500 police officers and civilians will be lost. Can my hon. Friend the Minister of State comment on those fears of the largest police staff association?

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, there has been a major change in the way in which funding is calculated. Unfortunately, it appears to the federation that a number of forces have been severely affected by the way in which the new formula works. We have already heard this evening about Cumbria, Derbyshire, Dyfed-Powys, Lincolnshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Thames Valley, which is next to my constituency of Uxbridge. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will have seen representatives of all those forces. They recognise that some forces have received considerably more money than they received last year. They are concerned that, because of the operation of the new formula, they have not received the resources that are necessary and that they may not be able to meet their local policing needs.

Cumbria, I am told—perhaps my hon. Friend will confirm or deny it—will lose 77 officers and 34 civilians. Derbyshire will lose 30 officers, and Dorset will lose 40. Dyfed-Powys will be particularly badly affected and, I am told, will lose 100 officers. Greater Manchester and Thames Valley will lose 350.

There is another serious problem to which I should like an answer this evening, and it is the inability of forces to pay commutation to officers who have been obliged to retire on ill-health grounds. Those officers, I am told, are being retained on full pay, although they are unable to work. Surely, when the Government have pressed the police service to get rid of officers who are unable to work and to retire them on sickness grounds, the service should be able to pay them their commutation rather than having to retain them on full pay.

There is continuing concern in the federation about the manning levels during the 1995–96 financial year. As it sees it, there will be a significant reduction in the overall establishment of police forces in England and Wales. If that proves to be correct, it is worrying, in view of the duties imposed on the police, not least by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which the chairman of the Police Federation described as "music in our ears".

If the Conservative party is to maintain its reputation—I know it will—as the party of law and order, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure the House that the number of police officers on force establishments will not be allowed to drop and there will be further consideration of the problems that I have mentioned.

I turn now to the role of special constables. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, the federation accepts that the role of specials is very important as an adjunct to the regular trained force. But they cannot be a replacement for the regular police officer. Why is it, then, that the special constabulary development course was introduced with the objective of ensuring that specials achieve the same professional standards as fully attested officers?

Both the specials and the new parish constables will, I understand, be part of the force structure under the command of the chief constable. My hon. Friend the Minister will therefore understand that the increasing number of specials and the new parish constables couldߞI emphasise that word—be seen by regular officers as a cheap alternative to alleviate the manning shortfall. Can my hon. Friend assure me and the federation that that is not the Government's intention, and that they will maintain full support for the concept of forces which are properly manned by regular officers and supported by specials and parish constables where appropriate?

I shall make one final point. Can my hon. Friend the Minister assure me and the federated ranks that transfer of powers to local authorities to deal with parking offences and the ability of local authorities to provide off-street parking facilities with the money they receive from fines will not reduce the funding of police budgets? After all, the proceeds of those fines previously went to the Exchequer. Can he assure the House thatߞ

Mr. Deputy Speaker


11.6 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

When people from a large number of force areas compare the Minister's comments tonight and the Home Secretary's earlier promise that it will be possible for police establishments and numbers to remain the same with their chief constables' statements that they are being forced to reduce police officer numbers by a combination of the effect of this settlement and other pressures, who are they likely to believe? I think that they are more likely to believe the chief constables, whom they recognise as holding a non-partisan point of view and as simply seeking to carry out the good policing of their areas.

Chief constables in a number of areas are having to say that because of many inherent problems in the settlement that cannot be solved without the necessary funding being provided. In the latter part of his speech, the Minister began to make clear what some of those problems are. If he had not done so, interventions by several of his hon. Friends and the remarks made on behalf of the Police Federation by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) would have demonstrated the problems vividly. I know that a succession of Members have been to see Ministers, along with deputations from various local authorities, to explain the problems that many of them will face following the settlement.

There are a number of common threads to the situation. A number of forces are already making savings to meet earlier budget pressures or capping limits, and they are having to squeeze hard to keep within existing budgets. Some forces—including mine in Northumbria—are working hard to thin out their higher ranks to put more officers in the front line. That is a valuable but difficult change to manage, and it has other consequences. It involves retiring senior officers, and therefore putting additional pressures on pension provisions. I shall return to that point.

