HC Deb 15 February 1996 vol 271 cc1132-3
13. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to change the funding formula for police forces in rural areas. [13863]

Mr. Maclean

For 1996–97, 0.5 per cent. of total police funding will be allocated on the basis of population sparsity. That has meant an extra £870,000 for the North Yorkshire force.

Mr. Bayley

Has the Minister seen the latest crime figures for North Yorkshire, for the year ending 31 December 1995, which show yet another increase—to 59,724 offences compared with 21,000 and falling under the last Labour Government? Is the Minister further aware that North Yorkshire—I checked this figure today—has 24 fewer police officers in post than in 1979, under the last Labour Government? Where have the extra 16,000 police officers gone that the Government claim to have provided? When will the Minister give the people of North Yorkshire protection from crime?

Mr. Maclean

I am not surprised that North Yorkshire has fewer officers. I am surprised even at the number that the hon. Gentleman gave, given the way the county council underfunded the police under its standard spending assessment. In 1993, the county council gave the police £900,000 less than its SSA. The next year, it gave the police £1.3 million less than the amount to which they were entitled. When the Government took over direct funding under the new arrangements, we started by giving North Yorkshire an 8.2 per cent. increase, and this year the increase will be 4.5 per cent. The North Yorkshire force are recruiting bobbies again because the Tory Government are starting to fund them properly, which the Labour county council never did.

Mr. Alison

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the now Labour and Liberal-controlled North Yorkshire county council is laggard in appointing civilians in police administration, so keeping police officers in bureaucratic posts when they should be out on the street?

Mr. Maclean

Then it is just as well that there are now freestanding police authorities that can improve on that policy. Throughout the country, police are still doing jobs that could be done by civilians. Since 1979, the increase in the number of civilians engaged in police work has meant that 8,500 officers have been freed up to do proper policing jobs—but much more could be done.

Mr. Michael

With the Conservatives, it is always someone else's fault. They have forgotten Conservative rule in North Yorkshire. Last week, the Prime Minister excused rail ticket fraud with the words, "Someone has misbehaved." The Home Secretary's formula has cut the number of police officers in rural areas, as in others. Instead of the 1,000 extra police officers that the Prime Minister promised in the 1992 general election, their number has fallen by 800. That is the Conservatives on crime—they say one thing and mean another.

Mr. Maclean

What an extraordinary diatribe of fantasy. There are 1,454 more constables than there were at the last election. We will not take lessons on defending police numbers from a party who ran down and destroyed the police force when they were in office. They left the force 7,500 short. As for making excuses for crime, the hon. Gentleman should ask his leader to come forward today to explain what he meant when he excused shoplifters as merely putting a treat in their pockets.