HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc1-5
1. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy)

What resources will be invested in the police service in the financial years 2001–02 to 2003–04. [137444]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

Spending for the police will rise from £7.7 billion this year to £9.3 billion in 2003–04, which is a 12 per cent. increase in real terms over the three years. The real increase for next year is the largest for almost two decades.

Mrs. Williams

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that north Wales police are very grateful for their share of the £15 million that has been made available in the current financial year to improve policing in rural areas? Will he confirm that an additional £30 million, which is the equivalent of a full year's funding for this purpose, will be made available next year? What conditions will apply to the extra funding, and will the funding continue in future years?

Mr. Straw

I am very glad to know that the funding was well received in north Wales, as I believe it has been in other areas. I can confirm that £30 million of such funding will be made available for next year and the following year, and that the normal conditions for allocation under the standard spending assessment will apply, as will be made clear when the police SSAs are published very shortly. The funding emphasises our commitment to rural policing. It is also in very stark contrast with what happened under the previous Administration, when, for example, in the space of three years, 50 rural police stations in north Wales were closed.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Last year, Humberside police force sought funding of £7.5 million to increase policing, but its request was turned down. Fortunately, the privatisation of the Kingston upon Hull communications company allowed the local authority to make up some of the shortfall. The result of that was a 12 per cent. reduction in crime in Hull. There was not, however, such a good result in rural areas, because that is not where the extra police were. Does the Home Secretary agree that the example demonstrates that extra policing has an effect on reducing crime, and will he take that into account when deciding on funding for Humberside next year?

Mr. Straw

We certainly take into account Humberside's needs. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, funding is distributed partly in accordance with the standard spending assessment, but also under specific provision that is made to cover, for example, the new police radio system. Under the crime fighting fund, Humberside has been allocated 137 officers in addition to its normal recruitment.

On the central part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, on whether there is a direct relationship between inputs—in this case, police numbers—and outputs, as he knows better than anyone else, as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the answer is no. However, when police services are operating at optimum efficiency, additional numbers certainly make a difference. That is why we are operating both to increase police efficiency and to increase investment in the police service by record amounts.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

The Home Secretary may recall that, a little while ago, I was told in a parliamentary reply that no figures were available on the duration of suspension and total cost of police officers who are suspended from duty. There are now a significant number of suspensions not only in the Metropolitan police area but in other areas. Can he say whether such figures are now available, bearing in mind the very significant drain that such costs have on police resources?

Mr. Straw

As you would expect, Mr. Speaker, the answer that my hon. Friend was given is correct. Although the figures are not collected centrally, I can certainly provide him with the figures for the Metropolitan police and the Essex police areas. However, I do not think there is any evidence that the number of suspensions is higher than it was. We are certainly reducing the numbers in respect of other matters, such as sickness and early retirement.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does the Home Secretary agree that the special constabulary is one of the most effective ways of increasing police numbers on the street, especially in rural areas? Against that background, will he consider whether it might become possible to pay members of the special constabulary along the model of the Territorial Army?

Mr. Straw

Yes is the answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. I agree with him, first, that special constables can make a big difference, not least in rural areas. Secondly, although I know that it has been considered before, and people have always found difficulties, I think that we should continue examining ways of providing some recompense to special constables in the same way as recompense is provided to members of the Territorial Army.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I thank the Home Secretary for making resources available to ensure that police in my part of Berkshire can receive £2,000 extra in their pay. I wonder, however, whether he is certain that that will be enough, because I am not. Slough is an area of high crime and high cost, and we are finding that, although we have been given resources for more police officers, we cannot recruit them. If it turns out that the extra sum is not enough, will he increase it?

Mr. Straw

I cannot guarantee that. My main concern at the moment is to try to get the money paid. As I shall explain when I answer the question tabled by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), an offer has been made to increase the allowances for those in the home counties police forces, initially up to a 30-mile band and then in a 30 to 40-mile band, by £2,000 and £1,000 respectively.

That offer is on the table. However, I was concerned to learn that it might take until February or later to reach an agreement on it because of the byzantine procedures of the Police Negotiating Board. I asked this morning for those negotiations to be brought forward, and I hope—although it is outside my control—that an agreement can be reached before Christmas, because that money could be paid with effect from 1 September 2000.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I remind the Home Secretary of a document that found its way into the public domain not long ago, following a meeting between the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Minister of State, Home Office, the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), and others, at which the Home Secretary mentioned a new agenda for reform of the police. He stated that it was not to be brought forward now because it risked alienating the police at a crucial time. Given the right hon. Gentleman's commitment—or, at any rate, his alleged commitment—to open government and freedom of information, will he tell us what this reform is that the police might so dislike?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady did not need to refer to an allegedly leaked document. We have been perfectly open about this matter. All the proposals under discussion about police reform have been openly discussed with representatives of all the police associations, not least at a major one-day seminar that took place at Lancaster house four weeks ago.

Miss Widdecombe

We have just heard the Home Secretary refuse to tell the House what the reform is. If the reform is so openly in the public domain, why does its revelation risk alienating the police at this crucial time? Why will the reform not please the police? Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell us what the reform is? He is looking through his documents to see if he can find it. He looks rather tired, but it is his duty to come here and to answer questions. If he is tired at the beginning of Question Time, I wonder what he will look like at the end of it.

The Home Secretary is promising resources to the police, but should he not instead concentrate on ensuring that he has some police to whom to give those resources? Will he admit that between 1997 and today, the number of regular officers in the police has fallen by 2,740, the number of specials by 5,527 and the number of civilians by 442? Will he then tell the House why he finds this so funny?

Mr. Straw

If I were not such a generous man, I might reply that the right hon. Lady had gone to pot. The document for which I was looking—and which, happily, I have now found—contains a quotation from Mr. Fred Broughton of the Police Federation, speaking on 26 September 2000. He said: From the mid-90s onwards, the police service found itself facing a rapidly declining manpower situation … The principle reason, without any doubt, is the damage that was done by the decision of the last Government to take housing allowance away from new recruits. That was the mother and father of the recruitment difficulties. The previous Government produced the problem; we are producing the solution.

Spending in real terms on the police next year will rise at twice the rate at which the Conservative Government's spending rose over a four-year period. I will take requests for increased spending on the police from anyone except the right hon. Lady and the shadow Cabinet. They are committed not to increasing spending on the police and other essential services but to cutting it by £16 billion. That is £24 million for each constituency, and could result in a cut of 60 police officers in Preston, and 60 in West Bromwich, West for example.

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