Mr. Maclean

Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that it would be perfectly valid and appropriate if a force such as his local constabulary made an overall reduction in the number of police officers but increased the number of bobbies on the beat?

Mr. Beith

It is possible to achieve greater use of current manpower, but most chief officers have told the Home Office in the past year that they believe that, even with such efforts, they need additional total manpower. Not one of them was granted additional establishment manpower by the Home Office in the past year.

There is a dispute between most of the chief constables and the Home Office over precisely how much can be achieved and how many more additional officers are needed. Other factors create problems. The way in which rural areas are dealt with has been referred to, and that affects the force in the Minister's area of Cumbria. It also affects Dyfed-Powys, and other rural forces throughout the country.

There are no reserves for the new police authorities. Funds cannot be transferred from local authorities, as under the previous system. Reserves will have to be set aside, will build up only after some years and already represent a claim on funds for the first year.

Special factors affect certain forces, some of which have been mentioned, such as the huge cost of policing party conferences. The Conservative party conference in Bournemouth, which is far more expensive to police than any of the others, will probably affect Dorset every two years and will impose an extremely heavy burden on the police budget.

The Cromwell street investigation imposes a huge cost on the Gloucestershire force and the effect of the Shoreham case on Sussex has also been mentioned. Those are all large items in police force budgets.

Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

My right hon. Friend mentioned Gloucestershire police force. During the past four years, Gloucestershire county council has spent above its standard spending assessment on the police. Can he think of any reason why the Home Secretary has turned down the special request for a grant to help with the Cromwell street investigation, which has cost £1.4 million so far?

Mr. Beith

No, and I refer the Minister to his own words about the position of the Metropolitan police force and its special responsibilities. From time to time, other forces have to carry especially heavy responsibilities and we need some mechanism by which we can provide for them if we are to budget sensibly. Otherwise, as has been pointed out, there will have to be much higher provision for contingencies, which will make sensible day-to-day police operations more difficult to manage.

Pensions are another important common thread of most of the complaints. The Home Office estimated that pensions would cost police forces 9 per cent. of their budgets, but in most forces the cost seems to be between 10 and 14 per cent.—certainly, in many of the cases that have been referred to me. The reasons include the Sheehy report, the retiring of senior ranks, people serving an extra term and getting the lump sum commutation and the fact that officers recruited during the 1964 recruiting bulge are retiring. Those pensions have to be paid and they represent a higher burden on authorities than that for which the Home Office seems to have provided.

Those problems are compounded by the miscalculations, some of which have been corrected during the second round of the settlement, although others have not. The errors in the revenue support grant settlement showed that the departments were not getting it right. It thus becomes easier to understand how the mess has arisen.

Let us consider the size of the shortfall that some of the forces face. Suffolk has a £2 million shortfall on the cost of pensions and is threatened with the loss of 86 officers. Thames Valley has a total shortfall of £7.5 million and might lose more than 300 officers. Dorset is one of only three forces to have received a cut in funding. Even by spending to the capping limit, Dorset is allowed only 2.2 per cent., as against 2.5 per cent. Greater Manchester has been talking of the possible loss of more than 300 officers. Dyfed-Powys has a £2 million shortfall. Cumbria has been mentioned and, in Devon and Cornwall, the cost of pensions is estimated to be 14 per cent. The Metropolitan police force wanted 150 more officers, but it will not get them.

When we look at all those examples—as our constituents will—we cannot be satisfied with the settlement. There are two ways to resolve the problems. The first will require a reworking of the formula, which will lead to resources being taken from some forces to assist others—any resettlement has some element of that, but this problem will not he solved by that means alone. Inevitably, additional resources are necessary to make a fundamental reorganisation feasible without producing huge changes or unfairly limiting the forces that would otherwise be expected to contribute.

Mr. Stephen


Mr. Beith

I will not give way as we are all under a time constraint and I want to bring my remarks to a close.

