HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc14-6
9. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

What criteria he will use to allocate funding from the crime fighting fund in the next financial year. [137444]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

Police forces that have recruited officers through the crime fighting fund in the current financial year will receive continuation funding to meet the cost of those officers next year. All forces have also received a provisional allocation of further CFF recruits for the next financial year. The continuation criteria link the provision of extra resources to improved performance, and cover whether the agreed additional numbers have been recruited and deployed to front-line policing and whether forces are meeting efficiency gain targets. The criteria also look at forces' progress on targets for crime reduction, police officers' sickness absence and ethnic minority recruitment.

Ms King

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, although Tower Hamlets had the biggest increase in street crime in the Metropolitan police area, the CFF's criteria meant that it was excluded from receiving extra police on the street? I welcome the Government's commitment to a 20 per cent. increase in police spending over the next three years—which would be imperilled by Tory spending cuts—but may I urge my hon. Friend to review the CFF' s criteria so that an area such as Tower Hamlets can have extra police on the streets, which we desperately need?

Mr. Clarke

We are in correspondence and discussion with my hon. Friend on this matter, which she has raised consistently and coherently. I do not accept that the CFF's criteria need to be reviewed in the way that she suggests. However, there is currently a misunderstanding between Tower Hamlets, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office, which we are now seeking to sort out, as my hon. Friend urged. The obligation to allocate extra officers is on the Metropolitan police, who are seeking to get more bobbies on the beat—more police on the streets in constituencies such as my hon. Friend's, where crime is very high.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

May I welcome the fact that the CFF has helped the police in Surrey, now that the whole of Surrey is under the Surrey constabulary. However, will the Minister take note of the fact that there is grave concern in Surrey that police who have been recruited or are even on the beat may be lost to the Metropolitan police because post-1994 officers effectively receive £6,000 less than those in the Metropolitan police? That serious problem may well undermine the CFF's objectives.

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that the whole House wishes the hon. Gentleman all the best in his reselection battle against the mavericks of the Tory ultra-right—[Interruption.] I am referring to the Conservative Front Bench.

In response to the specific matter raised by the hon. Gentleman, he is, characteristically, correct. Important issues are raised by the increase in pay for those in the Metropolitan police, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary responded to the justified points raised by a number of forces around London who are worried about losing officers to the Metropolitan police. As my right hon. Friend said, we have reached a provisional agreement, which is now a matter for the Police Negotiating Board, and I hope that we will get a settlement that meets some of the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Will the Minister give money to the pub watch scheme? As he knows, one has been set up in Blyth Valley, with the involvement of the police, publicans and myself. There has been a dramatic decrease in violent crime in Blyth Valley. The only problem is that those who have been barred are now threatening me. However, will the Minister consider the matter?

Mr. Clarke

I certainly shall consider that. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend: the Blyth Valley pub watch scheme is renowned for being an effective and good scheme—although my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary tells me that, just the other day, he visited one in Preston that is also an extremely strong example. Through our alcohol-crime seminar, we are addressing with national pub watch and a variety of local organisations how to spread the practice of pub watch from such leading examples. We are, in principle, prepared to make funding available, but we must first establish the best framework for that purpose. The concept is a powerful one which brings the positive effects to which my hon. Friend refers.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Minister agree that the best way in which to fight crime, especially in rural areas, is to have more police officers, and does he share my regret at the fact that North Yorkshire police force will be 43 officers down by the end of the year? Will he see fit to increase the crime fighting fund to ensure that there are more police officers on the streets and especially on the beat in rural areas?

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that the hon. Lady shares my regret at the fact that, before 1997, North Yorkshire police authority closed 75 police stations in rural areas of North Yorkshire. I agree that the number of police officers in rural areas is important but, as I said earlier, a series of factors, of which police numbers is only one, can be adduced to strengthen rural policing. Mobile police stations, partnerships with local authorities and targeting patrols on areas of special difficulty can and do make a significant difference in many parts of the country. I shall be happy to discuss with the hon. Lady how policing might be made more effective in North Yorkshire.