In our costed budget proposals, in the autumn, we included a proposal to increase the number of police officers to the extent that chief constables then requestedߞ2,675 officers, at a cost of £80 million. The Home Secretary granted no increase in officers in 1994 and is now telling police authorities that if chief constables choose to do so collectively—I assume he means collectively—they will be able to keep forces at their present level. He is not assuming an increase in the number of officers and a significant number of chief constables will ultimately have to tell him that it is not a matter of their choosing—unless by "choosing" he means that, having kept the same number of officers, he stops them using vehicles, denies them essential equipment, allows no overtime even when it is essential and in various other ways negates the value of appointing those officers, so extensive will be the cuts in other services in order to maintain them.

Under this settlement, the Home Secretary's promise will not be kept throughout the country. The task of fighting crime will be immensely more difficult because, even with the best will in the world and the most effective reorganisation, many forces will be unable to keep even the same number of officers in the front line, and some may have fewer. The Minister's remarks showed a glimmer of recognition that the formula is not right, that it has had some bad consequences and that it needs to be changed. But additional resources will be required to solve that problem and give our communities the policing that they need to ensure that they have not only a sense of security but effective crime fighting.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Liberal Democrat spokesman to complain about the increased cost of policing when his party hasߞ

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me, and it is not in order to waste the House's time in such a short debate.

11.16 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

I have no doubt that the settlement is a good deal for the country as a whole and a genuine manifestation of the priority which the Government set on good policing and law and order. After all, a settlement of more than 4 per cent. for the coming financial year is generous, given that inflation is barely half that.

Opposition Members seem to dislike my introductory remarks. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who attempted to make a number of strictures, sounded hollow and unconvincing because he notably declined every opportunity that was given to him to say how the Labour party would do any better. I do not intend to dwell on the Labour party any longer.

I listened to the speech by my hon. Friend the Minister of State with admiration for the general settlement that he has achieved for the country as a whole, but with a growing and intense sense of painful envy because my county of Lincolnshire has not shared in the general bonanza which other police forces seem to have enjoyed. Unlike Derbyshire, we have not been given an opportunity next year to spend up to 8 per cent. more. We learnt a few moments ago that Sussex is relishing the prospect of spending £18 million more next year. We have not been given that opportunity. Next year, Lincolnshire's police budget will be capped to within £150,000 of this year's budget—the 1994–95 actual spend—so a real reduction will be imposed on us. My constituents regard that as an invidious, undeserved and grievous blow.

Unlike the areas represented by Opposition Members, Lincolnshire has not suffered from a lunatic council. We have heard all about Derbyshire's lunatic council, for which that county now appears to have been rewarded. Until last year when we lost control of it, for 20 years Lincolnshire had a Conservative council which set an exemplary record of good, responsible and prudent local government, so it is incomprehensible that we should have been treated in that way.

My hon. Friend the Minister is aware of Lincolnshire's profound reaction to his proposals. When one makes a national settlement that is as generally well conceived as this one, it is inevitable that some anomalies, difficulties and unfairness will arise, particularly when a new formula is introduced.

May I make a strong two-fold plea to my hon. Friend the Minister? First, he said that he will seek to find a way to ensure that the sparsity factor is included in the formula in future. That is of obvious significance to Lincolnshire because sparsity is a major factor in a large county such as Lincolnshire. It takes a lot longer to get a police car to an incident; more resources are needed to achieve the response time that is more easily achieved in densely populated districts. As I understand it, the purpose of the standard spending assessment formula is to put everyone on the same basis. I cannot believe that it is beyond the range of human ingenuity to devise a way in which sparsity can be included in the formula.

Secondly, whatever my hon. Friend the Minister does to the formula will not help us in the coming year. If, as I suspect will inevitably occur, Lincolnshire police committee decides that the only right, responsible and possible course for it to take in the circumstances is to set a budget which is, at least, at the same level in real terms—and therefore above the capping limit—I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not reject it out of hand. I hope that he will give it careful consideration, listen fairly to all the arguments that are put to him and give Lincolnshire police committee a chance to convince him of the case, even if my words have failed to do so.

11.21 pm
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), is the Paul Daniels of the Government Front Bench—whether he does it by mirrors or by prestidigitation. I read with amazement the figures for Merseyside police that accompanied the Home Secretary's letter. It is pointed out that the puny increase of 0.8 per cent. in the budget becomes 2.5 per cent. if the full capping limit is exploited, but it is not pointed out that the chief constable needs the courage to increase his precept by 20 per cent.—on Merseyside, that is no small challenge.

The Minister said that there were representations from the Merseyside police authority, as result of which the formula was changed. But let us consider the way in which it changed. The interim police grant went up from £105.8 million to £106.7 million. The revenue support grant increased from £62.3 million to £63.3 million. But, by a process of mirrors, the special damping grant was reduced from £1.5 million to nought, so the net increase was simply £400,000.

Furthermore, because of the way in which the police grant has been calculated, the Home Secretary takes credit for the fact that £1.774 million will not have to be found by the Merseyside police authority for common police services such as the computer. But everyone knows that that was a mistake and the position is guaranteed only for 1995–96. No one feels secure about that element of funding for the next year. According to the Home Secretary's figures, the pensions allocation for Merseyside has been increased by £1.81 million. But that is by no means adequate compensation for the £2.5 million increase in the recurrent costs and the £3.5 million increase in lump sum payment in the past year.

The formula penalises Merseyside. The Minister made great play of the formula's objectivity. We know from bitter experience of the Government that there is no such thing as an objective formula. Formulae contain selected factors which are weighted. In this case, the selection and the weighting are utterly wrong for Merseyside. As the establishment element is phased out, Merseyside will face a £13 million budget deficit. The number of personnel—both police and civilian—will have to be reduced by 100, and there will be more cuts as the situation worsens. Unless the Government radically rethink the formula and look carefully at pensions—preferably more carefully than the Minister suggested in his opening remarks—the prospects for Merseyside are catastrophic.

11.25 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I will make a brief contribution to the debate because the House wants to move to a Division and I think that my hon. Friend the Minister intends to say a few more words.

It is clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like an increase in police spending. No issue concerns our constituents more than law and order and the lack of police presence on our streets—particularly in rural areas. This is the first occasion since the enactment of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill that we have had a chance to consider the effect of the new funding arrangements for the police service.

Viewed in the context of the total public spending round and the settlement for local authorities, which the House will consider tomorrow evening, the police settlement is very helpful and generous. I would like every police authority in England, Wales and Scotland to receive more money, but the fact remains that it is not easy to allocate public funds at present.

The Government's achievement in this police grant settlement is far more helpful to police authorities than many hon. Members feared it would be when the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill was introduced. I remember telling the House on that occasion that it is all very well giving chief constables the flexibility to decide how many police officers to recruit, or to decide to spend more money on technology and new equipment such as computers or new police cars—many of them will take those decisions—but we must ensure that there will be at least an inflation-linked increase in total police spending or, better still, a real terms increase. We now have a national real terms increase.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out that the single factor which undermines police spending power most is the vexed problem of police pensions. The formula cannot address adequately the fact that more and more police forces are having to contribute significantly to officer retirement—mostly on the ground of ill-health. We must find a better solution to that problem.

I conclude by admonishing the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who said that a worst estimate under the new formula and this settlement might mean that there will be 900 fewer police officers. That scenario has also been suggested by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Chief constables will have to decide their spending priorities.

Has the hon. Gentleman come to the House in the past 15 years and congratulated the Government on the fact that there are 16,000 more police and civilian officers and that more money has been spent on the police service than on any other part of the public sector? He has never done that and he never will. The settlement demonstrates that support for the police service is a Government priority and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State on securing such a good deal for the police service.

11.29 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) showed remarkable cheek in attacking my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and trying to defend the Government's record. Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that he, like all Conservative Members, fought the last general election promising an increase of 1,000 police officers that year but that the Government delivered a cut of 401? The hon. Gentleman and Ministers should apologise to the House, rather than criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn.

The House should bear in mind the background to the report. The Conservatives have been deeply damaged by their failure to combat crime. Recorded crime has more than doubled and crimes of violence continue to soar. Specific victims and whole communities feel neglected. The British crime survey shows that actual crime has been rising two and a half times as fast as recorded crime since 1991. The best that the Home Secretary can offer is to walk with a purpose and to cut compensation for victims of the most horrific and violent attacks, including police officers injured on duty.

The last two Home Secretaries have sought to attack everyone in a blatant attempt to escape the blame that is rightly put at the Government's door. Those at the front line in our prisons and probation officers—who are at the front line in communities—are among the regular targets in this long-running farce. Above all, the police have been under constant attack on a variety of fronts, from the ill-judged Sheehy review to the attempt to take central control over the police enshrined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There has been continued insecurity.

The Government have broken their promises, and the report before the House shows their failure to produce a fair, transparent formula for setting police grant in the coming year.

There are some positive, welcome points. The publication of standard spending assessments for police authorities in Wales flushed out both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales. We pleaded with them to end the secrecy surrounding the Welsh figures and demanded that they got their act together. In recent years neither the police grant nor cash to local authorities has been adequate, and the increase in cash for South Wales police this year—the first of transparency—shows just how right we were.

Our communities have been condemned to two years of turmoil and fear, while police officers have felt neglected and undervalued. Transparency has at last forced those Secretaries of State to accept that Welsh Labour Members and councillors were right and the cash levels inadequate, and to put right that iniquity.

Even this week came a curious change, as those same Ministers had to admit that they got it wrong in Dyfed-Powys and north Wales. I am glad that the Government have listened since last November and increased the cash for those forces, but where is the money to be found? The overall police grant is to be redistributed, and the Welsh Office sum will go direct to police authorities—but the figure precepted on local authorities will have to come from their already stretched budgets at a time when we need our councils to increase and extend their work on crime prevention, protecting the youth service and partnership with the police on crime-cutting initiatives.

Given that only one crime in 50 ends up being punished in court, and only one in 750 or more ends in a custodial sentence, the capacity for developing local partnerships cannot he underestimated. I do not believe that the welcome increase in cash for the police has been compensated by the cash given to local authorities. That last-minute change tells us that the formula is not dependable and transparent.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

My hon. Friend is aware of the concerns of the Police Federation of England and Wales, to which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred. The federation says that up to 1,500 police officer and civilian posts could he lost by the new formula. If chief constables and the federation are not assured by the formula, how can we be assured?

Mr. Michael

I acknowledge the strength of the case made by my hon. Friend, of which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is clearly aware—although the hon. Gentleman almost apologised for making the points that he did. I understand his embarrassment. The hon. Gentleman referred to a 3 per cent. increase, which is shown by the figures to be more accurate than 4 per cent. Given a 3.4 per cent. gross domestic product deflator, the need to construct a reserve fund, the burden of unfunded pensions and the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), a 3 per cent. settlement is hardly generous.

The proportion of budgets taken by pensions in 1990–91 was 6.8 per cent. of the total. By 1994–95 they are expected to take more than 9 per cent.; and the actuarial studies show that that trend will continue well into the next century.

When the draft formula was seen in the autumn and there was an outcry over the figures, we were told that they were for exemplification only. "You don't like the figures," said the Home Secretary. "Okay, here are some different ones." If the formula is satisfactory, should not it produce a dependable outcome, and not be subject to major fluctuations as the Home Office wrestles with it and tries to squeeze out of it a result that makes sense? It is not good enough to have uncertainty for the future and the likelihood of large fluctuations from year to year. The Minister even acknowledged that they were likely.

Trained and experienced police officers cannot he turned on one year and off the next like a tap. The formula should not be open to distortion; it should not need major intervention by the Home Secretary each year; and it should allow sensible planning by chief constables and police authorities.

Mr. Lord


Mr. Michael

Today's report fails to provide us with a formula that is dependable, transparent and stable from year to year. That is what the police and the community want. The problem is not new. We have pressed successive Home Secretaries to treat the matter with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves. This report should be marked: "Could do better—must do better—try again." That is the signal that we will give the Home Secretary through our votes tonight, in the best interests of the police and the public.

11.36 pm
Mr. Maclean

It is perhaps not surprising that tonight we have heard more from those who believe that their local police force will be disadvantaged than from those who are about to see the benefits of the application of a new objective system of funding the police. We have also seen the Labour party wriggling, trying to justify voting against an increase for the police service of more than 4 per cent., and using as an excuse its concern about police numbers. Labour was the party that left office with the force 8,000 bobbies under establishment. Police officers were leaving the force in disgust, at the rate of 5,000 a year, because the Labour Government refused to pay them a decent living wage.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that we need some mechanism for dealing with exceptional circumstances. He mentioned some. I must tell him that we have such a mechanism. Any police service can approach the Government, and if the criteria are met, it will get 100 per cent. funding for any exceptional circumstances. That was last used in the right hon. Gentleman's county; following the Newcastle riots, Northumberland benefited from its special approach to the Home Office.

The right hon. Gentleman also bandied around the word "cuts". Comparing a settlement of as much as 10 per cent. with the budgets that police chiefs or authorities would really like for next year—if money were no object—arid calling the difference a cut is just not sustainable. All police services in England and Wales have had an increase in their resources next year. Some have had considerably more. Even those which are gaining a lot would have liked more. The difference, I repeat, is not a cut.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), in a considerate speech, pointed out the difficulties that he believes Lincolnshire will face. I have met delegations from there, as well as from many other authorities. The formula is based on need. It attempts to distribute resources to forces on that basis. I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that we will look carefully at sparsity factors. I am heartened by the evidence supplied by various rural forces, which have sought to identify a special police funding element based on rural sparsity. If that is statistically valid, I will be happy to build it into the formula.

My hon. Friend also asked me about the capping limit. If the police authority sets a budget above the cap, the Government do not reject it out of hand. We are bound to examine the argument made: it has made every effort to live within the cap but cannot reasonably do so. In those circumstances, the Government must decide whether to invite the House to confirm the cap, to accept the budget level established by the authority or to propose a new capping limit between the two. That is the official and legal position.

Mr. Stephen

Does my hon. Friend recall that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), in the course of his speech, misled the House by suggesting that last year I supported a cut in my local county council's SSA? Is my hon. Friend aware that, in fact, that county council received a substantial increase in its SSA last year?

Mr. Maclean

Of course I am aware of that. My hon. Friend is right to point it out.

I reject the argument made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara)—that the effect of the fund on Merseyside will be catastrophic. Everyone knows that Merseyside is a well-funded force and is highly successful against crime. We believe that its element of funding this year is adequate and consistent with the need for policing in Merseyside.

I welcome the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who pointed out that the Labour party failed to take account of the 16,000 extra police officers in Britain today—it is more than when the Labour Government left office.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made some interesting points. I welcome the fact that the Police Federation welcomes the 3 per cent. extra—taking into account the damping grant, the 4 per cent. extra. I understand the concern about manning levels, but I must point out that we shall no longer be fixing police establishments. I cannot give categorical guarantees about the numbers that any police force will have. That will depend entirely on the decisions taken by chief officers. My hon. Friends must treat all the figures cautiously.

I perfectly well understand—it is not a criticism—that some police forces have prepared a menu of the changes that they might make, whether they might freeze some establishment levels or close some stations. I have seen some of them touted around as a collective list of all the things that will happen. That is not the case, and my hon. Friends should study the lists carefully to get at the facts.

Mr. Lord

Like many Conservative Members, I understand the great difficulty in being precise and totally fair about the matter, and I very much welcome my hon. Friend's words when he says that he is prepared to look at the sparsity factor again. Will he please look, if not this year, at least in subsequent years, at the huge distorting effect that has become apparent in the debate of the funding of police pensions?

Mr. Maclean

The funding of police pensions is a key area for us to examine, both to try to find a solution to a fully funded pension scheme perhaps 30 or 40 years hence, and to look at the formula for next year and subsequent years.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that we shall look at sick retirements in the police service. The Government's campaign to increase the number of specials from 20,000 to 30,000 was established long before the present funding settlement, and we intend to pursue that campaign, irrespective of the number of regular police officers that we have.

I now deal with the hon. Member for Blackburn. It is extraordinary—my hon. Friends will be quite surprised to hear this—that one of the official excuses that the Labour party is using tonight to vote against the motion is that it is worried about a possible drop of 400 in the number of police officers between two carefully selected months last year. The months were carefully selected to show that when police officers go to training schools, the number in the service, obviously, increases. If one picks a month before the training schools have an intake, one will see that the service is short by a higher number of officers. To hear the Labour party complaining about 400 police officers when the service was short by 8,000 when it was in power really sticks in the craw. The Conservative party will be judged not by a selective period of four months last year but on our law and order record over the past I5 years. Those were 15 years of increasing the number of police officers in Britain; there are 16,000 more regular officers and 16,000 more civilian staff, with the net result that we have more constables than we had last year.

The Labour party likes to try to get hooked on the overall number of police officers. It seems to ignore the fact that because of the restructuring that has taken place in police services resulting in fewer senior ranks, in the first 10 months of last year we had 600 more constables than ever before. That is the Government's record on law and order.

It is just not believable for the Opposition to go into the Lobby tonight to vote against a settlement for the police service of more than 4 per cent.—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of the debate, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order 119 December]:

The House divided: Ayes 288, Noes 248.

Division No. 60] [11.45 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Ashby, David
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Aspinwall, Jack
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Atkins, Robert
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Amess, David Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)
Arbuthnot, James Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Baldry, Tony
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bates, Michael Gale, Roger
Batiste, Spencer Gallie, Phil
Bellingham, Henry Gardiner, Sir George
Bendall, Vivian Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Beresford, Sir Paul Garnier, Edward
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gillan, Cheryl
Booth, Hartley Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Boswell, Tim Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gorst, Sir John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Grant Sir A (SW Cambs)
Bowis, John Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brandreth, Gyles Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brazier, Julian Grylls, Sir Michael
Bright, Sir Graham Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hague, William
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Browning, Mrs Angela Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Hampson, Dr Keith
Budgen, Nicholas Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Burns, Simon Hannam, Sir John
Burt, Alistair Hargreaves, Andrew
Butcher, John Harris, David
Butler, Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Butterfill, John Hawkins, Nick
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Hayes, Jerry
Carrington, Matthew Heald, Oliver
Cash, William Heathcoat-Amory, David
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hendry, Charles
Churchill, Mr Hicks, Robert
Clappison, James Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Horam, John
Coe, Sebastian Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Colvin, Michael Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Congdon, David Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Conway, Derek Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hunter, Andrew
Couchman, James Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cran, James Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Jenkin, Bernard
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Jessel, Toby
Day, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Delvin, Tim Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dicks, Terry Key, Robert
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen King, Rt Hon Tom
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knapman, Roger
Dover, Den Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Duncan, Alan Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Duncan Smith, Iain Knox, Sir David
Dunn, Bob Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Dykes, Hugh Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Elletson, Harold Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Legg, Barry
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Leigh, Edward
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evennett, David Lidington, David
Faber, David Lightbown, David
Fabricant, Michael Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Fishburn, Dudley Lord, Michael
Forman, Nigel Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forth, Eric MacKay, Andrew
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Maclean, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) McLoughlin, Patrick
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
French, Douglas Madel, Sir David
Maitland, Lady Olga Sims, Roger
Malone, Gerald Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mans, Keith Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Martand, Paul Soames, Nicholas
Marlow, Tony Spencer, Sir Derek
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Spink, Dr Robert
Mates, Michael Spring, Richard
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Sproat, Iain
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Merchant Piers Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mills, Iain Steen, Anthony
Mitchell, Andrew (Gadling) Stephen, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Stern, Michael
Moate, Sir Roger Stewart, Allan
Monro, Sir Hector Streeter, Gary
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Sumberg, David
Moss, Malcolm Sweeney, Walter
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Sykes, John
Nelson, Anthony Tapsell, Sir Peter
Neubert, Sir Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Nicholls, Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thomason, Roy
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Norris, Steve Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Thumham, Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Page, Richard Tracey, Richard
Paice, James Tredinnick, David
Patten, Rt Hon John Trend, Michael
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Pickles Eric Viggers, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Porter, David (Waveney) Walden, George
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Powell, William (Corby) Waller, Gary
Redwood, Rt Hon John Ward, John
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Waterson, Nigel
Richards, Rod Watts, John
Riddick, Graham Wells, Bowen
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Robathan, Andrew Whitney, Ray
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Whittingdale, John
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Widdecombe, Ann
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wilkinson, John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Willetts, David
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Wilshire, David
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Sackville, Tom Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Wolfson, Mark
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wood, Timothy
Shaw, David (Dover) Yeo, Tim
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Tellers for the Ayes:
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Shersby, Michael Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Abbott, Ms Diane Barron, Kevin
Adams, Mrs Irene Battle, John
Ainger, Nick Bayley, Hugh
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Allen, Graham Beggs, Roy
Alton, David Berth, Rt Hon A J
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bell, Stuart
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Armstrong, Hilary Bennett, Andrew F
Austin-Walker, John Benton, Joe
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Bermingham, Gerald
Barnes, Harry Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive Hall, Mike
Blunkett, David Hanson, David
Boateng, Paul Harman, Ms Harriet
Bradley, Keith Harvey, Nick
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Henderson, Doug
Burden, Richard Heppell, John
Caborn, Richard Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Callaghan, Jim Hinchliffe, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hodge, Margaret
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hoey, Kate
Campbell-Savours, D N Hogg, Norman (Cumbemauld)
Canavan, Dennis Home Robertson, John
Cann, Jamie Hood, Jimmy
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Hoon, Geoffrey
Chidgey, David Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Chisholm, Malcolm Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Church, Judith Hoyle, Doug
Clapham, Michael Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hutton, John
Clelland, David Illsley, Eric
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Ingram, Adam
Coffey, Ann Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cohen, Harry Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Connarty, Michael Jamieson, David
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Corston, Jean Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Cousins, Jim Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jowell, Tessa
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dalyell, Tam Keen, Alan
Darling, Alistair Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Davidson, Ian Khabra, Piara S
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Kilfoyle, Peter
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kirkwood, Archy
Denham, John Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Terry
Dixon, Don Liddell, Mrs Helen
Dobson, Frank Livingstone, Ken
Donohoe, Brian H Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dowd, Jim Loyden, Eddie
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lynne, Ms Liz
Eagle, Ms Angela McAllion, John
Eastham, Ken McAvoy, Thomas
Enright, Derek McCartney, Ian
Etherington, Bill Macdonald, Calum
Evans, John (St Helens N) McFall, John
Fatchett, Derek McKelvey, William
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mackinlay, Andrew
Fisher, Mark McNamara, Kevin
Flynn, Paul MacShane, Denis
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Madden, Max
Foster, Don (Bath) Maddock, Diana
Foulkes, George Mahon, Alice
Fraser, John Marek, Dr John
Fyfe, Maria Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Galbraith, Sam Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Galloway, George Martlew, Eric
Gapes, Mike Maxton, John
George, Bruce Meacher, Michael
Gerrard, Neil Meale, Alan
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Michael, Alun
Godman, Dr Norman A Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Godsiff, Roger Milburn, Alan
Golding, Mrs Llin Miller, Andrew
Gordon, Mildred Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Graham, Thomas Moonie, Dr Lewis
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Morgan, Rhodri
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Morley, Elliot
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Grocott, Bruce Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Gunnel, John Mowlam, Marjorie
Mudie, George Skinner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
O'Brien, Wiliam (Normanton) Snape, Peter
O'Hara, Edward Soley, Clive
Olner, Bill Spearing, Nigel
O'Neill, Martin Spellar, John
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Parry, Robert Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Patchett, Terry Steinberg, Gerry
Pearson, Ian Stevenson, George
Pendry, Tom Stott, Roger
Pickthall, Colin Strang, Dr. Gavin
Pike, Peter L Straw, Jack
Pope, Greg Sutcliffe, Gerry
Powel, Ray (Ogmore) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Timms, Stephen
Prescott, Rt Hon John Tipping, Paddy
Primarolo, Dawn Turner, Dennis
Purchase, Ken Tyler, Paul
Raynsford, Nick Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Reid, Dr John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Rendel, David Wareing, Robert N
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Watson, Mike
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wicks, Malcolm
Roche, Mrs Barbara Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Rogers, Allan Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Rooker, Jeff Wilson, Brian
Rooney, Terry Wise, Audrey
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Worthington, Tony
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Wright, Dr Tony
Rowlands, Ted Young, David (Bolton SE)
Ruddock, Joan
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr. Stephen Byers and
Short, Clare Mr. Peter Mandelson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 1995–96 (House of Commons Paper No. 164), which was laid before this House on 30th January, be approved.

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